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Beat The Heat – Elite Marathoners Training Tactics

Beat The Heat – Elite Marathoners Training Tactics

Elite marathon runners are by no means unaccustomed to scorching temperatures, and the enervating effect of both extreme heat and humidity on performance. It only takes a brief glance at their competitive calendar to understand why, yet it demands delving below the surface of physiology and heat acclimation to understand how they outrun the searing sun.
The 2020 Summer Olympics set to take place in sauna-sweltering Tokyo, which has since been postponed to 2021, was predicted to be the hottest on record. So hot in fact, that the 26.2 mile marathon course was resurfaced with a heat-reflecting material called ‘Perfect Cool’. While reducing the surface temperature of the track by up to 10 degrees Celsius on hot days, further analysis found there to be hardly any cooling effect at head height, deeming their heat expelling attempt to be rather futile.

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Pain, Endurance and The Art of Suffering

Pain, Endurance and The Art of Suffering

One study that Hutchinson cites, highlighting how differently people can process the same painful stimulus, was published by Wolfgang Freund in 2013. Participants were asked to hold their hands in ice water for three minutes and rate the pain they felt as the trial concluded. A group of ultrarunners completed the protocol and their average pain rating was six out of ten. Contrast this with the non-athlete control group who averaged 96 seconds before removing their hands as their pain maxed out at 10. Only three of the control group lasted the full three minutes. It must be noted that the ultrarunners tested were running the gruelling TransEurope Footrace which covers 2,789 miles in 64 days: athletes with an especially insatiable appetite for suffering.

Similar findings came up in a study by Karel Gijsbers, looking at Scottish swimmers and their tolerance of pain. The test protocol involved inflating a blood pressure cuff around the subject’s arm to cease circulation to the limb, followed by repeated clenching of the fist once per second, for as long as the subject could bear. Thirty elite (national level) swimmers were compared with thirty club swimmers and a non-athlete control group. The implications of Gijsbers’ findings are enormous.

The results show that the pain threshold was very similar for the three groups, with most participants beginning to report painful sensations at around 50 contractions. Athletes are not insensitive and feel pain like everyone else. What sets them apart lies elsewhere: there were stark differences in the pain tolerance exhibited by the three groups. The control group averaged 70 contractions before throwing in the towel (only ~20 beyond when they started to feel pain), club-level swimmers averaged 89, and the elite averaged 132, almost double the control group!

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Why Running Alone Feels Harder – Explained

Why Running Alone Feels Harder – Explained

COVID-19 has changed a lot in the world of 2020. But one notable difference for runners is the absence of group training in the last few months. Has anyone else noticed that a solo workout just feels worse than when you’re running with others? The effort may feel just as hard, coming up with the motivation to finish the set may be taking an unusually high toll, and the splits you’re running may not reflect what you’re normally capable of when running with training partners.

Alex Hutchinson of Sweat Science just published an article analysing a recent study in the International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance, which provides some really interesting insight into why this may be the case. The study takes a close look at affective feelings and how they may alter performance in either a solo time trial effort, or an effort run with others. As Alex puts it, affect essentially means how much pleasure or displeasure you’re experience, and it is very tightly correlated with mood.

Conducted by researchers in São Paolo, the protocol was to have 14 runners complete a pair of 10km efforts, one alone on a track, and the other competing against the other participants of the study (with at least a week between the efforts). No prizes for guessing which trial saw faster results, the group run resulted in an average time almost one minute faster than the solo effort (39:32 vs 40:28).

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Emil Zatopek – Marathon Training Insights

Emil Zatopek – Marathon Training Insights

Once described by an observer as resembling “a man wrestling with an octopus on a conveyor belt,” Zatopek’s style was unorthodox. But he was notorious for unrelenting grit, not smooth running. “I shall learn to have a better style,” he retorted, “once they start judging races according to their beauty.” His was not an effortless lope that carried him smoothly across the track, Milne of Athletics Weekly once reported on a race: “He ran as only a Zátopek could run such a distance one moment looking like a super-tuned machine, the next like a fugitive from justice; grimacing painfully in one lap, smiling contentedly in the next, and finally winding up with a last lap that would have done credit to a first-class miler.”

Interval training wasn’t invented by Zatopek, but after a lull in its use by athletes during the period of WWII it was Zatopek who began to push its use to new extremes. When he first began his experiments with startlingly high-volume interval training in the forests of Stara Boleslav (often run in his army boots, through the snow and mud), contemporaries were appalled. ‘Everyone said, “Emil, you are a fool!”’ he reminisced. ‘But when I first won the European Championship, they said: “Emil, you are a genius!”’

