The Science of Run­ning

How a Break from Run­ning Af­fects Your Brain; Gotta Be the Shoes; The Art of De­scent; Age and In­ter­vals

Canadian Running - - FEATURES - By Alex Hutchin­son

Grouchy? Check. Rest­less? Check. Run­ners of­ten no­tice changes in their mood when they take a pro­longed break, whether planned or un­planned, from their reg­u­lar train­ing rou­tine. But is it pos­si­ble that a few weeks off might even make you dumber? That’s what researchers at the Univer­sity of Mary­land in­ves­ti­gated in a study pub­lished in the jour­nal Fron­tiers in Ag­ing. They re­cruited 12 long­time run­ners who were, on av­er­age, 61 years old, had been run­ning for 29 years, and were log­ging 60k a week – and they asked them to stop run­ning com­pletely for 10 days.

mri scans taken be­fore and af­ter the break showed a pro­nounced de­crease in blood f low to the hip­pocam­pus, which is cru­cial for learn­ing and mem­ory, as well as to sev­eral other re­gions in the brain. The change could ref lect struc­tural adap­ta­tions like a de­crease in the net­work of blood ves­sels feed­ing blood to the brain, though the study couldn’t con­firm this hy­poth­e­sis. What­ever the mech­a­nism, de­creased blood f low could af­fect the health of the brain in the long term.

What about the short term? The researchers also tested ver­bal f lu­ency, ask­ing the sub­jects to name as many an­i­mals or fruits as they could in 60 sec­onds. Be­fore the break, they av­er­aged 19.9 words; af­ter 10 days off, they man­aged 17. 4. This dif­fer­ence isn’t sta­tis­ti­cally sig­nif­i­cant, so it would take a larger num­ber of sub­jects to fig­ure out if the break trig­gered a mean­ing­ful change. And it’s cer­tainly not a rea­son to avoid tak­ing much-needed breaks from train­ing once or twice a year. But over­all, the study of­fers a re­minder that, just like phys­i­cal fit­ness, men­tal fit­ness melts away if you stop train­ing for too long.

Gotta be the shoes

It’s no se­cret that heav­ier shoes re­quire more en­ergy to run in. But can shoes re­ally pro­duce a mea­sur­able dif­fer­ence in race time? Ac­cord­ing to a new study from the Univer­sity of Colorado’s Lo­co­mo­tion Lab, the an­swer is yes. Vol­un­teers ran a se­ries of 3,000 m time tri­als in what they thought were iden­ti­cal pairs of Nike Zoom Streak 5 rac­ing f lat. Un­be­knownst to them, tiny lead beads had been sewn into some of the shoes to make them 100 or 300 g heav­ier than the base weight of just over 200 g. Tests showed that the run­ners burned 1.11 per cent more en­ergy for ev­ery added 100 g, and ran 0.78 per cent slower in the time tri­als.

At first glance, this may seem like a con­clu­sive ar­gu­ment in favour of ditch­ing your shoes en­tirely. But pre­vi­ous re­search from the same lab has shown that the cush­ion­ing in shoes can re­duce the en­ergy you burn by three to four per cent, since it ab­sorbs en­ergy that you would oth­er­wise have to dis­si­pate by clench­ing your leg mus­cles. So the ideal trade-off – for rac­ing, at least – seems to be the light­est pos­si­ble shoes that also pro­vide some cush­ion­ing. In train­ing, lead re­search Rodger Kram points out, these mi­nor dif­fer­ences in en­ergy cost are less im­por­tant than find­ing a com­fort­able shoe that keeps you in­jury-free.

Age and in­ter­vals

The great chicken-and-egg ques­tion for ag­ing run­ners is whether you train less be­cause your body lets you down, or your body lets you down be­cause you train less. Or to put it an­other way, does your fit­ness still re­spond to train­ing as ef­fec­tively it used to? In a re­cent study by researchers in Nor­way, pub­lished in Medicine & Science in Sports & Ex­er­cise, vol­un­teers be­tween the ages of 20 and 83 with typ­i­cal fit­ness lev­els for their age com­pleted an eight-week fit­ness pro­gram, in­volv­ing three in­ter­val work­outs per week. The re­sults showed no age dif­fer­ence what­so­ever in the per­cent­age in­crease in fit­ness, which was just over 10 per cent. That doesn’t mean age is an il­lu­sion – but it does of­fer some re­as­sur­ance that, how­ever old you are, your body will re­spond to hard work and get fit­ter.

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