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Run Long, Run Healthy Weekly Roundup — December 2, 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: Listen to your pain. How to sit on the toilet. Stop everything: An injury-prevention program that actually works. The latest on super shoes. Careful about those pre-breakfast runs. The best long runs. Many marathoners still don’t understand hydration advice. Can you improve your running economy with more leg stiffness? More.

Listen to your body’s (complex) pain signals

Pain is a complicated subject, and important for runners to understand. It exists in the body, also in the mind, and sometimes the two aren’t closely connected. Here’s an article that explores the many dimensions and fluctuations of pain. We all have to find an appropriate balance, but remember two key essentials: Listen to your body, and don’t rely on pain meds (NSAIDs) for long-term relief. When pain persists, see if you can identify the cause(s) and how to move past them. Which might, of course, require some time off. That’s okay! There’s nothing better than a strong comeback. More at Outside Online.

How to sit on the toilet, and other good news for your knees

This RLRH newsletter believes that two seemingly contradictory things can exist at the same time. For example, some runners will develop knee problems. However, this doesn’t mean that running causes knee pain, and many runners will not develop knee problems. Now the NYTimes is saying much the same in a terrific Alex Hutchinson article. I like that the Gray Lady provides toilet-sitting advice, and even more that it points out a great Norwegian website full of simple strengthening and rehab exercises. There are 27 exercises for runners, divided into 3 levels. You should definitely check it out  More at Fit To Play.

Stop everything! Here’s an injury-prevention program that works

About a third of the sportsmed articles I review every week seem to be about injuries, and most report no to very limited evidence for injury-prevention techniques. But—bam!—here’s an RCT showing a dramatic reduction in injuries among runners who follow a foot-core training program. (This is also called  “intrinsic foot muscle” training.”) The researchers took 118 middle-aged runners logging about 25 miles a week, and divided them into two groups. One group received 8 weeks of 3x/week foot-care training. All runners were then followed for a year. Those who had done the foot-core training were 60% less likely to get injured during the follow-up period. More at American J of Sports Medicine. Best of all, the researchers put the full program on a shareable file that I’ve placed in a public Google Document.

The latest update on super shoes

Here they are called NASTs for (New Advanced Super Technology shoes), and the results are similar to what you’ve been hearing for a year or two. Based on an analysis of the top 100 marathon performances in 2015 and 2016 (pre-NAST) vs 2017-2019, the later period exhibited times that were from .75% to 1.5% faster. For men, a 1 % change represents about 72 seconds; for women, about 84 seconds. Also, the improvement was greatest among the fastest marathon runners. Conclusion: “ NAST has had a clear impact on marathon performance.” More at Nature.

Pre-breakfast workouts may not be such a good thing

Some studies have shown that you can stimulate theoretically-helpful processes by doing endurance workouts in a low-carb state (before breakfast). Others believe, however, that these under-fueled workouts diminish your training, period. So what’s the bottom line here? A new meta-analysis concluded that “periodized CHO restriction does not per se enhance performance in endurance-trained athletes.” Also, respected running nutritionist Nancy Clark reports that athletes who exercise first thing in the morning without eating have an immediate spike in inflammatory cytokines. More at Nancy Clark RD.

The joys of trail running don’t include softer landings

Trail running can be joyful, stress-reducing, and lots of other things, but we probably shouldn’t assume it’s “softer” than running on other surfaces. Or less likely to produce injuries, though I think the shorter strides and variety of uneven foot-plants can be beneficial. Anyway, this study looked at tibial and shock-absorbing forces on dirt and gravel surfaces vs pavement. Result: No differences. Conclusion: “While runners are encouraged to enjoy the psychological benefits of trail running, trail surfaces do not appear to reduce loading forces associated with running-related injuries.” More at J of Science & Medicine in Sport. 

The best ways to do long runs

From my view, if you’re going to run marathons, long runs must be a key component of your monthly training. You don’t have to do them every week, but maybe every other week during the crucial, several-months-to-go phase of your buildup. I favor comfortable long runs for the most part. But variety is good and may boost your motivation to get out there and actually do those long runs. So you should consider the full range of long-run possibilities. Here you’ll find 8 varieties. I don’t like “fast finish” long runs, but it’s hard to argue against the “negative splits” approach. It’s good for confidence-building. More at Marathon Handbook.

Marathon runners still don’t follow hydration guidelines

The scientific consensus on endurance hydration has shifted considerably in the last 30 years. It started out quite close to “drink as much as you can,” then shifted to “drink to replace your sweat loss.” Now the consensus is “drink when you are thirsty,” or, more precisely, “drink to lose no more than 2% of your body weight.” This study found that few marathoners were aware of the current guidelines, and the slowest and least experienced were the least knowledgeable. That’s not a healthy combination. More at Clinical J of Sports Medicine.

Lost sleep = diminished performance

You’ve read plenty of articles advising you to get enough sleep. This one actually measured what happened to runners when, in a cross-over trial, they reduced their normal sleep time by about 2.5 hours for 3 days, or increased it by 2.5 hours. You don’t get three guesses. Yep, the lost sleep derailed performed in a time trial while ratings of Relative Perceived Effort increased. Researchers concluded that sleep can have a major effect on “readiness to perform” in competitions. More at J of Strength & Conditioning Research.

How to improve running-economy with greater leg stiffness

More economical runners generally exhibit greater “lower-body stiffness.” You can think of this as, essentially, less bending at the knee during road contact. Less knee bending requires fewer muscular contractions, and fewer contractions burn less oxygen. This makes you more economical, like a car that gets more miles per gallon. In this study, researchers found that a forefoot strike and a higher stride frequency increased leg stiffness and running economy. Conclusion: This could “facilitate our understanding of running performance, aid in training program design, and assist in injury prevention.”

More at J of Sports Sciences.

New nutrition guidelines from the American Heart Association

It’s too easy to skip past new nutrition guidelines because it feels like we keep hearing and reading about them all the time. And they’re mostly the same, right? But I like several things that the American Heart Association is emphasizing in its new guidelines. Use little to no salt—good. Don’t think alcohol is heart-healthy—damn. But good. However, my favorite is point number one in the new guidelines. I have a nutrition researcher friend with whom I share the saying, “You’re not what you eat. You are what your body does with what you eat.” In other words, the rules are different for regular exercisers. The AHA’s point number one now leans in this direction: “Adjust energy intake and expenditure [my emphasis] to maintain a healthy body weight.” Free full text at Circulation with 10 key points in a simple box on page two.

SHORT STUFF you won’t want to miss


“No one has ever become poor by giving.” —Anne Frank

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