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The Perplexing Depth Of Talent In Japanese Running (Part 2)

The Perplexing Depth Of Talent In Japanese Running (Part 2)

Discipline, honour, self-restraint. These are some of the stereotypical character traits people think of when considering Japan. However, devotion to athletics and a motivation to succeed are not enough, in isolation, to explain how so many athletes are competing at such a high level in Japan. Ekiden and the elevated position it holds in the collective conscience of the nation explains a bit more of the situation. However, a final factor that we found came up over and again was the integral role of corporations in the fabric of Japanese running culture. I’m not talking about Mizuno, Asics and Nike.

Many corporations within Japan – Honda, Japan Rail, Kanebo Cosmetics– employ athletes to race and train in-house. The living expenses of the athletes are taken care of, food is cooked by in-house chefs that prepare a menu laboriously agonised over by a nutritionist. Training takes place multiple times per day – some runners in the corporate system reportedly average more than 600 miles (965km) per month – and around these sessions the athletes spend time with the team’s physiotherapists, strength coaches and masseurs. In addition to such extensive support from the team, living expenses being covered, and daily tasks such as cooking being taken care of, athletes running in the corporate teams reportedly receive a salary of US$35,000 and upwards each, depending on performance and their stature within the sport – there are plenty of high performers on six-figure salaries.

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The Perplexing Depth Of Talent In Japanese Running (Part 1)

The Perplexing Depth Of Talent In Japanese Running (Part 1)

Japan. Nihon. The Land of the Rising Sun. A country globally renown for many things. A rich cultural history. A cuisine like no other. The world’s largest metropolis – Tokyo. And… running?

Japan is not one of the nations that first comes to mind when most people think about the global running scene. However, in the marathon distance, Japan comes in third place behind Kenya and Ethiopia when looking at the number of athletes in the top thousand marathon times in history. Japan has over one-hundred athletes that have run sub-2:10 in the marathon. Compare this to the USA: with a population nearing triple that of Japan – and massive infrastructure surrounding their collegiate athletics system – the States have only twenty athletes that have run sub-2:10 (thirteen if you exclude record-ineligible Boston).

Our interest piqued, we decided to plunge headfirst into the Japanese running scene and investigate what was going on.

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How Much Protein Do Athletes Need? (Part 2)

How Much Protein Do Athletes Need? (Part 2)

It’s interesting that despite studies suggesting that the (already elevated) recommendations for protein intake by endurance athletes may be too low – failing to optimise performance – there are many top endurance athletes who controvert this. An interesting study looked at the dietary habits of elite runners in Kenya.

The athletes were consuming a diet very high in carbohydrates (76.5%, 10.4 g/kg of body mass per day) and low in fat (13.4%). Protein intake represented 10.1% of their total calories which worked out to be 1.3 g/kg per day, which matches the recommendations by the American College of Sports Medicine mentioned above. Another interesting point is that the estimated energy intake of the athletes (2987 ± 293 kcal) was lower than energy expenditure (3605 ± 119 kcal).

This aligns with what we witnessed whilst training with Kipchoge and other elites in Kenya. Coming in from a long run, there was no sign of protein shakes. The snacks of choice were bananas, white bread and milky tea saturated with sugar. The authors of this study also noted that fluid intake by the Kenyan athletes studied was modest, mainly in the form of water (1113 ± 269 mL) and tea (1243 ± 348 mL). Their conclusions: “Although the diet met most recommendations for endurance athletes for macronutrient intake, it remains to be determined if modifying energy balance and fluid intake will enhance the performance of elite Kenyan runners.”
Here we take a look at some of the research and recommendations on how much protein athletes should be consuming, and the reasons why. There’s no universal answer but I hope this will provide some interesting points to consider when making dietary choices. Protein is obviously of significance – playing a key role in myriad bodily functions – but figuring out how much, what type and when you should be consuming protein is really quite a confusing undertaking. It’s by no means as simple as protein = gains. I mean, firstly, what is protein?

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How Much Protein Do Athletes Need? (Part 1)

How Much Protein Do Athletes Need? (Part 1)

Protein! A hype word like no other in the health and fitness world. Endless tomes of information and misinformation on the subject lurk out there on the internet, with mud-slinging fights aplenty in any forum you care to look at. There is likely no other dietary component that inspires as much debate, insofar as athletes are concerned, as protein. This article isn’t being published to add more fuel to the fire, and I must warn you that there’s no magical solution proffered in the conclusion. Nutrition is something that different bodies react to in different ways and if someone is trying to bludgeon you with a concrete opinion, it’s probably worth questioning their motives.

Here we take a look at some of the research and recommendations on how much protein athletes should be consuming, and the reasons why. There’s no universal answer but I hope this will provide some interesting points to consider when making dietary choices. Protein is obviously of significance – playing a key role in myriad bodily functions – but figuring out how much, what type and when you should be consuming protein is really quite a confusing undertaking. It’s by no means as simple as protein = gains. I mean, firstly, what is protein?

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Training With Tokai University – Ekiden Winning Team

Training With Tokai University – Ekiden Winning Team

The athletes strip down to singlets and shorts. Next% adorn the feet of all but a few athletes, and we follow the fluorescent queue of feet out onto the track. There are a number of students at the infield next to the start line, wearing Tokai tracksuits but evidently not running. Noriaki says they’re the team assistants. The half dozen assistants are gathered around a cooler box and a small whiteboard. The athletes join them and form a circle leaving a gap for the two coaches to make their address. After attentively listening to both coaches speak, a collective bow by the students indicates the session is about to start. Five by one-mile, repeats followed by five two-hundreds. Jogging a lap between each rep. Noriaki explains that he and Moro asked the athletes to keep it very steady, make sure pace was constant.

