November 2, 2023

Stuck in a rut? Here’s how to break through

We’ve all been there. After some period of training--whether months or years--you seem to keep producing the same results in your big efforts. Maybe you run 3 marathons in succession in 3:33, 3:35, and 3:32.

Those are strong finish times, but what you really want is a sub-3:30 marathon. How to get there? Alex Hutchinson dissected a recent paper on the limits of strength training to look for answers. You might not be interested in all the microcellular elements, but Hutchinson’s personal conclusion offers good insight.

“In practice, I’m pretty sure that most training plateaus, whether in muscle size, marathon time, or other fitness goals, don’t actually reflect some immutable biological law. We slip into comfortable routines, repeating the same workouts even though our bodies have already adapted to them. We settle for incremental goals instead of dreaming of quantum leaps.” More at Outside Online.

Big dreams are important, and also breaking out of a rut. The NY Times noted that “workout plateaus are an inevitable part of any fitness journey.” One expert suggested: “It’s a chance to listen to your body, figure out what it needs to improve, and reconnect to what you love about running.” More at NY Times.

This often requires moving away from your target for a time. Switch from road marathons to the mile, or to trail running, for 6 to 12 months. Then jump back on that sub-3:30 goal. You might be surprised by how quickly your fitness returns, and even exceeds what it was previously.

Healthy feet, faster times: Why you need to rotate your shoes

Many runners, when they find a favorite, most-comfortable pair of running shoes, stick with those shoes for years. Some even buy a half-dozen pairs of a particular model once they have identified it as their chosen shoe.

This could be a mistake. 

Running injuries are often caused by “overuse.” Translation: You repeat the same motion (your running stride) over and over until a given muscle grows fatigued, and breaks down. Such overuse is magnified when you always run in the same pair of shoes, with the same construction, same midsole, and same fit.

Using different shoes, on the other hand, reduces overuse. Your leg muscles must make slight adaptations for each run in different footwear. For example, you could do your shorter, easy-day runs in a pair of minimalist shoes rather than the thicker shoes you use when logging more distance. You could also alternate between shoes with a significant heel-toe “drop,” and others with zero-drop. 

Some runners choose to run in shoes made by different companies--say New Balance and Brooks--figuring that even this simple tactic should produce variations in the forces their legs encounter while running. And indeed it should.

A 2015 study investigated this “mix ‘em up” strategy to see if it would prove effective. It did, finding that the “parallel use of more than one pair of running shoes was a protective factor.” In fact, mixing up shoes resulted in a 39% drop in running injuries.”

Research has also found that certain shoes, often with low heel drops, can reduce knee injuries. Or, if you’ve got Achilles or calf problems, you could try thicker shoes with more dramatic heel to toe drops. 

The following article summarizes much of this information, as it argues the case for rotating your running shoes. Somewhat strangely, it quotes an apparent injury expert who is never fully identified. More at Training Peaks. 

High aerobic fitness can reduce flu deaths by 50%

We in the northern hemisphere are edging into flu season, so it’s a good time for a study on exercise and flu. Here a big report looked for possible links between aerobic exercise and/or strength training, and risks of mortality from influenza and pneumonia

It included more than 577,000 subjects who were followed for over 9 years. Result: Those meeting guidelines (150 minutes/week of moderate cardio, plus 2 strength workouts/week) “had a 48% lower adjusted risk of influenza and pneumonia mortality.”


When looking at aerobic exercise alone, the risk of death was lowest (minus 50%) for those logging 301 to 600 minutes/week. That’s equivalent to 30 to 60 miles/week of running if you’re running your miles at about 10:00 minute pace. Those exercising over 600 minutes per week still had a 41% lower mortality rate. The lowest exercise group (10 to 149 minutes/week) enjoyed a 21% lower risk.

With strength training, 2 sessions a week produced good results, but 7 or more workouts/week increased mortality risk by 41 percent. Conclusion: “Aerobic physical activity, even at quantities below the recommended level, may be associated with lower influenza and pneumonia mortality while muscle-strengthening activity demonstrated a J-shaped relationship.” More at British J of Sports Medicine with free full text.

SHORT STUFF you don’t want to miss

>>> Amazing bicycle gizmo: Here’s a new bicycle balancing device that can prevent falls, especially at slow speeds.

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:

# Wait!!!??? There’s a time for decreased carb intake?

# Drafting is dramatic: How Kelvin Kiptum could have run 1:57 with a pacer

# Why you should consider run-walk training to boost your performance

# The ultimate marathon warm up = almost none at all

# How PEACE & LOVE can reduce muscle pains

# The data proves it: You can run away from breast cancer

# “Time” magazine picks several running products as “Best inventions 2023”

# A great quote about the “pandemonium of joy” that greeted NYC Marathon finishers in 1896

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