September 29, 2022

THIS WEEK: Prime your Achilles for peak performance. The astounding Eliud Kipchoge. Do Yasso 800s work? How to prevent/manage knee injuries. It’s not the carbon plate. “Strong evidence for exercise vs breast cancer. Should you try nasal breathing? “You only have to exercise if you eat.” And much more

For peak performance, prime your Achilles first

The Achilles tendon is extraordinarily important to runners. So of course, you want to keep it healthy and injury-free. But in races and hard training, you also want it to be as “stiff” as possible, because the stiffer a tendon, the more elastic recoil (bounce; energy return) it can provide. And that will make you more efficient and faster.

Here researchers looked at the best way to improve blood flow and stiffness of the Achilles tendon. They compared: 10 minutes of running, plyometrics, eccentric heel drops, and static stretching. Two of the four--running and plyometrics--were the clear winners, as they were “intensive enough to properly prepare the Achilles tendon for subsequent sport activities.” Heel drops and static stretching “elicited no significant differences.” Hence the recommendation: “We advise the incorporation of highly intensive exercises such as running and plyometrics within warm-up programs.” More at The J of Strength & Conditioning Research.

Let’s celebrate Eliud Kipchoge

I don’t normally devote much space to an elite athlete performance, because many other media do plenty of that. But Eliud Kipchoge is the G.O.A.T. by such a wide margin that he deserves the focus. Besides, I had an interesting run with him in Kenya way back in 2005, so I consider him a bit of a training partner. (Joking about the training partner, not about the run.) As you’ve probably heard, Kipchoge ran 2:01:09 Sunday morning in Berlin to break his own marathon world record. 

Here’s a blog about our run together in 2005. Even then, Kipchoge revealed a mentality that might be even more important than his physical gifts, as this great NY Times story reveals.

Also, you’ll want to admire these striking photos of Kipchoge in profile and in academic garb, plus a photo grouping of the shoes he has worn the past several years. Finally, a video look at the guy who hands Kipchoge his drinks bottle at Berlin Marathon, and a gorgeous Kenya Tourism Board video featuring Kipchoge.

Can Yasso 800s “predict” your marathon time?

It’s been a couple of decades since Yasso 800s burst onto the marathon-training scene when my friend and RW work colleague Bart Yasso first described his system to me. In his own training, Bart had found that his average time for a workout of 10 x 800 meters (say 2 minutes, 58 seconds) predicted his marathon time as hours:minutes (2 hours, 58 minutes.) Here's the story I wrote in 2001.

The below-linked article reports that I wrote with “delirious excitement” about Yasso 800s. That’s not my normal manner, but I’ll let it pass. The author seems to both damn and praise Yasso 800s, so let me set the record straight. There’s no rule or physiology that makes Yasso 800s a perfect measuring tool. The workout is simply a challenging-but-fun way to get an estimate of your marathon fitness. There are many reasons why it could misfire, particularly if your upcoming marathon takes place in bad weather.

Lastly, I advise runners to “cheat” and stop at 8 Yassos. If you can do 8, I’m betting you can do 10. But the last two aren’t worth the extra effort. By the way, I checked with Bart to ask if he still gets inquiries about Yasso 800s. He said, Yes, a lot. Especially from non U.S. runners.” More at Inside Hook.

A major review looks at ways to prevent & manage knee injuries

In this paper, Australian researchers performed a systematic review and meta analysis of only randomized controlled trials of runner studies on knee pain. In other words, they were looking for “gold standard” evidence. It wasn’t easy to come by. They found “low-certainty evidence” that the following did not work: “various footwear options, multicomponent exercise therapy, graduated running programmes and online and in person injury prevention education programmes.”

Okay, so what’s left? There was a some support for short-term knee pain relief from

“running technique retraining strategies, medial-wedged foot orthoses, and osteopathic manipulation.” One trial with 320 subjects provided some evidence “that running technique retraining [to land softer] reduced the risk of knee injury compared with control treadmill running.” More at Brit J of Sports Medicine.

Carbon plated shoes won’t make you faster (but the foam might)

One reason carbon-plate super shoes are so expensive is the high cost of lightweight but strong-and-stiff carbon fiber inserts. So, if it were determined that the carbon plates contribute little or nothing to faster running, then the next generation of shoes could skip the carbon, and focus more on the new super-foams. You’d think this would reduce prices at the same time.

