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Run Long, Run Healthy Weekly Roundup — March 17, 2022

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: The power of consistent self-talk. Three great hip exercises for runners. How to find the best shoe for you. High fitness dramatically lowers Alzheimer’s risk. Should you jog or rest during interval training? SMART goals are dumb. An optimal diet adds a decade to your life. How to clean things up, fight climate change, use less plastic. In races, should you fuel up with real foods or sports products? More.

Just keep talking to yourself

Coach and prolific author David Roche thinks positive self-talk should be much more than just a trick you use to improve your marathon time. An even bigger, better idea would be: “Every time out the door for a run, set a self-talk intention, focusing on uplifting narratives about yourself and your goal. Practice it.” Roche can’t prove that his idea has merit, but there seems no harm in trying it. And you might discover that “embracing your inherent worth as an athlete can cause compounded fitness gains that make you significantly faster over time.” More at Trail Runner.

Three great hip exercises for runners

Occasionally I enjoy articles that suggest “99 best ways to” do something, but most of the time 3 to 5 seems much more manageable. So here are 3 ways to improve your hip function for smoother, injury-free running. The focus on hips is relatively new in running. We never talked about or worried about our hips several decades ago. Now there’s good evidence to suggest hip adductor, hip flexor, and glute strength contribute to efficient running. More at Triathlete.

How to clean things up, fight climate change, use less plastic

Roadside litter really ticks me off, and I pick it up on a regular basis, though I’m far from perfect in my efforts. As I type these words, I’m thinking I should redouble my focus, and increase my “plogging” this year.

Also, I suppose I could fight climate change by eating more insects… maybe. For sure, we need to decrease our use of plastics. Here are ten steps you can take from Women’s Running.

What’s the best running shoe for you?

This might be the most important question in running, so I’m giving extra coverage to a new review article. How to pick your next pair of shoes? A group of sports rehab experts from Seattle looked into the history and evolution of running shoes, and the evidence that any particular approach can help you find an injury-reducing shoe. First, we had the pancake flat shoes of the 1960s, then shoes got thicker and thicker, then they added anti-pronation devices, then came barefoot-minimalist shoes, and now most shoes are thick and cushy again (without the anti-pronation devices). So, have we learned anything?

It doesn’t appear so. That’s probably due as much to the devilish and individual-centric complexity of running injuries as to any problem with modern shoes. Anyway, there have been 4 main paradigms, or shoe-selection strategies: 1—Pronation Control; 2—Shock Absorption; 3—Habitual Joint Motion Path; and 4—Comfort Filter. Many runners are familiar with the first two, and much less so with the third and fourth, which are less mechanical and more theoretical. Here’s a brief description of each, along with an Evidence assessment per the new paper:

Pronation Control: Stop the foot’s inward motion at the ground (and up to the knee) and you can limit many knee injuries, a big runner problem. Pronation control shoes often use a “post” or a “wedge” to slow pronation: Evidence: It might be possible to limit pronation, but this is not proven to limit injuries. Thus, this strategy is “not currently supported in most cases, and reducing foot motion through motion-control shoes may even be injurious.”

Shock Absorption (also called Impact Force Modification): This approach tries to limit the immediate shock of each footfall and the “loading rate” that follows. Shoes got thicker and more cushioned in an attempt to minimize these forces. Evidence: Research showed that increased thickness did not diminish forces. Then minimalist shoes (and forefoot landings) were shown to sometimes achieve lower forces. However, they didn’t decrease injury rates, though debate remains about the benefits of a long-slow adaptation to minimalist shoes. The new maximalist shoes are super-thick, and too recent an innovation to allow for serious research.

Habitual Joint Motion Path: This approach states, more or less, that shoes shouldn’t interfere with the completely unique biomechanics of each individual runner. This is hard to define and hard to measure. Evidence: So far as is known, “no studies have directly tested the effect of matching footwear to minimize biomechanical variability.”

Comfort Filter: This is the newest paradigm and the one many experts and running stores are now following, perhaps because it takes the selection onus off them and puts it on the customer. It states: If the shoe feels great when you put it on and run in it, that’s the shoe for you. Rationale: The human body is a finely-tuned computer adapted to assess available input like comfort, and choose its best shoes. Evidence: Believe it or not, there’s a wee bit. When military trainees were allowed to pick the shoe insole that felt most comfortable, they suffered 53 percent fewer lower leg injuries than a control group even though they had six insoles to choose from. In other words, the insole choice alone didn’t reduce injuries. It was the combo of insole + individual comfort filter.

