Thirsty (for knowledge) Thursday: 10 Running Myths that are Slowing You Down

>> Thursday, September 24, 2015

Outside Magazine posted an article last spring that had some interesting thoughts. It shared the 10 running myths that researchers and expert coaches have recently debunked. The original article has lots of links and more details, but I'll give you the run-down here:

1. Max Heart Rate Has Been Calculated Wrong

The old way of calculating training heart race for lactate threshold-based training has come under fire. A program director of the sports cardiology clinic at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN, recently analyzed data from 25,000 cardiac stress tests, a procedure in which a patient exercises to maximum physical exertion while doctors monitor the heart’s function. The researchers found that while everyone’s max heart rate goes down with age, it decreases more slowly in women. In the end, they proposed this new formula for calculating max heart rate:

For women: 200 – (.67)age

For men: 216 – (.93)age

2. A Midfoot Strike is Best

A new study published in Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise found that rear-foot strikers are up to 9.3 percent more economical than midfoot strikers. "With the cost of energy that a forefoot [subject] needed to run, at a fixed speed, they could be running 1 km/h faster," lead author Ana Ogueta-Alday told Outside reporter Matt Allyn - the equivalent of dropping from a 7:30 minute mile pace to 7:00 flat. Why? "Ogueta-Alday believes the reason for the improved efficiency stems from the increased ground contact time the study observed in rearfoot strikers. More contact time with the ground allows for more force to be applied, while also decreasing the metabolic cost of running."

But it's still proven that heel-strikers have a higher injury rate because of the greater impact on the body caused by landing on the heel. Basically, if you’re a heel striker and haven’t been chronically injured, there’s no need to change your ways.

3. Less is More

As the New York Times reports, last summer five separate studies presented at the annual meeting of the American College of Sports Medicine "found no significant benefits, in terms of economy, from switching to minimalist, barefoot-style footwear." The Times also showed that other studies have found that wearing minimalist shoes does not toughen foot muscles to make runners more injury resistant, one of the key arguments of the minimalist movement. For certain "biomechanically blessed runners," minimalist shoes may work well. Other runners seem to have decided, with the help of scientific research or not, that minimalism isn’t for them.

4. You'll Peak in Your 20s

"Studies have shown that sprinters tend to peak in their early to mid-20s, and elite marathoners peak around 29. But runners who go long - ultra-long - could be dominating races well into their 40s." A recent study looked at top finishers in 24-hour ultramarathons held worldwide between 1977 and 2012. The annual 10 fastest men and women were 40.9 and 43 years old, respectively.

A second recent study looked at even LONGER distance races, showing that some distances have finishers peaking at 43 for women and 48 for men. The study suggested that masters athletes "have high intrinsic motivation to run, race, and train more for self-satisfaction and improvement than prestige or beating rivals, as their younger counterparts often do."

5. Running Destroys Your Knees

I feel like this point is de-bunked every-other week. Recently, researchers at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine wrote, "long-distance running might even have a protective effect against joint degeneration." One of the new arguments for this is that while running does put more force into each stride, runners have much longer strides than walkers, so over the same DISTANCE, running is better on the joints.

6. Glucosamine Helps Your Joints

"Save your cash. Compared with a placebo, research has shown, glucosamine, chondroitin, and their combination don’t reduce joint pain, nor do they prevent osteoarthritis."

7. You Can Eat Whatever You Want

This Wall Street Journal headline says it all: "Studies Show There Are Heart Risks to Devil-May-Care Diets - No Matter How Much You Run." I've also heard this summed up nicely by saying "you can't outrun a bad diet." While being physically active has been shown to lower the risk of coronary heart disease, studies have also shown that "avid runners don’t have a more favorable atherosclerotic risk profile than less active people. Atherosclerotic being a fancy word for hardening of the arteries caused by a buildup of fat, cholesterol, and other substances."

8. Dehydration Wrecks Performance

The long standing "fact" on this stated that losing more than 2% of bodyweight to dehydrating will hurt your performance, but that's being a little reversed. First, the method in which these theories were tested in the past has come under fire. Second, a study recently showed that cyclists who lost up to 3% did not lower their power output. Third, a study of soldiers marching in the heat found a loss of 3.8% did not affect their 25K marching times. And finally, a study a few years ago that looked at the drinking behaviors of elite male marathoners found "that Haile Gebreselassie lost a whopping 9.8 percent of his bodyweight during the 2009 Dubai Marathon - and still won, in 2:05:29."

9. All Your Runs Need to be Fast

I've been realizing this one over the years myself. There are 2 other proven ways to get faster other than to run fast. First, work on your efficiency. Here are some thoughts from Jon Clemens from the San Diego Milestone Track Club: "Improving running economy will help you run faster because you’re not wasting energy, for example, allowing your left leg to do something weird on your stride," Clemens says. Plyometric exercises like high knees, butt kicks, skipping, and walking on your tiptoes will help "make you stronger and minimize excessive movement," Clemens says.

The second tip is to work on strength. Staying strong will help you maintain form, which could help you hold on while others are slowing from fatigue later in the race. Running more and running hills can help give you more strength to run faster.

10. Your Long Run Must Be 20 Miles

There's been a recent "controversial" thought that runners training for a marathon shouldn't go past 2.5 hours in training no matter what pace they run. The idea is that it's fine if an elite runner can cover 20-plus miles in 2.5 hours or less. But it may take novice runners twice the amount of time to cover that distance, and therefore, they’ll suffer twice the amount of impact on the body, which could lead to race-ending overuse injuries. Legendary running coach Jack Daniels says "don't worry that you won't be able to complete a 4:30 marathon if you have never run beyond two and a half hours in training. In fact, it is not necessary to train at such a high percentage of your race distance no matter what the course." He says to avoid over-training and burnout, keep that long run at 2.5 hours, no matter how far you've run, rather than making sure to hit 20 miles.

Again, these 10 ideas are just a synopsis of a bigger article (that has many more links to relevant studies). Check out the original article for more details.

For more "Thirsty Thursday" posts that highlight workouts, body science, and all kinds of interesting information, CLICK HERE.


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