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Run Long, Run Healthy Weekly Roundup — May 13, 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,” Burfoot says.

This Week: Simple speed. Body stats of the 2-hour marathon runners. The science of pacing. Cross train for faster racing. Super starch endurance results. Best new GPS watches. Bicycling for better recovery. Stay cautious with CBD. Can exercise save the world? And more.

KISS My Inverted Pyramid

I have a fondness for the Keep It Simple, Stupid approach, and believe it can be a good guide to great workouts. Yasso 800s are the gold standard. But here’s another that’s top-notch — the inverted pyramid. You run short, simple distances: 2 x 800, 2 x 400 and 2 x 200 on “the way down;” and then 2 x 400 and 2 x 800 again to get back where you started. The paces are equally simple: 5K pace, mile pace, and 800 pace. As suggested, it’s fine to start with just one repeat at the 800-meter distances. When you gain a little confidence, increase to 2 x 800 to start and finish. More at Podium Runner.

What it Takes to Run 2 Hours in the Marathon

Eliud Kipchoge faced two other runners in the 2017 Nike Breaking2 race, but a total of 16 super-elite runners “tried out” for the three slots. Now we have a full report on their key characteristics. Including: age=29; max HR=185; weight/inch of height=1.9 lbs; body fat=7.9%; stride length=height; stride “bounce”=1.6 inches; calf circumference=13.1 inches. (Skinnier is better and I just measured in at 12 inches. Woo-hoo, sub-2, here I come!) This short article has nice infographics. And here’s the scientific paper at J of Applied Physiology.

The Science of Pacing, and How You Can Do It

You may know that there were some very sophisticated pacing tactics used in Eliud Kipchoge’s two exhibition attempts at a sub-2-hour marathon, the second of which was successful. But it turns out simple pacing works well, too. If you’ve got two good friends, put one directly in front of you and one directly behind. This will give you a break from air resistance and also a little suckage from the front runner. Almost as good: one pacing friend directly in front of you. (Don’t put pacers at your sides; that’s very little help). For a 2-hour-marathon runner, such pacing can save 2.6 minutes. For you, it’s less since air resistance is lower at slower running speeds. More at J of Biomechanics.

Cross Training for Better Running Performances

Two British women, Stephanie Davis and Beth Potter, recently enjoyed spectacular races on modest training. Davis won the Olympic Marathon Trials in 2:27:14 on just 54 miles a week, and Potter crushed a road 5K in 14:41 on about 30 miles/week. Potter does a ton of additional training in the pool and on the bike, noting that her threshold repeats while swimming are key to her running success. That’s one you don’t hear very often. Davis has tried running higher mileage, but finds that lower quantity helps her “add quality to run sessions because I’m not carrying as much fatigue. More at Runner’s World.

Speed Kills

You’ve heard the expression plenty of times, in running and elsewhere: “Speed kills.” In other words, be careful when adding speedwork to your routine. A new study with “high performance distance runners” digs into this truism by measuring forces at the Achilles and knee when the subjects run different paces on the treadmills (from 8:07/mile to 4:47/mile). Result: “Running at faster speeds could increase the risk” of injury and/or failure to recover from prior injury. This probably happens because you have a shorter ground-contact time when running faster, and that raises the force/time. More at Scand J of Med & Sci in Sports.

Can the Injury Puzzle be Solved?

What do you do when “clinical measures”like muscle strength and joint motion indicate no real difference between injured runners and never-injured runners? In his Outside column, Alex Hutchinson tackles the bewildering outcome in a recent column. He concludes that you should listen to your body, as “transient aches and pains are probably a much better indicator than any screening test.” I’ll only add this: Be careful about abrupt changes in your training, as it’s likely that training mistakes and not body mistakes are the leading contributor to injuries. More at Med & Sci in Sports & Exercise.

Does Super-Starch Lead to Super Endurance?

