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Run Long, Run Healthy Weekly Roundup — June 17, 2021

Your weekly guided tour of the best new research and articles on running from around the web.

Each week, Boston Marathon winner Amby Burfoot, also the world’s most experienced running editor, curates the latest and most useful content on running and health from around the internet. “I spend hours finding the best new research and articles, so you can review them in minutes.”

THIS WEEK: New data (big data) on best marathon training. The many benefits of run-walk training. Improve your mental game. For big gains, start small. The optimal caffeine boost. To reduce injuries, limit changes. Vitamin D reduces inflammation. Research into Male/Female Athlete Triad exploding. More.

Marathon formula: Train slow but gradually faster

Just two days ago, an exciting new big-data analysis of marathon training appeared in a physiology journal. Perhaps I should clarify by saying the data was exciting, while the results were pretty much what we would all have predicted. We can’t expect a legitimate source to propose that you can improve by training less and slower. The authors dug into the training of 6000+ marathon runners who had used the Adidas-owned Runtastic GPS app. They analyzed 16 weeks of training prior to the marathon race. The best marathons were run by those who followed this training pattern: lots of training at a slow pace; a gradual increase in that pace; and less than 5 percent of training faster than 1.2 x your marathon race pace. (Take your marathon pace and divide by 1.2. Thus a marathon pace of 8:00 per mile becomes a training pace of 8/1.2 = 6:36, or roughly your 2-mile pace.) The researchers noted that there was quite a bit of variance in their results. Hence, “The most effective training plan has yet to be developed.” More at Frontiers in Physiology.

Run-walk training has SO many benefits

I couldn’t be a bigger fan of Jeff Galloway’s run-walk method than I am. This article takes awhile to get there, but finally wraps things up perfectly when it states: “The run-walk-run method is a useful tool for runners of all ages and ability levels.” Personally, I use R-W for going farther, going faster, preventing injury, coming back from injury (Yes, it still happens), dealing with the heat, adding variety to my training routine, and continuing to run as I age into my mid-70s. It’s really just interval training by another name, and interval training is the most proven approach for runners. Fleet Feet has a great summary.

Improve your mental game

Scott Douglas is one of those veteran runners, writers, and book authors who can be counted upon to give you useful, actionable advice. In his new book, The Genius of Athletes, written with Noel Brick, PhD, Douglas provides dating tips in addition to running guidance. (No, I’m not kidding.) He also tells a great story about how Meb Keflezighi, stuck in 21st place and feeling terrible in the 2012 Olympic Marathon, talked himself into a fourth-place finish. If you want to improve your mental game, this is a great place to start. More at Podium Runner.

To achieve big improvements, start small

This article is actually six years old, but it’s so good, simple and action-oriented (and there’s an important triumvirate for you) that I was happy to find the reference in another recent article. The lesson comes from the coach who took over Great Britain’s Olympic cycling program, turning the country from a nonentity into a super-power. How? By focusing on 1-percent gains. When he took over the program, he told an interviewer: “It struck me that we should think small, not big, and adopt a philosophy of continuous improvement through the aggregation of marginal gains. Forget about perfection; focus on progression, and compound the improvements.” Bingo! Think about one or two areas of your running and/or fitness lifestyle, and how you might improve by just one percent. Then do it. More at Harvard Business Review.

Here’s how to get the optimal caffeine boost

Once you decide to use caffeine to enhance your endurance, as many runners do, the next questions are usually: Is there a difference between various forms of caffeine? And which works best? Here are some answers. A recent experiment found that caffeine gum or a caffeine strip administered 15 minutes before a 5K time trial performed better than a caffeine pill. So the authors suggest using a product “designed to be chewed or dissolved in the mouth.” When endurance nutrition expert Asker Jeukendrup reviewed the evidence of coffee vs caffeine, he found that there was early evidence to favor caffeine, but later and better research has concluded that “Coffee and caffeine equally improve endurance performance.” More at My Sports Science.

Can downhill workouts help your running form and speed?

I’ve long been a fan of modest downhill running to improve speed and neuromuscular coordination (“smoothness”) while running fast. By modest, I mean controlled — not exaggerated in any way. This study investigated possible effects of downhill running. It didn’t find a lot, to be honest. There was “evidence of adaptation in neural drive as well as biomechanical changes.” The changes resulted in less loss of muscular force after downhill workouts. But the researchers observed no change in running economy. I’m still a believer. More at J of Sport & Health Science.

