Part 4: African's vs. Western Runners: Muscle recruitment’s role:

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First, before I go on with the series of posts I've been working on, I wanted to throw a new topic out there. One that I hope to touch on sometime soon. Consider this a teaser for a future post.

GO here and watch preview #2 video:
http://www.runnerspace.com/runningdvds

In it, the Kansas State coach talks about increasing the Range of motion using the drills, and insinuates that it improves running economy. But does it really? The conventional wisdom is that it would. BUT does it really? The answer could be NO.

I'll leave it at that for now.

Just wanted to note that: I'm not condeming the videos. In fact I love some of the stuff, but disagree with some too. But I absolutely love the fact that they share so much info and put it all out there. I wish more coaches would do that. The idea isn't to condemn the guys work, it's to question conventional things and get people thinking about WHY we do things.


African's vs. Western Runners:
Part 4:Muscle recruitment’s role:

Okay, so I lied slightly. Before trying to tie things up nicely and show how some of the previously mentioned findings can apply to your training, I want to mention one other topic. That is muscle recruitment.

We have already looked at the finishing kick in terms of lactate. What seems to happen is that the bigger gap between lactate before the kick, and the amount of lactate that could be reached at the end of the race, the better the kick. That means, we want to work in two directions, one to decrease lactate at race pace and two maintaining or increasing the total lactate which can be produced.

But this is just one part of the picture. What is going on during a kick in terms of muscle fiber recruitment. A recent study by Amann showed that there was an increase in fiber recruitment and power output at the end of a 5k cycling time trial. Despite the fact that the athletes were fatiguing, they were able to increase power at the end, just like a runner being able to increase speed at the end of a race. What they found is that the increase in power output corresponded with an increase in EMG, which is a measure of muscle fiber recruitment.

What does this mean? That the ability to increase speed at the end of a race is also dependent on being able to recruit more muscle fibers. And if we tie this back to the increase in lactate at the end corresponded with an increase in speed, it makes perfect sense. The increase in muscle fibers at the end probably results in this lactate increase. Why? Because, these fibers recruited at the end are probably the higher threshold/harder to recruit Fast Twitch fibers. These fibers work much better anaerobically, but fatigue quickly. So, recruiting these fibers at the end, will result in an increase in lactate, the end product of Glycolysis.

At the end of the race, your body is becoming overwhelmed with fatigue and shutting down fibers that are fatiguing left and right. The ability to recruit additional muscle fibers to maintain or increase pace is of critical importance.
Combining the lactate and EMG data, we can make an assumption that one of the reasons that those Kenyans could increase their lactate and their speed was because of this ability to increase muscle fiber recruitment at the end.

Quick sum up of what we want to do:
1. lower lactate at race pace.
2. maintain/increase max lactate at the end of race.
3. Increase muscle fiber’s an athlete is able to recruit overall.
4. Train the athlete to recruit these fibers during fatigue.

Next, we'll look into practical applications of all of this infortmation.
Source:
Amann M, Eldridge MW, Lovering AT, Stickland MK, Pegelow DF,
Dempsey JA. Arterial oxygenation influences central motor output and
exercise performance via effects on peripheral locomotor muscle fatigue in
humans. J Physiol 575: 937–952, 2006.

Part 3: Why can African’s close faster than their Western counterparts?

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Training update:

Another good week of work. On tuesday I had 2x3mi in 15min w/ 3min rest. And on friday I had progressive mile repeats starting at ~4:50 and working down to ~4:35. That one wasn't too fun because it was about 30 degrees out, which isn't bad, but their were constant 25mph winds with stronger gusts! It was pretty nuts and my 200m splits were all over the place. But I got it done and felt best on the last repeat, so it was a success. Besides that, lots of GS and strides, some plyos, and 2 days of weights to top things off.



Part 3: Why can African’s close faster than their Western counterparts?

It is astonishing to see a runner like Bekele close the last 400m in 53 during a fast 10k. It’s generally recognized that most Americans can not close that fast off of even slower paces. Off of comparable paces based on their PR’s, American’s can not get as close to their 400m best at the end of races as many Africans can. Why is this? Why aren’t our athlete’s kicks as strong?

