September 8, 2022

THIS WEEK: “Individualized” training beats “predetermined.” How to limit mental fatigue. Be smart about your long runs. Hill training has many benefits. Shorter strides might not reduce injuries. 5 top carbon shoes, plus best shoes under $100. Your diet is okay. What Frank Shorter means to running. And more.

Individualized training beats “canned” programs

A new training study out of Finland delves into a crucial question: Will you improve more with a smart “predetermined” training plan (PRE), or with one that is individualized (IND) according to your heart rate variability, perceived muscle recovery, and a heart rate-running speed test? And the winner is: IND training, which improved 10K running time by 6.2% over 12 weeks vs 2.9% for PRE training.

“The individualized group improved their time by about three minutes and the predefined group by about one and a half minutes,” said lead researcher Olli-Pekka Nuuttila. That’s a big difference.

Two matched groups of runners did very similar training over the 12-week period, including 6 weeks of an increased volume phase, 6 weeks of an interval phase, and cutback weeks (with 25% less running) to ensure good recovery. The PRE runners increased volume and intensity according to a preplanned program. The IND runners increased their training according to their 3-part feedback loop (HRV, perceived exertion, heart rate-running speed).

Conclusion: “Individualized endurance training may induce greater improvements in running performance.” It also maximized the number of successful responders to the 12-week period, and minimized nonresponders. Most of the IND improvement occurred during the 6-week interval phase.

This is hardly the last word in training programs. The authors note that they expect to see more investigations in the future. There are many ways to manipulate training, not just the three used here, and other manipulations need to be tested. More at Med & Sci in Sports & Exercise.

How to beat mental fatigue

Recent years have seen an explosion of interest in the ways mental fatigue might undermine endurance exercise including road race performance. So everyone’s trying to control their mental fatigue before races and key workouts. There remain, no surprise, as many questions as answers. But here a research group performed a systematic review to find practices that might prevent or reduce mental fatigue. They rated quite a few as mildly effective, but had more trouble explaining why. At any rate, the leading candidates are: caffeine, odors or smells, music, napping, mindfulness, and modest exercise itself. More at Sports Medicine.

Train smarter on your long runs

As marathon season approaches and summer heat dissipates a bit (except where it definitely hasn’t, as in CA, etc), many runners are aiming to increase their long-run distance and frequency. First a cautionary note from endurance expert Dr. Philip Skiba, who is seeing a big uptick in injuries among those training for the Chicago Marathon. “You don’t need multiple 20+ mile runs. You don’t need another long run every 7 days.” he says.

But, wait. Doesn’t that conflict with a lot of marathon training wisdom? I don’t think so. Training advice isn’t wisdom if it’s built on a shaky foundation of anecdotal tales and duplicative training programs. You do need some long runs, but we don’t know how many. And more--or forced--long runs definitely increase injury and burnout risks. Remember: Nobody writes glowing articles about failed marathon training. But it happens. So err on the conservative side.

There are hundreds of long-run articles out there. Many are reasonably similar. Here’s a particularly good one from Runner’s World in the U.K.--good because it follows Pete Pfitzginer, one of the smartest, most proven marathon advisers.

Here’s a solid, basic article with a lot of summary tips at the end. This article offers 8 varieties of long runs, so you can pick your favorite. Or, better still, use several different types. I like that the author includes hard downhill long runs, as well as hard uphill runs. 

The hills are alive … with great training

Several decades ago, while visiting Kenya, I watched a group of runners complete a 20K workout. Nothing special about that except that every step of the 20K was uphill--from a mining company far below the Rift Valley rim up to the top of the Rift. I was already a big fan of hill training. This view confirmed things even more. 

Others also believe in hill training, though it’s less discussed than track workouts and tempo runs because they can be accurately timed and heart-rated, whereas all hill workouts are different and therefore not so easy to compare. (And we do love to compare, don’t we?). 

For the same reason--lack of easy comparison--you don’t see many scientific studies about hill training. Still, the benefits are very real. Here are 7 of them, along with 3 types of hill training. More at Science Training.

Surprise: Shorter strides might not reduce injuries

Many recent injury-prevention guidelines have focused on shorter strides, which reduce forces generated per stride. That seems a logical step to decreased injury rates. However, actual evidence of this is lacking, says an impressive new systematic review and meta-analysis.

What are we missing then? “Any observed reduction in kinetic, kinematic or loading rate variables per step may be off-set by the increased number of steps taken per minute of running (up to 30% in some studies)—possibly leading to an equal or greater accumulation of loading over a set distance or time.”

Yes, a shorter stride reduces impacts per stride. But it also increases total strides needed to cover X distance. So, while force/minute changes, force/mile might not. And that leaves us with a very big unknown.

