Quick updates: Site migration, World Athletics Championships, and more!

Hello readers! I have a few quick Running Writings-related updates to share: first, in early August, Running Writings will be migrating from its current (and very ancient) Google Blogger framework to a shiny new web host, with new servers and a more modern look. If I pull this off correctly, the site should experience minimal … Read more

How to prepare water bottles and gels for elite marathon racing

Getting your personal water bottles placed at aid stations in a road race is one of the perks offered to people fast enough for elite or sub-elite status at major marathons. It’s amazingly convenient to be able to place your own nutrition and hydration along the course, but since this perk is such a rarity among the broader running population, there’s very little information out there about how to change your nutrition strategy if this is an option for you.

The advantages of personal nutrition are manifold: you’re free to choose the form and flavor of the nutrition you consume, you don’t have to physically carry the gels and fluids with you, and you can drink out of an actual water bottle, which is much easier than drinking out of a paper cup.

Additionally, marathons sometimes make questionable decisions about the official hydration sponsor; I know of more than one major race that has historically offered a low-carb or calorie-free hydration mix as their official fluid at the general public aid stations! Using your own nutrition frees you from worrying about this problem.

A few of the athletes I’ve worked with over the years have been fast enough to get “bottle service” at major city races, and I’ve learned a few tricks from other coaches and athletes for how to optimize a nutrition plan for this scenario. Let’s say you’ve just qualified for the elite field at a big race, and you find out you get to supply your own nutrition–what do you do? In this post, I’ll walk you through how to design your fueling plan and how to prepare the bottles themselves, using an example from a real athlete and a real marathon.

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Getting the cool-down right

Several years ago I wrote about getting the warm-up right, and I still believe that many runners neglect the warm-up to their own detriment. But after you work out, what about the cooldown (or, less commonly these days, a “warm-down”)? How long, how far, and how fast should a cooldown be? Getting to a place where we can answer these questions is going to require getting a framework in place where we understand why you should cool down in the first place.

Understanding the reasons for doing a cool-down after a workout

Like much of the accumulated lore of running, the common rationales for doing a cool-down at all contain a healthy mix of physiology, bro science, folk wisdom, and true coaching wisdom. Allegedly, the cooldown is supposed to gradually reduce your heart rate, pump “lactic acid” out of your muscles, and condition your legs to running while tired. Failing to cool down is again allegedly supposed to make you feel more sore the next day, and harm your recovery capabilities. Needless to say, each of these rationales has a hefty amount of myth alongside perhaps a kernel of truth.

Instead of trying to consider and analyze each of these claims in turn, I think it’s better to break the question of “why do a cooldown” into smaller parts: who is doing the cooldown, what workout does it follow, and what training goals are we trying to accomplish, both in this workout and in the longer-term training plan.

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Cadence lock: Why GPS watches have a hard time measuring heart rate during running

Does your GPS watch report bizarre, dramatic spikes in heart rate in the middle of your run? I received a text message from a friend recently with this screenshot of his heart rate and elevation data from an easy run:

This was from a typical run on pretty mild to moderate hills. At first glance, you might think that running uphill triggered an abrupt increase in heart rate, but unless this coincided with an abrupt surge in speed, such a big spike in heart rate seems very strange.

Looking at this plot, it seems like one of two things is happening: either (a) my friend’s watch is seriously mistaken about his heart rate, or (b) my friend should see a cardiologist.

Even though companies like Garmin or Apple or Fitbit keep their data processing algorithms pretty close to the chest, my PhD research involves a lot of work with wearable technology, so I have a pretty solid understanding of what’s going on under the hood when a GPS watch is estimating things like running speed or heart rate. What could be going wrong here?

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Blog update and podcast/media roundup

Well, it’s been a while! As you may have noticed, Running Writings hasn’t seen an update in quite a while. Perhaps for good reason—I’ve been working on my PhD in biomechanics at Indiana University’s School of Public Health, which, as I’ve discovered, leaves very little time to spare.

Every time I think up an idea for a blog post (and I have had dozens!) I realize there’s one more dataset to analyze, one more paper to revise, one more grant to apply for, one more skill to learn. So, though RW hasn’t seen any updates, I haven’t dropped off the face of the earth, and I’ve been learning an incredible amount of new things about the science of running performance and running injuries. But all of that work keeps me very busy, and unfortunately I haven’t had much of a chance to share what I’ve been up to with the people who follow Running Writings.

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How much slower did you run at the 2018 Boston Marathon because of the weather?

After this year’s incredibly windy and rainy Boston Marathon, I was curious to find out how much slower the race was. I’ve published analyses of courses and conditions in the past, such as with the infamously hot Grandma’s Marathon in 2016, and when I (correctly!) predicted that the new course for the Twin Cities Mile … Read more

A long overdue update on Running Writings!

Hello to all readers! You’ve no doubt noticed an embarrassing lack of content on Running Writings in the last year or so, so I’m here to provide a brief update.  I’ve been surprised and pleased by the fact that despite this, RunningWritings continues to be quite popular in search results, and I’m still contacted rather … Read more

Low ferritin and iron deficiency anemia in distance runners: A scientific guide for athletes and coaches

When I see a runner getting fatigued early on in workouts or struggling mightily in races for no good reason, there’s one potential cause I always consider first: low iron. Iron deficiency is a significantly underdiagnosed problem in distance runners. Low levels of hemoglobin in the blood, or low levels of the iron storage protein … Read more