Many coaches and athletes assume that the kick is based on basic speed. They surmise that if we can increase the basic speed of our athletes, then they will have a better kick. But this is not the case. It does not matter how much speed an athlete has if he can not use it. Many of our athletes have comparable 400m PR’s and sometimes even better basic 100m speed. For example, it is widely reported that Geb’s 100m PR is around 11.8. That is not fast. I can sprint faster than that. The difference is that at the end of a race Geb can run much closer to that top speed than just about anyone.
Renato Canova (yes I realize I am leaning heavily on him in this piece) provided some very interesting physiological data that could help explain why Africans are able to close at a much higher percentage of their top speed.
He simulated both 5k and 10k races with some of his athletes while taking lactate. What he found is something that won’t be found in your physiology books. In traditional physiology, the lactate threshold or maximum lactate steady state (MaxLASS) concept is well established. It is the fastest pace in which lactate production equals lactate clearance. Thus, lactate levels in the blood will remain relatively constant at a given pace. In the literature, you’ll no doubt find that the fastest pace that most athletes can keep a steady lactate is around their best 10mi- half marathon pace. At paces faster than that, such as 10k pace or 5k, the lactate will steadily rise throughout the run at that pace. Thus lactate production is outpacing clearance.
However, Canova’s data suggests that many African athletes can run at as fast as 5k pace while having constant lactate values in the blood for at least a portion of the race. This is big because it means that they are running at a steady state during the middle of a 5k or 10k race! Because of this, lactate remains relatively low. Then at the end of the race, an athlete can still produce energy glycolytically and dramatically increase their lactate production.
On the other hand, the western runner with ever increasing lactate levels, does not have as much of a “Glycolysis reserve.” They can’t start producing larger amounts of lactate because they are already at high levels.

Let’s look at the actual data from Canova’s work first and then see what we can apply:

I’m not sure how to create a table on this blog, so I’ll just post the pertinent data.

Steeplechase World Record Holder: Saaeed Saif Shaheen:
Over a 4 month period, Canova had Shaheen do a test interval session that essentially simulated a 5k. It was 5 x 1000m (13:10 pace - 2:38)with 1min to 1:15 rest. Remember that this session was done at altitude, thus while the pace is slower than his 5k pace, it’s comparable since it’s at altitude.

The first test showed the following lactate levels after each 1000m:
1
6.8 mmol
9.4 mmol
11.8 mmol
13.9 mmol
15.8 mmol
What you can see from this data is that lactate increases after every 1,000m. This is what is expected according to the common physiology beliefs. However if we look at the last test, 4 months later, the lactate shows a different picture.
6.5 mmol
8.0 mmol
8.3 mmol
8.8 mmol
10.2 mmol
As can be seen, from the 2nd through 4th 1km, the lactate is essentially steady! That means for about 8min in the middle of a 5k, if the pace is consistent, Shaheen is running at lactate steady state. This phenomenon is what Physiologists expect to see during an hour long race, not one for 13min. Furthermore, the before and after data shows that with training it’s possible to change the lactate dynamics of a runner.

Canova tested two more of his athletes and the same phenomenon occurred. For sake of brevity, let’s look at one more of his athlete’s James Kwalia. Similarly to Shaheen, Kwalia performed a series of intervals over a 4 month period. His intervals were 4 x 1200m (3:09 + 1 x 800m max. speed) with 1min rest. The first set was the following:
8.4 mmol
9.8 mmol
11.8 mmol
14.6 mmol
14.8 mmol
Like we expected no steady state. Pay particular attention to the last two numbers. After the 4th 1200m, his lactate was 14.6, but he still had a max 800m after only 1 minute rest. He wasn’t able to raise his lactate very much at all. The time in that 800m reflects that. He was not able to pick up the pace at all, even though it was supposed to be all out. He only ran that 800m in 2:05.6, essentially the same pace as the 1200m.
Now, let’s flash forward 4 months with the same test
8.7 mmol
9.0 mmol
9.3 mmol
10.8 mmol
20.6 mmol
Note the very small increase in lactate during the first 3 reps. That means he was essentially running at a steady state of lactate production at 63sec pace for 9min. Then to top it off, his lactate was much lower after the 4th rep, and he was able to increase it substantially on the all out 800. Not surprisingly, he ran 1:54 to finish it off and went 58,55 to boot. What this shows is that with the athlete being able to keep his lactate low AND having the anaerobic abilities to increase it be quite a lot, he was able to close much faster than in the earlier interval set.

