July 20, 2023

Here's the free but abridged version of this week's RLRH newsletter. I hope you enjoy it, and learn something new. Please consider upgrading with one of the below links. Thanks. Amby

Discovered at last! Secrets of marathon training 

For the last decade, Irish big-data mathematician Barry Smyth has been analyzing very large runner data sets obtained from Strava. From the beginning, he has been zigging and zagging his way toward the ultimate goal — to derive an interactive marathon training app.  

Look at it this way: If 500,000 marathoners have trained in a certain way with a certain result, you’d be silly to ignore their proven path. Nothing is guaranteed, but this ought to be a better system than blindly following “cookie cutter” Internet programs. It might even be better than your result from a personalized coach. After all, no coaches have 500,000 marathon training programs and finish performances in their experience.

Smyth and colleagues are now very close to their goal. In thei newest paper, they even tease what the app might look like. Before releasing it, however, they want to do additional “prospective” testing and more fine-tuning of the user interface.

Here’s what you want to know about the app. First, the 500,000 results include about 6000 females. Participants had an average age of about 40 and an average marathon finish time of 4:00 (men) and 4:24 (women). Of course, with 500,000 results, there are also plenty of younger, faster runners and older, slower runners to base outcomes on.

And here’s how the app works. It begins by asking you for the date of your upcoming marathon, and the time you hope to run. This info is used to generate your training program. Then, as your training progresses, it gives you a simple weekly report that explains if you’re on target, lagging behind, or getting too far ahead of yourself.

The next move is yours. If you’re behind or ahead of schedule, you can make appropriate changes that the app will convert to training suggestions. It will tell you to run more or less, and faster or slower. Basically, you get hand-holding every week, and renewed confidence about where your training is taking you.

Through their big-data analysis, the Irish researchers have found that training pace is the most important factor in finish-time prediction, followed by total weekly distance, followed by appropriate recovery. They hope to eventually include heart-rate and injury data, as well other data that runners regularly report to Strava. But for now, they’re basing everything on the most-common runner metrics: How far should you run, and at what pace? More at User Modeling & User-Adapted Interaction with free full text.

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Marathoners have larger hippocampal brain region

The hippocampus is the area of the brain considered crucial to learning and memory. The bigger, the better, which also offers some protection against Alzheimers. Here researchers used MRI imaging to compare hippocampus volume in 73 recreational marathon runners vs 52 healthy, matched controls.

Result: “We reported larger volumes of specific hippocampal subfields in the amateur marathon runners, which may provide a hippocampal volumetric reserve that protects against age-related hippocampal deterioration.” Okay, I guess it’s time to sign up for my next marathon. More at Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise.

Wait … There’s an argument against “listening to your body?”

The familiar runner refrain, “Listen to your body,” has been passed along from runner to magazine article to book to web video about a billion times since Dr. George Sheehan first expressed it in the late 1970s. And I’m responsible for about a half-billion of those pass-alongs.

Now, however, a surprising article from an unexpected source, The New Yorker, cautions us not to be too literal about our listening. It turns out there’s a technical name for such body monitoring — interoception, or “sixth sense” as it is sometimes labeled.

According to The New Yorker article, interoception isn’t universally good or helpful. For example, people who are too deeply tuned into their bodies may suffer from anxiety and depression. Also, one psychiatrist is investigating if eating disorders arise from “interoceptive mistranslation.”

While some interoception can be helpful, you also have to be listening to the environment around you — the weather, the season of the year, your friends, your blood pressure, your cholesterol, etc.

That is, you should be listening to many forms of feedback. “You don’t want to be focused too much on your body,” says one neuroscientist-researcher in the field. “You want to be focused on the world.

More at The New Yorker.

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

# Lose 2 pounds, run 4% faster

# Who’s got the best training plan for you

# To run faster, talk to yourself in mid stride

# 4 simple but super-effective core strength exercises

# “Just Say No” to NSAIDs

# A running-form change that can decrease Achilles injuries

# Weird science: Mice run faster after a human poo transplant

# Runners who receive a mini brain shock race faster in 5K

# A poetic, inspirational quote from Lord Byron

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Thanks for reading. Stay well. Amby