Bottom Line: The researchers don’t believe there’s sufficient evidence to support any of the four above paradigms. Instead, they make this suggestion: “Choose a shoe that’s lightweight, comfortable, and has minimal pronation control technology.” More at Frontiers in Sports & Active Living.

High aerobic fitness dramatically lowers risk of Alzheimer’s

Alzheimer’s is a nasty, frightening disease that has so far given up few of its secrets to medical science. (I know a longtime researcher in the field.) If you can do anything to delay/prevent Alzheimer’s, don’t wait another day. Fitness could play a significant role. In a massive study of 649,000 American veterans, researchers found that the highest-fit in the group developed 33 percent less Alzheimers (after 8.8 years) than the lowest-fit. Running is one of the best, if not the best, fitness-enhancing exercises. More at American Academy of Neurology.

When running intervals, should you jog or rest between repeats?

It’s probably one of the oldest questions in running, with little research behind it. Most hardcore runners keep moving during recovery periods (the “intervals”). A new paper says that’s a good approach for some runners, but not for those seeking high-end efforts. The researchers tested 11 veteran runners with an average 10K best of about 35 minutes. They ran four times two minutes at max aerobic speed, taking two minutes of jogging (or complete rest) between repeats. Many physiological measures were little different between conditions, but those jogging their intervals definitely found the sessions more difficult. Conclusion: Jogging between intervals may be better than resting for intermediate runners seeking a tough workout, but resting might be better for elite athletes trying to max out their total number of repeats at pace. More at Euro J of Applied Physiology.

SMART goals are dumb

Everyone believes in intelligent goal setting, and everyone has heard of the SMART approach, which sounds, well, smart. The nicely aligned letters stand for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Timebound. Who could disbelieve? But a new review concludes that the SMART approach “is not based on scientific theory; is not consistent with empirical evidence; does not consider what type of goal is set; is not applied consistently; is lacking detailed guidance; has redundancy in its criteria; is not being used as originally intended; and has a risk of potentially harmful effects.” Yikes! Instead, the study authors conclude: “We are calling on international scientific and professional organizations in the fields of public health and physical activity promotion to cease the wholesale, uncritical dissemination of the SMART acronym, in favor of more sophisticated, defensible, and evidence-based guidance on goal-setting.” More at Frontiers in Sports & Active Living.

Optimal diet adds a decade to your life

You might have seen this report already, as it was picked up by more than 250 news outlets. The summary: If you started eating an “optimal diet” at age 20, you could add 10 to 13 years to your life. If you started at 60, you’d still gain eight to nine years. Critics found these estimates on the high side, but no one seriously disputed that an optimal diet can improve your life. The big changes you should consider: Add more legumes, whole grains, and nuts. Decrease consumption of red meat and processed meats. Here’s a critical view. Here’s the big paper in free, full text at PLOS Medicine.

To fight fatigue, build your hamstrings and postural stability

Many distance runners pay little attention to the hamstrings. We think they’re an issue for sprinters, not us. It might be time to rethink this. When researchers looked at biomechanics that deteriorated after 18 recreational runners were pushed to the point of central and peripheral fatigue, they found that hamstring strength and “dynamic postural stability” helped fight off the declines. Or, as they put it: “Fatigue may affect to a lesser extent the running technique of those runners with higher hamstring strength and stability values.” More at Sensors.

On-the-run fuel: Food first or sports products?

Everyone agrees in a food-first approach to daily nutrition, but running races is a completely different (and temporary) thing, so we don’t know if food-first works best in competition. To explore this question, a study group performed a systematic review of relevant research, mainly on bicyclists. They found few differences between food vs drink or gel or bar, “before and during endurance exercise” but warned that foods “may slightly increase GI symptoms with exercise > two hours.” A different but similar paper looked at runner-triathlete-cyclist consumption during training. Females were more likely than males to consume real foods in training, but nearly everyone focused on carbs, and monitored intake by “gut feeling.” The order of preference of commercial products: drinks, then gels, then bars. More at Frontiers in Nutrition.

SHORT STUFF you won’t want to miss


“All you need is the courage to believe in yourself and put one foot in front of the other.” —Kathrine Switzer

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