What all this means is that the data suggests that one reason African’s might be able to finish fast is that they are able to run at MaxLASS during racing situations. Which then allows for them to access their anaerobic capacities much more so than if they were steadily increasing there lactate levels. That is why it sometimes looks like athletes such as Bekele are full out sprinting at the end of races.


How do they create this special MaxLass?
We know that it can be created from the above examples, at least for Africans. The question then becomes how did Canova develop this in his athletes and how would you develop it in American athletes.
In Canova’s article entitled Development of Strength Endurance, he speculates on why African’s are able to create this MaxLASS and how he went about creating it in his athletes. We’ll start our investigation there.
One of the most important things to remember when looking at someone’s training is that you have to consider more than just the brief glimpse of what that athlete has done when he is at the top of his game running fast times. Often times it is what the athlete did in the many years prior to his top performances that are the most important.
One good example of this is former World indoor Champion, David Krummenacker. For a short period after he changed coaches from one that used much more mileage/aerobic strength work to one who used lower mileage, higher intensity work, his performances improved dramatically. He went from a good runner in the U.S. to one of the top in the world. However, his performances only stayed this way for a relatively short time (~2 years). When he improved by so much, the assumption was that it was entirely the new training, which obviously played a large role. However, it was probably the combination of the larger aerobic base combined with a decrease in mileage and increase in intensity that did the trick. After several years, his aerobic base was gone, and performances declined.
On that topic, Canova sums it up nicely when he says “ When we speak about African runners we must think that, normally, the best athletes are able to start their official athletic careers from a level of 90% of their final performance because they are already well prepared, without official coaches, using at home the most important type of training for a distance runner: long runs (from 5 to 12-15 km), very fast.” American runners normally do not have this background when they start “official” training.
Thus our response to the same exact training will be different than that of an African. This is one reason why going to Kenya and exactly copying the Kenyans doesn’t always work. So, a prerequisite to developing this special MaxLASS may be a very high level of general endurance.
Canova then goes on to say that this special MaxLASS is highly dependent on a strong Lactate Threshold and high Strength Endurance. For more info on strength endurance work, search my blog as I’ve covered this topic many times.
Finally, seeing as how Canova’s athletes created a MaxLASS over a period of 5 months, what training did they do to accomplish this? Below are several quotes from the article that help answer this question.

For Shaheen before the last test:
”We used some Specific Workouts to improve SPECIFIC ENDURANCE and STRENGTH ENDURANCE.”

For Nicholas Kemboi, his training before the last test was focused on:
“programme some workouts for STRENGTH ENDURANCE and SPEED ENDURANCE without, of course, reducing training of LONG ENDURANCE”




What does this mean for you?

1. Develop a High level of General Endurance and strength
2. Develop a High Lactate Threshold
3. Develop Strength Endurance
4. Top it off with Specific Endurance and specific endurance combined with strength end.

This is all rather vague, so to wrap things up, we’ll look at the practical implications of what we have learned and how to apply some of those lessons.

Part 2: Should our athletes move up?

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Training update:
Training is coming along nicely now. Not much to report. A quick summary of the last week or so:

85mi, 2 weight sessions, 1x plyo, 2 workouts, 1 long run, 6 General strength sessions, 3 pedestal strength circuits.

The two workouts went well. One was a 5mi progression run going from 5:20 down to 5:00 with the last 2mi run uphill at around 5:00min pace. The other workout was 2x2mi in 9:30 w/ 3min rest. It was pretty dang windy for both workouts but I got them in and they went well. Lastly, my long run this week was 14mi, with the first half at about 6:20-25 pace and the last half sub 6.