At the time the use of such techniques was not standard practice. Emil was not known for his natural speed, and the training was aimed at running a fast pace, with recovery allowing repetitions and a gradual extension of the cumulative distance that could be run at that increased pace. “Why should I practice running slow? I already know how to run slow. I want to learn to run fast.”

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Taking To The Trails – How It Will Help You Be A Better Runner

Taking To The Trails – How It Will Help You Be A Better Runner

Recently the Sweat Elite Podcast has featured ultrarunners Jim Walmsley and Tom Evans, and just this week we sat down and had a chat with the undisputed king of the mountains, Kilian Jornet. These three strong athletes have many things in common, but a standout is that a huge proportion of their training is on trails. They do most of their competitions in the mountains, so that makes sense… but all three of them, along with many other athletes, agree that running on trails offers myriad benefits the road cannot.

Getting off sealed surfaces doesn’t mean you have to immediately direct your focus towards running a mountainous hundred miler, it can form an integral part of training for shorter distances on the road and track. Many athletes who have seen great success in more traditional running have also spent a great deal of time running off road.

The Ethiopian greats Haile Gebrselassie and Kenenisa Bekele have spent hundreds of hours running the uneven, hilly terrain through the forests surrounding Addis Ababa. Many of Kipchoge’s runs are along muddy, rutted roads and paths through the Kenyan countryside. Nick Willis recently wrote the following in an “Advice to my younger self” letter posted on the World Athletics site: “Based as you are in Wellington, you are surrounded by hills and the city is home to several world mountain running champions – so why then are you so terrified of running hills?”

What is it about getting out onto the trails that can be so beneficial? Here we will look at just a few ways that it can help you to reach your running goals and become a more well-rounded athlete in the process.

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Tokai University – Training for Hakone Ekiden

Tokai University – Training for Hakone Ekiden

The ekiden is what lies at the core of the Japanese prowess in long distance running. Ekidens are long distance relays, which can take place over multiple days and have legs of varying lengths. The most prestigious of all is the Hakone Ekiden, a race which sees the top universities of the Kanto region around Tokyo compete, captivating the nation every January. Hakone Ekiden was inaugurated in 1920 by Shizo Kanakuri – known as the father of the marathon in Japan – with teams running from 108km from Tokyo to Hakone on the first day (January 2) and 109.9km back to Tokyo the next.

Tokai University took the crown in the 2019 edition of the race, with the ten athletes covering the whole course in a stunning 10:52:09. That’s 3:00.2/km, the fastest time ever run on the current version of the course. This year’s iteration of the race, the 96th time it has been run, saw a demolition of the records. Seven of the ten segment records were beaten, and Aoyama Gakuin University was the winner with a total time of 10:45:23, Tokai came in second in 10:48:25, also well under their old course record.

During our trip to Japan this year Tokai’s assistant coach – Noriaki Nishide – kindly invited us to join a session taking place on the university’s royal blue track. It was an absolute pleasure to watch Nishide working closely with head coach Hayashi Morozumi, overseeing the orderly procession of their athletes ripping through mile repeats.

Morozumi was one of Japan’s most successful high school coaches before moving to Tokai. Suguru Osako, the national record holder for the marathon (2:05:29 – set at the Tokyo Marathon 2020, the day after the session we watched), rose to prominence under his tutelage, among many other top athletes. Under Morozumi’s guidance the Tokai team have made steady improvement over the past few years.

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How Fast Do You Lose Endurance?

How Fast Do You Lose Endurance?

In a 1990 study Houmard et al looked at detraining of experience endurance runners who were averaging 81km per week in training (~60km at ~75% VO2 max and 21km at ~95% VO2 max). Over a three-week period of detraining the athletes cut their volume by 70% to 24km, maintaining the intensity distribution with 17km at ~75% of VO2 max and 7km at ~90% VO2 max.

The participants in the study had an increase in maximum heart rate (2.3%), and plasma volume decreased (-5.6%) during the period of reduced training, so some physiological adaptations regressed. However, performance saw no change, with VO2 max and 5km time trial results holding steady. Another significant finding in this study was also that time to exhaustion during VO2 max testing increased by 9.5%, suggesting that the decreased training left the athletes much fresher. These results indicate that being smart with limited time or training capacity can still help massively in maintaining running performance.    

