October 13, 2022

THIS WEEK: What to do when the going gets tough? Runing improves knee cartilage. How to avoid "runner's trots." Foam rolling fails performance test. Heel cups help rearfoot strikers. Inspiratory breath training enhances lung endurance. Exercise has "positive benefits" on heart health. And much more

What to do when the going gets tough?

This week we start off with several articles on this eternal runner issue. Running seems very much a physical act, depending largely on the heart and leg muscles. At the same time, few doubt that the brain also plays a big role, and researchers have a long history of interest in the runner’s brain. A key question: Can you “train” or at least orient the brain just as you train your heart and legs?

A new paper looks into strategies for this “affective” side of running, particularly the best approach when the going gets tough. Do things get better when you force your mind to focus on something internal or external? Or does the extra effort just make things worse?

In this trial, the subjects did some easy runs and also a series of hard intervals with: A) no mind strategy; B) a focus on their breathing; or C) a focus on the nearby environment including trees and a lake. After the easy running, they reported feeling better with A. After the intervals, both B and C proved better, perhaps because they took the mind away from other “potentially unpleasant sensations.”

The researchers concluded by noting that you need both types of mind approach, no-focus and focus. On a long, moderate run/race, you want as many effortless miles as possible (no focus). But when the going gets ugly, “It might help some individuals to focus on breathing or the surrounding environment.” More at Journal of Sports Sciences.

Paula Radcliffe got tough by counting numbers 

Years ago I wrote a long article at Runner’s World about the “monster month.” This was my term for the third month of marathon training … when the miles are increasing on top of your accumulating fatigue. It’s a recipe for trouble, and too often proves a time of injury or burnout for runners.

In this article from Runner’s World U.K., Paula Radcliffe shares a couple of tricks she used when her training got particularly arduous. I like two “number” strategies Radcliffe mentions. On long runs, she would count to 100 to distract herself from fatigue. On tired days, she would run for 10 minutes, and then decide whether or not to carry on. Or to return home for a rest day. More at Runner’s World U.K.

And here’s how real runners deal

In this rollicking message board discussion, more than 90 runners offer their best tried-and-true mental-toughness approaches. You’ll get a chuckle here, some great ideas there. I loved the following: "Pain is temporary, but times on the Internet are forever." “Two minutes after the race is over, you’ll feel fine.” “The pain is just a reminder that I’m so thankful I can do this.” “Breathe in, breathe out, do not slow down. Breathe in, breathe out, do not slow down.” And, of course: "Eliud Kipchoge would get bored at this pace. What's your problem, wimp?" More at Reddit.


Exercise has “positive benefits” on many areas of heart health

A few years back, I had a light hearted disagreement with cardiologist James O’Keefe about one of his published papers on excessive exercise. I challenged him to “show me the bodies in the street.” Keefe still believes that some runners do too much, but here he’s signed on with a top group of global experts to argue that more doctors should be promoting physical activity. Why? Because it has positive benefits “in many areas related to cardiovascular disease, from basic aspects to clinical practice.”

The review concludes: “Regular exercise training induces a wide range of direct and indirect physiological adaptations and pleiotropic benefits for human CV health,” and “should be incorporated into all health professionals’ practice.” Moreover, in the fight against Covid-related heart issues, exercise represents “a potential co-adjuvant ‘vaccine’ or a non-pharmacological treatment that should be recommended.” 

O’Keefe hasn’t stopped worrying about those who run high mileage for years on end, and compete frequently in marathons and ultras. These individuals appear to have “an increased risk for myocardial fibrosis and coronary calcification.” More at European Society of Cardiology.

Running improves knee articular cartilage

The articular cartilage in your knees covers the ends of the bones, and smooths the way they glide against each other in the joint. So it’s a key factor in healthy knee function. Recently, researchers looked at this cartilage before and after runners completed a half marathon. The finding: “Long-term running may be beneficial to joint health; the effect of a half-marathon exercise on cartilage is reversible.” More at Int Society for Magnetic Resonance in Medicine.