Lastly before we get into Part 2 of my comparison between Africans and American runners, I'd like to remind everyone that just because something is hard, doesn't mean it is a good thing to do. In terms of training, it is very pertinent to remember. We often fall into the trap of thinking just because something is tough or hard then it has to be doing something for us, that's not the case. We tend to associate things that are hard as having to be beneficial. That's not the case. Keep that in mind when you see the latest fads in training or exercise.

Part 2: Should we move our athletes up?

Renato Canova has pointed out that there are basically three kinds of runners for each event. You have the specialist who responds to specific training for that event best. You have the fast event runner, who comes at the event from a speed perspective. And you have the resistant event runner.
Similarly, Antonio Cabral, a Portuguese coach, and the mysterious Hadd have an interesting thread entitled “Two kinds of runners” on letsrun. Basically, they come to the same conclusions as Canova, only they separate runners into ST and FT runners for their event.

(I’ve already wrote some on this individualization and that can be found here:
http://stevemagness.blogspot.com/search/label/Individualizing%20Training

The problem with the idea behind always moving guys up is it assumes that speed is all ingrained and that endurance is almost all trained. That is obviously an incorrect assumption. Both can be trained to a degree, but are not unlimited. Also, they are contrasting forms of training. A bit of both is always needed, but if, like some suggest, we take a 1,500m runner and throw lots of endurance work on him, his speed will deteriorate.
While I could ramble on, I think Renato Canova summed up the whole thing rather nicely. Below is an excerpt from one of his posts:

“when I look for young athletes, I put them in competitions in 3 different distances, creating groups related with their most evident qualities :
a) 400 / 800 / 1500
b) 800 / 1500 / 5000
c) 3000 / 5000 / 10000
d) 5000 / 10000 / HM

From the first group I can find specialists of 800, deciding that can be FAST TYPE or RESISTANT TYPE. In the first case, they can stay for 3-4 years in 400 / 800, in the second in 800 / 1500. Only after 3-4 years, we can move the athlete of the second group to 1500 / 3000 and/or steeple, while the first group NEVER (normally) can move to 1500.

From the second group, I look for specialists of steeple and 5000. Also in this case, they can move to 10000 after 2-3 years, somebody arriving after 6-7 years to Marathon too.

From the third group, I look for specialists of 5000 and 10000. In this case, already after 1 year they can run HM, but can move to the full distance in the period of 4 years.

From the fourth group, we take new Marathon runners, preparing them to the full distance in less than 2 years.”



Below is an excerpt on what happens when you apply the wrong type of training to the different types of runners:

“I give you 3 examples, for athletes able running 1500m in 3:40, without specific preparation for longer distances :

Athlete A) PB 1:46 / 3:40 / 8:10 (3k) FAST SPECIALIST800 / 1500 (he has more attitude for shorter distances)

Athlete B) PB 1:49 / 3:40 / 7:50 RESISTANT SPECIALIS1500 (he shows good attitudes for something longer, having a good but medium speed)

Athlete C) PB 1:51 / 3:40 / 7:50 / 13:30 FAST SPECIALIST 5000m (he shows better attitude for 5000m)

If with these 3 athletes you want to use the same type of training, normally the following things can happen :

1. YOU USE ESSENTIALLY TRAINING FOR INCREASING SPEED, WITH SHORT INTERVALS, HIGH SPEED and LITTLE VOLUME / INTENSITY IN LONG RUN (no long intervals) (Type of training for a Fast Specialist of 800/1500) :

C) Goes to run slower ALL his events, except a little improvement in 800m (1:50 / 3:42 / 8:10 / 14:00)

B) Goes to maintain the same level in 800 and 1500, losing ability in 3000 (may be 8:10)

A) Goes to maintain the same time in 800 (1:46) losing ability in 1500 (3:43)This happens because ALL THESE ATHLETES GO TO REDUCE THEIR ANAEROBIC THRESHOLD, reducing their ability in removing lactate in short time from their muscles.

