A Staten Island triathlete and endurance coach ventures into the ultramarathon realm where there are seemingly no limits to human endurance. In 2013, he successfully finished the Grand Slam of Ultrarunning (picture of 2013 Grand Slam finishers above; I'm second from right), becoming only the 282nd person (since its beginnings in 1986) and only the fourth New Yorker to finish four of the oldest and most prestigious 100 mile ultramarathons in the U.S. in only 10 weeks.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Read All Research, Even If You Tend to Disagree With It

You know ultramarathons are starting to get into the mainstream when you start getting articles like this:

One Running Shoe in the Grave - New Studies on Older Athletes Suggest the Fittest Reap Few Health Benefits

Marathon Running can "Scar" The Heart, Researchers Warn

Too Many Marathons Can Kill, Warn Doctors

How Much Running is Bad for the Heart?


There are many other articles like this and there will no doubt be many more articles about the downside of "too much running" as more and more people run "extreme" events like marathons, ultramarathons, and Ironman races.

Although it's a natural tendency to "poo-poo" these articles and the research behind it, no research should be approached with a closed mind.

I definitely understand that these articles will not make you, the serious athlete, stop running. It won't make me stop either.

But it is worth reading this stuff with a bit of an open mind and see where the findings exactly come from.

More often than not, the articles that present conclusions to research can be a bit overgeneralized. And also, people who tend to read just the headlines or just the beginning 2 paragraphs of the article can overgeneralize too, especially when they tell their friends about this article.

And more often than not, people come away thinking that running in general causes problems in older adults. However, if you look at the research itself, it will certainly tell you otherwise.

My strong advice is to read the entire article itself, and to read the actual research behind the article. Most of the research, of course, is probably listed in a medical or health journal somewhere. You can get the full research online, if you do a simple search. If not, you'll almost always get the shortened abstract which summarizes the findings in full detail.

Most of the time, I find interesting tidbits of data that I can incorporate into my regimen that will make me and my athletes train smarter in the long run.

And that is where reading the research with an open mind comes in. Reading the data "under the hood" can be educational. For example, the above articles have one thing in common, and one thing that really needs to command attention to the serious athlete, that you need to have an extended rest period and down time for a good part of each year.

I can honestly say that more than half the runners and triathletes I know never take any extended period off. A lot of people I know finished their 2012 season with a big race like a marathon and immediately started their big push towards their 2013 season, with speed sessions like time trials and hill repeats. This is one of the big no-nos that I stress with people I know.

As a rule of thumb, you need to build in at LEAST three months of down time for every 9 months of intense training you do each year. This will allow your body to fully heal so that you can minimize any damage you sustained during your intense training.

And yes, you're allowed to detrain. I know that word "detrain" is a bad word in any serious athlete's mind, but when they are talking about conditions such as "left ventricular hypertrophy" in athletes and how a heart's muscles can be too thick to actually pump blood, then every serious athlete has to take a bit of notice and bring the training down for an extended period every year to prevent that condition from occurring in the first place.

After 3 months of easy recovery and very low intensity exercise, you'll be surprised to find that, at the beginning of your next training cycle, you really didn't lose much of your fitness in the first place. Plus, with a fully healed body, and a focused mind that comes along with it, you'll be eagerly gearing up for the next season. Sound mind, sound body. It's the best combination.

And don't neglect looking at the research. Even though you might strongly disagree with it, take a look inside and see what it's addressing. You might actually come across something that might be useful for your training.

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