MARATHON OLYMPIC CHAMPIONS (XIII) – Melbourne 1956: ALAIN MIMOUN (1921-2013)

Alain Mimoun, in Melbourne 1956

“I look at my career as a castle: my London silver medal is the foundation; my two Helsinki silver medals are the walls; my gold medal in Melbourne, the roof”

Alain Mimoun

The 1956 Olympics were the first to be organised in the southern hemisphere, and for this reason they took place in November/December, coinciding with the spring season.  Melbourne was selected in 1949 with one vote difference against the bid from Buenos Aires, while other candidate cities such as Mexico City, Los Angeles or Detroit had been discarded earlier.

In mid-1955 there were doubts about the construction progress, and Rome, already selected to host the 1960 Games and with preparations well ahead of schedule, was considered to host the 1956 Olympics instead. Nevertheless, Melbourne was able to get ready, and finish building works on time. Some countries boycotted the Olympics in response to the Suez Crisis (invasion of Egypt by Israel, France and UK) and the Soviet Union repression of the Hungarian Revolution.

Alain Mimoun was born in Telagh, Algeria, when it was a French colony. The oldest of seven brothers in a family of peasants, he was rejected a scholarship to continue studying and become a school teacher. He did some works before enlisting in the French army in 1939 aged 18, at the start of WWII. In 1940 he was mobilised to France and started training. There he managed to win his first race, a 1500m event, beating the defending champion.

During most of WWII he was unable to compete, as he fought in different scenarios, being even wounded in a leg, that a doctor suggested to amputate. He refused and recovered, and after the war, in 1945, he moved back to Algeria, where he started competing again. By 1946 he left the army and moved to Paris to pursue a running career while working as a waiter.

In 1947 Mimoun won the French 5000 and 10000 metres titles, and got to the 1948 London Olympics, where he came across a certain Emil Zátopek in the 10000 metres, where he finished second, 300 metres behind him. In his second Olympic attempt, in Helsinki four years later, and again over those distances, Zátopek was once again unbeatable, with Mimoun taking only silver in both events. By then he was nicknamed “Zátopek´s Shadow”.

Without clear opposition in France during the following years, a different story was going to be told in the Olympics of 1956 in Melbourne. In the 10000 metres he only managed to finish 11th, and as an ultimate chance he decided to register for the marathon, a distance he had never tried before, and where his friend Zátopek was also competing.

On December 1st there were 46 athletes representing 23 countries for the marathon start, and the first outing of runners from Ethiopia and Kenya. It was mid-afternoon, with a hot temperature of 27°C, that would rise during the race to 38°C in the shadow! After a false start, unique in the history of the marathon, race started with 2 and a half laps of the track before heading out of the stadium.

By the 10k, a long uphill section, Finland´s experienced Paavo Kotila was in front, followed 2 seconds behind by Mimoun and two Soviet runners. In the 20k, in another uphill section and with temperature on the rise, there was a group of six runners in front, including Mimoun, with Zátopek, recovering from a hernia operation still in sight, in 10th.

After this hard section, and taking advantage of the downhill portion, Mimoun pushed his pace and broke contact with the group. Passing the 30k Mimoun had an advantage of 72s with the Japanese Kawashima, who had moved from 14th at 20k, who was running with Croatian Franjo Mihalic and Finnish Veikko Karvonen, and Zátopek in 5th.

Nobody would come near Mimoun again in the downhill sections, and he passed the 40k more than 1 minute ahead of his closest pursuer. Entering the stadium wearing number 13 it was Mimoun´s glorious day, as he won the Olympic gold medal for France in 2.25.00. This would make the third Olympic gold in marathon for France, 28 years after El Ouafi, and 56 after Théato triumphs. Curiously, none of the three had been born in France.

For the first time victorious against his close friend Zátopek, our winner stayed near the finish line waiting for him to arrive. Against what he thought, the podium was completed with Mihalic (2.26.32), who became a marathon star with victories in the Moscow and Athens marathons in 1957, and Boston in 1958, and Karvonen (2.27.47), already an experienced marathoner who had previously won the top-level marathons in the world: Eschede in 1951, Boston in 1954 and Athens and Fukuoka in 1955.

Zátopek only arrived in sixth place, very tired, with the crowd cheering as if he was the winner. Mimoun went to embrace him, as finally, the victory was his. It would be his first win against his friend, and last, as they would never compete against each other again.

As for Mimoun, later on, he confessed in an interview that had been training secretly for the marathon during the last 2 years. Many days he trained 3 times, for a daily total distance of 35k.

Back in France he was welcomed as a hero, although he returned to his regular job as waiter on the next day. He didn´t compete in 1957, but won marathon national titles in 1958 and 1959. In 1960, and already 39, he qualified in the French team for the Olympics in Rome. Without Zátopek in the field to push him, he only managed to finish 34th.

Although he didn´t retire and continued competing, winning another national marathon title in 1966, and setting many French age-category records in different distances, the last one in his seventies. In 1999 was named “French Athlete of the 20th Century”, and in 2000, after hearing the news about Zátopek death, he said: “I have not lost an opponent, I have lost a brother.”

He kept running or walking 10-15 miles almost every day until his death, when he was 92, being given a state funeral with military honours. At the time of this death there were more than 150 premises with his name all over France, from stadiums to schools and streets.

