Wednesday, December 26, 2007

The Marthon Taper: Fast or slow? Short or long?

There's little sweeter than reaching your taper after a long build up for a big race. After hours on the run, you finally get to relax a bit and let your injuries heal and legs rejuvenate. If you're lucky, you'll even get to spend some non-running time with your family and friends, or joyfully alone with the New York Times. It's one of the great times in training, nestled as it is between the weeks of hard work and the building anticipation of the race itself.

Still, after all you've invested, it's hard not to wonder if the taper schedule you've chosen will help those big miles payoff like they should. Should you go with a long or short taper? How about a fast or slow taper? Or any combination thereof?

It’s hard to know really, and as with most things running, it usually comes down to seeing what works best for you. We at Run Junkie tend to be partial to a classic three week marathon taper touted by the likes of famed coach Peter Pfitzinger (link), but with a twist – speed. Instead of plodding along at sub-marathon pace in those final weeks, we’ve taken to heart some compelling study results (link) showing that cutting way back on distance and adding some simple 500 meter repeats can really boost performance on race day. And, to be honest, it’s nice to stretch one’s legs a bit after all those long, slow miles.

Coming at things from a different angle was a recent Runner’s World story (link) pushing a short, two week taper that finishes up with a pretty long run just a week before race day. The reasoning is that most marathon runners these days follow training schedules with relatively low-mileage weeks, and they don’t need the recovery time implicit in longer, classic tapers developed for big mileage runners. Though, we’ve talked with runners who’ve had some success with this approach, we still think the jury’s out on this one.

Check things out for yourself and let us know what works best for you.

Runner’s World
Taper Traps
Taper Too Long?

Pete Pfitzinger
Tapering for a Marathon

Trail Runner
Rest for the Weary

Running Research News
Fast, Exponential Decay May be the Way

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Record at 2007 Antarctic Ice Marathon and 100k

Run in relatively warm (14 – 17 F) but still challenging conditions, the Antarctic Ice Marathon was won by 43 year old Belgian, Marc De Keyser, with a record time of 4:42:32. Low visibility and freezing sleet cut the number of competitors down in the 100k race, with only two runners completing the distance. Austrian, Christian Schiester, took the victory in 19:58:14. Brit, Susan Holliday, became the first woman to complete the 100k race in the three year history of the event. The races took place December 19/20. Official race report (link)

Friday, December 21, 2007

Science Wire: Celebrating a great race? Champagne's the thing

Leave it to the Brits to actually make a scientific pronouncement about the best alcoholic beverage with which to celebrate a hard won victory. In this week's British Medical Journal, researcher Robert Douglas describes the case study of an Aussie rules football player who ingested a beer bottle cap that lay at the bottom of the victory trophy he was drinking from (story, with x-ray). After experiencing trouble breathing, he went to the emergency room where all was eventually set right, following a slightly uncomfortable endoscopy. Douglas took the liberty to follow up the story with a medical literature search on similar health effects of beverages drunk on the field of victory. His conclusion was that champagne was the best choice, with nary one documented case of breathing problems brought on by ingestion of a cork. He says: “Since the 18th century, champagne has been the beverage of choice for celebrations and on current evidence should remain so.” Race directors take note!

Science Wire: Deaths rare during marathons

Despite media attention to the contrary, a new study hot off the presses in the venerable British Medical Journal shows that marathon runners don’t drop like flies from heart attacks on race day (study (pdf)). In fact, the risk of dying from a heart-related problem is quite small. The study looked at 3.3 million runners competing in 750 U.S. races over 30 years and found that, for every 100,000 racers, less than one (0.8 to be exact) died during the event. This translates to about two deaths for every 2 million hours of hard running, and the vast majority of these occur in the last mile of the race. The real kicker of the study, though, is that running the course may be safer than driving it. Looking at car crash deaths on those same roads and for similar timeframes, the researchers found about 35 percent fewer deaths during the marathons than would be expected if those roads had been open to traffic. The upshot: wear your seatbelt on the way to the race, and maybe take it a bit easy on mile 26.