These changes also appear to be less pronounced in older athletes and athletes who have trained for a longer time. Which makes sense, the accumulated progression and adaptations from consistent training over a long time are more entrenched, and therefore more resistant to deterioration than acute improvements in performance from relatively shorter training blocks.      

As Ross puts it, defending physiology requires much less work than earning that physiology, and a little goes a long way. With races off and freedom of movement restricted in many places, despondency is pervasive. But lamenting the situation and the certainty of your lost fitness gains won’t serve you well. These studies highlight that even though it may be difficult to stick to training plans and complete hard sessions, a significantly reduced load of training still goes a very long way to preserving the physiological adaptations for which you have laboured.

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Keep Motivated During A Pandemic

Keep Motivated During A Pandemic

With upcoming races off, a huge extrinsic motivator is out the window for many people. And the joy so many take from running outdoors with their friends is being tainted by the uncertainty around everything that’s going on. Is running, even just with one other person, unethical in the current circumstances? Are you opening yourself up to the risk of being infected? And could that ‘harmless’ run you did yesterday end up harming someone else tomorrow? In many places running outdoors alone, or with those sharing your home, is still allowed. However, in some jurisdictions even that luxury has evaporated.

It says a lot about the social nature of us humans that solitary confinement is considered one of the most abhorrent punishments within a prison. Although the social distancing people are experiencing is much less extreme than strict solitary confinement (people are spending time with the people in their home, and online connectivity is blossoming now more than ever), the resultant disconnect is still placing many people under a lot of mental strain. Add to this the uncertainty and disruption and it’s no surprise some are struggling with motivation.    

Even though it may feel like so much is spiralling out of control, and the uncertainty may be fuelling a growing flame of anxiety, it’s time to focus on what you can control. Amidst this chaos there is opportunity. The silver lining on the most ominous of stormy clouds may be very thin, but it will always be there. Much of what’s going on is well beyond your control as an individual. Incessantly checking the growing number of cases and deaths in your vicinity isn’t going to do anything to change the trajectory of the numbers. Worrying about what will happen to the economy won’t change the number of percentage points it fluctuates each day. 

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Lactic Acid – Friend or Foe?

Lactic Acid – Friend or Foe?

Another commonly held belief is that the warm down after a hard workout or the shake out the next day is important to ‘help get the lactic out of the legs’. However, again the science doesn’t back this up. Yes, walking or jogging does shorten the time it takes for lactate levels to return to normal, but this return to baseline occurs relatively quickly anyway. By the time someone is doing a shakeout the day after a race or hard session, the lactate generated by that effort has long ago left the muscles. And where is it going? This is where lactate being a fuel source again comes into play, according to Brooks, after ‘exhaustive’ exercise lactate then becomes the preferred energy source, being burned up by muscles that are no longer using anaerobic respiration, and by the liver to regenerate glucose.

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Nick Willis – Train Smarter, Not Harder

Nick Willis – Train Smarter, Not Harder

Some example sessions:

4 mile tempo (5:00/mile), 4 x 1000m (2:50), 2 x 300m (41), 2 x 400 (56), 600 (1:21)

400 (59), 800 (1:58), 1200 (2:57), 2 x 200 (26), 2 x 300 (38), 400 (50.5)

The Michigan – 1,600m @ 10km pace – 2km tempo – 1,200m @ 5km pace – 2km tempo – 800m @ 3k pace – 2km tempo – 400m all out… Nick has run it with the following splits: 1600m – 4.20, 1200m – 3.13, 800 – 1.58, 400 – 52

200 (26), 1,000 (2:27), 400 (58), 6 x 200 (29)

3 mile tempo (14:10), 7 x 300 (42)

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“Go hard or suffer the rest of your life” – Paul Chelimo’s Wisdom Distilled 

“Go hard or suffer the rest of your life” – Paul Chelimo’s Wisdom Distilled 

Paul emphasises the importance of being very strategic with training, when to go hard and how to peak at the right time. This includes adjusting work according to how the body is feeling, focusing on what he sees as being the most beneficial at any given point (eg. dropping off on strength training close to competitions or focusing on intense workouts rather than high mileage). He says that as he is aging, and the younger athletes are coming up the ranks, this is essential to stay ahead of the game.