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More Tempo Running – A Key Ingredient To The Kenyan Success

More Tempo Running – A Key Ingredient To The Kenyan Success

For reference, the Kenyan athletes were completing about 60% of their total kilometres as easy runs, 25% as tempo runs, just under 10% as short intervals, just under 5% as long intervals and around 1% as tests/competitions. For comparison the national level athletes completed close to 70% of their total kilometres as easy runs, 10% as tempo runs, around 6% as short intervals, 12% as long intervals and 2% as tests/competitions. 

When considering the application of this for either your own or another athlete’s training it is obviously extremely important to consider the goals, strengths and weaknesses of that specific case however the comparison between athletic levels presented in this study is definitely interesting. If working in a similar time period (10 weeks from major competition) and you’re doing a lot of longer intervals, it may be worth switching some intervals for tempo runs, and hey, Wilson Kipsang does it. 

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VO2Max – What is it and Does it Matter?

VO2Max – What is it and Does it Matter?

So why does all this science matter and what does it mean for you? First of all, VO2max is the strongest independent predictor of future life expectancy so everyone out there should be at the very least slightly interested in their own value, athlete or not. Additionally VO2max  becomes especially useful once we consider its impact on athletic performance. 

In order to walk, run or move at all, our body needs to produce energy; we can either produce this energy without oxygen (anaerobic) or with oxygen (aerobic). Any exercise will require energy production from both aerobic and anaerobic systems however their relative contribution is determined by the duration and intensity of the effort. As anaerobic energy production is only possible for a very short period of time, our bodies will always try to meet the energy demands aerobically. In trained individuals it has been shown that during a maximal effort the switch to predominantly aerobic energy systems occurs somewhere between 15 and 30 seconds into exercise as by this point we have “run out” of anaerobic fuel. The rate of work, power output or running pace that an individual can maintain aerobically is determined largely by their VO2max. 

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Specific Marathon Training: Hidden Hills 21-Miler (Boston Simulation)

Specific Marathon Training: Hidden Hills 21-Miler (Boston Simulation)

Durden would complete his preparations for the Boston Marathon with a long run that started with a five mile (~8km) warm up to the track at Stone Mountain High School in Georgia. Then the real workout would begin. Durden would run 1km hard – in around 2:50, followed by a 200m jog, followed by a 2km in around 5:50-5:55 (2:55-2:57/km). He would repeat this 3 times through, finishing with a 2km interval which would mean completing the 10km in around 29:00-29:30. But that’s not all…

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The Importance Of Consuming Carbs During A Marathon

The Importance Of Consuming Carbs During A Marathon

Due to circulating levels of glucose and the storage capacity of the body, taking in nutrition during events shorter than an hour or so is generally accepted to be unnecessary, although interestingly Geoffry Kamworor consumed some Maurten on his way to smashing the half marathon world record (58:01) in Copenhagen earlier this year. Is this merely for publicity for the company (of which there is no shortage given it has been used by the vast majority of major marathon winners in recent years, as well as by Eliud Kipchoge in the Ineos 1:59 Challenge), or is there more to the story? 

Replenishing the calories that are being burnt during exercise is clearly important to maintain consistent output, but how much do we need to be putting in? Running at a reasonably high intensity (such as the pace in a marathon or half marathon, or competing in a longer event such as an Ironman or ultra) will burn through upwards of 1000 calories per hour, which equates to roughly 250 grams of carbohydrate – or 15 bananas!

Fat oxidation will also be contributing to energy production, the proportion of energy substrate which fat supplies is inversely proportional to exercise intensity. As intensity increases more glucose is used in the place of fat, a proxy measurement for this is the respiratory exchange ratio, which is a ratio of the volume of carbon dioxide released to the amount of oxygen used during exercise. Sitting at slightly below threshold pace fat oxidation will be providing roughly 50% of substrate. However, that still means that, ignoring glycogen stores, you want to be taking in 125 grams of carbohydrate per hour just to replace what is being used. Importantly, endurance training prior to an event increases the mitochondria content in adipose tissue, essentially allowing greater energy production from fat sources over carbs. Efficacy of fat oxidation can further be enhanced through training in a fasted state. Ketogenic diets rely almost completely on fat oxidation for energy production, however we will save rabbit hole for another day. Needless to say, none of the top marathon athletes are adhering to such dietary regimes, but I digress.

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Darya Mykhaylova – Training (32:27 10km, 71:36 Half Marathon, 2:28 Marathon)

Darya Mykhaylova – Training (32:27 10km, 71:36 Half Marathon, 2:28 Marathon)

The training volume from Darya differs throughout the season. When she prepares for 10k or half marathons she trains around 130 to 150 kilometres per week. In race season from April to July she covers only 70 to 90 kilometres to be fresh for the competitions and recently she covered 180 to 200 kilometres to prepare for the upcoming marathon. After this high-volume block in Kenya, at 2400m altitude from 16.07 to 29.08 she ran her personal best in 10 kilometres (32.31) on the road and half marathon (71:36). Darya trains with a heart rate monitor and the intensities are controlled in different heart rate zones. For her example the different heart rate zones are: until 142 HR (L1), 144-156 (L2), 156 – 162 (L3), 162 – 172 (L4) in her case. These values are individual and are usually based on the maximum heart rate of the given athlete.

As it should be for a professional runner, the training program needs to be well balanced and that’s also the case for Darya. She usually doubles (two running sessions per day) 5 days per week and one day per week is only one short run, which is her recovery day. Her coach says, if you rest one day per week fully, you lose 52 days of training per year. The following described training log of a full week, was done in Iten, at high altitude and on a dirt track or hilly rough roads:

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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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