Check out Gina Kolata's piece in the New York Times (story).

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Big Miles. Simple Life: Anton on film

Anton Krupicka (previous post), the 20-something renowned minimalist who’s only indulgence seems to be logging huge miles and gathering palmares at the Leadville 100, is the subject of a recently released documentary from Negative Split Pictures. The piece, somewhat ironically titled, Indulgence – 1000 Miles Under the Colorado Sky, follows Krupicka as he trains throughout trails in the west during the summer of 2007. The website for the film doesn’t yet list any screening dates, but the DVD’s for sale (film site). You can also check out the trailer on YouTube (link). It seems like a good time for the documentary to be released. Anton-mania seems to be reaching fever pitch, with an article in December's Running Times (story) and a quickie 5 question interview in the Rocky Mountain News (story).

Monday, December 17, 2007

RJ Review: “Complete Guide to Trail Running”

If you’re looking for a good introduction to trail running, then look no further, for the “Runner’s World Complete Guide to Trail Running” by Dagney Scott Barrios (Rodale Press) is it. If, however, you’re looking for some true insight into the nitty gritty of the sport, particularly ultra-distance racing and training, then look somewhere else. While Barrios provides a lot of information for a road runner making the first transition to trail running, the book simply lacks a lot of detail that would make it a good reference guide for those who’ve been running trails (and running long) for a number of years. In reality, it was probably the intention of the book from the start to be nothing more than an introduction to the sport, but it does beg the question: Why call it a “complete guide” when it is anything but?

That said, the book is very well written and has some very beautiful, inspiring passages that provide some insight into the transcendent quality of trail running that makes it so appealing to so many. This paragraph, inspired by the midnight to dawn portion of a 100 mile race she was helping a friend complete, particularly stands out:

“And then we heard music. As it grew louder we saw twinkles of light. The trail broke from its narrow confines and spilled out onto a dirt road. The mirage grew closer, until we were surrounded by sweet strains of opera. In the middle of the night, in the middle of nowhere, someone had decorated their house with holiday lights and set up outdoor speakers to serenade the silent stream of lonely runners. It was magical. We kept moving, the lights and music growing fainter, until all was dark and silent again. And we wondered if we had imagined the whole thing.”

This, and the chapter it comes from, is nearly worth the price of the book itself. Nearly.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

RJ Review: Hammer's Perpetuem

Going long? Really long? Hammer’s Perpetuem sports drink may be for you. Unlike a lot of mainstream drinks, Perpetuem has a neutral taste - much more akin to oatmeal than fruit punch – and it’s packed with energy. A standard bottle has about 250 calories, including some fat and protein to spare your muscles and promote fat-utilization for those multi-hour efforts at an aerobic pace. And you don't need to feel hemmed in by standard formulations. Realizing athletes have varied needs, the Hammer website has tips for making a one hour bottle, a multi-hour bottle, and, less appealing to us, a thick paste for your gel flask. That Perpetuem has very little sodium can be a big down side to those going really long and who prefer not to take electrolye tablets or double shots of chicken bouillon. However, after our stress testing, and talking with fellow runners (most more accomplished than we are), it largely gets a thumbs up from the mileage junkies out there. If you’re going short and sweet, though, you may want to try something a bit less complex. Cheers.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Eddie Gardner and the 3,400 Mile "Bunion Derby"

With the death of Ted Corbitt on Wednesday (post), it got us thinking about a story of another pioneering distance runner we read about in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer a few days after Thanksgiving. The piece was on Eddie Gardner, who at the end of his life had been an unassuming Seattle janitor but was once a ground-breaking African-American distance runner who took part in the storied 3,400 mile “Bunion Derby” of 1928.

The Derby was a true cross-country footrace, following Route 66 from Los Angeles to Chicago, then on to a finish in New York City. Though ultra distance races are often viewed as more modern phenomena, endurance running and cycling events were quite popular in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, and the Bunion Derby rode the zeitgeist of the time.

