VALENCIA MARATHON 2020 “ELITE EDITION”: A WAY TO TOKYO 2021?

Course of the Valencia Marathon 2020

Like so many other marathons at world level, the 2020 Valencia marathon has had its agenda altered by the Covid-19. As with London and Tokyo previously, Valencia has decided to limit participation to “elite” athletes.

With so few marathons available, and offering a fast course, the 2020 Valencia marathon has taken on a prominent role at the end of the year. Many runners have set this marathon as their goal for the season, seeking their Olympic minimum to attend the most important event next year: the Tokyo 2021 Olympic Games.

We already had our experience in the Valencia marathon, where we ran for the first time in 2010. At that time, it was still held in February and it was not so popular. A few more than 3000 runners finished, far from the figures currently achieved. In that edition we achieved our PB, and we still returned in the 2013 and 2017 editions.

But let’s go to the data of interest:

The race: will take place on Sunday, December 6. The marathon will start at 8:30 am, and the half marathon at 8:00 am. Both tests will share route, without public to comply with health measures, but with television signal.

The route: this year a 21k route has been chosen, instead of the 42k route of other editions. The start and finish line will continue to be in the City of Arts and Sciences (see image of the route).

Awards: they will go hand in hand with the quality achieved. The male winner of the marathon would win between 35 and 75 thousand euros, depending on whether he achieves a mark over 2.06.00 (2.22.00 for women) or under 2.05.00 (or 2.20.30 for women). A margin of just one minute makes a difference of 40 thousand euros! 

Different “bonuses” could be added on top of this prize. This bonus could be of 40 thousand euros with a finishing time below 2.03.30 in men or 2.18.00 in women.

  • And for the Spanish? The first five athletes licensed by the RFEA will have exclusive cash prizes, ranging between 5,000 and 800€.
  • And what about the Valencian@s? The first three athletes licensed by the Valencian Community Federation (FCAV) will receive between € 2000 and € 750.

(Both prizes for Spanish/Valencians athletes will only be valid with times lower than 2.20.00 in men and 2.45.00 in women)

There are also bonuses for breaking the following records:

  • Valencia Marathon: € 30,000 (2.03.51 men and 2.18.30 women)
  • Spanish record: € 25,000 (2.06.52 men and 2.26.51 women)
  • World record: € 250,000 (2.01.39 men and 2.14.04 women)

The runners: 218 athletes are confirmed to compete in Valencia next December 6 between both distances and categories.

Regarding the marathon, there will be more than 100 runners from 43 countries who will try to get their ticket for Tokyo 2021. To do this they have two options, neither of them easy:

  • Option 1: run faster than 2.11.30 in men and 2.29.30 in women.
  • Option 2: qualify in the top-10 in a Platinum World Athletics race, such as Valencia.
Some of the favourites and Spanish men

On the international scene:

  • In the male category, up to 35 runners have PBs below 2.10.00. Among them we would highlight the powerful Ethiopian team with Birhanu Legese (2.02.48, third best mark in history); Kinde Atanaw (2.03.51, winner in Valencia 2019), Leul Gebreselasie (2.04.02, winner in Valencia 2018) and Lelisa Desisa (2.04.45, world distance champion in Doha 2019). Besides them we should find in the first positions the Kenyan Lawrence Cherono (2.04.06) and the Turkish Kaan Kigen Özbilen (2.04.16, European marathon record).
  • In the female category, quality is also high, with 28 women scoring with PBs below 2.30.00. The powerful Ethiopian squad is even more superior than in the men’s category, with Ruti Aga (2.18.34), Birhane Dibaba (2.18.35), Degitu Azemiraw (2.19.26), Zeineba Yimer (2.19.28) or Tigist Girma (2.19 .52) with clear chances of victory. Among the Kenyan Joyciline Kepkosgei (2.22.38) is their best runner.

On the national scene:

  • In male category and with PBs below 2.10.00 we would highlight Hamid Ben Daoud (2.07.33), Ayad Lamdassem (2.09.28) and Iván Fernández Anaya (2.09.55).
  • In the female category, we would highlight Nuria Galimany (2.29.02), who recently broke the national record for the hour on the track (17,210 meters), and Elena Loyo (2.30.57), an athlete trained by Martín Fiz and who will also fight to obtain the Olympic minimum.
  • Nor should we forget the Paralympic athletes Alberto Suárez (2.21.47), Gustavo Nieves (2.26.47) and Mari Carmen Paredes (2.59.22).

Everything is ready for the athletes to return to the streets of Valencia. The extensive roster of elite athletes will somehow make up for the absence of popular runners.

