October 6, 2022

THIS WEEK: Outdoor running beats treadmill. Sex acts and subsequent performance. Speed work, yes! Ibuprofen “no effect” on marathon performance. First sub-4 woman “alive today.” 4 marathon nutrition mistakes.Do former Olympians develop arthritis? 75-yr-old has run every day since 1978. And more

Outdoor running beats treadmill training

Runners are forever debating the pros and cons of treadmill running vs outdoor running, and there are good points on both sides.The treadmill has great advantages vs darkness, heat, cold, and perhaps injury reduction. Whereas outdoor running … well, there’s an amazing, beautiful, challenging world out there, so why not enjoy it? Plus, some studies give a nod to improved mental health with more outdoors time.

Here researchers looked for differences in “physical fitness and body composition” among runners who did all their training on a treadmill for 6 weeks vs those who did all training outdoors on a cinder track. (Cinder tracks? Apparently they still exist in relatively undeveloped countries where this study took place.)

Outdoor running clearly “won” this side by side comparison. It produced greater benefits in sprint times, 1600-meter times, and reductions of body fat. Plus it has an additional benefit, requiring “no access to special equipment (e.g., treadmill).” More at PeerJ.

The last word on sex and performance--not really

At the end of the 1960s--an era of sex, drugs, and rock n roll--researchers undertook the first test looking into sex and performance. They wanted to check on “the traditional view of coaches and athletes that sexual release adversely effects gross motor performance.”

There have been plenty of studies since then, as “This salacious topic has generated widespread discussion.” And now we have a systematic review and meta analysis based on 9 cross-over studies totaling “132 male subjects and one female subject,” a bit of a lopsided pool. Conclusion: “The results demonstrate that sexual activity within 30 min to 24 h before exercise does not appear to affect aerobic fitness, musculoskeletal endurance, or strength/power.”

There are a few interesting things here. Like … 30 minutes! And also the limited female subjects. But there’s another problem as well. Researchers have no way to “blind” this kind of study. Do you know when you’ve had sex? I’m voting Yes on that one. So your attitude-feelings about the act likely influence the results as much as the physical output. The researchers note: “Sexual activity is a complex interplay of physical, emotional, psychological, and other factors that may be difficult to understand fully.” More at Nature.

Ibuprofen in marathons

Marathon and ultra runners find it tempting to take ibuprofen during races. Some reports have found that 75% of marathon runners use ibuprofen. They’re hoping to reduce muscle pain and/or improve performance. However, many experts argue against this practice because ibuprofen can lead to “increased intestinal permeability and increased uptake of endotoxins into the blood.”

Here researchers simply wondered if the ibuprofen did anything at all. They measured effects in trail marathon runners who either took 400mg of ibuprofen or a placebo capsule. Conclusion: “In summary, IBU had positive evidence on oxidative stress and muscle fatigue, but had no effect on physical performance and muscle damage.” More at Research in Sports Medicine.

Speed work improves fitness economy in trained endurance athletes

In this study, researchers wanted to extend the findings of previous work regarding the effectiveness of “speed endurance training” (short intervals, or SET) to improve physiological markers and a “time to exhaustion” running trial. They began with a group of sub elite athletes who were already training hard. 

Next they added two additional workouts per week to each subject’s routine. The workouts were either 6 to 12 30-second intervals at 95% max effort (with longish 3-minute recoveries), or 20 to 40 minutes of additional training at a modest effort. Both the speed and moderate training increased progressively over a 10 week period.

What happened? Nothing much for those who boosted their moderate training.The speed group, on the other hand, improved on a whole host of measures (vo2 max, lactate threshold, running economy) and on the time to exhaustion running test. Thus, “SET imposes greater physiological demands than MIT resulting in superior performance adaptations and reduced energy cost in endurance athletes.” More at J of Human Kinetics.

The first sub-4 woman miler is “alive today”

Roger Bannister broke through the mythical barrier on May 6, 1954. Twenty-nine days later, a similar barrier fell for women. But it was the sub-5 mile, achieved by England’s Diane Leather.

Recently global exercise-heat expert Sam Cheuvront was invited to write a “commentary” about the possibility of a sub-4 mile by a woman runner. The world-record currently stands at 4:12.33 by Sifan Hassan in 2019. A big track fan, Cheuvront couldn’t resist the opportunity. He hoped to provide “a succinct, theoretical, but intuitive explanation for how women might get closer to their own watershed moment in the mile.”

Drafting can definitely help. After all, Bannister himself had pacers for the first 3 laps. Also, body weight is important, but “runners will be fastest at the right weight, not the lowest weight.” Good training can also improve running economy to the necessary level.

Put it all together and “it is plausible that the first woman capable of running a sub-four-minute mile is alive today,” wrote Cheuvront. “The future will speak for itself.” If it happens, it could be a galvanizing moment for women’s running, as Bannister’s breakthrough was for men. More, with free, full text, at Int J of Sports Physiology & Performance.

4 diet mistakes of a nutritionist marathoner

If a nutritionist begins training for a marathon and makes several serious food mistakes, it’s no wonder the rest of us have trouble at times. Here registered dietician Natalie Rizzo explains 4 classic blunders she made. Looking them over, I thought, “I’ve never made that fiber mistake before a marathon.” But the others? Yeah, occasionally guilty as charged. More at Today.

