May 19, 2022

Your best training guide--RPE, not high tech. How to decrease mental fatigue. “Decoupling” explains why marathon runners slow down. Positive self talk for improved performance. Caffeine doesn’t work the way you think. Manage/prevent calf strains. A thumbs-up for heel-striking. Distance running and death: the heart of the matter. More.

Why RPE beats high-tech as your best training guide

We modern runners have an ever-growing and sometimes bewildering number of “tech” ways to monitor our training and racing. The trend started 40 years ago with heart rate monitors, and has accelerated since. But the thing is, none of these can beat self-monitoring, usually called Relative Perceived Effort. A new article explains why, though in rather obtuse language. For example, you’re not a runner but a CAS. “The objective of this paper is to reorient the current integrative proposals of sports monitoring by re-conceptualizing athletes as complex adaptive systems (CAS).” That’s not demeaning; it’s meant to make you more essential, because “The presumption that empirical data are superior to information generated by a self-aware, educated and informed athlete is fundamentally flawed.” Finally, “This is not an argument to eliminate objective assessments, but to restore badly needed balance.” The ancient Greeks said, “Know thyself.” Some things haven’t changed. More at Sports Medicine Open.

How to decrease mental and physical fatigue

In the last decade, we’ve come to accept that mental fatigue increases physical fatigue. So now the big question is: How can we decrease mental fatigue? This systematic review takes a crack at some answers. It reveals that “a wide range of countermeasures have been found to successfully counteract MF on a subjective, (neuro)physiological and/or behavioral level.” The biggest ones with the most evidence: caffeine before physical performances, various “odors” during fatiguing events, music, and “extrinsic rewards,” ie, a payoff of some kind. More at Sports Medicine.

How To Manage And Prevent Calf Strains

Calf strains strike almost every runner at some time. Here, 20 clinical experts provide 6 recovery strategies. They are: 1--Run on alternate days; 2--Don’t do “plodding” longer runs; 3--Don’t add distance and speed on consecutive days; 4--Do strengthening exercises after running; 5--Don’t increase weekly mileage too fast; 6--Avoid sudden changes, such as shoes, running surface, hills.

More, with free full text including photos of appropriate exercises, at Sports Medicine Open.

Why do marathon runners slow down?

You know about increasing muscle fatigue, slowing pace, depleted glycogen supplies, and “hitting the wall.” (Sorry about that.) But what do you know about “decoupling,” as when two train cars become disconnected such that one keeps moving forward while the other slows down. That’s what big-data marathon guy Barry Smyth from Dublin terms it when your heart rate stays about the same, but your pace slows substantially. In this analysis of 82,000 marathon performances, he found that decoupling tends to occur after 15.5 miles in the marathon, although more successful runners can delay it until almost 21 miles. Also, “Females had a better durability profile, as they exhibited lower decoupling.” Can you train to decrease your decoupling ratio. Maybe, but Smyth didn’t tackle this question. More at Sports Medicine.

How positive self talk can help boost performance

Research indicates that the more fatigued you are, the more you can change your performance through positive self talk. Some think this means conjuring up sunny skies and Pollyanna thoughts. It doesn’t. Mental performance consultant and PhD candidate Chris DeWolfe believes you’ve gotta get real. Everyone has negative thoughts when the going gets tough. That’s normal. The key is to acknowledge them, and to develop strategies to keep going. Important in training as well as racing. More at Tonal.

The caffeine boost: It’s different than you thought

Caffeine remains every endurance athlete’s favorite performance enhancer because it’s legal and it works. That hasn’t changed. However, a couple of new caffeine studies indicate that caffeine doesn’t work exactly as you might think. For example, widespread caffeine mythology holds that you have to withdraw from your usual brew for a week or two in order to get a performance bump on race day. Not true, says a new systematic review in Sports Medicine. It concludes: “Habitual coffee consumption does not appear to influence the acute ergogenic effect of caffeine.” Also, caffeine doesn’t enhance endurance through a fat burning mechanism, but more likely through the central nervous system. “Caffeine … did not affect total fat oxidation.” More at European J of Nutrition.

Secrets of success in ultramarathon trail races

We’re pretty sure that fast-twitch muscle fibers contribute to sprint success, and a high cardio fitness (vo2 max) and running economy to distance success. But what about ultra-distance? When researchers investigated runners who competed in a 50K race, an 80K race, and a 160K race, they found that cardio fitness predicted good performances in the two shorter distances. At 160K (100 miles), not so much. That’s unexplored territory where less traditional measures might play a bigger role. Conclusion: “Performance in longer-distance races appears to be less influenced by such physiological parameters.” More at Int J of Sports Physiology & Performance.

The heart of the matter: distance running and death

Here’s a quote from the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA): “[That] repeated exercise, such as prolonged training in successive years, may lead to permanent injury of the heart or kidney is unquestionable.” Don’t panic! That editorial appeared in 1903. Now, almost 120 years later, we know that “repeated exercise” is linked to a 30 to 40% lower risk of mortality and chronic disease during a defined time period. We’ve come a long way since Pheidippides. This report traces the entire history of sports cardiology from Plato and Hippocrates to “soldiers’ heart” and “athletes’ heart” to the current day. It’s short, free, informative, and easy to follow. More at European Heart Journal.

Diet changes affect your microbiome and your performance

We runners tend to fiddle with diets a good amount. Some, for example, try to deplete their carbohydrate supply in training, hoping this will increase their fat-burning. And just about everyone uses carbohydrate loading before a marathon or other ultra event. But do these abrupt changes affect the microbiome and performance? A new paper adds some detail. It concludes: “High-protein diets [from low-carb diets] in highly trained athletes resulted in reduced running performance that was correlated with alterations in gut viral communities.” On the other hand: “Short-term high carbohydrate diet improved athletic performance.” A key consideration: “Stable microbial communities were associated with better performance,” so it’s best not to mess too much with your healthy diet. Because your microbiome likes stability. More at M Systems.

Three cheers for heel-striking

Ever since the barefoot-running craze, heel-striking has felt rather like one of those conditions you’re embarrassed to acknowledge. Like, maybe, an addiction to eating marshmallow fluff or binge watching Netflix. There’s no reason for shame, however. Heel-striking isn’t a disease. It’s how a high majority of runners land, and it doesn’t condemn you to slow plodding or injury. In fact, there could be a bright side. Heel-striking forces and loading rates might build stronger bones, as they are predictive of  increased bone mineral density at the hip and spine. More at Int J of Exercise Science. 

SHORT STUFF you don’t want to miss

>>> Use foam rolling after static stretching to increase range of motion without performance losses

>>> 5 great ways to recover and recharge

>>> What’s even better for your brain than the Mediterranean Diet? The green Med Diet

GREAT QUOTES make great training partners

¨Don’t give up on your dreams, or your dreams will give up on you.¨ – John Wooden, famed college basketball coach

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