A new study from running biomechanics expert Max Paquette supports this “forget the fiber” approach, at least among runners over age 60. Subjects ran in 3 shoes rated by stiffness as low, moderate, and high. Conclusion: Increased shoe stiffness resulting from carbon inserts “does not improve running economy and generally does not alter lower limb joint mechanics of rearfoot strike runners over 60 years.” More at Research Quarterly for Exercise & Sport.

Should you switch to nasal breathing?

I’ve heard a lot of talk about nose (nasal) breathing recently, and I’ll admit to experimenting myself. I thought it ridiculous at first, but now I am softening my view. The attraction? Mainly that the nose can remove air pollutants. I now switch to nasal breathing whenever a junky old bus or truck rumbles past.

There’s a down side, of course. We’re so used to mouth breathing that it takes intense concentration to change. Also, it’s tough to run fast with nasal breathing, though I’ve found I can manage 4 to 5 minutes at 10K race pace. And there is supporting evidence on nasal breathing and intense running.  I’m sure we’ll continue to read more about nasal breathing. Here, Dr. Gabe Mirkin summarizes the pros and cons. More at Dr Mirkin.

“You only need to exercise if you eat”

This gem is one of my favorite fitness quotes. It was coined a little more than a decade ago by a Dr. Joseph S. Alpert, who wrote: “You only have to exercise on days that you eat.” You  might think this is a joke of some kind. It’s not.

For a full explanation, see the article at the below link. It’s titled  “Here’s why you should walk every time you eat.” Snacks and meals cause a spike in blood glucose and insulin. With this, your inflammation levels rise, and you could eventually develop Type 2 diabetes. A bit of exercise--like a brisk walk--just before or just after eating smooths out the glucose spike, and keeps you healthy. More at Supersapiens.

“Strong evidence” that exercise prevents breast cancer

A very large consortium of breast-cancer researchers worked together to explore associations between exercise (and sedentary time) and incidence of breast cancers. They used several large data bases, and employed a technique called Mendelian randomization to get closer to a cause-effect relationship between behaviors and diseases. 

Conclusion: “Our study provides strong evidence that greater overall physical activity, greater vigorous activity, and lower sedentary time are likely to reduce breast cancer risk. More widespread adoption of active lifestyles may reduce the burden from the most common cancer in women.” Here’s a news story covering the study at NewsMax. More at Brit J of Sports Medicine.

David Epstein, Alex Hutchinson discuss vascular age, mortality, arthritic knees, and more

The two best science-of-running writers, David Epstein and Alex Hutchinson, recently had a long conversation in Epstein’s email newsletter. They are the authors, respectively, of The Sports Gene and Endure. In this exchange, they discussed many of the controversial topics that surround running: vascular aging, knee arthritis, excessive exercise, and cardio or weights. If you read this, you’ll be smarter at the end than you were starting out. More (free, full text) at Range Widely.

Beware the “Terrible Toos” 

While many runners search for a new shoe, recovery tool, or other hacks to help them avoid injuries, most physicians and experts in the field think they’d do better to look in the mirror. Runner, know thyself, and admit to your training mistakes.

Here well known runner/physician/Ironman veteran Dr. Jordan Metzl cautions against the “terrible toos”--too much, too soon--especially in this Covid season when many runners are edging back into marathon training and racing. He also believes in strength training, cross-training, and listening to your body. In that vein, though not mentioned here: If an ache or pain decreases during a run, you might be okay to keep training. However, if a pain gets worse with each mile, it’s probably time to bail, rest, and rehab. More at NYTimes. 

SHORT STUFF you don’t want to miss

>>> Consuming an ice-slurry in midrace could improve your performance in hot weather.

>>> Speaking of overcoming heat problems, a frequent issue even in mild weather races, caffeine has only a “trivial effect” on your core body temperature. So it may still “provide a worthwhile improvement in endurance performance.”

>>> Gotta love it: Among children and adolescents, exercise, especially in team sports, “seems to be effective in reducing aggressive behavior.”

GREAT QUOTES make great training partners

“The best time to plant a tree was 25 years ago. The second-best time to plant a tree is today.”

--Eliud Kipchoge

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