With a huge first place prize of $25,000 (about $280,000 today), the race drew runners from all over, and 199 toed the line in LA, including Eddie Gardner, one of only five African-American in the race. Run in stages, like the Tour de France, the race took 88 days to complete and after the final stage into New York, a 19 year Cherokee from Oklahoma named Andy Payne took home the victory.

Eddie Gardner, sloughing off angry mobs and adoring fans alike much of the way, came in eighth, taking home $1,000 or $2,500, depending on accounts. Later the same year, he went on to set a 50 mile national record in Seattle. For more on the Bunion Derby and Eddie Gardner, check out these links:

Seattle-PI (link)
PBS Documentary (link)
Running Times (link)

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Legendary Marathoner/Ultramarathoner, Ted Corbitt, Passes On at Age 88

Ted Corbitt, a pioneering distance runner, died of cancer yesterday at age 88. A fixture of New York City and legendary for his huge mileage weeks, his obituary ran in today's New York Times (story). A humbling read.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Sex...and Running

We at Run Junkie certainly don’t avoid our baser instincts. So we’re turning happily to today’s topic: running and sex. As with many things intriguing, though, there hasn't been a lot of scientists painstakingly studying the topic, so there isn’t too much that can be definitively said about how running affects sex and, possibly more interesting, how sex affects running. But, we certainly won’t let a silly thing called “lack of evidence” get in the way of sharing our thoughts.

In general, the consensus from scientists and athletes (and athlete’s significant others) seems to be: if it feels good, do it, which is good news because for many runners it seems to feel good a lot of the time. Surveys have found that about a third of runners feel that running has improved their sex life, and the vast majority of the rest feel it certainly hasn’t hurt. And there are anecdotal reports that a good run primes the pump for a nice night with a special someone. Of course, there are always exceptions. It may be hard to get excited about getting excited after a monstrous week of miles and work. But that seems to be the exception more than the rule for most runners.

So, running seems to breathe a little life into the sex life. What about sex breathing a little life into running? Well, there seems to be some evidence to support this. A now classic 2000 London Marathon sex survey rang in the new millennium with findings that sex the night before a marathon could significantly lower finishing times. There are a number of possible reasons for this. The one we latch on to is that, as long as it’s not a night of 8 hour Tantric sex, a little bit of gettin’ busy can help an anxious marathoner relax and ultimately sleep more soundly before a big race, which could certainly boost performance. As Lynn Jennings said after winning the 10k national title in 1993: "I found that sex the night before solidifies my core feeling of happiness." And as you know, we all need to work on building our core. Check out these varied pieces on sex and running. Enjoy:

University of California at Santa Barbara (link)
Globe and Mail piece by Sean Davidson (link)
ESPN (link)
Dudley Ladies of the UK (link)
Cool Running Aussie Message Board (link)

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

"Way Too Cool" Fills Fast

Registration for the Way Too Cool 50k stayed true to form and filled very quickly this weekend: “something less than 10 minutes” said race director Greg Soderlund. He’s still waiting to get the exact time from; though, one post on the Yahoo message board for the event said it'd filled a few minutes after registration opened. Last year’s race reached capacity in just 7 minutes. Taking place in Cool, Ca (not far from Sacramento), the race is run on part of the Western States 100 trails. Course records are held by Uli Steidl (3:18:17) and Ann Trason (3:59:32). Previous post (link).

Postscript: Official fill time: 11:18. Slower than last year but very fast by any standard.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

The Buzz on Caffeine

A lot of folks like to vilify caffeine. It must relate to latent Puritan angst about things that provide pleasure. But, to us at Run Junkie, there’s little we like more than a good dose of great coffee before a run, especially a long run. And, as most of you likely know already, there’s a lot of good data out there showing that it actually does us some good. One 2005 analysis looking at over 20 studies found that taking in caffeine before exercise can not only improve performance but also make the whole affair seem easier overall (study). So, you’re sold, but don’t know the details of how much is enough and how much may be too much. Enter Monique Ryan’s recent piece on (link). Sure, it’s largely focused on cycling, but she’s one of our favorite endurance sports nutritionists, and it lays out some good guidelines and tips for caffeine intake before and during exercise. So grab that latte and give it a read. Cheers.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

