Get access to everything we publish when you sign up for Outside+.
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: Is “grit” the essential ingredient? Run like Abdi. Careful with your marathon hydration plan. Poetry and running. The next frontier — blood flow restriction training. Beet juice confirmed by systematic review. Find the right physical therapist. At 81, Bernd Heinrich rules running-biology-writing. More.
Is “grit” the answer to success in endurance sports?
Angela Duckworth’s research and writing about grit has been much admired, and also dissected several different ways. Is grit the key to success, or just another word for determination and persistence? She has written, “You can grow your grit from the inside out,” but NCAA coaches say it’s nearly impossible to teach. In this review, “The majority of the studies which examined the relationship between grit and athletic performance demonstrated that grit was indeed a significant predictor.” Also, “Grit was shown to be distinctive from other similar determinants of success.” More at International Review of Sport & Exercise Psychology.
Run like Abdi
In just a few weeks — on Aug. 8 to be precise — American marathon ace Abdi Abdirahman will be running in his fifth Olympics (and he missed in 2016), so he’s obviously doing a few things right. In two new interviews, he says the long run — starting relaxed, finishing strong — is the clear key to his marathon success. He says he’s reduced his intensity in speed workouts and does more tempo runs, but to maintain leg speed, he recently completed a workout of 7 x 3 minutes, 7 x 2 minutes, and 7 x 1 minutes. Abdi, now 44, has told his full life story in a new book. More at Outside Online and PodiumRunner.
At 81, Bernd Heinrich is a runner-biologist-writer extraordinaire
I enjoyed Abdi’s book but I’m especially looking forward to Bernd Heinrich’s 22nd and most recent book, Racing The Clock: Running Across a Lifetime. After all, that’s basically the focus of this newsletter. Heinrich won the Boston Marathon masters division in 1981, set a handful of ultra marathon records, and is an even-better biologist-naturalist-writer. His earlier book, Why We Run, rests comfortably in my short list of top-5 best running books ever. Here’s a 6-minute video from PBS-TV on Heinrich, who’s now 81 and still on the move, running strong.
Careful! Your marathon hydration plan could easily go awry
When you run a marathon, you plan a drinking strategy beforehand, and you know that you’re supposed to avoid over-drinking, which could lead to potentially-dangerous hyponatremia. So far, so good. Then the gun sounds, you take off, and 20 miles later you feel like a wilted stalk of celery. The marathon organizers have helpfully staffed a number of convenient fluid tables … so what do you think happens next? Yep, you begin drinking more than you had planned. That’s what researchers found when they conducted an actual survey of marathon runners. “Runners consumed more than they intended during the marathon.” It’s hard to bypass those cups of water and ‘ade, but be aware of the temptation-pitfall, and keep a calm head about you. More at J of Exercise Physiology.
The new age of “blood flow restriction” training
We seem to have entered an era of “blood flow restriction” training. The articles are everywhere, and they particularly grab your attention when one is focused on a 99-year-old subject who made impressive physical gains with BFR training. First, though, here’s an overview paper that states “aerobic BFR training could be beneficial for those recovering from injury, those who have limited time for training a specific physiological capacity, or as an adjunct training stimulus to provide variation in a program.” Another report says BFR has “beneficial effects on muscle mass, strength, aerobic capacity, and pain perception,” as well as “the potential to shorten the time course of therapy” when you are recovering from injury.” But let’s get back to that 99 year old. He had knee arthritis and advanced muscle weakness. Then someone offered him BFR training with results that led the researchers to conclude it’s an “effective strategy to promote muscle mass gains in nonagenarians and delay the decline in functionality.” Here’s a solid backgrounder on blood flow restriction training for runners. More at PodiumRunner.
How poetry can enhance your running
It will likely be a good long time before I report on another journal paper in which the study had only one subject. But this is about poetry, and that makes it uniquely different. A university professor worried about the loss collegiate track athletes might be feeling last year when they couldn’t compete in the normal events. She thought writing poems might help, and one student signed onto her mini-course. It involved reading a handful of poems with track-and-field themes, and then writing his own poems on the topic. The athlete summarized the experiment: “I had a difficult time trying to describe how I run or what I feel. But it was good for me. It was fun to actually write about competition.” The professor concluded: “Teammates, coaches, and mentors can use this art-based method to support athlete well-being.” More at Sport, Education, and Society.
