July 28, 2022

THIS WEEK: What can we learn from Cam Levins and Jakob Ingebrigtsen? Orthotics prevent lower leg injuries. Get your buddies to provide drafting for you. The power of progression runs. When it’s hot, stay cool. The latest caffeine buzz: swishing, and birth control pills. “Cupping” for shin splints. And much more.

What can we learn from Cam Levins and Jakob Ingebrigtsen?
Cam Levins has been an elite runner for a decade-plus, with perhaps more disappointments than successes despite training harder than most. Then he pulled off a surprising fourth in the recent World Championships marathon. How? His coach says Levins reduced his “training density,” meaning that he takes more easy days between the big, challenging workouts. Also: He’s eating with an eye to proper fueling, not what the bathroom scale tells him. More at Canadian Running.

Ingebrigtsen is the 21-yr-old Norwegian who’s nearly unbeatable at 1500 meters and 5000 meters, and has been for a few years now. His training methods, originated by his father who experimented a bit with Jakob’s older brothers, are much discussed … and yet hard to decipher. Jakob used a Ferrari car comparison to explain his attitude. Older brother Henrik explained that the training is like four leaking cups nestled inside each other. You’ll have to read the linked article to get the full metaphor. I took Henrik to mean: They always maintain a lot of easy miles and appropriate tempo runs, but are very judicious about their race-pace speedwork. More at NYTimes.

Orthotics prevent lower leg injuries
Running injuries are notoriously difficult to prevent and sometimes to recover from. Yet one common tool, foot orthotics, are often criticized for being non-natural, failing to correct underlying issues, etc. But perhaps no longer. A new systematic review and meta-analysis that looked at more than 5000 runners enrolled in randomized controlled trials offers a strong rebuke to this position. In fact, runners in orthotics enjoyed “a 40% reduction in the risk of developing lower limb injuries.” More at J of Sport Rehabilitation.

Get your buddies to draft for you
Drafting enjoyed its big moment in the sun when it played a significant role in Eliud Kipchoge’s two “exhibition marathons,” the second of which saw him break through the 2-hour barrier to 1:59:40. But much prior drafting research focused on how air resistance slows cars and bikes. So a team of top running biomechanists including Brazilian Edson Soaares da Silva, who’s primarily interested in stop and go sprinting--think about it for a moment, and you’ll realize why this might interest a Brazilian--decided to perform a lab study to see how much drafting could improve running pace at various speeds. Outcome: They confirmed that a solo marathon runner tooling along at 2-hour pace could save from 3 minutes, 42 seconds to 5 minutes, 29 seconds by drafting.

Surprisingly, slower runners like 4-hour and 5-hour marathoners would save about the same, because they are out there gaining an advantage for more total time. So in your next marathon, bring your super shoes, bring your super gel, and bring your pacers. More at Journal of Applied Physiology.

The power of progression runs
The below article describes how and why to do progression runs. They happen to be one of my favorites, so I’m going to go a bit deeper. I like progression runs that follow a 3-week pattern. I call these “double progressions” since they accelerate both over time (3 weeks) and within the actual workout. 

Here’s how I do double progression runs. First, pick a simple workout like a 6-mile run, usually on an out-and-back course. On Week 1, run easy to halfway, then moderately faster on the way back. On Week 2, go easy to halfway, followed by a harder return. Week 3: go easy, followed by a really hard return. Don’t aim for race pace, but maybe 90 percent effort.

After 3 weeks, “retire” the workout you’ve been doing. Don’t do another week or two--too much, too hard. Instead, take an easy week with no progression runs. Then, on Week 5, begin a new 3-week series of progression runs. This series should be quite different from your first series: either longer at more controlled paces, or shorter at faster paces. You could even do intervals on the track that speed up the second half.

Rest again on Week 8, and begin anew on Week 9 with a different type of progression run series. Aim your progressions runs toward the length and pace you hope to be running in your next race, be it a 5K or marathon. After 12 weeks, taper for your race. Then take some time off from Progression Runs until you’re recharged and ready for another race buildup. More at Canadian Running.

The latest caffeine buzz: swishing, and birth-control pills
When one expert summarizes the work of several others, you often get a clearer, sharpened view of the topic. Here well known Boston endurance nutritionist Nancy Clark tells us what she learned recently from a talk by several Australian researchers. The topic is familiar--caffeine--but some of the findings little-known.

