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Run Long, Run Healthy Weekly Roundup — May 27, 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: A must-read article on middle-distance training. How much time do you lose when you hit the wall? Run relaxed, but with stiff legs. Increase your stride frequency to reduce injury risk. Low-carb workouts don’t increase endurance potential. How goals and perfectionism can turn against you. Three exercises to fight heel pain. Ron Hill, RIP. More.

Essential article about middle-distance training — history, physiology, practice

This article (free, full-text) is essential reading for any 800m/1500m runner, or anyone who coaches middle-distance runners, or anyone interested in the history and arc of middle-distance training. Middle-distance training has received far less attention in the science world than longer-distance and marathon training. Here you get the whole deal. The 800 is particularly brutal and specific because you have to be fast, and then you have to hold it. Specialists at 800m have more trouble “doubling” into another event than 1500m-milers. This paper comes from Stephen Seiler and colleagues. Seiler is the guy — U.S. born but living and researching in Norway — who first identified the now famous 80/20 training distribution of endurance athletes. He has spent several decades digging into how great performers actually train, and passing along the info to all of us. We owe him a lot. More at Sports Medicine.

How much marathon time will you lose if you hit the wall?

Probably about 30 to 33 minutes according to a massive new big-data analysis of more than 4 million marathon performances in the last 15 years. That should be warning enough to make you run your right marathon pace in the early miles. Also, men are almost twice as likely to hit the wall as women. So, guys, smarten up and run with a female friend or two. Barry Smyth’s data also showed that runners are mostly like to hit the wall in marathons just before and just after their marathon personal best. More at Podium Runner with a link to the original paper.

Run relaxed but with stiff legs

Biomechanics expert Geoff Burns compared two groups of accomplished milers — one with best times around 4:27 and the other, super-elites, with bests around 3:54. He observed that the super-elites ran with less variation in stride mechanics, greater leg stiffness, less bounce, and a more upright posture. In an email to me, Burns hypothesized that some of these characteristics can be trained by “sprints, hills, drills, strength training, and running on different surfaces.” He likes to quote famed U Michigan coach Ron Warhurst, who preached running “fast relaxed.” Burns notes that, somewhat paradoxically, this should be phrased as “Run relaxed and stiffen up.” When you run “loose” like a pogo stick that bounces up and down, you waste energy and lose efficiency. More at Scientific Reports.

Low stride frequency predicts higher injury rate in prospective study

Runners love to count their step rates. First, from the 1980s, Jack Daniels told us to aim for 180 steps/minute to run like an Olympian. Then the focus turned to injury prevention, and studies began to indicate that higher step (stride) rates — essentially the same as taking shorter strides — could decrease forces and injuries. That’s what was found in this prospective study (more meaningful than retrospective studies) of Division 1 college cross-country runners. Conclusion: “Low step rate is an important risk factor for bone stress injuries.” A higher step rate is what you want to reduce injury risk. More at Brit J of Sports Medicine.

Occasional carbohydrate restriction does not increase endurance

For some time now, the practice of occasional carbohydrate restriction has been hotly debated. A typical training procedure: Do a modest-to-hard workout one afternoon, don’t eat a lot of carbs that night, and go out for a long run the next morning without carbing up beforehand. In theory, this might “teach your body” to run well while carb depleted … just as you eventually will be when running a marathon race. This meta analysis and systematic review looked at the results of nine studies that used carb restriction with “highly adapted endurance trained athletes” who were measured for “endurance performance before and after the training period.” Conclusion: “Periodized carbohydrate restriction does not per se enhance performance in endurance-trained athletes.” More at J of the Int Society of Sports Nutrition.

More about building runners’ bone strength: High fiber diet could be a problem

Last week I wrote several paragraphs on jumping exercises for healthy bones. I should have included lower body strength training in that discussion, though jumping has the potential advantages of no equipment, low time investment, and low calorie expenditure. This week I learned something new about Relative Energy Deficiency in Sports — it tends to be associated with high fiber intake. Most Americans consume far too little fiber vs our ancestors and national recommendations. But those trying too hard to limit calories often eat a lot of high fiber salads, and this could actually limit calcium absorption. Possible solution: Regular consumption of a nutrient-dense “shake” or energy bar. This terrific article is available in free full text at European J of Sports Science.

Paradigm shifts can improve your training efforts

I have a bit of a weak spot for articles about “paradigm shifts,” mostly because I think we should always be re-evaluating the way we do things. And looking for better ways. Here endurance coach Jason Koop argues for training by minutes (not miles), perceived effort (not pace or heart rate) and relative elevation change (per distance vs total change). More at Train Right.

Be careful about perfectionism. It might bite you

We all accept that consistency is essential to running success, but that doesn’t mean you have to be a perfectionist. I like to say, without any proof, that if you hit 80 percent of your training goals, you get 98 percent of the benefit. This is important because, as a sports psychologist notes in this article, “There are a lot of numbers in running,” and it’s easy to get overly attached to reaching them. Here, elite marathoner Becky Wade explores how she and Tokyo-bound Olympic marathoner Molly Seidel battled their perfectionistic tendencies. Important to remember: Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good/great. More at Runner’s World.