2.vYOU USE TRAINING FOR INCREASING SPECIFIC ENDURANCE TO SPEED OF 1500m (not speed too fast, not too many short intervals, some session of middle/long intervals, some long run fast of about 30:00) (Type of training for a Resistant Specialist of 1500m)

A) Goes to lose something in 800 (1:47), to improve a lot in 1500 (3:37) and a little in 3000 (8:00), not important.

B) Goes to maintain the same level in 800 (1:49), to improve in 1500 (3:37), a lot in 3000 (7:40), arriving to run 5000 in something under 14:00.

C) Goes to leave 800m, to improve a little in 1500 (3:39) and 3000 (7:46) like the other athlete, and becomes able running 5000 only a little faster (13:25)

This is because, for the first 2 athletes, the improvement in their Anaerobic Threshold is more important than for the third one. Athlete C with this type of training is not able to use the margin of improvement in direction of Aerobic Power, that is his most evident quality.

3. YOU USE TRAINING FOR INCREASING SPECIFIC ENDURANCE AT 3000m SPEED, INCREASING VOLUME OF TRAINING, LENGTH OF INTERVALS, SPEED OF LONG RUN AND REDUCING RECOVERY TIMES (Type of training for a FAST Specialist of 5000m coming from 1500) :

A) This training is wrong. This athlete goes to run slower all the distances

B) This athlete goes to run slower his 800, can improve a little in 1500 (3:36), more in 3000 (7:40) and can move his time in 5000 under 13:40, not significative

C) This athlete goes to improve a lot already his 1500m (3:36 or less), can run under 7:40 his 3000 and becomes able running 5000 under 13:10.

This is because the athlete C has his most important source of improvement in his ability in developing his Aerobic Power. This type of athlete can become good, in the future, also in 10000m.”



Canova’s examples help demonstrate that athletes all have a particular distance in which they are best at. It might only be a slight advantage and it might change over time, but because of physiological differences, athletes seem to excel at a particular distance.

The first excerpt shows that it depends on the type of runner if he can move up or not. For example for the 1,500m, Canova suggests that fast 800m specialist who can run very fast at 1,500m cannot move up past that. While the guys who were resistant 800m/fast 1,500m will take 3-4 years to be able to move up to the 1500-3k distances. Many of our best 1,500m guys in the U.S. come from these two groups. They are guys who were basically resistant 800m runners or fast 1,500m specialists. With endurance training they are able to run fast at the 1,500m but their performances start to tail off after about 3k, compared to their 1,500m.
If we look at the second excerpt, it can be seen that if we try and take guys who are 800m types, or even to some degree fast 1,500m specialists, and train them with more endurance, they may not improve at the 5k distance.
Bekele and Geb on the other hand seem to be fast 5,000m specialists. Distance training improves their 1,500m, 3k, 5k, and sets them up for improvements in the 10k and ultimately a marathon.
That is the type of athlete that needs to be moved up, gradually. Or as Canova points out “, they can move to 10000 after 2-3 years, somebody arriving after 6-7 years to Marathon too.” We have these athletes. I’d classify Bob Kennedy as the best example. He had comparably slow 400m speed, but ran pretty fast over a mile, and very fast over 5k. Although it’s tough to tell, I’d venture that Matt Tegenkamp is another athlete that is a fast 5k specialists. Kara Goucher and Shalane Flanagan are other examples on the women’s side. These athletes can move up in distance.

However if we took someone like Steve Sherer or Rob Myers for example, if we moved them up in distance, it is likely that they will become slower at 1,500m and not be nearly fast enough at 5k, like in Canova’s examples. That’s because they are either fast 1,500m or resistant 800m type runners.

In conclusion, athletes should up only if there physiology allows for it. It should not be based on their 1,500m PR’s! It should be based on their individual make up. Just because an athlete isn’t a world beater at one distance doesn’t mean he should move up. He could be comparatively slower at the longer distance because his make up does not suit the increase to the longer distance.

