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Run Long, Run Healthy Weekly Roundup — February 10, 2022

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: How Nick Willis became the new Roger Bannister. Good running form remains mostly a mystery. Brain training for improved performance. Cushioned running shoes don’t wreck your biomechanics. Sex and the runner. A balanced fat-carbs diet provides all you need. The beauty of short sprints. Appreciate every workout—and yourself. More.

How Nick Willis became the new Roger Bannister

Nick Willis will never be as famous in the running world as Roger Bannister, but he’ll always be the first to have run a sub-4 mile in 20 consecutive years. How did he do it? I love the part where he says he avoids “trash can” intervals of the kind where you’re puking afterward. Instead, he does lots of short sprints of 100 meters or less so his legs remember how to accelerate when necessary. More at Outside Online.

The link between running form and performance remains a mystery

We’d all like to look smooth and graceful while running, just as many would like to be impossibly slim or have rock-hard abs. No one wants to be an ugly runner. But does it make a difference? Decades ago pioneering physiologist Jack Daniels measured the running economy of top Nike runners, and then showed video of the same runners to a group of veteran coaches. “Who are the most efficient runners?” he asked them. The coaches got an “F” grade; they simply couldn’t tell. Many studies since then have reaffirmed the same: You can’t tell much by looking. I mentioned this several weeks ago in the Jan. 28 newsletter, and it has since appeared in articles by Alex Hutchinson and Malcolm Gladwell. Here’s what they are saying. More at Outside Online.

Maybe brain training really can improve your performance

Brain training is one of the biggest, most confusing topics in sports research. Here’s a paper that found “Brain Endurance Training” improved performance by a factor of almost three. While the study’s subjects weren’t runners or triathletes, at least they weren’t rats; they were individuals training to improve “muscular endurance handgrip tasks.” The results were termed “suggestive of reduced mental effort during physical activity.” Alex Hutchinson has been tracking brain training closely in recent years and wrote about a study on highly trained endurance cyclists. Certain mental-psych skills seemed to contribute to their performance, but VO2 Max was a far bigger factor. More at Outside Online.

Cushioned run shoes won’t wreck your biomechanics

A lot of runners like soft, cushioned running shoes. Some, however, worry about how such shoes might change their running mechanics in a bad way. A team including Harvard’s Daniel Lieberman and one of his former students, Nicholas Holowka (now at the University of Buffalo) decided to take a look. They hypothesized that soft shoes would increase leg stiffness and muscle expenditure. To find out, they constructed a huarache-like running sandal and two identical sandals with increasing amounts of cushioning. Surprise! They found essentially no difference between the three shoes. Holowka told me: “Running in highly cushioned shoes (like Hokas) won’t cause big changes in your running form. You won’t have to contract extra muscle, contrary to what we thought before.” More at Journal of Biomechanics.

You can change your running form. It might reduce injuries.

Biomechanists once believed that your running form was like your fingerprint: unique and inalterable. That view disappeared decades ago. Many studies have shown that your gait (stride) can be “retrained.” But then what? This meta-analysis and systematic review found 19 studies worth digging into. Result: Low to moderate evidence that gait-retraining could increase stride frequency and reduce loading rate (ground contact force), but not change running economy. Two trials demonstrated lower injury rates over the next year. This is something you do only if you have persistent injury problems. More at J of Orthopedic & Sports Physical Therapy.

Sex and the runner. Vive la difference

Males and females are different, one reason why men win 99.9 percent of open races, and road races have separate sex divisions to highlight female opportunity and excellence. This review analyzes the key running-related sex distinctions. Men have higher VO2 Max values, more total muscle, and less body fat. Women have a higher percent of aerobic muscle fibers, greater ability to burn fat, a lower water-intake need, and an apparent better sense of smart pacing. These latter differences “confer an advantage to females in ultra-endurance performance.” Here’s a nice graphic. The paper suggests we need more sex-based studies in the areas of biomechanics and recovery. More at Sports Medicine.

A balanced fat-carbs diet provides all the fuel you need.

How does your diet and your in-race fueling strategy affect your overall performance, including fat burning, carb burning, and GI distress? We’ve been debating this question for as long as I’ve been running—more than 60 years. You might have wondered: Should I try to boost my fat burning? Or get more immediate carb energy? This big review suggests a middle road—a “balanced macronutrient diet” with 57 percent of calories from carbs, and 22 percent from fat—probably works best for most runners. It allows for substantial fat burning during endurance efforts and provides plenty of carbs. Reaching for the highest level of carb consumption during races will likely increase GI problems. More at Frontiers in Physiology.

Short sprints effective at improving/maintaining VO2 Max

This systematic review and meta-analysis adds weight to what Nick Willis said above about his own training. The researchers, including veteran endurance physiologist Eddie Coyle, searched for articles that would allow them to compare short sprint training (less than 10 seconds per sprint) with high-intensity intervals and continuous training. They uncovered no significant differences. Conclusion: “Our findings indicate a very high effectiveness of sSIT protocols in different exercise modes (e.g. cycling, running, paddling, punching) to improve VO2 Max, aerobic and anaerobic performances in physically active young healthy adults and athletes.” Interpretation: Sprint training represents another arrow in your training quiver. More at Scandanavian J. of Medicine & Science in Sports.

Appreciate every workout—and yourself

The New York Times Saturday morning running newsletter has become a must-read, as the Times has committed more resources (staff writers) to compile fresh info that’s often compelling, inspirational, and useful. This week we get psych-motivation tips. They’re all good, especially clinical psychologist Justin Ross’s comments that you should “put your run away” when finished. Don’t just hit the stop button on your watch. Instead, take a minute “to mentally catalog what you just completed” as “a vital step to developing longer-term self-efficacy.”  More at NYTimes.

Do you have to forget your last marathon … to run the next?

That’s the story we often hear. Someone crosses his/her first marathon finish line, and immediately utters “Never again!” Then, probably 6 months later, they’re on a marathon start line again. Here researchers show that, yes, the experienced pain fades fast. That’s why we can keep returning to run more marathons. Also, we get used to the discomfort and come to realize we can tolerate it. More at Journal of Pain Research.

SHORT STUFF you won’t want to miss

> U.S. could prevent 110,000 deaths/year if all adults did an additional 10 minutes of walking/day

> Unexpected results: In Army, women get strength-training injuries at only one-seventh the rate of men

> Changed running biomechanics could improve ITB problems


“You have to forget your last marathon before you try another. Your mind can’t know what’s coming.” —Frank Shorter

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