April 7, 2022

Most weeks, a review of recent scientific and top running articles gives us a drizzle of newish and interesting information. Some weeks we get lucky, and the articles rise to a higher level. This is one of those weeks, with two big new papers covering crucial running topics--one on training, one on hydration. So I’ll give them a little extra attention, while devoting less space to others. Please keep reading.

Best-ever review of training for elite runners

A group of Norwegian experts with a twin focus on the science of training for runners, and the actual training of top runners and coaches (from training logs) have published a terrific summary paper that pulls it all together. (And the paper is free, full text at the link below.) The review also steers clear of physiological lingo that can be hard to understand and decipher. Instead you’ll find discussions of weekly mileage (or km), easy runs, tempo runs, intervals, fartlek, etc. In other words--the things you actually do in training yourself.

The paper is based on information from 59 elite runners and 16 coaches of world class runners. The runners include both track racers (over 5000 and 10,000 meters) and road racers, mainly marathoners. “The objective of this review is to integrate scientific and results-proven practice literature regarding the training and development of elite long distance running performance.”

While the results might not surprise you, the detailed descriptions are fascinating. Basically, the top marathoners train 100 to 140 miles a week, and the track runners maybe 20 miles less per week (on average.) Both do the same number of workouts per week--11. The marathoners simply run farther per workout, mainly in long runs. Both also do 80 percent or more of their running “at low intensity throughout the training year.”

Similarly, both do more faster running as they get closer to their peak competitions. The track runners will do hard interval sessions at their race pace, or faster. The marathoners tend to do tempo runs, again at race pace or slightly faster.

I found most interesting the brief discussions of recovery, and of high-intensity training. The authors state: “‘Easy runs’ are somewhat misguidedly termed ‘recovery runs’ or ‘regeneration’.” However, “No scientific studies to date support this assumption.” In other words, we don’t actually know if easy days aid recovery. It’s possible that a total rest day or walking day or cross-training day would provide more recovery, if that’s what you really need. Of course, there are good reasons to do many low-intensity runs, but recovery apparently isn’t one of those reasons.

Also, “In well trained athletes who are performing a high total volume of training, further increases in vo2 max are not consistently observed after periods of increased HIT training.” What? Intervals don’t increase your vo2 max? What’s the point then? The answer: “HIT stimulates peripheral adaptations in fast-twitch motor units.” But it’s a tricky dance, demanding the “judicious application” of fast workouts.

The only thing missing here is exploration of the arena I believe is becoming the most important one--the runner’s emotions and the mind. Neither is easy to measure, which unfortunately makes them easy to overlook. But I often wonder: How much of our training do we do primarily to bolster self-confidence? No doubt it’s absolutely essential to success at every level. The elites do lots of slow so-called recovery runs because the extra mileage boosts their self-confidence. Killer interval workouts also boost self-confidence. 

And self-confidence leads directly to fast performances.

The unanswered question: What if you could boost confidence without quite so many of the extra miles and speed? Could you race faster if you ran less and less intensely? We don’t know the answer to that one.

Lastly, the new paper notes that most elites incorporate altitude training into their programs one way or another, and most prefer to taper less than some scientific studies argue for.

I encourage you to download and read the new paper, “The Training Characteristics of World Class Distance Runners: An integration of Scientific Literature and Results-Proven Practice.” You can find a free, full text version here at Sports Medicine Open. Here’s another view of the same paper at Trail Runner.

Several new insights into daily hydration

You’ve heard the old saw about 8 glasses of water/day so often that you don’t pay attention any more. That’s okay, because runners can and should do better. Fluid maintenance is that important to us. But it would be nice to have a few more guidelines to help our efforts. 

And that’s what we get in a new paper by several guys who have been studying the subject for decades in their work with the U.S. Army. The Army really, really cares about hydration because it sometimes sends soldiers into hostile environments (dangerous lands) in hostile environments (hot, hot, hot).

If you run less than 60 minutes a day, it turns out, your fluid needs increase by about 33 percent/day. So drink more to fill your tank. However, you don’t need to rehydrate during your run. You can do it before and after. 

Things get a bit more serious if you run more than 60 minutes a day, all the way up to 4 hours. In this case, you may double your daily hydration requirement, and you should attempt, while running, to consume about half of the sweat you lose while running. Of course, you’ll have to perform some self-testing to know how much sweat you lose in typical workouts, and it will vary significantly from season to season.

That’s why the above advice amounts to guidelines only. When it comes to sweat and hydration, self-knowledge is the only surefire path. As co-author Sam Cheuvront emailed me: “Personalized drinking strategies made in accordance with knowledge of sweat losses, exercise duration, energy needs, and fluid availability are the key.” More at Int J of Sport Nutrition & Exercise Metabolism.

Faster music makes running feel easier

Since Sony introduced the first Walkman back in 1979, scientists have been trying to figure out if music had various effects on running performance. The results often show that it does, at least on enjoyment and perception. Here researchers looked into fast and slow music, and its effects on fast and slow running. They concluded that, whether you’re enjoying an easy day or going hard on another day, “Listening to fast music can help runners perform better mentally and physically.” More at Int J of Environmental Research & Public Health.

Different injuries among forefoot- and rearfoot runners?

Researchers filmed 123 high school runners while they were running, with the goal of looking for links between footstrike and injuries. They found no difference between injuries to rearfoot runners and to non-rearfoot runners (which included forefoot and midfoot strikers) during the last year. However, the non-rearfoot runners had a history that included a higher risk of Achilles problems. More at J of Sports Medicine & Physical Fitness.

So many inspirational stories right now

I don’t usually feature elite athletes or inspirational stories, but there are so many of the latter right now. So here are a few that caught my eye, and, at times, brought a tear to said eye. Inspiration is always a good thing. A Ukranian runner, Valentyna Veretska, fled her homeland with her 11-yr-old daughter, leaving her husband behind to fight. Then she won the Jerusalem Marathon, which climbs 2000 feet from start to finish, in 2:45:54. A nurse who happens to be a 2:29:59 from 2020 marathoner will run Boston in her scrubs to raise funds for nurses’ mental health. A group called “Native Women Running” will have a team at Boston and other races this year.

SHORT STUFF you won’t want to miss

“Diet, water intake, bladder habits, breathing patterns, stress management” can all help you fight urinary leakage.

78% of endurance athletes take dietary supplements (like electrolytes, probiotics, melatonin, Vitamin D), with higher use in older groups.

Systematic review finds that carbohydrate mouth washing “has a positive effect on muscular endurance.”

GREAT QUOTES make great training partners

I thought about how many preconcieved prejudices would crumble when i trotted right along for 26 miles.” Roberta “Bobbi” Gibb, first female finisher, Boston Marathon, 1966

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