African's vs. Westerners Part 1:Fun with Statistics

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African's vs. Western Runners: Why do they dominate and what can we learn:
Part 1- Fun with Statistics
Part 2- Should our Athlete's move up in distance?
Part 3- Why can African's close faster than their Western counterparts?
Part 4- Muscle Recruitment's role
Part 5- Putting Theory into Practice
Part 6- Kick Development
Powerpoint presentation- African Runner Dominance in Distance Running


Before getting into the main part of the post, I suggest all runners go check out this short video of Bekele.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2iQ_p8m9rMk&feature=rec-HM-rn

Pay attention about 1:15 in. They’ll show a slow motion shot of Bekele and another runner’s feet hitting the ground. Look at it, watch it, memorize it. That is how it is supposed to be done!

For the next couple blogs I’ll be exploring a couple topics that center around comparing Western athletes (basically Americans and some Europeans) versus their African counterparts.
The first topic is a general introduction and a look at some statistics.
Then I’ll delve into why our runners are so far behind at 5k and 10k.
And finally, I’ll get into some of the lactate dynamics of the two groups and how this might impact the ability to finish so fast on the last lap.

Africans vs. Westerners Part 1: Fun with statistics.

Distance running’s version of Monday morning quarterbacks, always suggest or are intrigued by the prospect of runner’s moving up in distance. Whether the question is what Jeremy Wariner could run for 800m, or the idea that Alan Webb should be a 5k runner, people seem enamored with what a runner could do at the next distance up. Some even go further, saying that the reason we are not as successful at the world level is that the athlete’s who should be running the 1,500m are instead running the 800 or even the 400m. But is that really the case? Should we be moving our athletes up in distance?

Part of the reason for this infatuation with moving up is that we have a belief that endurance is very easily trained and speed can not be trained. Therefore, it’s easy to take someone with speed and tack on some endurance and he is good to go. Similarly, we know what an athlete has done at his particular distance and it is exciting to think what an athlete could do if he ventured into the unknown.
Let’s first look at some stats.

The percent of speed maintained with increasing distance (based on PR’s):

Country 15/3k % 15/5k % 3k/5k % 5k/10k %
USA 94.65% 91.37% 96.72% 96.21%
Kenya 95.26% 92.41% 97.44% 96.68%

These are averages based on the top 15-20 athletes that had made legitimate efforts at both distances (I threw out PR’s that were obviously because the event was seldom run by the athlete)


So, what does this mean? Well, the sample size is small so none of these are significant, but it is interesting to note that Kenya has better maintenance of speed (what we’ll call specific endurance from now on) across the board. Also, while it’s not in the chart above, it should be noted that in each case, the best percentage (and thus best speed maintenance) for each group came from Kenya. In terms of seconds, what is the difference?
If we give each runner the same starting 1500m performance you’ll be able to see.



Country 1500 (per 100m) 5k 10k
Hypothetical USA runner 3:35 (14.333) (15.57) 12:58.52 (16.16) 26:54
Hypothetical Kenyan runner 3:35 (14.333) (15.42)12:51.06 (15.93) 25:31.2
Difference 0 7.48sec 22.8sec

Based on this chart, you can see that the AVERAGE world class Kenyan runner with the same 1,500m speed as the average American world class American runner, would be 7+ seconds faster over 5k and almost 23sec faster over 10k.
Seeing this, then you could assume that one place we might be falling behind is our specific endurance. And I’d say on average you’d be correct.

But things get a little murky. We assumed that each runner had the same 1,500m best for the purposes of this test. When in reality, the 1,500m best for the African 5k and 10k runners is almost ALWAYS faster than that of their American counterpart. In fact, some of our runners have as good specific endurance at the 5k and 10k level (Bob Kennedy for example) as the best Kenyans or Ethiopians do. For example, Kennedy was able to preserve 93.51% of his 1,500m speed over 5k compared to Bekele’s 93.78%. That is pretty dang close. But the problem for Bob, seemed to be while he had a very high specific endurance, his 1,500m best wasn’t as quick as Bekele’s.