Some of the favourites and Spanish women

Our bets:

  • Spanish record of Hamid Ben Daoud, around 2.06.40.
  • Victory for Kenyan athlete Lawrence Cherono in the men’s category, without a world record, which would add Valencia to his victories in Boston and Chicago 2019.
  • In the women’s category the victory is very open, but we would bet on the Ethiopian Ruti Aga, who would be able to make up for her DNF in the Tokyo marathon this year.

Do you agree with our bets? Otherwise, what would be yours?

We will enjoy watching the race, which will be the last important marathon of this uncommon 2020. Hopefully next year things will get back on track and we will all be able to compete again.

Entry list

HEAT STRESS DIFFERENCES BETWEEN RUNNING A MARATHON AND AN ULTRA-MARATHON

Peggy & Marco Lachmann-Anke (Pixabay)

Marathon and ultra-marathon differ not only in the distance, but also and more importantly on the length of the event.

Additionally, many of these events are held in hot weather conditions. Thus, it is important to know how runners can be affected by heat.

But also, the running pace differs, affecting the body thermoregulation in different ways.

 

Heat production and body temperature

Of all the energy consumed by the muscles, about 75-80% is “wasted” as heat. This metabolic heat must be dissipated to maintain core temperature below certain levels to keep the muscles functioning with maximal efficiency.

Increases in core temperature impair performance due to changes in the circulatory system. Blood flow is diverted to the skin to improve heat dissipation. An ambient temperature above 25⁰C has been shown to cause a 3% decrease in the performance of male marathon runners.

Heat production is mainly affected by exercise intensity. Thus, the moderate intensity of ultra-endurance events makes them easier to tolerate for athletes, without risking a heat stroke.

Among the marathon runners the slowest ones were affected the most by the heat. On the contrary the slowest ultra-marathon runners were affected the least by the heat. A possible explanation could be that marathon races are usually more crowded and heat loss limited.

 

Running environment

The most popular marathons are held in cities, using streets and avenues that protect against solar radiation. But these streets also impair wind circulation due to the buildings, that affect heat dissipation, and use asphalt roads, that store the heat and may increase thermal stress.

On the contrary, ultra-marathons are usually held in natural environments, that can vary greatly. It is not the same a race in a forest than one in a desert. Additionally, they can take place in altitude or in a changing topography. All these factors have a clear influence on heat dissipation. And sometimes arriving to these races imply long travels, being recommended a period of two week to get a good acclimation.

Main heat stress challenges in marathon runners (from Bouscaren et al., 2020)

Clothing

Marathon runners tend to wear light textiles (t-shirt, tank tops and shorts) while ultra-marathon runners usually wear more complex combinations and must carry, per regulation, additional equipment.

Clothing has a protective effect reducing radiant heat gain. Thus, marathon runners may have a disadvantage as the minimal clothing may increase their heat load in warm conditions. But also, the evaporation of sweat is facilitated, being this the main way of heat loss.

Ultra-marathon runners may have more protection due to the extra layers of clothing, but they can restrict sweat evaporation.

There is always a personal equilibrium for each person. Some prefer to run feeling colder while others prefer to feel warm.

 

Hydration

Body water losses beyond 2% of body mass during exercise impair thermoregulatory function and aerobic exercise performance.

Hydration strategy is where we can find one of the main differences between marathon and ultra-marathon runners. Marathon runners rehydrate at drink stations, while ultra-marathon runners usually carry a hydration pack or belt. They can have more regular access to fluids but carry an extra weight and an accessory that may impair evaporation.

As for the gastrointestinal distress, although it affects runners of both disciplines, is more common in ultra-runners. It affects the feeding and hydration capabilities. If fluid losses are not compensated, they could lead to dehydration and impaired thermoregulation.

Regarding hyponatremia it has been well studied in marathoners, where it affects up to 13% of marathon finishers. In ultra-endurance events results are variable, probably because of the very different nature of the events themselves.

And that was our review of the different ways that heat conditions are different in running both distances. We hope that you found it useful.

 

Bibliography

Heat Stress Challenges in Marathon vs. Ultra-Endurance Running. Bouscaren N, Millet G, Racinais, S. (2019). Front. Sports Act. Living. doi:10.3389/fspor.2019.00059

Main heat stress challenges in ultra-endurance runners (from Bouscaren et al., 2020)

MENTAL TOUGHNESS IN ELITE ULTRA-MARATHONERS

Hurt100 2017 (Evan Berti)

Participation in ultra-endurance events has been growing continuously over the years, although research focused on them is scarce when comparing with other popular events such as the marathon.

