August 18, 2022

THIS WEEK: Forefoot stride doesn’t damage Achilles. Strange science: Seawater for endurance performance? Music improves running pace and distance. Young runners should play soccer. Blood donation might help postmenopausal runners. Water running boosts cardio. Ultrarunning doesn’t damage the heart. Exercise makes Covid vaccines more effective. Is heat training as good as altitude training? And much more.

Forefoot stride not guilty on Achilles injury charges

In recent years a forefoot or midfoot striking pattern has been suggested to cause increased risk of Achilles tendon injuries. (And a rearfoot plant to increase knee injuries. So pick your poison.) However, a new study casts doubt on the forefoot-Achilles tendon link. 

A team led by a veteran running researcher Joe Hamill tested a group of 40ish male runners (averaging 27 miles/week) for something called “T2* relaxation time,” which is considered a marker of Achilles damage. Half the runner-subjects were rearfoot strikers, and half were non-rearfoot strikers. The researchers hypothesized that the non-rearfoot strikers would exhibit a worse T2* profile.

The results indicated otherwise. There was no significant difference between the two runner groups. Not only that, but the researchers could locate no prospective study “that provided research evidence” supporting the forefoot-bad Achilles connection. Conclusion: “Structural properties of the most injured part of the Achilles tendon is not affected by running footplant in middle aged runners.” From the Int Society of Biomechanics in Sports Conference 2022.

Seawater beverage could boost triathlete glycogen and muscle recovery

I have a friend--an exercise physiologist and a winner of several BAA marathon and half-marathon age-group titles--who swears that seawater is a great pre-marathon drink. (He’s also a bigtime salt-water fisherman; picture Hemingway in great cardio shape.) My friend basically believes that a little extra salt in your drink helps you super-hydrate.

I’ve always listened with interest to his theories, but haven’t followed his practice. Salt water has little palate appeal for me. I also never expected that some research group would study the potential benefits of salt-water hydration for endurance events. But now one has. 

The researchers tested a commercial seawater hydration product against water in a group of experienced male triathletes. While the seawater didn’t improve performance, it did result in some muscle changes that “could increase glucose uptake and mitochondrial content” and also “lead to improved performance recovery.” Yes, the study was funded by the product company. More at Int J of Environmental Research & Public Health.

Your favorite tunes can boost pace and distance

The latest article exploring how music can improve performance has some wonderful anecdotes from a 100-yr-old publication. For example, “Military men have always testified that soldiers march faster, further, and with less fatigue” when listening to martial music. And the Scottish philosopher Thomas Carlyle once wrote, “Give me, oh, give me the man who sings at his work. He will do more in the same time, he will do it better, and he will persevere longer.”

The new journal article itself found that runners could go longer, faster, and with less blood lactate when listening to favorite tunes during or even before exercising. More at Journal of Human Kinetics.

I don’t listen to music while I run (but sometimes podcasts), so I can’t help my friends behind the free new running app, But I’ve spoken with them often, and am convinced they have put a lot of science, music, and artificial intelligence into their product. The app can sync to your pace, heart rate, strides, and more, and analyze what types of music help you run smoother and faster. Free. At Muze.

Soccer is a great sport for young runners

Soccer is a great youth sport for young runners, and not just because the games simulate a fartlek workout with lots of full-tilt sprinting. Soccer does more than increase the vo2 max system. It also appears to build strong bones, important to all young runners and perhaps especially females. 

Here researchers divided female collegiate cross-country runners into two groups, one of which included runners with a background in “multidirectional sports” (MDS), defined as soccer or basketball. The other group did only running plus some swimming or bicycling. The female runners with an MDS background had thicker, stronger bones at several sites. Conclusion: Young runners should “delay specialization in running and play MDS when younger to build a more robust skeleton and potentially prevent bone stress injuries.” There’s plenty of time to focus more on running in the late teens or early 20s. More at Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise.

Another paper looked for links between diet and bone health in 101 premenopausal adult females. Results proved insignificant. But “prediction models” indicated that lean body mass, caloric intake, and protein intake could be important factors for strong bones. More at Ohio Link Edu.

Should postmenopausal runners donate blood to improve performance?

Blood doping by blood boosting has long been banned from sports because it can increase cardiac efficiency and performance. Now there’s a suggestion of a different blood manipulation, presumably legal, that could help postmenopausal women train and race better. This one involved blood donation, which has the additional benefit of being a good thing for public blood banks. 

