September 22, 2022

THIS WEEK: Forget post-race icing. Use ice pre-race! The perfect marathon-taper program. Better than The 10% Rule. Training methods of the incredible Kilian Jornet. How to reduce stomach pain while running. 7 lessons from first marathons. The secret to speedy downhills. Who’s faster: Vegans or omnivores? And much more.

Forget the post-race ice. Use it pre-race!

Everyone knows about the post-exercise recovery theories built around cold water and ice. They’ve fallen a bit out of favor in recent years, but many still follow them. Now there’s a new kid on the block: ice massage before a race.

In a hot-off-the-presses paper, Brazilian researchers report that runners ran a 4K time-trial 5.5% faster after ice massage than without ice. That’s a huge difference, with average final times of about 19:06 (ice) vs 20:12. 4K is almost exactly 2.5 miles, and weather was similar for both trials. The researchers believe ice produced this dramatic outcome through “a reduced exercise-induced pain perception.”

Subjects were 14 college-age males who had been racing for at least 4 years and were training about 14 miles per week. They ran 4K as hard as they could on a standard 400-meter track once after receiving a light-pressure 3-minute ice massage of the calf muscles, and once after no massage (in randomized order). After the ice massage, the runners had 5 minutes to warm up for their 4K.

It’s possible, of course, that ice massage enhanced performance as a placebo. However, the authors believe the improvement in their study was so great that it must have been more than that. This paper is the first to show that “ice massage locally applied” before a time-trial could have a dramatic positive effect. More at Research Quarterly for Exercise & Sport.

The perfect (proven) marathon taper

We’re getting into marathon-taper season for many runners, so listen up right now!

You probably know what you’re supposed to do, since the “conventional wisdom”--a 2 to 3 week taper--is widely proposed by experienced coaches. Yet many runners still ignore this approach, apparently feeling they will gain weight and/or lose fitness if they taper longer than a week.

This article by Barry Smyth should provide all the guidance and motivation you need. He’s a big data guy at the University of Dublin who analyzed marathon taper data from 158,000 runners on Strava. The goal? To figure out which taper programs produced the best finish-time results.

It’s fascinating to read how Smyth went about doing this, but here’s the bottom line. 1) Set yourself a “strict” taper program, and follow it. 2) 3 weeks beats 2 weeks beats 1 week, ie, longer is better up to 3 weeks. 3) 1 week is worse than anything except for a no-taper, which is really, uh, dumb. 4) Females may get greater benefit than males for any given taper. More at Medium.

Your ACWR is more important than The 10% Rule

New York’s Hospital for Special Surgery is a major sponsor of the TCS NYC Marathon, and recently published important new research on injuries suffered by runners during their 16 weeks of training for New York. The 735 subjects were in their early 40s, nearly 50/50 by sex, and had completed an average of 3 previous marathons and 10 half marathons. They ran 4 days a week and increased weekly mileage from about 27 miles/week during the first 4-week period to a high of 34 miles/week during weeks 9 through 12.

At the end of each 4-week period, subjects completed a questionnaire about their injury and illness days. About 40% of the 735 runners reported an injury at one time or another during training. Illnesses were less common and mostly occurred post-marathon.

Here’s what did not affect injuries: Age, sex, running experience, goal finishing time, and weeks that exceed the 10% training-increase rule. 

Here’s what did affect injuries: An ACWR equal to or greater than 1.5. ACWR stands for Acute:Chronic Workload Ratio. To calculate your ACWR, take your miles in the last week and divide that number by the average of your miles in the last four weeks. For example, if you ran 30 miles this week and 100 miles in the last 4 weeks (including this week), your ACWR is 30/25 = 1.2. 

You can actually calculate your ACWR at the end of every day, using 7 days and 28 days to derive your ACWR ratio. Again, aim to keep the ratio below 1.5. The HSS team found: “The number of days when the ACWR was equal to or greater than 1.5 was significantly associated with injury.” (Here’s another in depth article on the pros and cons of ACWR for runners.) More at Brit J of Sports Medicine.

Are women closing the male-female sex gap in running?

Last week a couple of my favorite running writers went slightly woo-woo over reports that left me less giddy. Alex Hutchinson loves basic science, so he was intrigued by a study showing that women runners are relatively closer to men in the--wait, it’s coming--10-meter sprint than they are at longer distances. Still, they’re 5.6% slower than males, which grows to 8.6% at 60 meters (the shortest distance at Indoor World Championships) and then the familiar 10% to 12% at 100 meters and beyond. These are all significant differences that IMHO justify the time and effort World Athletics is devoting to establish fair sex-based divisions in running. More at Outside. 

Training secrets of the incredible Kilian Jornet

Another top writer, David Roche, seems an excitable type by nature, and I enjoy the raw enthusiasm that permeates much of his writing. He could barely contain himself--”angels sang”--over Kilian Jornet’s recent “how I train” blog in addition to the podcast Roche and his wife, Megan, did with Jornet. 

My view: I couldn’t have more admiration than I do for Jornet, who has been virtually unbeatable for 15 years in ultra-endurance events. Long term excellence is my #1 measuring stick. Think of runners like Joan Samuelson and Eliud Kipchoge. Their longevity makes them best of the best, in my view, and Jornet belongs in this rarefied company.