Foam rolling fails systematic-review test

Foam rolling is probably the warmup, recovery, and injury-prevention exercise of choice for many runners, Also, several studies have indicated it showed more favorable effects compared to stretching on performance parameters,” at least in certain circumstances. However, a new meta analysis and systematic review didn’t support that outcome. It concluded that foam rolling “showed no significant changes in performance when FR training is applied for several weeks.” The paper also notes a possible Catch 22. 

“Although a decrease in muscle stiffness has the potential to decrease injury prevalence  such a decrease might also accompany a decrease in force production,” ie, racing or workout intensity. More at Int J of Environmental Research & Public Health.

How to avoid “runner’s trots”

Runners seem more willing than many to discuss their stomach disturbances, runner’s trots, and pit stops, perhaps because they are near everyday issues for us. We need food and fluids to run long, but we jostle a lot on the road, and sh__ happens.

Here, the famous Gray Lady of journalism lets her shorts down a little, and looks into what/what not to eat, and when. Also, compression socks can prevent some GI leakage? That’s news to me. More at the NY Times.

(An aside: I did know compression socks offered protection against strokes on long flights, as superfit Adam Chase explains in this harrowing tale of his recent medical emergency.)

Back to runner’s trots. Dr. Stacey Sims doesn’t like one popular remedy, imodium, because it can reduce thermoregulation and glucose utilization. She offers detailed anti-trots advice for your pre-race preparation. More at Triathlete.

Inspiratory muscle training extends respiratory endurance

A research team investigated the effect of an inspiratory-breathing exercise to see if it could increase “the peak and mean relative running power” of subjects performing all-out 30-second sprints. It did. Conclusion: “Our results suggest that this respiratory strategy enhances exercise.”

Another group looked at “a short course of high-resistance, low-volume breathing” to see if it improved respiratory endurance and cardiovascular responsiveness. Again, it did. The six week study period lowered resting blood pressure while extending “the capacity for respiratory work and endurance.” Hence, “The outcomes have implications for athletic conditioning and for attaining and maintaining cardiorespiratory fitness.” More at Respiratory Physiology & Neurobiology. 

Heel cup and soft insole reduce heel impacts, maybe injuries

Running injuries are common, and a high percentage of runners are heel-strikers.

That’s why some biomechanics researchers believe that reducing heel impacts (“plantar pressures”) could be a productive path to fewer injuries. 

Here they “reverse engineered” running-shoe construction looking for an “optimal combination” of materials and methods to minimize peak plantar heel pressure. They found two methods particularly effective. 1) A “conforming heel cup” achieved the highest contribution rate (53.18%) among four methods examined. 2) A soft “insole material had a secondary contribution (25.89%).” 

The paper did not actually analyze if these approaches reduced injuries in the real world. However, the researchers concluded: “The results from this study suggest that runners who want to relieve plantar pressure should consider a custom insole with a conforming heel-cup.” More at Frontiers in Bioengineering & Biotechnology.

Let’s take good care of our trails 

The good folks from a local conservation group have recently opened/improved several trails near my home. These trails are a bit gnarly for running, but great for dog walks and modest 60-minute hikes, which is what I use them for. I want to do everything to keep these trails pristine, and to enhance them for others. This proved an excellent guide. More at I Run Far.

SHORT STUFF you won’t want to miss

>>> Marathon recovery tips--nutrition and when to start training again--from Dr. Jason Karp

>>> Should you get a blood biomarker test for performance, training, recovery and other measures?

>>> Teens training 6 months for a marathon exhibited “favorable distance training adaptations” at the foot and ankle muscles, and the Achilles tendons

GREAT QUOTES make great training partners

“The three great essentials to achieve anything worthwhile are, first, hard work; second, stick-to-itiveness; third, common sense.”

--Thomas A. Edison

That’s it for now. Thanks for reading. See you again next week. Amby