A recent article has tried to fill a gap in this knowledge, focusing on psychological aspects of ultra-marathoners and how they compare with other disciplines.

To do so they focused on two psychological characteristics:

  • Mental toughness described as the personal capacity to produce consistently high levels of performance despite challenges and adversities.
  • Self-efficacy described as the ability to strive in a productive way. More self-efficient athletes will persist, perform and complete tasks better. Additionally, they seem to have a higher tolerance for pain and discomfort, probably due to the analgesic effects of higher levels of endogenous opioids.

 

The study

140 elite level ultra-marathon athletes competing in the HURT100 were invited to complete an online survey. The HURT100 is a 100 miles (161 km) race through the Hawaiian mountains (elevation change of 7620 meters, and five 32.2 km laps). Only 56 athletes were finally considered (68% male and 32% female).

The questions that the study tried to solve were:

  • How mental toughness and self-efficacy relate to each other?
  • How did they contribute to the Ultra-Trail World Tour rankings? And how to the completion and absolute performance in the HURT100?
  • Were mental toughness and self-efficacy levels different among ultra-marathon competitors and participants in other sports?

Mental toughness was assessed with the Sports Mental Toughness Questionnaire (SMTQ), consisting of 14 questions and a score from 14 to 56.

Self-efficacy was measured with the Endurance Sport Self-Efficacy Scale (ESSES), a 11-item measure aimed to endurance sports and scores from 0 to 100.

 

Results

  • Mental toughness and self-efficacy correlated strongly. High levels of self-efficacy were usually associated with greater levels of mental toughness.
  • Ultra-Trail World Tour rank, race completion and performance were NOT significantly associated with levels of mental toughness and self-efficacy.
  • Mental toughness was significantly higher in ultra-marathon than in other sports.

 

Conclusions

  • Psychological training focused on increasing mental toughness and self-efficacy could potentially help to improve performance.
  • Despite this, most elite participants in ultra-marathons are already at a level of mental toughness at which performance is determined by other alternative factors. At this “super-threshold” other factors such physical or logistics may determine the race results.

 

Bibliography

Mental toughness and self-efficacy of elite ultra-marathon runners. Brace AW, George K, Lovell GP (2020) PLoS ONE 15(11): e0241284. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0241284

Hurt100 "Darkness awaits" (Duane Z)

MARATHON OLYMPIC CHAMPIONS (XXVII) – Atlanta 1996: JOSIA THUGWANE (1971?-)

Josia Thugwane

“Uma ufuna ukuba uphumelele, hkohlwa konke” (in native Zulu)

(“If you want to succeed, forget everything”)

Josia Thugwane

As we mentioned in our previous post about Fatuma Roba´s victory in the women´s marathon, Atlanta was selected to host the Olympics of the centennial, 100 years after the inaugural 1896 Olympics in Athens.

In men athletics Michael Johnson won gold in the 200 and 400 metres, setting a new world record of 19.32s in the 200 metres. In long jump Carl Lewis would win an astonishing fourth consecutive gold medal in the event at the age of 35.

The men´s marathon was scheduled before the Closing Ceremony, as it had been on other occasions, at 18.45. Because of the hot, humid and sunny conditions it was rescheduled for early morning, at 7.05, as it had been with the women on the previous week, with victory for Fatuma Roba.

There was a total of 124 athletes ready to take part in the marathon. Seventeen nations had sent a full team of 3 members, among them the powerful Spain, with Martín Fiz, Diego García and Alberto Juzdado, who had dominated the European Championships of 1994. Kenya chose the Boston Marathon as his Olympic trial, taking 7 of the first 8 positions. Ezekiel Bitok and Lameck Aguta joined Erick Wainaina, who had won the 1995 IAAF World Marathon Cup, in the Kenyan national team.

It would be too long to mention all the good runners there, but we could highlight Luiz Antonio Santos, from Brasil, who had won the prestigious Fukuoka Marathon with a national record of 2.09.30; Dionicio Cerón, from Mexico, who had won his third consecutive London Marathon with 2.10.00 in April; or world-record holder Belayneh Dinsamo, from Ethiopia, who had won in Rotterdam for the fourth time with 2.10.30.

Josia Thugwane was born in Bethal, South Africa, 120 miles east of Johannesburg. From the Ndebele tribe he lived in poverty during his childhood, as many black South African during the worst years of the apartheid regime. He started running looking for a living thanks to the monetary prizes in some races. Thanks to his running skills he got a job in a mining company, as there were competitions between companies. He debuted in the marathon in 1991 finishing in 2.13.48. He continued running marathons, and although his races differ depending on the sources, he wasn´t very successful until his victories in the 1995 Honolulu Marathon and the Cape Town Marathon of 1996 (2.11.46). This latest victory ensured him the National Championship and a spot in the South African marathon team.

