March 2, 2023

Here's the free but abridged edition of "Run Long, Run Healthy" for March 2, 2023.

CLICK HERE for details about subscribing to the complete, full text edition of “Run Long, Run Healthy.

How to train like the Norwegian superstars

We have entered the era of Norwegian training. This follows on the heels, historically speaking, of Finnish training (Nurmi et al), Swedish training (fartlek), German training (intervals), New Zealand training (Lydiard, Peter Snell) and perhaps Kenyan training, though that one’s a bit hard to pin down. 

We know we’re in the Norwegian era because athletes like Jakob Ingebrightsen, Kristian Blummenfelt and Gustav Iden are winning Olympic and world titles and setting records. And also because the training system is so precise, and being studied and written about by so many.

Since training methods are of great interest to all runners and readers of this newsletter, let’s dig in. Before we do so, here’s a reminder. Training systems come and go, and they are built on the arc of great runners and coaches. This doesn’t constitute science, or a proven method. It’s not about data--it’s about “stories” and natural histories that evolve on the track and roads. Just keep that in mind. 

Like me, the “SweatScience” guy, Alex Hutchinson, is  “not a big believer in magic workouts or secret training plans.” But of course he’s “curious about what it’s all about” since it involves a number of significant athletes and victories. 

Basically, Norwegian training is high volume but ow intensity training, which many know as the 80/20 training system. I’d be tempted to say the Norwegians have pushed the needle toward 90/10. They’ve done this mainly by making sure their tempo training stays in the modest range, and doesn’t go over the top. (I’ve long believed that many American runners push their tempo training to an unnecessary degree, often extending their tempo runs to 8-10-12-or more miles. This is never what tempo training was meant to be, and it doesn’t prove that you’re tougher than the rest. It may just push you toward the overtraining zone.)

At any rate, Hutchinson writes at Outside Online that the Norwegian stars monitor their lactate thresholds during such training to make sure they don’t go too far or too fast. They use quick, mini blood tests mid-workout to achieve this.  They also tend to prefer interval workouts to continuous running--again, to keep lactate under control with the jog-rests between intervals.

Hutchinson bases his report on this new paper in the International J of Environmental Research & Public Health (free full text). It’s titled “Does Lactate-Guided Threshold Interval Training within a High-Volume Low-Intensity Approach Represent the ‘Next Step’ in the Evolution of Distance Running Training?” and is written by an impressive group of distance running experts.

The paper includes a nice summary of the above-mentioned historic training systems. It also notes that by using shortish intervals for their lactate-threshold training--rather than longer, steady road runs at half-marathon pace--the Norwegians attain faster paces without excess fatigue. Lastly, the Norwegians do one hard session of hill sprints per week, but again with appropriate jogs for recovery.

Okay, but what about Eliud Kipchoge?

Last time I checked Kipchoge wasn’t Norwegian but Kenyan. Also, he’s everyone’s pick for the greatest marathon runner of all time, so he must be doing something right in his training. (Will he face his Waterloo at Boston in mid-April, as Abebe Bikila did in 1963? That’s going to be a fun one to watch.)

When sports science expert Ross Tucker looks into Eliud Kipchoge’s training, he sees a lot of runs that are just plain “boring.” Kipchoge may be the fastest marathon runner of all time, but his training is monotonous. He does easy run after easy run, with faster stuff thrown in occasionally for good measure. And he’s been doing this for almost 20 years. Kipchoge set his 5000 meter personal best, 12:46.53, way back in 2004.

Rather than criticizing Kipchoge’s training for its sameness, Tucker finds the repetition a strong positive factor. “Consistency is the key,” he writes. “We need to avoid the temptation of tinkering.” A better approach: “disciplined repetition.”

Kipchoge runs up to 125 miles per week, but 85% of those miles are at an easy, relaxed Zone 1 pace. He edges into Zone 2 and Zone 3 paces only about twice a week.

According to Tucker, many runners fall into “the trap” of allowing their “Zone 1 training to drift up into Zone 2.” This is relatively easy to do--Zone 2 training isn’t fast, it’s just a bit harder than Zone 1--and that’s what makes it a trap.

Tucker believes the moral of the Kipchoge training story might sound like a cliche, but it’s true nonetheless: “Train to race. Don’t race in training.” More at RW U.K.

The ice bath cure: Yes, it really works

Maybe Paula Radcliffe was right afterall. Two decades ago, the former marathon world record holder popularized cold water immersion for recovery from hard workouts. This set off a frenzy of runners determined to prove they were tougher than the rest by stepping into freezing cold mountain streams and tubs full of ice cubes. 

Then came the skeptics who found reasons not to like treatments that might limit blood flow to the muscles. However, a new systematic review, meta-analysis, and meta-regression has concluded that cold water immersion “is effective for promoting recovery from acute strenuous exercise in physically active populations.”

The authors came to this finding after reviewing 28 studies that looked into “other common recovery modalities on recovery of athletic performance, perceptual outcomes, and creatine kinase (CK).”

Their search revealed that “CWI was more effective than active recovery, contrast water therapy and warm-water immersion for most recovery outcomes.” On the  other hand, “Air cryotherapy was significantly more effective than CWI for the promotion of recovery of muscular strength and the immediate recovery of muscular power (1-h post-exercise).” More at Sports Medicine.

Are you running away from personal demons or toward “self expansion?”

Someone has noted--or perhaps we’ve all noted--that running is a super simple activity that requires no particular attention to details and can easily fill an hour or several. In other words, while you’re out there, you’ve got plenty of time to think.

And the kind of thinking you do can determine how much mental benefit you get from your runs. An article at Fortune magazine interviewed the author of a new study about the “escapism” you employ while running. If you run mindfully, this can be seen as “self-expansion,” a positive mental approach that leads to improved overall well-being.

On the other hand, escapist runs that amount to “self-suppression” are not so helpful. These are the workouts when you are almost literally trying to run away from a personal problem. “When you try to suppress your negative emotions, research shows that you also kind of restrain your positive emotions,” says the study author. “It’s not possible to suppress your negative emotions, and let the positive emotions flourish.” Here’s the original study in free full text at Frontiers in Psychology.

SHORT STUFF you won’t want to miss

>>> Ultramarathon runners vs shorter distances: Training volumes are different, but not injury, sleep, or nutrition scores. Ultra runners more likely to report binge eating in month before race.

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

NOTE: If you were a subscriber to the complete, full-text version of RLRH for $4/month, you would also have received new articles about:

# How do Norwegians win those big triathlons?

# Four running pains you should never ignore

# What you need to succeed at running

# ALL the reasons to avoid midlife weight gain

# Proven at last: Females have more endurance than males

# What tart cherry juice is good for. And not good for

# Amazing. Among those with knee arthritis, high intensity exercise improves sport performance and quality of life more than lower intensities

# An inspirational hill running quote from Eliud Kipchoge

CLICK HERE for details about subscribing to the complete, full text edition of “Run Long, Run Healthy.