Prior studies have shown that postmenopausal women runners don’t seem to benefit as much from training as men. So researchers decided to test if the women would fare better after blood donations, which forced their hearts to work harder in subsequent training. The procedure appeared to work as Alex Hutchinson explains at Triathlete, though there were no performance tests conducted. That means we don’t know for certain that race times were improved by blood donation and then 8 weeks of training. 

But the study team concluded that the women subjects exhibited “large improvements in cardiac systolic and diastolic functions.” More at J of Sports Sciences. 

Water running proves an effective training alternative

Water running or aqua jogging has been popular for four decades as a training alternative for injured runners, or for runners trying to log more training without increased biomechanical stress. In the water, the leg muscles get a workout similar to running over ground, but there is no “landing” and no impact. However, there have been few studies of water running. This systematic review found that deep water running “showed similar effects” on cardio fitness to land running. Thus, “the aquatic environment may provide some advantages for off-loaded exercise at high intensity.” Water running won’t get you to peak race fitness on a hard road or track, but it’s a good tool to have in your training arsenal. More at Int J of Environmental Research & Public Health.

Exercise makes Covid vaccines more effective

I know it’s getting harder and harder to avoid the various Covid virus mutations, and Covid happens to good people who have done everything right. There are no guarantees with regard to protection. Still, moderate exercise seems to help. This study looked at 748 people who received two doses of the CoronaVac vaccine (which is different from the mRNA vaccines received in much of the U.S. and Europe.) Researchers asked the subjects how much they exercised. Those who were more physically active enjoyed “an increment in antibody persistence through 6 months” after their second shot. More at Scandinavian J of Medicine & Science in Sports.

Ultra runners have no heart damage 10 years later

It’s good to see positive long term follow ups of activities and practices some have deemed worrisome. For example, no one questions the benefits of regular, modest running, but some have raised concerns about frequent ultra-running. Here researchers evaluated the heart health of ultra-runners 10 years after they had participated in the Eco-Trail de Paris ultra. During that time, the runners continued racing an average of 4 ultras per year. Result? The runners showed no “alteration in the echocardiographic parameters of resting-left ventricular systolic and diastolic function after 10 years.” These findings suggest an “adaptation of the cardiovascular system to regular and moderate long-distance running practice.” More at Int J of Environmental Research & Public Health.

Is heat training as good as altitude training?

When trying to keep runners feeling positive about their sluggish summer training, people like me often say something like: Sure, you have to run slower and you often feel crappy. But look on the bright side. Heat training increases blood plasma volume, and that, studies have shown, can improve performance.

Altitude training works in a different way. It increases red blood cells and hemoglobin, which of course moves oxygen through your body. “Which type of training is more effective?” asks physiologist-coach Jason Karp in a blog post. His answer: “Altitude training.” More at Dr Jason Karp.

Many reasons to limit alcohol consumption

I hate to put a damper on anyone’s good times, especially after a hard workout or race, but there are many reasons to consider limiting or even eliminating alcohol consumption. For example, big-data analyses from digital companies like WHOOP indicate that heart rate rises and HRV drops within minutes after alcohol consumption. It also disrupts sleep  patterns, leading one expert to conclude “This is perhaps even more pertinent during an intense training schedule.” More at Triathlete.

Web MD has compiled a compelling list of 13 reasons why you might want to re-evaluate your alcohol habits. Included: It weakens your immune systems and complicates other medical conditions. Finally, the old saw we all remember and often use to justify our moderate drinking--that alcohol reduces heart-disease risks--has increasingly come under revision. More at WebMD.

Indeed new reports indicate that “taking one drink a day does not help to prevent heart attacks and appears to increase risk for heart attacks.” More at and Clinical Nutrition.

SHORT STUFF you don’t want to miss

> 5 top rated carbon-plate racing shoes (from retailer Fleet Feet)

> Running has some special benefits for college students

> What’s good and what’s bad about active recovery vs passive recovery

GREAT QUOTES make great training partners

Mental will is a muscle that needs exercise, just like the muscles of the body.”

--Lynn Jennings, nine-time USA Cross-Country champion

That’s it for now. Thanks for reading. I’m still on a summer birthday break, so I’ll be back again in two weeks--on Sept 1. Stay well. Amby