But before the Olympics, tragedy almost finished Thugwane´s dream of attending the Olympics. He was hijacked, and while trying to escape one bullet grazed his chin. Luckily, he recovered quickly, and concentrated with the national team in altitude (1500 metres) in Alburquerque, in the USA, to prepare before the Olympics.

Once the marathon in Atlanta started nobody wanted the take the early lead. Kilometres went by and many athletes were still together: the 10k was crossed in 31.50 and the half marathon in 1.07.36.

Crossing the kilometre 30 (1.35.24) Thugwane decided to increase his pace. Only Wainaina from Kenya stayed with him. They crossed the 35k in 1.50.35, 3s ahead of Lee Bong-ju from South Korea, who was 1s ahead of Fiz and Mexican German Silva.

During the next 5k Thugwane, Wainaina and Lee run together, each one trying to break the others. Entering the stadium Thugwane was only 20m ahead of Lee, who was being pursued very closely by Wainaina.

Finally, Thughwane claimed the victory with 2.12.36, and the shortest difference in Olympic marathon history with the silver medallist, only 3s. Lee finished second in 2.12.39, with Wainaina getting the bronze with 2.12.44.

For his part Martín Fiz, who was reigning European and World champion, finished fourth, with 2.13.20, and the best Olympic result for a Spanish marathoner ever. Worth to mention that tThe Mexican team, composed of Cerón, Silva and Paredes, finished in first position.

Thugwane´s Olympic gold medal was the first for a black South-African. He was awarded with 30 thousand dollars and publicity endorsements, while getting close with Nelson Mandela, president of South Africa at the time. Nevertheless, in an empowered country, money didn´t come without risks. His family needed protection when he was away competing.

He got his best results in 1997, when he finished third in the London Marathon, improving his PB to 2.08.06, and won Fukuoka, with a new PB of 2.07.28. After 1997 he didn´t manage to shine at the same level again. He competed unsuccessfully in Sydney 2000, where he finished 20th, and shortly afterwards a national crisis removed most of South Africa´s athletics funding.

He was a quiet guy, and as he arrived at the international scene, he also disappeared quietly from it. The man whom Mandela called “our golden boy” went back to anonymity: “the greatest story no one ever told”. A runner that would have been a hero in other countries, is almost unknown even in his own South Africa.

 

Sources:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1996_Summer_Olympics

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Josia_Thugwane

https://worldathletics.org/athletes/south-africa/josia-thugwane-14221285

http://www.espn.com/espn/feature/story/_/id/13340173/once-lauded-nelson-mandela-former-olympian-josia-thugwane-forgotten-south-africa

“The Olympic Marathon”, DE Martin & RWH Gynn. Human Kinetics, 2000.

Olympic Stadium Atlanta 1996

SPORTS RECOVERY USING CRYOTHERAPY AND PHASE CHANGE MATERIALS (PCM)

Photo by Carabo Spain (Pixabay)

High-intensity exercise usually causes muscle damage, or EIMD (Exercise-Induced Muscle Damage). It is accompanied by strength loss, soreness, oxidative stress and inflammation, factors that cause fatigue and a decrease of performance.

 

Sports recovery and cryotherapy

It is well known the importance of the recovery periods to get back to normal conditions and maximal performance as soon as possible. Thus, there are different approaches to accelerate recovery following exercise.

Among these recovery techniques is cryotherapy, based on reducing the temperature of the damaged tissue and/or body. Different approaches of this principle are used in techniques such as cold-water immersion or whole-body cryotherapy.

 

Cryotherapy using Phase Change Materials (PCM)

A recent review has focused on cryotherapy using Phase Change Materials, or PCM.

What are they and how do they work? PCM are packs filled with a blend of oils (palm, coconut, soybean or rapeseed) mixed with sodium chloride and encapsulated in plastic. They are solid and look like wax in frozen state and oil once they are melted in liquid state. Additionally, they stay at a temperature around 15°C for long periods of time (up to 3 hours).

What is the advantage of PCM against other cryotherapy techniques? The main benefit of PCM is that they allow to deliver a single dose of cooling for a prolonged duration. Meanwhile the duration of usual cryotherapy treatments is usually too short to reduce muscle temperature. Longer cooling reduce strength loss and soreness after exercise, enhancing recovering.

Moreover, PCM are simpler and more practical to apply than other cryotherapy techniques, as athletes may continue with their daily activities, with no reported adverse effects.

