September 14, 2023

Here's the free but abridged version of this week's RLRH newsletter. For details about subscribing to the complete, full-text version of RLRH, please go here.

Is it the coffee--or the caffeine--that boosts endurance performance?

Here’s an article you’ll almost certainly want to read on the subject of coffee vs caffeine. Which is it that actually produces the well known performance boost? And which should you rely on before your major efforts?

Most of the research has been done on caffeine pills, because that’s about the only way you can actually measure the precise amount of caffeine being consumed. And research is all about precise measurements. But coffee, which is how most athletes get their caffeine fix, can differ in almost infinite ways--preparation, the beans used, regional custom, and so on. 

Also coffee can have additional benefits over pills. Its many bioactive ingredients “may influence blood flow and glucose levels,” as Alex Hutchinson notes. Coffee also has “antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.” These ingredients can make coffee a life-extending drink, at least for some individuals. 

It might depend on whether you have genes that make you a fast caffeine metabolizer or a slow metabolizer. To find out for yourself, you have to test both caffeine pills and coffee drinks to see which gives you the biggest boost. Of course, enjoyment is another key decision point. And pooping. More at Outside Online. 

Caution advised: ChatGPT isn’t ready to be a reliable coach

Like many of you, I’m trying to keep up with the blitzkrieg world of Artificial Intelligence bots. I’m intrigued for sure, and at times I’ve been impressed. I’ve also seen lots of “hallucinations”--really bad mistakes. 

Here an acknowledged expert in women’s exercise and strength-building explains in step-by-step detail how a Chat GPT summary of her training programs differs from what she would actually advise doing. It makes for a fascinating read. 

The AI responses do come close to summarizing some of Stacy Sims’s approach. But of course the difference is in the details, and the details don’t hit the mark. 

This inspired me to ask a popular AI bot to give me a 16-week marathon training program like one Hal Higdon would recommend. The response came back quickly, but in a short, generic form, and with no single run longer than 12 miles. I’ve known Higdon for a long time, and that ain’t Hal.

So for now I’d keep looking for in-depth articles and full-length books from acknowledged experts. The chatbots are fun, but you don’t want any hallucinations in your personal health and fitness program. More at Dr. Stacy Sims.

[ Click here for info on the new podcast “Running: State of the Sport” with Amby Burfoot and George Hirsch. First episode--an interview with Boston Marathon race director Jack Fleming.]

How long does it take to get in shape?

A training plan works best when you understand how long it takes to deliver the hoped-for gains. If you’re thinking tomorrow, or next week, or even next month, you’ll likely be disappointed.

Training and fitness don’t work that way. There are many variables in the mix, including key ones like your beginning fitness, how hard you train, and how long you train. 

Marathon training plans are the ones many runners seem to seek out and follow most closely. These tend to last from 12 weeks to 16 weeks (the most popular time frame) to 24 weeks. Of course, if you want to chase a marathon PR, that could involve a multiyear project with various peaks and valleys along the way.

Here the author explains what you can expect as you work through this process. And why, based on various physiological adaptations. The truest sentence I found in this article is: “Impatience and unrealistic expectations can cause frustration and hinder desired progression.”


Yes, that happens. Over and over again. Some of us learn. Some of us are too bull-headed.

I chuckled at another observation that rang true. Many runners fall into the trap of “demanding endeavors–like races or extensive training sessions–in close proximity to the designated race day.” Who hasn’t tried to squeeze in just one or two final butt-busters in the last weeks before a big race? And later regretted it. I’ve got both my hands up in the air, and I’m not proud of that.

This article is designed to help you “embark on a purposeful journey.” I hope it works. More at Trail Runner.

SHORT STUFF you don’t want to miss

>>> Beat “The Wall:” How to avoid the dreaded marathon “bonk”

That’s all 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 on:

# Outdoor running beats the treadmill for increased fitness

# Listen to your feet: They’ve got a lot to teach you

# What’s the fastest Ironman running shoe? Hoka vs Adidas

# New research result: Peppermint oil increases endurance

# Evolution wants you to be a better runner--even when you’re almost starving

# A key decision: Should you add more fast runs or long runs to your training plan?

# A podiatrist explains when you should train in super shoes

# A classic author’s quote about how running is a “treat”

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