To reduce injuries, limit changes in your life and training

The question of who gets injured and why is perhaps the most complex in all of running. Historically, research has tried to uncover issues like bad shoes, bad form, or bad training mistakes. The obvious stuff, in other words. Now the research itself is getting more complex as it delves into “multifactorial” or “multidimensional” analyses. For example, this paper looked at running injuries during Covid from a perspective that included changes in training, lifestyle, psychology, and demographics. Conclusions: There were more injuries among those who made more changes. Higher intensity training was linked to injuries, as were less time for training, and more trail running. More at Frontiers in Sports & Active Living.

Serious runners have perfectly normal hip joints

And we’re talking about hard evidence from hip MRIs. The investigators reviewed MRI images from three different groups: non runners, modest runners, and “highly-active runners” who averaged more than 26 miles per week. The results “were not significantly different,” indicating that “long-distance running may not add further damage to the hips.” The study team added that “the findings help correct popular misconceptions.” More at BMJ Open Sport & Exercise Medicine.

Vitamin D gives anti-inflammatory edge to ultra runners

Here researchers gave a single high-dose Vitamin D supplement (150,000 IU) to 16 ultramarathoners 24 hours before a 150-mile race. Nineteen other runners received a placebo pill in the double-blind RCT. The report doesn’t note a performance outcome. However an analysis of post-race interleukin levels “confirmed that Vitamin D has an anti-inflammatory effect on exercise-induced inflammation.” More at Nutrients.

Wear a cap or visor in the sun

The heat and humidity aren’t the only concern of summer runners. There’s also sunburn and skin cancer — one of the few conditions running doesn’t protect you from. Quite the opposite, in fact. Precautionary tactics are simple: Run in the early morning or evening, use sunscreens or UV protective clothing, and one more from a recent research article on runners in the Costa del Sol (“Coast of Sun”) region in Spain. Use a visor or cap “as the face and neck are the parts of the body most exposed to sunlight during outdoor activity.” More at Actas Dermasifiliographicas.

Pulitzer Prize awarded to running story

Each year Columbia University awards 21 Pulitzer Prizes for outstanding achievements in journalism. Last week, for the first time ever, a Pulitzer was awarded for an article about running. If you didn’t read Mitchell S. Jackson’s story about the death of Ahmaud Arbery a year ago, you should now. Despite the horrific details and outcome, this is a masterwork on many levels. More at Runner’s World.

A Trifecta on the Triad

I’ve been reporting a lot lately on Triad studies, because it has been a highly active research arena of late. Hereare three more. Most Triad investigations focus on teenage runners and related eating disorders and bone development. The research is critical because the low-bone-density implications can be lifelong.

Males not immune

A group of experts from the American College of Sports Medicine has been working to define the Male Athlete Triad — a correlate to the Female Athlete Triad. They’ve recently published two articles on “Definition and Scientific Basis” for MAT and on “Diagnosis, Treatment, and Return-To-Play.” MAT is characterized by low-energy intake, low sex-hormone levels, and low bone mineral density. It appears that MAT is less likely than FAT to reach a level where it impacts “reproductive and skeletal health,” but more research is needed. More here and here at Clinical Journal of Sports Medicine, and also here at a website created by Triad experts.

Overreaching and RED-S defined and compared. Plus: be careful with interval training

Language changes, and I’m not referring to her/him/their. Something that used to be called overtraining is now called overreaching, and the former Female Athlete Triad has morphed into RED-S, which means “relative energy deficiency in sport.” It can be difficult to tell exactly why your performance has diminished, but adequate nutrition and recovery are key to avoiding both conditions. Also, I agree with the idea of being careful about hard interval workouts. More at Canadian Running.

Young female runners with disordered eating fail to increase bone mineral density over 3 years

This study looked at a group of 16-year-old female runners with normal or disordered eating patterns, and then checked in with them again 3 years later to determine menstrual irregularities and bone mineral density. Subjects with disordered eating reported fewer menstrual cycles/year (6.4 vs 10.5), and “failed to increase lumbar spine or total hip bone mineral density.” There were also links between “shape concern score” and “weight concern score” and worrisome outcomes. More at International J of Sports Nutrition & Exercise Metabolism.

SHORT STUFF you’ll want to know

> Summer’s the season to focus on your mile time. It will improve your other distances too

> Didn’t sleep well? Maybe you should decrease today’s training

> How to maintain max fitness as you age


“The ultimate is not to win, but to reach within the depths of your capabilities and to compete against yourself. — Billy Mills, 1964 Olympic champion at 10,000 meters

That’s it for now. Thanks for reading. Stay well, and see you next week. Amby