Among them: Caffeine can help you train better when jet-lagged. Caffeine stays in the body for 7 hours (but that’s highly variable). Birth-control pills double the half-life of caffeine, making it more effective for longer. You don’t have to withdraw from coffee use for several days in order to get a subsequent boost on race day. And more at Nancy Clark RD.

In other caffeine news: Here’s an infographic summarizing a paper that shows a mere “swish” of a caffeinated beverage can boost endurance performance, in the same way as a swish of sports drink. Also, you could try a yerba mate drink as a caffeine alternative, as it “may be a good dietary strategy for endurance athletes,” especially if you combine it with some training sessions while you are in a low-carb/glycogen state. More at Sports Medicine-Open.

“Cupping” might improve shin-splint recovery 
There are no lack of treatments for the ever-aggravating shin splints, with common approaches including rest, ice, NSAIDs, stretching, and strengthening. A recent paper has added an unexpected newcomer: cupping. Cupping most often involves pressing inverted silicone rubber “cups” to the body. The suction force of the cups pulls blood to the surface. A medical team reported, in a case study, that “cupping therapy for MTSS has shown significant positive results.” They also support traditional therapies. More at Cureus.

Strengthen both abductors and adductors for knees
Runners with knee pain and possible arthritis have long been counseled to do hip abductor strengthening. Indeed, a recent study into runner’s knee and iliotibial band syndrome showed that weak hip abductor muscles might play a role in this condition. (The abductor muscles move your leg away from the body’s midline.)

But don’t ignore your hip adductors, which move the leg toward the midline. A new RCT found that hip strengthening reduces pain and drug use, while increasing function, performance, and quality of life. Moreover, “There is no difference between adding hip abductors or adductors strengthening.” More at Musculoskeletal Science & Practice.

No “excessive exercise” in Harvard study with 30-yr followup
Any runners concerned that large amounts of their favorite activity could increase risk of death (the “excessive exercise” hypothesis) received a strong dose of good news this week by a big, impressive dive into the question. Harvard researchers performed a 30-yr followup (that’s a long time) of more than 100,000 nurses and health professionals (a lot of people). During the 30-yr period, more than 47,000 of the subjects died (that’s a lot of coffins).

The paper looked for links between total exercise minutes per week and all-cause mortality. It found that those who exercised moderately for up to 4x the recommended 150 mins/week had a 26 to 31% lower mortality rate than those who didn’t meet the recommendation. Those who did 4x the recommended amount of vigorous activity (75 mins/week) had a 21 to 23% lower risk of mortality. All running, even slow running, qualifies as vigorous activity.

There was no increased gain from doing more than 4x recommended amounts. However, there was also no increased risk. “This finding may reduce the concerns around the potential harmful effect of engaging in high levels of physical activity observed in several previous studies,” said first author Dong Hoon Lee of Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health. More at Circulation.

When the going gets hot, smart runners cool it
The other steamy morning, my training partner made me stop after 3 miles of a planned 5 mile beachside run. We jumped in the water and did a longer swim instead. Afterwards, I told her I’d likely forgive her for the shortened run in a year or two. (I was messing with her, which is what training partners do.)

In fact, she made a good call. We weren’t extending ourselves particularly, but there was no good reason to slog a couple of extra miles when the water beckoned. You can’t beat the heat, and shouldn’t try. Instead, make accommodations, change your expectations. Run shorter, slower, in the shade if possible, early morning, or at evening. Stay healthy to train strong another day. More at The Conversation. 

And at many other places, like this one with good advice about sleep practices during heat waves. I didn’t know it was a bad idea to take a cold shower before bed. Here’s another article with 13 tips for heat-running. My favorite by a mile: “Run with friends.” Even if they start sniveling and make you cut the run short. More at Active.

SHORT STUFF you won’t want to miss
> A top expert explains how lifelong exercisers have “50% greater VO2 max than elderly non-exercisers” and the benefits (free, full text)
> This might be the single best 10K workout
> Plant based protein powders can match whey protein

GREAT QUOTES make great training partners
“Never underestimate the power that one good workout can have on your mind. Keeping the dream alive is half the battle.” – Kara Goucher

That’s it for now. Thanks for reading. Stay well, and see you next week. Amby