Women nab half of top 30 places at Western States 100
A lot of people are still talking about the fact that three women runners finished in the top 10 in the infamously difficult Western States 100. Women also notched fully half of the top 30 positions. Half! And that’s in the overall standings — something that definitely doesn’t happen in, say, the Boston Marathon. “That’s a big deal,” an ultra-running expert told the New York Times. This raised again the question: Do women have more ultra endurance than men? No one can provide a definitive answer, but there’s also no arguing with strong female finishes in a number of looong races. (Woman wins Race Across America bike race.) The first woman finisher at WS 100, Beth Pascall, seventh overall, is a British pediatrician. The third woman, 10th overall, was 42 year old Ragna Debats, from the Netherlands. More at Women’s Running.
It’s tough to beat beet-root juice
Consumption of beet root juice (the bright red stuff) has been one of the big endurance innovations of the last decade, spurred by exercise physiologist Andy Jones, highly regarded consultant to Paula Radcliffe, Eliud Kipchoge, and others. (Jones set a few running records himself as a young Welshman.) You can find plenty of beet-root products these days, and no doubt many elite runners are following one regimen or another. Here’s a new systematic review and meta analysis that supports the endurance benefits of beets or dietary nitrate supplements even though there’s no evidence for cardiac or lactate effects. Some studies have found that nitrate can also lower blood pressure, an important health outcome. More at J of the International Society of Sports Nutrition (endurance) and Biomolecules (blood pressure).
Find the right physical therapist
The NY Times had a great article on finding a good physical therapist, and what modalities are perhaps overused with a lack of evidence supporting them. It’s definitely worth a full read. At the same time, some critics commenting on the article found it too skeptical, and also fingered insurance companies for reducing payments to PTs. Runners know that word-of-mouth is and always will be the best way to find a PT likely to mesh closely with your needs (and as someone who used a good one last year, I can vouch for their help). Ask other runners, ask at your local running store, ask local runners on social media. More at NYT.
Female and male ultra runners both have Athlete Triad risks, but women face more
Researchers wanted to determine Athlete Triad risks among male and female ultra-marathon runners and managed to attract more than 120 subjects, two-thirds men, who had completed a 100-mile race. Subjects were weighed, and received bone-mineral tests and some blood work. They also answered questions about diet and injury history. None of the men but 15 percent of the women had Body Mass Index under 18.5, placing them in the unhealthy range. Among women, 37.5% had a history of bone stress injury and 16.7% had low bone mineral scores. On the same measures, men had 20.5% bone injuries and 30.1% low bone mineral scores. “The Triad Cumulative Risk Assessment classified 61.1% of women and 29.2% of men as moderate risk and 5.6% of both men and women as high risk.” More at Clinical J of Sports Medicine.
The training of recreational triathletes: It’s all mixed up
We have a tendency to think that triathletes are precise, data-driven machines who need and have a perfect plan to fit in all the necessary training. (Or maybe it’s just me who thinks that. Or maybe it only applies to pro triathletes.) When a research team looked at the actual training of recreational triathletes for 6 weeks before an Olympic distance event, it seemed haphazard. “Training loads were characterized by a high degree of variability with no discernible pattern.” For example, training decreased by 17 percent in week 2 vs week 1, then climbed 27% in week 3. Similarly, “No pattern was seen in changes in training intensity,” which tended to be higher than usually recommended. Despite doing everything wrong, the athletes, contrary to the study hypothesis, suffered “no significant changes in fatigue or recovery status.” The authors speculate that “general life” got in the way of better training. I say, Damn right. And congrats to the athletes for plowing ahead with less-than-perfect preparations. More at Sports.
Don’t overlook strength training; it can reduce obesity
Dr. Steven Blair, practically the second father of aerobics after Dr. Ken Cooper, has published an important new exercise and obesity-prevention paper that highlights the importance of “resistance” (strength) training. The New York Times covered the study in detail. Blair and colleagues found that “meeting both the aerobic and resistance exercise guidelines was associated with the smallest hazard ratios for obesity,” but worry that not enough people are doing strength training (71 percent of their 12,000 subjects were not). This is bad, because “resistance exercise was associated with a significantly reduced risk of obesity even after considering aerobic exercise.” The follow-up period was 6 years. The guidelines for strength training recommend 2 or more days per week or 1-2 hours/week. So be sure to make time for that along with your running. More at PLOS Medicine.
Microbiome of the lifelong endurance athlete
I’m guessing the investigators behind this study were surprised to find that “lifelong endurance training does not bring any significant benefit regarding overall gut microbiota diversity.” They must surely have been looking for a difference. Of course, they do note several other benefits of “serious athletic training.” Much of what I’ve read recently about a healthy microbiome emphasizes the importance of fiber in your diet. Here are lots of simple, healthy ways to get more fiber from Clean Eating.
SHORT STUFF you’ll want to know
GOOD QUOTES MAKE GREAT TRAINING PARTNERS
|“There is no bad weather, only soft runners.”
— Bill Bowerman, legendary University of Oregon running coach