I was intrigued by one result of this review. I’ve always wondered what a “typical” stride rate might look like. Turns out an average range is 160 to 172 steps, and in various trials this has been boosted as high as 192. Longtime running research and wisdom suggests that 180 strides/min might be optimal for performance.

The paper reaches 4 main conclusions. 1--A shorter stride decreases forces. 2--A longer stride increases forces. 3--There is “insufficient evidence to conclusively determine” any effect of stride rate on injuries. 4--A higher stride rate is unlikely to diminish performance. More (free, full text) at Sports Medicine-Open.

5 top carbon racing shoes, and best shoes for under $100

I’ve always appreciated Fleet Feet running stores because the national chain is highly runner specific. I’ve visited dozens of Fleet Feet stores in different states, and they all have that “real runner” vibe. Here, headquarters anointed its 5 favorite carbon-plate race shoes. I was surprised not to see Nike shoes mentioned. People might love Nike, or not, but few have denied the company’s leadership role when it comes to new super shoes. So I checked Fleet Feet’s website, and found that they do indeed sell Nikes. Here’s what the site says about the Nike Air Zoom Alphafly Next% (which gets my vote for the worst name ever.) The main article lists favorites, in alphabetical order, from Adidas, Asics, Hoka, New Balance, and Saucony. More at Fleet Feet.

Another independent group, Doctors of Running (with content from physical therapists who are also serious runners), takes a different approach. What are the best running shoes at under $100? Several of the more than a dozen models come in at under $70, and one even breaks the $60 barrier. More at Doctors of Running.

Your diet is okay

Those who believe in all-or-nothing approaches to nutrition (low carb vs low fat, veganism vs meat eating, gluten-free diets, etc) won’t find much to cheer about in a fascinating new review titled “Multidimensional associations between nutrient intake and healthy aging in humans.” The key term here is “multi,” as the paper argues there are many complex associations between what we eat and our health. In several instances, for example, both too little and too much of a certain nutrient could have deleterious effects. 

This is a big paper, not easy to summarize. I’ll pick a few points that jumped out for me. First, lots of quite-different diets get the job done, because “our ancestors evolved to tolerate an array of dietary patterns.” Stated another way: “Our physiology is often robust enough to tolerate relatively wide variation without much consequence.”

In general, the best approach for healthy biological aging is probably “relatively high carbohydrate and lower to moderate protein intakes.” This has been shown in both human and mice studies. However, life is always changing, and diet might have to change too. Thus, for older folks, “consuming above average protein and alpha tocopherol intake, the most active form of Vitamin E, is associated with lower levels of physiological” issues.

If there’s an overriding theme to the review, it would be something like this, in my words: Your diet is probably fine so long as it’s more or less a middle of the road diet. Or as the researchers put it: “There is a broad tolerance for nutrient intake patterns that don’t deviate too much from norms.” This should be calming, reassuring news for those who maybe obsess about their food intake. More (free, full text) at BMC Biology.

What Frank Shorter means to running

On September 10, 1972, 50 years ago this Saturday, Frank Shorter won the Olympic Marathon in Munich. His compelling victory contributed to the U.S. and then global running booms. 

But I don’t remember and revere Shorter for his gold medal as much as for the words he spoke to Kenny Moore about why they should run in Munich. The Marathon took place just 5 days after the massacre of Israeli Olympic athletes. “We have to not let this detract from our performance,” Shorter said. “Because that’s what they want.”

These words reflect and reinforce the healing power of running. We have needed similar words on too many occasions since Munich--at the 2001 NYC Marathon post 9-11;  when Ryan Shay died in the 2008 Olympic Marathon Trials; during and after Hurricane Sandy and its devastating impact on New York City and its canceled marathon; and in our return to running events after Covid.

And especially, particularly, most emotionally of all, in our reclaimiing of the 2014 Boston Marathon after the bombings, deaths, and maimings of 2013. We humans face frighteningly random and uncontrollable events, from the immense natural forces around us, and too often from ourselves. (I’m thinking at this moment of the  tragic murder of Eliza Fletcher in Memphis.)

And yet we struggle back. We remain resilient. We return to running.

Because it is all we can do. And everything we must do. In 1972, Frank Shorter gave us the performance and words that still set the standard: “We have to not let this detract ….”

That’s why I’ll be remembering and honoring Shorter on Saturday--50 years after the Munich Olympics but as relevant as ever.

SHORT STUFF you won’t want to miss

> Dr. Stephen Seiler explains how “polarized training” works, and how it can improve your performance

> 10 benefits of track workouts; and 5 ways to keep your feet happy

> In this free excerpt from his new book, On Pace, Matt Fitzgerald discusses “Why Pacing Matters.”

GREAT QUOTES makes great training partners

 “Be willing to move forward and find out what happens next.

--Frank Shorter

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