Several studies have shown that prolonged cooling using PCM at 15°C was successful in accelerating recovery following eccentric exercise, soccer and baseball, but showed no improvement in marathon running. A possible explanation is that cooling (PCM packs on the quadriceps) was applied one hour after finishing the marathon. In runners averaging 4h of finishing times it would mean that cooling started 5h after initiating the exercise.

But not everything is about sports performance. Ice application is the standard treatment in strain injuries and contusions. PCM could be a complementary cryotherapy treatment after a traditional 20-30 minutes ice treatment. First, we would cool rapidly the damaged tissue with ice before focusing on keeping its temperature low for a long period using the PCM.

Nevertheless, there is growing evidence against the use of cooling therapies for injuries, as they could delay the natural healing regeneration process. Furthermore, some authors even suggest that all the effects of cooling techniques are due to a placebo effect.

 

Conclusions

  • PCM cooling techniques could complement traditional cryotherapies by prolonging cooling time.
  • PCM cooling is safe, inexpensive and allow athletes to continue with their daily routines.
  • PCM has been primarily used to reduce EIMD and accelerate recovery, but also has potential in treating soft tissue injuries and the inflammatory response in chronic diseases such as rheumatism.

Do you use any cryotheraphy/cooling technique to help with your recovery?

Do you think that they are useful?

 

Bibliography

Prolonged cooling with phase change material enhances recovery and does not affect the subsequent repeated bout effect following exercise. Kwiecien, S. Y., O’Hara, D. J., McHugh, M. P., and Howatson, G. (2020). Eur. J. Appl. Physiol. 120, 413–423. doi: 10.1007/s00421-019-04285-5.

Don’t Lose Your Cool With Cryotherapy: The Application of Phase Change Material for Prolonged Cooling in Athletic Recovery and Beyond. Kwiecien, S.Y., McHugh, M., & Howatson, G. (2020). Frontiers in Sports and Active Living. Front. Sports Act. Living, 15 October 2020. doi: 10.3389/fspor.2020.00118.

Cryotheraphy using ice bath
Phase Change Materials (PCM) packs

THREE DAYS IN THE INTERIOR OF PORTUGAL: SERRA DA ESTRELA AND MONSANTO

With the travel limitations of Covid-19, the general trend has been to look for “proximity” destinations. The interior of Portugal offers many areas of interest. Thus, one of them was the subject of our short trip in August.

Day 0

The Serra da Estrela is the western end of the Central System, a mountainous massif that runs through the Iberian Peninsula from East to West. On the Portuguese side, it is part of the Serra da Estrela Natural Park, whose highest height is the Torre peak, at 1993 meters. This mountain is the highest in continental Portugal and location of its only ski resort.

As our centre of operations to visit the Serra da Estrela we chose the village of Manteigas, located in the very heart of the Natural Park. This village is located at 300 kilometres from Lisbon and about 200 from Porto.

Before arriving in Manteigas to spend the night, we stop in the city of Covilhã, one of the entry points to the protected area of the Natural Park. An old point of communication between Spain and Portugal, its abandoned bus station, as well as some textile factories in similar condition, show that some past times were better. However, it still offers some places of interest strolling through its streets.

We arrive at Manteigas in time for dinner and a night walk through its urban centre and river walk side area.

Day 1

With good weather forecast, today we will make a circular tour by car to visit some of the most interesting points of the Natural Park.

Leaving Manteigas, the first place we visit is the Museum of Bread (Museu do Pão) de Seia. It is a visit to learn about the manufacture and different types of bread. It also offers a café with beautiful views and a shop.

From there we go to the fluvial beach of Loriga, which was highlighted in some guides. It is very small, but with many facilities. We make a brief stop for lunch.

Next, we head to the starting point of our hiking trail. For this, we leave the car in the parking lot at Lagoa Comprida, where the Marques da Silva dam is located. From that point, which has a shop and café, depart different routes. We opt for one of the most popular, leading to the Covão dos Conchos. It is a kind of vertical tunnel that drains the contents of a lagoon into a hydroelectric plant.

From the side of Lagoa Comprida is a walk of 5 kilometers one way (and another 5 back), easy to follow. Sometimes over uneven terrain due to loose stones. We come across few people, and usually on their way back. When arriving at the final lagoon, you must search for the Covão. Being August, we were a bit disappointed because the water level was insufficient for the water to fall through the hole. However, the scenery and views make up for the effort of the route.

Once back at the parking lot we still do another little route. Going down the road, and on the right-hand side, there is a path that leads to another small lagoon, which offers spectacular views from the top.

