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Run Long, Run Healthy Weekly Roundup — June 3, 2021

Boost your vo2 max. Minimalist shoes not that different. Train weird. Best nutrition for women runners. Optimal super-shoe use. Risks of ultra running. Teen nutrition. More.

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: Boost your VO2 Max. Chug this to run stronger. The 10-day training “week.” Minimalist shoes not that different. Train weird. Should women runners eat different? Optimal super-shoe use. Risks of ultra running. More.

Boost your VO2 Max

Everyone wants to have a high VO2 Max (maximal aerobic capacity) because it’s a bedrock essential of great running. Here, author-coach Matt Fitzgerald promises to tell us the best workout to increase our max, and then begs off the question in his summary. Why? Because he’s smart enough to know it would be silly to limit yourself to just one VO2 Max workout. Try as many as you can dream up, from long intervals to short intervals to time trials and races. Note: Fitzgerald’s article is still worth reading, because he does describe three cool workouts. More at Training Peaks.

Chug this, run stronger

This is not an ad. It’s a summary of a double-blind, randomized trial from exercise scientists at Creighton University. They found that a new pre-workout drink named PerformElite (check the supplement label) had an 84% chance of extending the endurance of NCAA Division 1 cross country runners. The research was not funded by the company, and the scientists report no conflicts of interest. But here’s the cautionary note: PerformElite contains a lot of ingredients, and some (like caffeine, taurine, beta alanine and beet root) have been supported by previous research. So the drink doesn’t represent a breakthrough, and you can’t tell which ingredient you might be responding to. The researchers think the caffeine and beta alanine are the most important. More at MDPI Nutrients.

Benefits of the 10-day training “week”

A 7-day week is a fine period of time to organize your training, but so is 10 days. In fact, 10 days has some major advantages: It gives you more time to get in those three key workouts — usually a long run, tempo run, and intervals — with sufficient recovery between them. In this era of more flexible job opportunities, a switch in training-program routine could offer both a new outlook and a new chance for performance improvement. More at Runner’s World and some variations on longer training cycles at PodiumRunner.

And other new ways to train weird

Back when I was in high school and college, it seemed a rigid requirement that we be subjected to 10 x 400 meters on the track every week. (Thanks, Jim Ryun.) I hated the workout then, and never did it again after graduating from college. Instead I chose interval distances more to my liking. But I never thought of oddball distances like 7 x 700 meters. Here’s an intriguing argument that strange intervals could freshen your training and maybe even lead to a breakthrough. I think we need a t-shirt that proclaims, “Keep Running Weird.” More at PodiumRunner.

Minimalist shoes are different but also the same

The relationship between runner, shoe and surface is complicated, and doesn’t always yield the results you expect. Here, researchers from Stetson University in Florida looked at video and reaction forces of NCAA D1 cross-country runners in maximalist and minimalist shoes. The minimalist shoes did change certain flex angles (ankle, knee, trunk). But these changes had no ultimate effect on stride length or frequency, or contact time, or other measured forces. The body seems to adapt to maintain as much homeostasis as possible. More at FASEB Experimental Biology.

Master the feel of different running paces

Every workout has a different “feel” to it, and if you can master the feel of several key paces, you can free yourself from the tyranny of measured tracks, courses, and digital devices. You can also control your effort better in races. Here Jeff Gaudette provides a simple template to help you learn three important paces: steady-state, tempo, and VO2 Max. Once you’re locked into the feel of each, you can take your training to the trails, gravel roads, or any other wide-open spaces. More at PodiumRunner.

Caffeine — not for long distances only

Caffeine is one of the few legal substances shown to have a significant effect on endurance performance. It helps you run longer and faster. But that’s mainly in the marathon. What about shorter races? This study looked at the performance of elite male runners on a VO2 Max test that quickly ramped up to high effort, and lasted just 6 minutes before the runners cried “no mas.”

Result: “Caffeine increased VO2 Max in elite athletes, which contributed to improvement in high intensity endurance performance.” More at Med & Sci in Sports & Exercise.

Many teen runners not eating enough, or right nutrients

This study of high-school cross-country runners found that 60% of females and 30% of males were undereating by roughly 500 calories/day. The relative deficit was slightly worse among the females. Both groups “exhibited below-recommended intakes of calcium, vitamin D, potassium, fruit, vegetables, grains, and dairy.” Conclusion: These runners need “nutrition support efforts.” More at J of the American College of Nutrition.

How often should you wear your super shoes?

Of course, you’re going to wear them in your most important races, like when you’re aiming for a Boston Qualifier. Every 2, 3 or 4% of improved performance goes a long way in big events. But should you wear the shoes every day, because faster daily training will lead to more fitness gains and faster running in your future? Maybe not. Jared Ward, among others, has concerns about daily wear in this thought-provoking piece from Scott Douglas. More at Runner’s World.

Best nutrition for women runners

Everyone now acknowledges that most sports science has been conducted among groups of college-age men. Much less is known about female athletes, making it a hot research area. Here, an expert group concludes that it’s premature to think about “sex-specific guidelines” until the right kind of studies have been done. That said, endurance women need plenty of carbs on a daily basis, and “high quality protein as soon after exercise as possible.” Several years ago, a Gatorade expert provided more guidance for female endurance athletes at the Gatorade Sports Science Exchange.

Yesterday’s champs aren’t today’s age-group winners. Why not?

It has often been noted that today’s great age-group runners are not the same runners who broke the tape at races 30, 40, or 50 years ago. The question is: Why? The answer is: No one knows. Maybe the former champs have tired legs or little motivation. On the other hand, all the training they did through the decades should pay some dividends, right? This well-researched article asks the question, and various experts and runners offer their responses. More at The Washington Post.

The latest deep dive into major risks of marathons and other road races

A new paper from France includes results from a Paris Race Registry, as well as a meta analysis and systematic review of prior research including more than 16 million road race participants. The paper concludes that “life-threatening events remain rare although serious.” Similar to other recent investigations, it fingers air pollution as a contributor to cardiac issues. Overall, the French findings agree with those reported in 2012 by Boston Marathon medical race director Aaron Baggish in the RACER report, here in free, full-text at the New England Journal of Medicine.

And the risks of ultra marathon running

We were all stunned by the 21 deaths at a recent trail ultra in China, apparently a result of poor race organization, and unexpected wet, freezing weather. South Africa’s 90k Comrades Marathon is justly famous for its super organization, complete with top-rate medical coverage. Still, a research report covering 6 years at Comrades found that 1 in 566 starters suffered “serious/life-threatening medical issues.” The most frequent runner complaints came from dehydration and muscle cramping. In a different analysis of 11 runners in an elite 24-hour-race, all “were diagnosed with exertional rhabdomyolysis.”

No heart damage after 21 years of running

On the other hand, “There is no evidence of cardiac damage induced by intensive endurance training in healthy asymptomatic master athletes.” On average, subjects had been training for 21 of their 47 years. More at American J of Preventive Cardiology.

SHORT STUFF you’ll want to know

> Nitrate containing veggies (spinach, celery, beets, and more) lower risk of heart disease

> Gene that increases malaria resistance also boosts Achilles tendon power

> “Intuitive eating” could work well for runners


“It’s not how much training you do so much as how well you recover from it. The secret to success is not to exceed your threshold. — Hal Higdon, runner and coach who turns 90 in two weeks.

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