The Latest and Greatest in Endurance Running Research

I recently had the opportunity to attend the USA Track and Field/International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) Endurance Coaching Academy. We convened at the Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista, CA for one week of intensive learning in subjects related to the development of elite runners. As such, the lecturers were PhD scientists in areas such as training theory, physiology, sports psychology, nutrition, hormonal and neuronal effects of training, etc. Upon completion of the requirements for this Academy, the attending coaches will receive the highest level of international track and field endurance running certification.
I’d like to share with you various “tidbits” which represent the latest research findings on endurance training. Some of these ideas have been around but have been updated in some way. Others give new insight into old beliefs.

-Dr Joe Vigil described the Performance Triangle.
PEAK PERFORMANCE ZONE – People who are comfortable with being uncomfortable and constantly push the performance envelope.
HIGH PERFORMANCE ZONE – People who are willing to risk and get uncomfortable.
PERFORMANCE ZONE – Less people; more commitment; occasional risk. Occasionally uncomfortable.
COMFORT ZONE – Where most people operate. They are satisfied and always comfortable and take no risks.
The idea, of course, is to pursue excellence; to push higher up the triangle.

-Research has shown that events from 400 meters to the marathon have a higher aerobic component than previously believed. Even the 1500m is an 84% aerobic event. This means that 84% of the energy needed to race that event is coming from an aerobic (“with air”) energy source as opposed to anaerobic (ATP, creatine phosphate) sources.

-It is absolutely critical that young people (i.e. under the age of 20) work to develop all five biomotor abilities. Speed, especially, can be developed greatly during adolescence but is much more difficult to improve in later life. The five biomotor abilities are: speed, strength, endurance, flexibility, agility/coordination. Thus adolescents especially (but even older folks too!) should play a variety of sports which force them to move in all planes of motion and to develop the abilities that endurance running doesn’t foster. This overall body strength will pay great dividends later in one’s athletic life. The point is to try not to allow your kids to become running specialists. Encourage them to swim, bike, play soccer, basketball, ski, run around barefoot all summer, etc.

-Pre, during and post run nutrition are critical to long term performance. As soon as you finish one workout, you should already be fueling for the next training session. Take in a 4:1 carbohydrate to protein ratio within 30 minutes of a hard or long effort. This can be a container of chocolate milk or a Gatorade plus a big spoonful of peanut butter.

-There is new, fascinating research about carbohydrate mouth rinsing which can increase performances that are of short duration and high intensity. Simply swishing a carb drink through the mouth then spitting it out can stimulate mechanisms in the brain that allow an intense effort to continue. Thus those who struggle with stomach distress can, perhaps, in shorter events, suck on a hard candy or simply swish. More research needs to be done but the possibilities are fascinating.

-Studies are showing that increasing intensity in training is more efficacious for improved performance than simply running more miles. This would apply to events from middle distance through the marathon. Of course, some baseline of mileage must be maintained (one must still have easy days, easy long runs, etc) but after a certain point, it appears that trying to work at 10k pace or faster for at least 25% of one’s weekly mileage has a positive effect on fitness and racing ability. In other words, “the volume game can be overplayed. If a runner is already covering 50-70 miles per week or more, additional easy miles are unlikely to have any effect on fitness at all.” (Owen Anderson, Running Science) If an athlete is not yet at this percentage of weekly intensity, he/she must move towards it slowly and with caution in order to avoid injury. Further, while a range of intensities need to be worked, training at 95-100% of VO2 max (or very close to 3k race pace) is the most productive intensity. This does NOT mean that an athlete should go out and work too heavily at 3k speed. Rather, slowly incorporating harder work into a training program can yield good results. The idea is to get very aerobically strong (through easier mileage as well as LT and VO2 max work) so that you have less lactic acid to deal with in a race.

-Time your race warm up so that you complete a full, proper warm up close to start time. Otherwise, your metabolic rate goes down before the race begins. Do 4-5 x 30 second to 2 minute pick ups at goal race pace in order to stay active after your initial warm up.

-If the goal is to become a better runner (i.e. specificity of work) then strength training should be done AFTER aerobic exercise. Take short rest between strength repeats in order to maintain an aerobic effect through your strength session.

-Remember that we are RACERS not just RUNNERS. Most of us do this because at some point, we hope to go faster than we ever have before (or faster than we have lately if we’re older!). Sure, do the measured workouts, keep track of pace, etc. But remember that you’re a RACER at heart. Let it rip on that last repeat just to see what you have. Open it up sometimes on a downhill and run FAST, reminding yourself that you’re fast, strong and tough!

-Finally fascinating research continues around the Central Governor Theory. In essence this states that it is not limited muscle ability, lactic acid, or depleted glycogen stores that cause us to slow down and eventually stop in races. Rather, the brain is the monitor and controller of our efforts and portions out our effort based on what it perceives to be the likely threats to the body, etc. That is why, after a long and grueling race, a person can still sprint to the finish line. Obviously, there are enough energy stores to allow for that sprint. So it appears that the brain controls the effort we can put forth. This is why hard training is so effective: we are, in effect, teaching the brain that the body can actually go longer and harder without breaking down. This fascinating research brings the area of sports psychology much more sharply into focus.

I hope you’ve enjoyed these little snippets of information and that you can use them to further your own running and racing!

2 Responses to “The Latest and Greatest in Endurance Running Research”

  1. Doug Says:

    Great job Kim! Very interesting! I found the Central Governor Theory extremely interesting. You have anymore info on this? Would love to read more about it.


  2. Nicky Says:

    Fascinating! Thanks Kim!

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