The thing is, all the veteran stars follow the same training principles, which are now well established. They train consistently, they train high mileage, they train mostly at a comfortable pace, they do faster workouts sparingly, and when they do turn to speedwork to achieve peak racing fitness, they are careful to moderate their other training (and assorted stresses) to make sure they don’t go over the top. There it is: Choose your parents well, then adopt this training pattern. Which seems precisely what Jornet has done.

I do appreciate that Jornet has shared so much in such a coherent fashion, and especially the details about organizing family life so both he and his wife have sufficient training time (they have two young children born in the last 3 years), the importance of being “in a moment in my life where I’m happy,” and his exact fueling protocol during the mountainous 110-mile Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc (UTMB). Here’s David Roche’s summary at Trail Runner.

How to reduce stomach pain while running

Patrick Wilson, author of The Athlete’s Gut, continues to research reasons why runners have stomach-related problems at various times. One of these is called ETAP, ie, Exercise related Transient Abdominal Pain. When Wilson checked with 168 male and female adult runners, he found that 39.9% of them had experienced ETAP in the last month. That’s a sizable number, and it no doubt impacts performance. Wilson’s analysis found that “anxiety and stress are associated with the presence of ETAP.”  More at Clinical J of Sports Medicine.

7 things you learn in a first marathon

Several months ago, Tara Parker Pope moved to the Wash Post from the NY Times, where she had been responsible for launching the paper’s popular “Wellness” section with a solid assist from freelancer Gretchen Reynolds, who often updated us on the most important new exercise research. Parker Pope’s section at the WaPo is called “Well+Being,” and she has brought Reynolds along with her. Click on the “Lifestyle” tab to find “Well+Being.”

It seems likely that “Well+Being” will include semi-regular updates from the running world, and the first appeared recently. It asked the question, “What did experienced marathon runners learn from their first 26.2 miler? My answers were: Being scared is a good thing, and have your mantra ready. You’re going to need it.

All 7 responses are solid, ranging from Meb Keflezighi’s “Practice patience” to the “Dress lighter than you think” advice. More at Wash Post.

The secret to fast downhill running

It took me 10 years, and many lost races, to learn to run fast downhill. Finally, I figured out a simple cue that worked for me: “Quick feet, quick feet, quick feet.” Once learned, it became a running skill that I could turn on instantly as needed.

A new masters degree thesis from BYU seems to confirm my approach. The author, who studied under well known running biomechanics researcher Iain Hunter, looked into “Anatomical and Biomechanical Factors Related to Running Economy in Uphill and Downhill Running.” She found that a “shorter average ground time” was linked to better downhill running. The opposite, “a longer average ground time,” was linked to strong uphill running. She notes that “this information can be used to make changes in training” to improve your up and down running,” but there could be other factors as well. More at BYU Scholars Archive.

Omnivores run faster than vegans/vegetarians

The Swiss-German research project called “The NURMI study” is surely one of the best named out there. (After the great Finnish runner of the 1920s, Paavo Nurmi, who won 9 Olympic gold medals in distance running events.) Here NURMI stands for “The Nutrition and Running High Mileage” study.

Previous NURMI papers have looked primarily at ultra runners. This one, with 864 subjects, investigates marathon runners and half-marathoners by diet type, BMI, finish times, and more. There’s a lot of slicing and dicing. You can read it all at the free, full-text link below.

The top-line findings: 1) Females were more likely to follow vegan or vegetarian diets than males. 2) Vegetarians tended to have the lowest body weights, and omnivores the highest. 3) Higher body weights were linked to slower times in males, not females. 4) Omnivores were significantly faster than vegans or vegetarians in most performances.

More at Nutrients.

Every step counts, but faster is better

You might wonder why researchers continue to study step counts and their relationship to good health. After all, step counting seems much less scientific than heart rates, vo2 max testing, cholesterol levels, and the like. The reason is simple: Steps are easy to measure with inexpensive “bands,” and might motivate non exercisers to get moving. Steps are also meaningful. 

In fact, “Every step counts,” according to a new systematic review and meta-analysis of studies looking at adults over age 60. Increasing step counts offers “a wide array of positive outcomes.” More at The Lancet.

Another step-count paper looked into records of 78,000 British citizens (ages 40 to 79) with a followup period of 7 years. It found “more steps per day (up to almost 10,000) “may be associated with a lower risk of all-cause, cancer, and CVD mortality.”

This paper also looked at step-rate intensity, what we runners call pace or stride rate.  A high cadence [stride rate] “consistently associated with lower risks across all outcomes, beyond the benefit of total daily steps.” Thus steps you take walking fast, or even better running, count more than slow-strolling steps. Pick it up a little if you can. More at JAMA Internal Medicine.

SHORT STUFF you don’t want to miss

>>> Best runner recovery tools of 2022.

>>> Systematic review: “The findings do not support broad use of viscosupplementation [hyaluronic acid] for the treatment of knee osteoarthritis.”

>>> Weird science: Microbiome transplant from human to mouse improves mouse endurance.

GREAT QUOTES make great training partners

“I’m not afraid of failing and I’m also not afraid of bringing everyone else along on the journey to see me vulnerable with what I’m attempting to do. Maybe I’ll do it, maybe I won’t.”

--Keira D’Amato, American record holder in the marathon who is trying to break her own record Sunday morning in Berlin

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