If you’ve been curious, like me, about that slow-starch UCAN product that has been widely promoted for a decade or so now, we’ve got a new published report. The paper indicates that UCAN does slow glycogen depletion (by encouraging more fat burning), but “there were no significant performance differences” in a 3-hour run. Likewise, from the UCAN website, “there was no significant improvement in time trial performance” after 3 hours. In other words, UCAN seems to work about as well as other sports drinks. It might be better for you if you’re prone to “sugar crashes” after consuming other drinks. Often, the key issue is palatability. You need to find a sports drink that doesn’t make you sick.

The Media Turns Sour on HIT Workouts

After years of effusive, positive coverage of HIT (High Intensity Training) routines, the mass media is predictably swinging in the other direction now. Here, CNET joins the crowd with an evidence- and expert-based article. Ultimately, however, the problem isn’t HIT training. It’s that HIT refers to a bewildering number of workouts not always specific to a given sport. Also, it should be used sparingly. More at CNET.

How to Prevent and Treat Blisters

You don’t hear a lot about blisters these days. No doubt improved shoe construction and breathable socks have lowered blister incidence. But the pesky little bubbles continue to wreck random havoc with runners’ best intentions, particularly in the marathon and beyond. So here’s a good review of blister prevention and treatment. More at Canadian Running.

6 Excuse-Busters For the Next Time You’re Feeling Unmotivated

It’s easy to come up with excuses why you can’t run today. Way too easy. So it’s a good idea to have some excuse-busters ready when you need them. Here are six. When I think I’m feeling too tired to exercise, I often get re-charged with a short (just 2-3 minutes) meditation or slow-relaxed breathing stint. More at Runtastic.

Yes, You Need to Practice Downhill Running, Too

Learning to run downhill is perhaps more art than science, but it’s a skill that can be mastered, and is undeniably important to road race success (particularly at the Boston Marathon). There’s some good advice here, though I have no idea what is meant by Tip #5. Also, you don’t run with shorter steps going downhill, but it is a good idea to focus on picking up your feet as fast as possible. More at Marathon Handbook.

New Review of the Best Running GPS Watches from the NY Times

The NYT gets link-affiliation income like everyone else, but it’s Wirecutter site is a generally trustworthy place for online reviews, and recently (May 4) updated its choices. Its reviewers currently believe the Coros Pace 2 (at about $200) are “the best choice for people who are zeroed in on finding the ideal watch for running.” For $50 less, Wirecutter likes the Garmin Forerunner 45, “a basic running watch with some smartwatch features.” More at NYT Wirecutter.

Try Bicycling For Better Recovery

Many runners, through the years, have discovered that bicycling makes a great recovery workout from running. It might also be one reason some triathletes are terrific runners. If you can figure out the perfect mix of hard and easy cycling with hard and easy running … well, that would go a long way toward a great fitness and performance program. This paper finds that, after eccentric muscle exercise like running, “moderate intensity cycling has likely beneficial effects on knee” muscle recovery vs moderate running. More at Phys Therapy in Sport.

Stay Cautious With CBD (Cannabidiol)

CBD is the non-psychotropic part of the marijuana plant. It’s not on the banned substances list, and purveyors are making all sorts of claims, mainly about more pleasurable runs and less post-workout soreness. The Gatorade Sports Science Institute is a good place for conservative, evidence-based reviews from experts, and that’s what you’ll find at this link. Bottom line: “The current advice to athletes should be one of caution, or even abstinence.” Note also that there are legal issues with different state and national laws. More at Gatorade Sports Science Inst Web.

Can Exercise Save the World?

I admire researchers who swing for the fences every now and then. In this provocative essay with the partial title, “Can endurance exercise save the Western world?” several Irish investigators consider the global health-cost problems relating to obesity and sedentary lifestyles. They conclude: “Endurance exercise emerges as a universal medicine to treat and prevent” heart disease, cancer, high-blood pressure, etc. At the same time, the Washington Post reminds us that the continued climb in obesity rates is being obscured by the Covid pandemic. More from the Irish at Antioxidants.

SHORT STUFF You’ll Want to Know


“When you have the enthusiasm and the passion, you end up figuring out how to excel.”

Deena Kastor

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