Heel cup and soft insole reduce heel impacts, maybe injuries

Running injuries are common, and a high percentage of runners are heel-strikers. That’s why some biomechanics researchers believe that reducing heel impacts (“plantar pressures”) could be a productive path to fewer injuries. Here they “reverse engineered” running-shoe construction looking for an “optimal combination” of materials and methods to minimize peak plantar heel pressure. They found two methods particularly effective. 1) A “conforming heel cup” achieved the highest contribution rate (53.18%) among four methods examined. 2) A soft “insole material had a secondary contribution (25.89%).” 

The paper did not actually analyze if these approaches panned out in the real world. However, the researchers concluded: “The results from this study suggest that runners who want to relieve plantar pressure should consider a custom insole with a conforming heel-cup.” More at Frontiers in Bioengineering & Biotechnology.

Let’s keep the kids healthy and safe

Many marathons have minimum age requirements--often 16 or 18--though there’s little evidence to support this. The marathons are just tilting toward a conservative approach, and why argue? That said, the latest research in this area provides some comfort. A group of child/teen sports injury experts followed “adolescent runners enrolled in a 6-month distance running program,” and found that changes to foot and leg tissues could be “attributed to favorable distance training adaptations.” More at J of Ultrasound in Medicine.

Injuries receive much attention, and safety procedures little. Which is a bit backwards when you consider that many running injuries are short-term, while runner-vehicle accidents are serious and too often fatal. Researchers from the Univ. of North Carolina’s National Center for Catastrophic Sport Injury Research recently looked back over 10 years of data on traffic accidents involving high school cross-country runners. They didn’t have much, but the outcomes were terrifying.

Since both cross-country popularity and pedestrian fatalities are increasing nationwide, protecting young runners deserves serious consideration. And it’s not brain science. Schools should have written Emergency Response plans, coaches should regularly discuss safety, kids should run facing traffic and avoid mid street crossings, and wear reflective gear when appropriate (on arms and legs). Last but not least, no audio devices while running. More at American Orthopedic Associations for Sports Medicine.

Inspiratory muscle training extends respiratory endurance

A research team investigated the effect of an inspiratory breathing exercise to see if it could increase “the peak and mean relative running power” of subjects performing all-out 30-second sprints. It did. Conclusion: “Our results suggest that this respiratory strategy enhances exercise.”

Another group looked at “a short course of high-resistance, low-volume breathing” to see if it improved respiratory endurance and cardiovascular responsiveness. Again, it did. The six week study period lowered resting blood pressure while extending “the capacity for respiratory work and endurance.” Hence, “The outcomes have implications for athletic conditioning and for attaining and maintaining cardiorespiratory fitness.” More at Respiratory Physiology & Neurobiology. 

Do former Olympians develop arthritis?

It’s always fascinating to know how Olympic athletes fare in the long tail of their lives after Olympic glory. For example, do they live longer than others? The answer appears to be Yes. 

Do they also have less arthritis than the general paper. Maybe not. Based on a new paper, Olympians have about the same degree as the general population, but more after surgery. That’s probably because they push so hard for performance breakthroughs.

In other words, “Injury is an occupational risk factor for retired Olympians.” With no chance for gold-medal glory, the rest of us likely back off sooner. Brit J of Sports Medicine.

Why can’t you (and Mo Farah) run a faster marathon? 

Maybe you face some of the hurdles Mo Farah has bumped into as he tries to turn his track triumphs into equal success at 26.2 miles. As it turned out, Farah dropped out of Sunday’s London Marathon a few days earlier, but veteran NY Times Olympics reporter Jere Longman had already talked to a lot of world experts about Farah, so the paper went ahead and published the article.

And what’s Farah’s problem? Well, no one knows for sure, and several noted that his marathon PR of 2:05:11 isn’t exactly crap.I supported the notion that his running economy might not match that of Eliud Kipchoge’s. Others said basically that “you can’t be the best at everything.” If you could, Usain Bolt would hold the record for the 1-mile when, in fact, many high schoolers could beat Bolt in the mile. More at NY Times.

A paradox: Exercise pain is a barrier to some, no problem for others

It will probably be a good, long time before we understand why some people think running is hard work and boring to boot, while others consider it rhythmic, almost euphoric, and rejuvenating. But Alex Hutchinson doesn’t mind big challenges, so he tackled this one in a NY Times piece. Besides, it’s important in the public-health sense that we need to get more people moving somehow, anyhow. 

The article doesn’t have any magical suggestions on how to increase enjoyment and adherence to regular exercise, though it’s tempting to think about purpose as well as pure joy. “In addition to pleasure, humans seek out things like competence, mastery and self-understanding,” Hutchinson notes. And he doesn’t leave us emptyhanded, suggesting that the familiar training ratio--80 percent easy, 20 percent hard--might be a good way to make sure your exercise routine isn’t so arduous that you quit. More at NY Times.

SHORT STUFF you won’t want to miss

>>> The Gatorade Sports Science Institue finds no evidence that omega-3 fatty acids improve endurance performance or enhance recovery.

>>> Single dose of dietary beet root can “potentially improve cognitive performance.”

>>> That’s endurance. 75-yr-old man has run every day since 1978.

GREAT QUOTES make great training partners

“The best way out is always through.”

--Robert Frost

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