So what I’m saying is that our 1,500m guys should move up right?
Wrong! The picture gets even muddier here. 1,500m runners who have made serious attempts at 3k or 5k, have much less specific endurance than is needed. For instance, instead of the 95% speed preservation from 1500 to 3k they tend to have speed preservation percentages of 93% or lower. And this holds true for not only Americans but also Africans.
To point out a few:
Isaac Songok- 93.5% for 15/3k% and 91.0% for 15/5k. Both below average
John Kibowen- 93.6% for 15/3k and 90.3% for 15/5k.
Said Aouita- 93.2% and 89.6%
Nourdine Morceli- 93.1%
Hicham El Guerrouj- 92.98% and 89.1%
Sydney Maree- 92.54% and 89.51%

There are many more examples, but the point is that all are below average for the tops in the world. In fact if I take the best 15/3k % of over 200 world class athletes who have seriously attempted both, it isn’t until number 60 where you get an athlete who was a serious 1500m runner who moved up, and that’s Songok.

Why the difference in specific endurance?
There are several possibilities:
It’s training.
OR
It’s some physiological mechanism that prevents attaining as high of a specific endurance.

I know it can be argued that with proper training these 1,500m runners specific endurance would increase, and you are probably right, but some of these athletes DID make the move up to 5k and weren’t able to get their specific endurance to that of the endurance athletes levels. Having said that, training is probably part of the picture, but I don’t think it is the entire picture.



The rest of the story
There isn’t much data out there on this next subject, so I’m taking a bit of a leap. This is where this theory could be torn apart, because it isn’t on concrete data, because there is none.

If you look at the data, it’s easy to establish that our 5k/10k guys lack the 1,500m speed of our African counterparts. Why is this?
Most people blame it on the athletes lacking “speed.” The theory goes that the African runners have much better footspeed and because endurance can be trained so easily, they just tack that on and they’re great! They think that African runners are faster at 400m, thus with their endurance, they are faster at every distance.

However, what is the reality? It is tough to say since so few distance runners ever have official sprint times. So we have to rely on information from coaches and other second hand information. Let’s look at three examples.
Athlete
400m*
1,500m

Shaheen
~50
3:35

Geb
49 high-50 low
3:31

Bekele
~50
3:33

Rupp
~50-51
3:42

Meb
51-52
3:42


In these charts I have taken accounts from the athlete’s coaches as to what they can run or from other reliable sources. Geb’s comes from a combination of what Jos Herman and Renato Canova have said. Shaheen comes from Canova. Rupp from Salazar. Bekele from Canova. Meb is off the top of my head. I can’t remember the exact number but it was in a Vigil presentation, which unfortunately is back in Houston.

(excerpt from Canova: for example, I'm sure that Stephen Cherono and Nicholas Kemboi are not able running under 50.0, and I think that also Gebre and Bekele are not able running under 50.0….
Now, I realize that there aren’t many American names in there, but that’s because there is no data. The point is that our American guys can run 400m close to that of the Africans, but there 1,500m are way off.
To look at it another way, where we have more data, look at what our 1,500m guys PR’s are in the 400m. We have guys who can run 47-48 who are running in the mid 3:30’s. The same speed as the African’s with slower 400m PR.s

Is 400m speed the issue, or is it the specific endurance over 1,500m? That is the question…

To Sum things up, what do we suspect:
Africans, on average, have better specific endurance than Americans.
African’s have better 1,500m speed.
Basic speed might not be better for the Africans.
The difference might be in the specific endurance between 400m and 1,500m. Africans MAY preserve more of their speed.


This is not meant to be definitive in any way, shape, or form. There is too little data to suggest anything major. But the purpose of this was not to give a clear exact answer, but to throw out some data to try and look at things in a different way.

Plus, it’s a good way to start in on some theories I’ve come up with. They
Re in the infant stages of development and I hope to do more research/testing on the ideas at some point.

Next, we’ll continue along the same route, looking at if our athletes should move up from a training stand point.
After that, we’ll look at why the African’s can close much faster than their American counterparts.