From Lagoa Comprida it is only a few ilometres to reach Torre, at an altitude of 1993 meters. At the end of the afternoon the temperature is low and is very windy. Don´t forget to bring a jacket. There is a supermarket although the old aerial observation towers of the army stand out above all. A pity that everything is in that state of abandonment. Investigating a little more there are interesting stories about the military settlement there, that could be isolated for weeks by snow during the winter months. Now there is not much trace of it, although the views in all directions are spectacular. A perfect spot for dinner while watching a spectacular twilight that ends our day before returning to Manteigas.

Day 2

During the morning we will hike the Wild Boar Route, or Rota do Javali in Portuguese. With departure and arrival in Manteigas, it is not necessary to take the car.

Being the PR2 trail, it is perfectly signposted for most of the route, about 14 kilometres in its entirety. Around the middle of the route, in its hardest section, you reach the waterfall known as the Well of Hell (Poço do Inferno). There starts the circular route PR1, that could be combined with the PR2.

However, we decide to continue the PR2, although confused with the signs we end up doing a few extra kilometres before realizing our mistake and getting back to Poço do Inferno. From there a section of steep ascent continue the Rota do Javali that takes us back to Manteigas.

Tired but relaxed after a nature bath, we take a short break before heading to Folgosinho, a small village where the popular restaurant “O Albertino” is housed. The village has a castle with spectacular views, and the restaurant certainly lives up to expectations. An unavoidable appointment for any visit to the Serra da Estrela.

 

Tired but relaxed after a nature bath, we take a short break before heading to Folgosinho, a small village where the popular restaurant “O Albertino” is housed. The village has a castle with spectacular views, and the restaurant certainly lives up to expectations. An unavoidable appointment for any visit to the Serra da Estrela.

Day 3

The last day we wake up in Manteigas but leave the surroundings of the Serra da Estrela Natural Park to head towards Monsanto, about 90 kilometres away.

Previously we stop in Belmonte, a town with ancient Jewish roots and a very interesting history. In times it housed a large Sephardic Jewish community after its expulsion from Spain by the Catholic Monarchs. In Portugal they converted to Christianity, although secretly continued with their faith and traditions.

Already in Monsanto it is worth getting lost in its streets. It is famous for its location, which offers beautiful views in all directions and its typical houses built on top of the rocks. There is also a large castle, which is reached after crossing the remains of ancient medieval villages.

An impressive place to put a climax to this short trip in central Portugal.

ULTRARUNNERS: A SPIRITUAL JOURNEY?

Photo by Pablo Garcia Saldaña (Unsplash)

At first sight religion and running motivations may not seem related, aren´t they?

Some religious people, such as the early Christians, live an ascetic life focused on self-discipline, self-denial, prayer and celibacy to achieve spiritual development.

On the other hand, ultrarunners also follow an ascetic life, engaging in extreme physical experiences that require high levels of discipline and training.

Thus, both share the acceptance of self-imposed doses of physical pain and suffering. In their common ascetism suffering is ordinary. They endure without complaint thirst, hunger, sleep deprivation, solitude and often extreme weather and terrain conditions.

But why ultrarunners push their body and mind beyond limits? Reasons are multiple. Love of nature, search for a personal challenge, looking for life-changing experiences, trade of one addiction (smoking, alcohol or drugs) for another, solitude, and even the same spirituality than religious ascetics tried to achieve.

The main ingredients in their “recipe” are endurance, perseverance and patience.

Whatever the reasons motivating an ultrarunner there will be always someone that will think of them as masochistic, freak, selfish, super-human or nuts.

Would you define yourself with any of these adjectives?

And more importantly, what is your reason for being an ultrarunner?

 

Bibliography

Díaz-Gilbert, M. (2018). The Ascetic Life of the Ultrarunner. Spiritus: A Journal of Christian Spirituality 18(2), 201-217. doi:10.1353/scs.2018.0025.

Photo by Zachary Young (Unsplash)

TRAINING LOAD: OVERREACHING VS. OVERTRAINING. HOW MUCH IS TOO MUCH?

Photo by Karsten Winegart (Unsplash)

Training load is one of the key factors affecting performance. In preparation for a specific competition is common for endurance athletes to increase training load. The difficult part is determining the appropriate training load for each athlete.

This “loading” period conduits to functional overreaching. It was described in 2006 by the European College of Sport Science as a temporary decrement in performance resulting from a short period of overload training that may lead to a super-compensation effect following a recovery period of days or a few weeks.

But there is also a non-functional overreaching, known as overtraining syndrome, when there is a decrease of performance that may last for weeks or months.