As You Suspected: You really could have gone harder

“You are always capable of doing more than you are doing.” There it is. Confirmation from Bill Morgan, an emeritus professor of kinesiology at the University of Wisconsin, that despite our great suffering in the closing kilometers of a race, we really could have pushed ourselves even harder. The quote appears in a New York Times article today by Gina Kolata, who writes about the mental side of bumping up against our physical limits (story).With tips on getting past those rough patches in a race from the likes of Paula Radcliffe and mid-packers alike, it's not a bad read for anyone looking to hit that new PR.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Science Wire: Marathoners and Vitamin C. Should you "C" the light?

People have been popping vitamin C to ward off the common cold for years. But, does it do any good? Well, for most people, not really. A recent report looking at results from 30 studies found that the benefits are so slight for most people that it makes no sense to spend the money and time to take a tablet of C every day (study). One specific group of people, though, really did benefit from taking C regularly: marathon runners and others exposed to extreme activity and cold conditions. For these folks, taking vitamin C regularly cut the risk of getting a cold in half. That’s a huge benefit that could really help keep a cold at bay when the big race is just around the corner.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Leadville 100: Anton cam

With daylight waning and temperatures dropping, it's a great time to revisit some of the hallmarks of the past summer. Check out this great crew video of Anton Krupicka's victory in the 2007 Leadville 100 (race site). His 16:14:35 was the second fastest on record for the Race Across the Sky. And he looks fresh as a daisy afterward.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Chicken Soup DNF

There’s been so much written of late in the running (and popular) press about hyponatremia – the sometimes dangerous state of low blood sodium - that is was quite surprising to read in the November issue of UltraRunning (link) a case study of accomplished ultrarunner, Andy Holak, who DNFed in a fall 100 miler after taking in too much sodium. As he became dehydrated over the course of a few hours, he took in 3 cans of chicken soup with close to 1000 mg of sodium each. The result was a spike in his blood sodium, which caused dizziness, nausea, vomiting, and a dreaded DNF after close to 72 hard fought miles. It’s a cautionary tale, to be sure, as we’ve all started to boost our sodium intake after reading all that coverage of hyponatremia.

To Stretch or Not to Stretch - That is the Question of the "Stretch Study"

We at Run Junkie love running and love giving back to the community. By being part of the USATF’s “Stretch Study,” you can do both at once. The “Stretch Study” tries to figure out the possible benefits of pre-run stretching by randomly placing participants in either a stretch group or a no stretch group, and then follows each runner over a three month period. Participants are asked to answer of couple questionnaires, keep an injury report, and do all they can to keep up their stretch/no stretch pre-run routine. Since most of us keep a training log already, think about taking part. It’s not that much more of an effort, and we may help answer that age old question: to stretch or not to stretch before running. “Stretch Study” page (link).

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Science Wire: Marathon times - an age-old excuse dissected

Seems you need to blame your training more than your age for slowing marathon times, especially if you're under 50. A huge German study looking at the marathon and half-marathon times of over 300,000 runners found no real differences in finishing pace for those between the ages of 20 and 49 (study). Only after that did times really started to separate. But, even between age 50 and 69, finishing times increased by only 2.6 – 4.4 percent per decade. For a 3:00 marathoner that’s only an increase of about 5 – 8 minutes over 10 years. Not too bad.

Race Alert: "Way Too Cool" registration around the corner

Warm up those fingers and get your account in order – the Way Too Cool 50k registration is next Sunday (December 9) at 8am PST (official site). The popular spring ultra filled in just 7 minutes last year, and if the trend over recent years continues, it should fill in about half that time this year. Best of luck.

Postscript: See post on registration fill time (link).

Saturday, December 1, 2007

2007 Chicago Marathon: Water-station carnage

Astonishing runner video from this year's blazing hot, and ultimately scuttled, Chicago Marathon (race site). It makes us thirsty just looking at it.