Hopefully I’ll be able to tie in some actual hard data and some observations with some of the statistics that were in this post.

Common Misconceptions in Running

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Common Misconceptions in Running.

1. Stretching improves performance
Reality- Nope, it impairs it. Numerous studies have shown that it decreases performance from sprints to endurance. How? Well that would take a whole post but it's mostly through neruomuscular factors, such as decreased muscle recruitment, and decreased stiffness of the system, resulting in less elastic energy return when running.

1a. Flexibility helps improve efficiency .
Reality- Nope, it decreases it. The more flexible you are, the worse your running economy is. Why? Because of it's impact on the stretch shortening cycle, and the previously mentioned decrease in elastic energy return.

2. Stretching prevents muscle soreness/injury.
Reality- Studies have shown that stretching after a workout does not help prevent delayed onset muscle soreness. There also has been no link between stretching and injury prevention.

3. Distance running strengthens your legs.
Reality- Running will either keep absolute strength the same or decrease it.

4. You don’t need to do strength work for the legs.
Reality- Most runners who do strength work avoid the legs and focu on arms and core. The problem is that you want to work the legs. Strength training (or sprint or plyo training) increases performance via increased running economy and anaerobic capacity. It increases the muscle fiber pool that can be recruited. And if done, with no bulk.

4a. You will increase muscle mass if you weight train.
Reality- Only if you do it wrongly and even then you have to be an athlete who is more FT. Most runners won't have enough extra protein laying around to build more muscle. Most runners are in a negative protein balance because of all the repair that has to occur with running.

5. VO2max is the be all end all.
Reality- Nope. As a test, it's almost useless in my opinion. This is real controversial so i'll abstain from more for now.

6. Lactate causes fatigue.
Reality- It corresponds with fatigue but does not cause it. In fact it is a mechanism to help delay fatigue.

7. Muscle Cramps are caused by electrolyte imbalances.
Reality- This one I got from the scienceofsports.com guys. Go read there explanation and you'll find out that muscle cramps do not come from electrolyte problems. So much for eating bananas for potassium or downing gatorade.

8. Fatigue is due to one specific variable.
Reality- It's an incredibly complex thing that has it's roots in the brain. The brain controls all. But we are very very very far from knowing how fatigue works.

9. Everyone needs to move up in distance.
Reality- Bekele and Geb and those guys aren't 47sec 400 guys. They run 49ish tops according to Renato Canova. What's that mean. Well, we have guys like Rupp who can do that, yet there's no way he can stay with those guys over 5k-10k. Pure speed is not the exact answer. It's specific endurance. Geb, Bekele can hold much closer to their max 400m speed or even max 100m speed than their western constituents.

10. Core strength is incredibly important
Reality- It's important, but not to the degree that most have given it. There have been only a handful of studies done comparing endurance performance with core training and that without it and so far there has been no improved performance from core training. That doesn't mean that is definitive, or that it isn't needed. It just means that 5-10min most days is more than enough, no need for 30-40min core sessions.

10a. Do core work on unstable platforms.
Reality- Don't use a bosu ball or a balance ball. It decreases the recruitment of the muscles used. It engages the antagonist at the same time as the agonist, instead of teaching it to relax. And a whole lot of other stuff.

11. Putting your hands above your head and staying up after a race/workout helps.
There's a reason you want to bend over or lay down. Your body is telling you it doesn't want to work against gravity pumping blood. So, next time someone tells you to get up after a race tell them to go away.

I'm sure there are more but that's it off the top of my head. I'll try and expand on some of these topics at some time.


Training:
After freezing for a while, training is going well. Just been getting in some tempo runs and mileage. Today I had a 5miler in the middle of 10 miles, in which I covered 5mi in a hair over 25min. It felt as good as it could have when it was 20 degrees out.

We are finally looking at some warmer (40's yay!) weather this weekend. It will be a nice change. I'm looking forward to running shirtless, as I can't remember the last time I've had to wear so much clothes while running for this long.
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