Everything would be determined by an equilibrium between fitness and fatigue. Although some athletes respond to short-term periods of increased training positively with super-compensation, others may show diminished performance for much longer periods.

 

Are overreaching periods necessary?

Recently some studies have shown that functional overreaching is linked to negative cardiovascular, metabolic and hormonal effects, and a decrease in performance. 

Consequently, the question that arises is if non-overreached athletes could perform similarly, or even outperform, athletes following a training protocol with an overreaching period.

A recent review of available literature has found confusing data, with some studies showing performance improvements with overreaching strategies whilst others showed the opposite effect.

Additionally, it wasn´t found clear evidence demonstrating the reason why some athletes respond optimally to increases in training volume whilst others display signs and symptoms of fatigue and overreaching.

Behind this lack of evidence is a big inter-individual variability and the absence of studies involving elite athletes, that usually don´t want to train using experimental protocols that could potentially affect their season results.

 

Strategies to mitigate overtraining

  • Periods of increased training load should be matched with increased energy intake.
  • Although carbohydrates may alleviate some symptoms, they may not be able to do so with all the physiological and immunological disturbances. Increasing protein intake could also contribute to alleviate these alterations.
  • Additionally, it has been proposed to improve sleep quality and quantity.

 

Be cautious with your training load, especially if you have fatigue symptoms for long periods. Sometimes training less could mean more for your performance.

 

Bibliography

Functional Overreaching in Endurance Athletes: A Necessity or Cause for Concern? Bellinger P. Sports Medicine (2020) 50:1059–1073

Training loads (Adapted from Bellinger 2020)

SPANISH MARATHON (2/2): FROM THE SILVER AGE TO THE PRESENT DAY

The Silver Age

After Sidney 2000 there would still be good Spanish marathoners, but in smaller numbers. Between 2001 and 2006, marks below 2.10.00 were still regularly achieved, while the differences between the best Spanish and world times remained close, between 2.5 minutes and 44 seconds.

During this period deserve a special mention Antonio Peña (Mallorca 1970) and Julio Rey (Toledo 1972). Between them got most of the Spanish news about the marathon, regularly running below 2.10 (13 times between the two). As the culmination of this period Rey managed to lower the national record to an incredible 2.06.52 in Hamburg in 2006.

The great emptiness

From 2007 onwards the world marathon scene improved rapidly. If up to that moment there were an average of 50 marathons under 2.10 a year, this number went up to 170 in 2012.

However, this increase in quality at global level was not accompanied at the national level. If in the period between 1994 and 2006 the 2h10m had been lowered on 46 occasions, in the period of the same duration that goes from 2007 to 2019 it was only possible to run so fast on 5 occasions (see image).

And the crisis of the Spanish marathon went further, as the difference between the best Spanish and world marathon times of the year increased to 12 minutes and 39 seconds in 2014, the year in which the best Spanish marathon was 2.15.36 (see image).

Last years and carbon plate shoes

Since the introduction of carbon plate shoes, mainly the Nike Zoom Vaporfly that were introduced in 2017, many runners have improved their times significantly. Variations of this model were present in the last record of Eliud Kipchoge (Berlin 2018), and in the Ineos challenge, where “unofficially” Kipchoge lowered the 2 hours in the distance for the first time.

In this 2020 marked by the pandemic up to 3 Spanish marathoners have managed to run faster than 2h10m, all of them in the Seville marathon. There, the most prominent figure in the Spanish marathon in recent years, Javier Guerra (Segovia 1983), managed to stop the clock at 2.07.27, the best marathon Spanish time in the last 15 years. Worthy to mention the other two athletes who run also fast in Seville, the promising Hamid Ben Daoud (Ksat Oukhit, Morocco 1996) and Iván Fernández (Álava 1988).

We can argue that not all is the effect of these, or other carbon plate shoes recently launched. However, looking at the same Seville marathon, in 2019 only 7 athletes run faster than 2h10m, while in 2020, where Nike shoes had already become widely available the number of athletes who lowered this time was 19 (see image).

As for the Spanish marathoners, none of them were present at the recent London Marathon, where as many as 11 athletes run faster than 2.10. We may guess that some of them will be present at the Valencia elite-only marathon, that will take place in early December.

It remains to be seen if in a scenario where running below 2.05.00 is not enough guarantee for the final victory, Spanish athletes manage to run successfully and maybe shine once again at international level.