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Sondre Moen – Preparing for London Marathon 2020 Elite Race

Sondre Moen – Preparing for London Marathon 2020 Elite Race

On August 6th 2020, the London Marathon announced that the race will set off with an elite only field. The London Marathon Organisers chose to stage the race in a more controlled environment, instead of the usual course due to Covid-19.

Norwegian Sondre Moen (2:05:48 PB) is currently in the middle of a high altitude training camp in Sestriere (Italy), preparing for the showdown that will take place on October 4th comprising of the strongest field a Marathon has ever staged including the two fastest men in history over the distance – Eliud Kipchoge and Kenenisa Bekele.

We joined him for a track session on Sunday 13th September, 21 days until race day where coach Renato Canova shared his thoughts on the workout, the remainder of 2020 and more.

Renato Canova: “Today was a training session specific to the half marathon and marathon, on the track. The plan was to run 20km, it’s something that we can use many times approaching a Marathon.

Two times 3000m with 3 minutes of recovery. Three times 2000m with 2.5 minutes recovery. Five times 1000m with 2 minutes recovery. Six times 500m with 1.5 minutes recovery.

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German Silva – Training Insights

German Silva – Training Insights

Silva says these workouts, and all their training, were strictly a team effort. Distributing the responsibility of holding the pace for 1km reps between 5-10 athletes meant that each athlete only had to lead 2-3 reps and could hold onto the back for the others. The group would go to Veracruz for training camps where they could do workouts at the relatively low altitude of 1300m, but from there they could quickly access altitudes of up to 2500m, or head to sea level, which was something they did regularly. “We used to travel a lot to train at different altitudes, that was the advantage of living in Mexico.”
Dehydration, according to Silva, is a much more significant factor at sea-level than at altitude, and he feels that recovery was facilitated by training at altitude. The siesta was also a key part of his regime, and recovery was a priority. Life in training was simple and repetitive, “we didn’t have much technology, we didn’t spend time on phones, we spent our time working out hard and recovering the hours we had to recover.” German says that this, and the strong sense of camaraderie and teamwork, were integral to the success of Mexican runners through that period. “If you see Kenyans and Ethiopians now, they are doing the same thing.”

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Beat The Heat – Elite Marathoners Training Tactics

Beat The Heat – Elite Marathoners Training Tactics

Elite marathon runners are by no means unaccustomed to scorching temperatures, and the enervating effect of both extreme heat and humidity on performance. It only takes a brief glance at their competitive calendar to understand why, yet it demands delving below the surface of physiology and heat acclimation to understand how they outrun the searing sun.
The 2020 Summer Olympics set to take place in sauna-sweltering Tokyo, which has since been postponed to 2021, was predicted to be the hottest on record. So hot in fact, that the 26.2 mile marathon course was resurfaced with a heat-reflecting material called ‘Perfect Cool’. While reducing the surface temperature of the track by up to 10 degrees Celsius on hot days, further analysis found there to be hardly any cooling effect at head height, deeming their heat expelling attempt to be rather futile.

read more
Pain, Endurance and The Art of Suffering

Pain, Endurance and The Art of Suffering

One study that Hutchinson cites, highlighting how differently people can process the same painful stimulus, was published by Wolfgang Freund in 2013. Participants were asked to hold their hands in ice water for three minutes and rate the pain they felt as the trial concluded. A group of ultrarunners completed the protocol and their average pain rating was six out of ten. Contrast this with the non-athlete control group who averaged 96 seconds before removing their hands as their pain maxed out at 10. Only three of the control group lasted the full three minutes. It must be noted that the ultrarunners tested were running the gruelling TransEurope Footrace which covers 2,789 miles in 64 days: athletes with an especially insatiable appetite for suffering.

Similar findings came up in a study by Karel Gijsbers, looking at Scottish swimmers and their tolerance of pain. The test protocol involved inflating a blood pressure cuff around the subject’s arm to cease circulation to the limb, followed by repeated clenching of the fist once per second, for as long as the subject could bear. Thirty elite (national level) swimmers were compared with thirty club swimmers and a non-athlete control group. The implications of Gijsbers’ findings are enormous.

The results show that the pain threshold was very similar for the three groups, with most participants beginning to report painful sensations at around 50 contractions. Athletes are not insensitive and feel pain like everyone else. What sets them apart lies elsewhere: there were stark differences in the pain tolerance exhibited by the three groups. The control group averaged 70 contractions before throwing in the towel (only ~20 beyond when they started to feel pain), club-level swimmers averaged 89, and the elite averaged 132, almost double the control group!

read more

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