July 11, 2024

Below is the abridged version of my “Run Long, Run Healthy” newsletter for this week. You can SUBSCRIBE HERE to get the much longer and more complete, full-text edition. Thanks for reading. Amby 

You Won’t Believe This! How To Bounce Back From A Marathon-Training Injury

From 2014 to 2017, Irish marathon runner and big-data expert, Barry Smyth, had access to a massive amount of runner training data from Strava. This data, which included approximately 400,000 marathon runners training for 800,000 marathons, has allowed Smyth to do “real-life” analysis of important marathon training and racing questions. 

Smyth’s most recent paper has gone where no one has been able to go previously. He asks and then answers a question every veteran marathon runner has faced. Here’s the question: “If I lose time to injury in my marathon training buildup, how should I return to training when healthy?”

There are many potential answers to that question. They range from “very conservatively, so you don’t get reinjured” to “very aggressively, so you can go for the gold on race day.”

Ask any coach, exercise scientist, or physical therapist for their answer, and almost 100 percent will select the conservative approach. In running, we just don’t believe in making up for lost time. We believe in patience, slow-steady progress, and staying healthy against future injuries.

Surprise! That’s not what Smyth’s data revealed. And he had a LOT of data--he found 103,000 runners in marathon training who missed 7+ consecutive days of training--presumably from injuries. 

When these runners returned to training, some ran 20 to 25% less than they had been previously. They followed the conventional wisdom. 

However, one-third “effectively doubled their training.” They apparently felt nervous about a rapidly-approaching marathon race, and opted for an all-in approach.

At this point, you’re thinking, “That’s a recipe for disaster.” But it wasn’t. The hard-trainers finished their marathon “slightly faster” than those who followed a conservative approach. They also missed fewer training days (from presumed injury) in the rest of their marathon prep than their more-cautious peers. 

Before I could email Smyth a few hard questions, he responded with answers. “It would be unwise to conclude that it is safer to come back aggressively after an injury, notwithstanding what our data showed,” he wrote. “I think this effect was likely due to runners who were not badly injured, and were able to come back strongly.” 

Still, the paper clearly showed that it’s possible to get over an injury, and jump back into training more aggressively than most have believed. Many running injuries are minor, heal quickly, and allow for continued hard training. Plus, the injury might have given you a good recovery period. Just remember that familiar cardinal rule: Listen to your body. More at Case Based Reasoning Research & Development.

Beware Fake Science In Olympics Marketing

I anticipated much of what I read in Nick Tiller’s essay “From Gods to Gurus” about superstition and science at the Olympic Games. But I also learned more than I expected.

For example, I wasn’t surprised by Tiller’s skepticism over Michael Phelps’s use of cupping therapy, Mo Farah’s belief in cryotherapy, and many athletes’ use of kinesio tape. It turns out that a major k-tape company donated 50,000 rolls to athletes before the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games, and many of those athletes subsequently wore the tape “like performance art” during their televised Olympic appearances. Bingo! A huge, instantaneous marketing success. 

I also expected that many athletes would have “lucky socks” or other lucky apparel that they believe essential to their success. But I didn’t know that one speed skater always touches both eyebrows and winks at the camera to guarantee a good race. Or that a swimmer follows a ritual involving a number sequence of 8-4-4.

Why such bizarre approaches? Because believing does in fact help you perform better. That’s the power of the placebo effect. 

But there are steep downsides. When Phelps starts selling his own cupping device, and anyone else pushes their favorite (but unproven) device or supplement, people can get hurt. They get hurt in the pocketbook, of course, but also physically. One review site has documented nearly 400,000 deaths and $3 billion in economic damages due to “unregulated alternative therapies.”

Tiller tells another tale I hadn’t heard before. He says that something called the “Sagan Effect” discourages the most-knowledgeable scientists from engaging in discussion of controversial approaches. When they do, they are often stigmatized by their academic peers, who apparently think experts should stay ensconced in their ivory towers. 

At the same time, good science writing is drying up along with other forms of solid journalism that previously aimed to inform the public. This double whammy is a great boon to non-experts, who find they can peddle their snake oil in a virtual vacuum--AKA, the Internet. Buyer, beware. More at The Skeptical Inquirer.

99 Year Old Finishes Peachtree 10K In Atlanta

It’s a little early for “Runner of the Year” nominations, but Betty Lindberg has almost clinched my vote. She just finished her 35th Peachtree Road Race 10K in Atlanta at the ripe young age of 99. And Peachtree’s hills and summer heat make it anything but an easy run. Lindberg will turn 100 in September.  Let’s hope she’s got a fall 5K on her race calendar.

These days, Lindberg trains with “quick strolls” around the neighborhood where she lives. Quick or slow, what’s the difference, so long as you’re out there. At Peachtree, she almost cracked the 3-hour barrier. Maybe next year? She’s got a number of family members to accompany her and keep her motivated. 

Lindberg is also a regular at several other Atlanta races, and has set some USATF national records in recent years. She holds the 90-95 road record for 5K, 55:48. Here’s a short article about her Peachtree race, and here’s a longer one with much more background--all the way to her birth in September, 1924. Check out the joy and energy on her face.

SHORT STUFF You Don’t Want To Miss

>>> Run away from back pain: Some physiotherapists believe running is “the best treatment” for lower back pain.

HERE’S WHAT ELSE YOU WOULD HAVE RECEIVED this week if you were a subscriber to the complete, full-text edition of “Run Long, Run Healthy.” Why not give it a try? SUBSCRIBE HERE.   

# Run faster with this ONE simple form fix

# Beat the heat with the “frozen water balloons” trick!

# How to prevent knee pain with broccoli & bicycling

# Your ultimate guide to calf-muscle injuries

# How low-cal diets threaten your immunity

# Pay attention NOW: Teen fitness linked to heart disease 40 yrs later

# Run happy, don’t worry: Running doesn’t have “any detrimental effect on cartilage”

# What Taylor Swift says about following your own true path

DON’T FORGET: I spend hours searching the Internet for the best, most authoritative new running articles, so you can review them in minutes.

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