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Run Long, Run Healthy Weekly Roundup — March 11, 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: Endurance performance three times more physical than mental. How to keep your Achilles tendons healthy. “Jogging” deserves a better reputation. The Boston Marathon requires specific “eccentric” training. How long do sports bras last? Thumbs up for caffeine gum. Vibrating foam rollers may improve recovery. Tylenol performance boost not effective with well-trained athletes. How running refreshes you when tired. More.

Endurance performance 90 percent physical, and half mental

No, wait—that’s Yogi Berra. Most researchers can actually add, especially the Swiss, who performed this experiment. When they divided an endurance test (a bicycling mountain time-trial) to the physical and mental domains, they came up with a 77 percent contribution for VO2 Max and 23 percent for motivation-perseverance. Interesting additional factoid: Relaxation techniques were “associated with a worse endurance performance.” So stay tight and focused. More at Outside Online.

How to keep your Achilles tendons healthy

The Achilles tendons are obviously a key tissue for any runner. You need healthy ones to continue running, and you want them to be strong, stiff, and energy-returning to run faster. Problem is, the tendons don’t have much blood supply, so it hasn’t been clear what we can do to “train” them. New research shows that physical activity makes a clear difference—a 28 percent difference between exercising and nonexercising twins. Also, jumping sports like basketball and running build stiffer tendons than swimming and bicycling. Is there a simple strengthening routine guaranteed to bolster your Achilles? No, but the Alfredson Protocol is widely supported by physical therapists. More at Outside Online.

Let’s make “jogging” groovy

I know few, maybe zero, runners who appreciate the words “jogger” or “jogging.” Maybe we need to rethink this. Certainly if running wants to be more inclusive, it needs to welcome those who won’t qualify for Boston in this century. How about if we go full monty and make “jogger” a term of fun, pride, and honor. Like: “I’m not a crazy, obsessive, Strava-logging kind of runner. I just like to move my body regularly.” Some groups are starting to do this; I hope more will follow. More at Outside Online.

Get eccentric with your Boston Marathon training

The Boston Marathon is coming in just five weeks, which means it’s time for those running Boston in April to hone their downhill skills. Downhill running stretches the quads and other muscles/tissues even as they are simultaneously contracting; this is called eccentric exercise. It can be both painful… and productive, if you’ve prepared well. This article suggests that regular eccentric loading of the Achilles tendon “may be a useful adjunct to enhance” AT function. Another article finds that just 4 weeks of downhill running “promoted neuromuscular adaptations.” Many papers, like this one, have found that “a prior bout of eccentric exercise does reduce decrements in strength, severity of muscle damage and perceived muscle soreness.” That is, practice makes things better. Finally, three weeks of eccentric resistance exercises combined with speedy downhill running enhanced “power and running speed in trained athletes.” More at J of Strength & Conditioning Research.

If running shoes last 500 miles, what about sports bras?

Everyone’s pretty familiar with the advice that running shoes should be retired after 300 to 500 miles of wear. But no one had figured out similar guidance for sports bras. So an all-female research team in the U.K. decided to take a crack at it, asking volunteers to run in bras before and after 25 washings. Result: “Breast motion increased” about 20 percent after the washings, and even more if the bras had been worn regularly throughout the test period. Time for a trade-in? Not necessarily. While runners could detect the reduced support, “comfort was sustained, suggesting replacement may not be considered.” More at Sports Biomechanics.

Caffeine gum gets the job done

Researchers performed a meta analysis and systematic review of articles that investigated the ergogenic (performance-enhancing) effects of caffeinated chewing gum “on  exercise performance-related outcomes.” They located 14 relevant studies with 200 total participants. One unusual finding: The gum improved results of trained subjects but not untrained subjects. The gum had to be chewed less than 15 minutes before the beginning of exercise and supply more than three mg of caffeine per kilogram of body weight (about 1.4 mg/pound). Conclusion: With appropriate timing and dosing, “Caff-gum supplementation may be an effective ergogenic strategy for trained athletes involved in both endurance and strength/power exercise.” More at Euro J of Sports Science.

Vibrating foam rollers may boost recovery

Foam rollers are a favorite recovery and injury-prevention tool of many runners. Recently, vibration-enhanced foal rollers have made an appearance. They cost considerably more. Are they also more effective? That’s possible, though the evidence so far isn’t conclusive, according to a meta analysis and systematic review of vibrating foam rollers. Vibration is supposed to produce a more in-depth stimulation of the muscle and myofascia, but the actual influence remains unclear. The paper did not analyze recovery, but the authors concluded: “However, the results of the studies appear to support the idea that VFR enhances recovery after exercise, since the blood flow increased, and the perceived fatigue and pain decreased with VFR interventions.” More at Sports Medicine-Open.

Tylenol less effective among trained athletes

One important rule to remember when evaluating “magic” workouts, supplements, etc, is that they are less likely to work with well-trained veteran runners than with relative beginners. This may be true of acetaminophen (Tylenol). According to this “Current Findings” article, acetaminophen may be helpful in endurance races, in the heat, and in “single sprint” contests. However, it had no effect “on physiology, perception, and performance of trained triathletes in hot, humid conditions.” The same happened in 3000 meter time trials by track athletes at Western Colorado University. Conclusion: “Acetaminophen’s  benefits have yet to be significant amongst well-trained runners.” More at Int J of Environmental Research & Public Health.

What happened after this rare—and DRAMATIC—training experiment?

Here’s a neat little training study–neat because it included eight weeks of dramatically different training among two groups of elite xc skiers who then trained similarly for 19 weeks. Group A began with eight weeks of high-intensity training, group B with eight weeks of low-intensity. Both groups then completed five weeks of “standardized training with similar training intensity” and 14 weeks of “self-chosen training.” The big question: Did the initial training have a lasting effect? Answer: Nope. The first eight weeks “had little or no effect on the subsequent development of performance or physiological indices.” Training effects tend to even out over time. More at Int J of Sports Physiology & Performance.

How running helps refresh you

For the last three decades I’ve been trying to convince people of something I call the “exercise paradox.” Namely: The fact that exercising, which should make you more tired, actually makes you less tired. Now I can point to a randomized controlled experiment for support. Researchers put subjects through 60 minutes of a mentally fatiguing task, then had them recover with 30 minutes of moderate exercise, light stretching, or TV watching. Conclusion: “This study suggests that a single bout of acute aerobic exercise supports regeneration of cognitive flexibility performance and of subjective well-being.” Even if your heart rate goes up a little, you end up feeling more energized. More at Physiology & Behavior.

Stay mentally flexible to continue down the fitness path

We all say that we want to be mentally tough, but we might be smarter to aim for mental flexibility. Here’s a good article on Acceptance and Commitment Therapy in a sports context. It asks you to accept your current situation without becoming overwhelmed by it or distracted from your goals. For example, “Run the mile you’re in”—not the 20 that lie ahead. A second article points out that everyone faces setbacks. Literally everyone. They’re generally not catastrophic, but more like a disappointing bump in the road. The only thing that matters is finding a healthy path back to your active self. More at Precision Hydration.

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“Our life is March weather, savage and serene in one hour.” —Ralph Waldo Emerson

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