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British Olympic Medallist Josh Kerr On The Importance Of Lofty Goals

In a recent conversation for the Sweat Elite Podcast we were joined by Scottish middle-distance talent Josh Kerr. The Tokyo Olympic bronze medallist in the 1500m joined us on the podcast to discuss his life on and off the track, as well as the power of mindset for achieving big goals.

“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.

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!

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).

Fitness Loss – How Fast Does It Happen?

Fitness Loss – How Fast Does It Happen?

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.

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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