October 20, 2022

Note: This is the last week I'll be posting full-text summaries of my weekly newsletter, "Run Long, Run Healthy." Going forward, you'll only find abridged versions here.

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New research: Best marathon plan for non elite runners
A major goal of many exercise scientists, coaches, and runners is a deeper understanding of marathon training. A new paper from Japan peels back several layers on this topic, so I’m going to give it extra space this week.

Of course, we know how the elites train. After they win the Olympics or a Marathon Major, they are immediately asked: “How did you do it?” The interviews reveal that they all train more or less the same: with high mileage, a mix of pace-appropriate workouts, good recovery, and good nutrition.

That might prove helpful if you’re ready to dive into 100-mile training weeks, but it doesn’t give much guidance if 20- to 40-miles/week suits you better. Someday soon, I think we’ll know much more about the “best” 40-mile week, as an example. We’ll find out when the right person gets access to Strava or other massive database. But this hasn’t happened yet.

At the 2017 Hokkaido Marathon, Japanese researchers did get almost 500 runners to provide detailed personal and training information. They recorded the runners’ finish times in the marathon, and then sliced and diced all the accumulated data. In particular, they wanted to “clarify the importance of training indicators on marathon performance.”

Their subjects were all male and, on average, 40 years old, with 8 years of running experience, and a BMI of 21.41. They trained just twice a week (again on average; some did more, of course), logging about 20 miles/week. They completed the Hokkaido Marathon in an average time of 4:20.

Among key training variables, including training frequency, average distance/run and longest run, the most important was total monthly mileage. This could be, the researchers hypothesized, because lactate threshold is a key predictor of marathon success, and “training volume is more closely related to lactate threshold” than other training indicators. 

However, “the relationship between training volume and marathon time” weakens as total training declines. In fact, it becomes nonsignificant if your average run is less than 10K, and your longest run is less than 30K. 

Conclusion: “Monthly training volume was the most important factor in predicting marathon time.” Also, “BMI was significantly correlated [to marathon finish time] regardless of age and running career.” More at European J of Applied Physiology

Don’t pace marathons by heart rate. Use “feel” instead

France’s Veronique Billat has been one of the world’s top endurance physiologists for several decades, with a particular emphasis on training and racing strategies that can maximize performance. In an astounding new study, she actually asked a handful of marathon entrants to wear lightweight, portable gas analyzers to see how their heart rate, oxygen consumption, and running pace changed during a 26.2 mile race.

Why? “The marathon is a special event and open to everyone,” she wrote. “It is long and intense and fascinates scientists because the outcome is unpredictable, even for experienced runners.” Ain’t that the truth?

Billat’s main conclusion from this experiment: Don’t wear a heart-rate monitor in an attempt to keep yourself at an even pace. It won’t work. You’ll slow down more than you want. Instead, and you might have guessed this was coming, she recommends: “Learning how to pace oneself by feeling or sensation, which is RPE [Relative Perceived Exertion], combined with running experience may be more advantageous and realistic.” 

Like others, Billat believes the best way to run a marathon is with a slight negative split (faster second half). She wants us to be particularly cautious the first 5K. After that, run by feel. “Pacing during a marathon according to heart rate zones is not recommended. Rather, learning about the relationship between running sensations during training and racing using RPE is optimal.” More at Int J of Environmental Research & Public Health.

Why do some runners “respond” better to training than others?

We’ve all seen it or been there. Take any group of runners (say, a high school cross-country team), and train them more or less the same for two months. What will happen? That’s easy: Some will improve more than others.

Why? That’s not so easy. It often seems quite mysterious.

A group of Norwegian researchers recently dove into this question, finding that the “high responders” on a xc ski team trained a little more and harder, while also suffering from fewer days lost to injury/illness. But how did they train and recover better? We need more answers.

Next the researchers looked for “qualitative” explanations in addition to the above quantitative results. The high responders had “high motivation to train and recover” and also maintained their “motivation throughout the entire training period.” In addition, high responders exhibited “more enjoyment both during and between training sessions” and committed to a strong athlete-coach relationship. This strong relationship might have contributed to “more individually optimized training and recovery routines, and thereby more positive performance-development.” More at Frontiers in Sports & Active Living.

The 10 best new super-shoe racing shoes

Given that the running-shoe industry is nearly 50 years old, I would have thought there would be only a half-dozen or so companies still on the starting line today. Like car companies. Or maybe computer companies. Instead, there are more shoe brands out there than I’ve ever seen before. This could only happen in a world with a very large number of runners-consumers who have an equally large number of “needs.” As just stated above, it’s all about “individual response.”

