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German Silva – The Wrong Way to the Top

German Silva – The Wrong Way to the Top

A major chunk of running history and culture of which I was completely oblivious until last year was the dominance of Mexican athletes on the roads throughout the 1990s. On a run through a valley near Sululta, on the outskirts of Addis Ababa, Knox Robinson regaled us with stories from that period: the athletes who were so dominant, their successes and their missteps. As well as what he experienced during his time spent there, learning from some of the most colourful characters in running.

One such character that kept popping up was German Silva.

Delving into some research on the topic, I was fascinated. A beautiful article in the New York Times depicted a committed group of elite athletes living in austerity and tackling some alarmingly tough conditions, training at altitudes well above what most elite runners would deem productive as they ascended into the crater of the 4680m volcano, Nevado de Toluca.

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!

Bruce Fordyce – Training To Win Comrades 9 Times

Bruce Fordyce – Training To Win Comrades 9 Times

But what does it take to win the Comrades Marathon a record number of nine times?

Inspired to take running more seriously after watching the 1976 Comrades marathon aired on TV, Fordyce’s voyage to victory started under the stars on the night of 18 June 1976, when he ran around his university rugby fields for a meagre 10 minutes. At the time, this was all he could manage. One can only guess that this is where his love for ‘consecutives’ began, because he ran again the next day, and the next…

Good genes, commitment, a solid training programme and career-long consistency are factors Fordyce attributes to his Comrades’ successes. It took Fordyce three years to grow his mileage from that initial 10 minute run to 160-190kms a week during peak season, and around 100-115 kms a week during his off season.

In his book titled: “The Marathon Runner’s Handbook”, a must read for all potential Comrades runners and ultramarathon runners, Fordyce breaks down the necessary training required for Comrades success as follows…

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).

Kilian Jornet – Training Insights

Kilian Jornet – Training Insights

Some people defy what we can conceive to be within the realm of possibility. Some manage to do it again and again.

A hero to many, one of the most accomplished and inspiring athletes in the world, a man with a beautiful message. Kilian Jornet has been an enigma since he took the world of mountain sports in the late 2000’s (I can’t just say mountain running because he also was winning world championships in ski mountaineering and taking on FKT expeditions).

After amassing a lifetime’s worth of accolades whilst still in his early twenties – having won all the races he ever dreamed of winning – Kilian moved onto some more out-there adventures. Embarking on a self-styled adventure project he called Summits of My Life, Kilian set out to establish FKTs ascending and descending some of the world’s most iconic mountains, including Kilimanjaro, Mont Blanc, Aconcagua, and culminating in a record-breaking summit of Everest. Kilian set the Everest FKT in 26 hours from base camp, with no oxygen or ropes, and battling gastroenteritis along the way. A mere six days later he repeated the performance, earning himself the Adventurer of the Year award from National Geographic (for the second time).

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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