Goals can be a double-edged sword, could lead to injury

This is similar to the above caution about perfectionism. Goals are often terrific motivators. They get us moving, and take us to places — and performances — we never believed possible. But they must also be monitored carefully. This is the first study to look for a possible connection between goal setting and runner injuries, using an online interview of 970 runners. And, yep, the two are linked. Runners on a goal-oriented program were twice as likely to report injury. Conclusion: Be careful when “running to achieve goals, especially to complete a certain distance or to participate in an event.” More at Physical Therapy in Sport.

Should you exercise at 6 a.m. or 6 p.m.?

It’s an old question — when’s the best time of day to exercise? — and the best answer is nearly always, “Whatever time you can manage to fit it in comfortably.” Still, scientists must measure what they can measure, so this is a reasonable question, and the study was randomized to enhance results. Subjects were overweight or obese men put on a high fat diet, and then exercised in either the morning or evening. Both groups gained the same cardio fitness, but “improvements in glycemic control and partial reversal of high-fat, diet-induced changes in metabolic profiles were only observed when participants trained in the evening.” More at Diabetologia.

Your best running route: There’s an algorithm for that

Chances are, you’re already using several different mapping apps to plan your run routes. That’s great, but a French research team is working on the next step. What if you don’t know the city or area where you’re running, or simply haven’t decided what course to follow? The French group has designed an algorithm that knows, for example, that you prefer “paths along hiking trails, parks or riversides” rather than busy streets. So its app plans a route that includes these and similar pleasantries. One part on the app tracks your head movement. If you begin looking and running the wrong way, it redirects you to the correct route. The app isn’t commercially available yet. But here’s an article and a short video.

3 Exercises to fight plantar fasciitis

Plantar fasciitis and related heel pains are a frequent issue for serious runners, and they don’t always resolve as readily as muscle aches. Here are three evidence-based exercises that could get you back to pain-free running while building the kind of foot and leg strength that will prevent recurrences. More at Recover Athletics.

New hip and knee surgeries offer many a “second life”

It seems that every week I meet someone who has returned to running after a hip or knee replacement or similar work. This article looks at a procedure called “hip resurfacing arthroplasty” among professional athletes who have fought their way back. One is an Ironman triathlete and one an ultra runner. I’m not the type to recommend extremes, but it’s good to know that modern surgical procedures are giving many a second athletic life. I like this summary: “While the primary goals of surgery are pain control and quality of life, it is possible to return to elite-level sporting activity after HRA.” More at Orthopedic J of Sports Medicine.

Blood flow restriction may enhance muscle strength and endurance

Training with blood flow restriction is a new topic to many of us. Here’s an excellent summary article in free, full text. With BFR, you use a simple band to reduce muscle flow to a muscle or muscle group you want to strengthen–say, the calf muscles — and then do a modest workout of those muscles. Since they’re receiving “restricted” blood and oxygen, they have to work harder than normal, and may grow stronger. The article concludes: “Research has started to unravel how the addition of BFR may mechanistically improve strength and endurance performance.” More at J of Applied Physiology.

Go with the flow … if you can find it

We’d all like to spend more time (lots more time!) in the state of optimal “flow” made famous by the psychologist with that astonishing last name — Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. He even co-wrote a book on Running Flow. The problem is, you know flow when you achieve it, but there’s no simple recipe for getting there. This systematic review took a deep dive, and concluded “no studies to date have reported conclusive evidence that flow was induced through an intervention.” More at Int Review of Sport & Exercise Psychology.

Fitness in pregnancy. It’s good for both mother and child

In a recent SweatScience column, Alex Hutchinson found plenty of good news for pregnant women who exercise, and even for their babies. “It’s already pretty clear from previous research that exercise is good for expectant mothers, but the new results add to growing evidence on the trickier question of whether it’s also good for fetuses.” While no one recommends going to extremes, some pregnant women have trekked to the Everest Base Camp (17,000 feet) and had perfectly healthy birth outcomes. Same for those who run marathons. More good news for baby: Like parents, like child. A Finnish study showed that offspring of exercising parents were more likely to follow a fit and healthy lifestyle 30 years later. More at J of Phys Activity & Health.

Run away from air pollution

We need to exercise for optimal health, and we need clean air, but sometimes the two come into conflict: air pollution. What happens then? Well, it’s a problem, as this scientific editorial points out with an exclamation point. “Running in areas with low air pollution is cardioprotective, whereas in highly air polluted areas exercise has detrimental effects on the heart!” In fact, “a large increase in physical activity in a high-pollution environment may adversely affect cardiovascular health.” A little positive news on this front: There’s “intriguing” evidence that aspirin and other NSAIDS might offer some protection against air pollution. More at the NY Times.

Ron Hill RIP, 1938-2021

Ron Hill was for a time the world’s best marathon runner, and for his entire life the world’s greatest running ambassador, competing in 100 countries. He was a small, modest runner with an extreme dedication to his craft (including a 52 year, 39 day running streak), and an expansive zest for living. Roger Robinson wrote three great articles on Hill: an obituary,  life facts, and lessons.

SHORT STUFF you’ll want to know

> Hot bath even better than hot run to acclimatize to summer weather

> 5 ways to win the battle against midlife weight gain

> Women’s participation in ultra-marathon races has climbed from 14 to 23 percent in the last two decades, and they are essentially as fast (or faster, on average) than men at distances over 100K (62 miles).


“It is the brain, not the heart or lungs, that is the critical organ. — Sir Roger Bannister

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