That means shoe reviews are nearly impossible to write in an universally informative manner. Any reviewer’s favorite “flavor” is not going to be mine … or yours. That said, I appreciated the recent super-shoe updates at the below link. Possibly because I know and trust several of the reviewers. But also because they sound like runners,and  have typical runner needs, likes, and dislikes. And also because they disagreed at certain points. 

It’s too late to buy these shoes for an upcoming fall marathon, but maybe okay for your favorite Turkey Trot. Each review includes all the important tech specs plus “on the road” reactions from the same three runners. More at Outside.

Careful at the gym, where many injuries happen

Frankly, if you want my evidence-free observation, most runner injuries happen while moving household furniture and similar everyday activities. Get slightly off balance, twist your body a little, stretch too far, bend and lift … and here comes an injury. It will definitely affect your running, but you didn’t actually get it from running.

Injuries also happen in the gym, according to a new review. We often go to the gym to strengthen ourselves against runner-related injuries, but then the unexpected happens. Many gym injuries involve the shoulders and elbows, but the back and knees also get whacked. To prevent these “requires professional supervision and adhering to proper lifting techniques.” So be careful at the gym … and when moving household furniture. More at Int J of Environmental Research & Public Health.

What’s the best-tasting post-workout food? 

We all know we’re supposed to rehydrate and refuel modestly within the first 30 to 60 minutes after a tough workout. But what are the best foods to consume during this “window?” Well, you could consult a 600-page sports nutrition book, or you could ask a few of your fellow runners what they prefer.

The responses would be wondrous and very different, especially if you asked about “favorite, tastiest foods” vs textbook choices. That’s what happened in this Reddit conversation. A few of the choices are predictable: Chocolate milk, a peanut butter and jam sandwich, a fruit smoothie, and so on.


And then there’s the smarty pants who pulls out his cell phone to order home delivery of … take a good guess. More at Reddit.

Fast running at Kona Ironman championships. Plus, weird shoes

A former top runner, Chelsea Sodaro, won the Ironman championships with a 2:51:45 marathon performance after, you know, a whole lot o’ swimming and cycling. At a younger age, Sodaro, now 33, competed in NCAA track championships and Olympic Marathon Trials, but this was her first Kona race. Her singular running focus ended after six stress fractures (see below item), but she found a way to make tri-training work for her. Sodaro also gave birth just 18 months ago. An all-together inspiring story.

Norway’s Gustav Iden broke the marathon course record at Kona by more than 3 minutes with his 2:36:14 clocking. Just as remarkable, he did so in a pair of “illegal” shoes that are apparently legal in triathlon racing. Briefly: World Athletics now limits the stack height of a road race shoe to 40mm. Iden wore a pair of ON shoes that appeared much thicker than 40mm (ON wouldn’t release any shoe specifics).

But World Triathlon does not have to follow WA, and isn’t. At least not for now.  Aside from Iden, it seems few if any other Kona racers realized this, much as in 2016 when only a handful of Olympic athletes had access to Nike’s then-unknown new supershoes. 

If this ruling holds firm, it portends a number of interesting outcomes. For one, there will be huge interest in future Triathlon running shoes. How far will they stretch the limits of running shoe performance? Two, more runners of all kinds will consider if there are advantages to training in “illegal” shoes even if you can’t race a standard marathon in them. More at Triathlete.

How to prevent stress fractures

As just noted, Chelsea Sodaro had six stress fractures on her way to an Ironman Kona victory. Other runners, particularly women, face occasional stress fractures, and there’s no way to run through them. (But cross-training at the appropriate time, yes! Just like Chelsea.)

Here, an experienced PT takes a deep look at the whys and wherefores of stress fractures among runners and triathletes, including tips on how you can avoid them. That’s always the smartest first step. Step two, if you have one: Learn what went wrong and avoid making the same mistakes in your comeback. More at Triathlete.

SHORT STUFF you don’t want to miss

>>> Do Pilates mat exercises help runners with knee issues? (Probably not.)

>>> 5 reasons not to take NSAIDS before working out

>>> Skip the protein shakes: 8 real foods that build muscle

GREAT QUOTES make great training partners

“When you have success, there’s a temptation to change how you do things. Keep being you and doing the things that got you there.”

--Sara Hall

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