SPANISH MARATHON (1/2): FROM THE LATE 80s TO THE GOLDEN AGE

Diego García (left, silver), Martín Fiz (middle, gold) and Alberto Juzdado (right, bronze) at the European Athletics Championships of Helsinki 1994

The prelude

Continuing our previous post where we reviewed all the national marathoners with marks below 2 hours and 10 minutes, we have decided to see how they did at international level.

Although Diego García is often considered the initiator of the golden age in the Spanish marathon, there were other prominent marathoners before him. Santiago de la Parte (Palencia 1948) held the national marathon record for 6 years (2.11.10, Tokyo 1984), until it was snatched away by Juan Francisco Romera (Toledo 1960) in the 1990 London marathon. He run the distance in 2.10.48 and he finished in third position.

However, Diego García (Guipúzcoa 1961-2001) was the first marathoner to become known to the general public. In 1992 he participated in the Barcelona Olympic Games, where he finished in ninth position, and ended the year beating the Spanish record in the Fukuoka marathon (2.10.30).

In 1993 Martín Fiz (Álava 1963) made the transition from the track to the marathon, winning the Helsinki marathon on his debut (2.12.47). This promising start was just the prelude to a successful career. To end the year Rodrigo Gavela (León 1966) lowered the national record to 2.10.27 in San Sebastián.

 

The Golden Age (1994-2000)

In 1994 at the Boston Marathon Martín Fiz lowered the national record to 2.10.21. But the real boom of the Spanish marathon was in the European Championships in Helsinki that same summer, where Martín Fiz, Diego García and Alberto Juzdado (Madrid 1996) took the first 3 positions in this order. And the year finished with another national record. Alberto Serrano managed to lower it by more than a minute, and for the first time below 2h10m, by stopping the clock at 2.09.13 in Berlin, where he finished in third position.

The year 1995 had a clear protagonist: Martín Fiz. Firstly, he managed to lower the national record again to 2.08.57 in Rotterdam. But only a few months later he won for the first time for Spain a Marathon World Championship in Gothenburg 1995. Spain confirmed its rise to the international level, after having shown its power a year earlier at the European level. Of the 15 marathons of the season below 2.10, three had been achieved by Spanish athletes.

1996 was an Olympic year, and the Spanish “Armada” grew, while improving its times. First Alberto Juzdado lowered the national record to 2.08.46 in Tokyo, until Martín Fiz regained it with his 2.08.25 in Gyeongju (South Korea) one month later. In less than 4 years the national record had been lowered 6 times. However, in the Olympic Games the three Spanish representatives (Fiz, García and Juzdado) who had taken the top 3 places on the podium at the Helsinki Europeans two years earlier could not get on the podium. Fiz was the best positioned, finishing 4th with 2.13.20, and achieving the best position of a Spanish athlete in the distance in an Olympic event. And in 1996 another outstanding Spanish athlete made his debut in the distance. Abel Antón (Soria 1962) won the prestigious Berlin marathon with 2.09.15. Furthermore, for the first and only time Spain closed the year with the best marathon time of the season, thanks to the 2.08.25 from Fiz´s national record.

In 1997 there was a world-class leap in the marathon, going from 18 marks down from 2.10 the year before to 45. Many quality athletes had moved to the marathon distance and times were improving. However, Spain was still one step above its rivals, and again took the World Championship in Athens. Now it was Antón who occupied the first place, with Fiz finishing second. In just 3 years he had managed to be European champion and champion and runner-up at the World Championships, in addition to breaking the national record on several occasions. All this in a year in which Alejandro Gómez (Pontevedra 1968) lowered the national record to 2.07.54 in Rotterdam.

In 1998, a year of transition without World Championships or Olympic Games, Spain managed to drop from 2.10 seven times, something that has not been achieved again. Times that until recently were impossible to achieve, were now available to a wide range of athletes. Fabián Roncero (Madrid 1970) entered the national scene and took the national record to 2.07.26 in Rotterdam. Meanwhile Antón won in London with a time of 2.07.57.

1999 was the year of the World Championships again, this time in Seville, and the Spanish did not disappoint at home. Antón managed to revalidate his title (2.13.36), something that until then no other athlete had achieved. And four times were run marathons faster than 2.10.

Entering the new century, it was once again time for Olympics Games, an appointment that would mean the farewell at international level of some of the greatest figures of the golden age of the Spanish marathon. Sidney 2000 would be their last shot at Olympic glory. The Spanish team was made up of Antón, Fiz and Juzdado. The best position was once again for Fiz, who got a creditable sixth place (2.13.06).

With the withdrawal of all of them after Sidney, a golden page was closing in Spanish sports.

To be continued in the next post…

Martín Fiz, winner at the marathon of the World Athletics Championships of Gothenburg 1995