 

Sources:

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

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1956_Summer_Olympics

https://elpais.com/deportes/2013/06/30/actualidad/1372620928_702731.html

http://aims-worldrunning.org/articles/975-alain-mimoun.html

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

Mimoun and Zátopek in the 5000 metres of Helsinki´s Olympics (1952)

After Mimoun´s victory:

Mimoun: “Emil, why don’t you congratulate me? I am an Olympic champion. It was I who won.”

Zátopek: “You did great, Alain.”

Mimoun in a later interview: “For me, that was better than the medal”.

SLEEP, HEALTH AND SPORTS PERFORMANCE

Photo by Arzu Cengiz (Unsplash)

Sleep is essential for health and quality of life, but it is also determinant for recovery and adaptions to exercise. The duration of sleep and its quality need to be considered in the general population, but especially in athletes, as they are associated with a better performance and a lower risk of injury and illness.

The amount of sleep recommended by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine oscillates between 7 and 9 h for adults, and 8 and 10 h for adolescents. Although these are general recommendations and there are variations among individuals, it has been suggested that athletes may need more sleep for adequate recovery. Adequate sleep is so important that people over 45 years old sleeping less than 5 hours/night have a higher mortality risk. This risk was also increased in people usually sleeping more than 10 hours/night.

As suggested earlier, the quality of sleep is also important. Adult humans usually sleep in a single and continuous bout, alternating cyclically between two states: nonrapid eye movement sleep, or NREM, and rapid eye movement sleep, or REM.

These phases can be distinguished using polysomnography, a technique that measures simultaneously the electroencephalogram (EEG), and ocular and muscular patterns. The NREM phases, that account for about 75% night´s sleep, are characterised for the inactivity and a slowing in the frequency of the EEG. On the contrary during the REM phases (approximately 25% of night´s sleep) there is an increase in the neuronal firing rate, metabolic rate and blood flow.

Sleepiness during the day is usually a symptom of inadequate sleep a night. For a normal adult it usually takes 10-20 minutes to enter the sleep, while a sleep deprived person can fall asleep in less than 5 minutes. Are you one of these? Keep reading.

The circadian rhythm is a period of about 24 hours with oscillations that accomplish the sleep and awake phases. All organisms exhibit these circadian behavioural or physiological rhythms. In humans the pacemaker for these cycles is in the hypothalamus area of the brain, and it needs to be synchronized daily. Light and an organized schedule of meal and bed times are good synchronizers of the human circadian pacemaker.

Sleep disturbances are strongly associated, among others, to mental illnesses, learning disabilities in children, and higher rates of gastrointestinal and cardiovascular complaints in shift workers or air travellers flying across multiple time zones. Moderate exercise appears as the most important sleep-promoting factor and an attractive alternative for the treatment of insomnia.

To test the effects of physical inactivity on sleep, healthy young individuals were confined to bed for 60 hours, in a sound attenuated room with no access to daylight or information about day time, and prevented from activities such as exercise, TV, reading, writing or listening to music. In these conditions the typical continuous sleeping period of 8h was replaced by short sleep bouts of around 3h throughout the day.

During sleep deprivation studies, vigorous exercise was always able to overcome sleepiness, although the sleep effects post-exercise could be enhanced. Although at moderate levels exercise may be a sleep-promoting factor, training volumes and schedules can have potentially negative effects on sleep, especially in young athletes, which many times must accommodate training and study, sacrificing sleeping time.

Competition also can have negative effects on sleep, due to long travel, that affect circadian rhythms, and increased levels of anxiety and stress. There have been reported insomnia symptoms prior to competition in as many as 78% of elite athletes. The disruptions affected more women, athletes from individual disciplines, and especially participants of aesthetic disciplines (dance, gymnastics, etc) where success is judged by others.

Also, a lack of sleep correlates with a higher risk of injury. It is not very clear if it is because enhanced fatigue, or impairments in reaction time and cognitive function. Decreased sleep also affects the immunologic system, especially increasing the possibility of infections in the upper respiratory system. In a study, individuals sleeping less than 7 hours were three times more likely to get an infection than those sleeping 8 or more hours.

Proper sleep hygiene should include a sleep-promoting environment: cool, dark, minimal noise and no electronic devices, which could be interfering with the natural melatonin secretion, strongly related with sleep induction. Repetitive schedules, and a short period of relaxation before going to bed may also be helpful. Tobacco and caffeine should be avoided, especially late in the day, as should be sedating medicines, with no proved benefits, but potentially addictive.

During periods of sleep restriction, naps could be helpful in performance enhancement. They should not be very long, to avoid disruptions in nigh time sleep. 30 minutes look as the proper length.

With sleep affecting so directly health and sports performance, it is clear the importance of having adequate resting periods, with the highest possible quality, not only in athletes, but also in general population. With the crazy rhythms of modern life, we are always trying to squeeze the day, many times sacrificing sleeping time in order to get more activities in an already packed schedule. We should consider if that extra time is really used for an important activity, otherwise we could be better sleeping more. Our health and performance would be grateful.

 

Bibliography:

Influence of exercise on human sleep.

O’Connor PJ, Youngstedt SD.

Exerc Sport Sci Rev. 1995; 23:105-34.

 

Does Elite Sport Degrade Sleep Quality? A Systematic Review

Gupta L, Morgan K, Gilchrist S.

Sports Med (2017) 47:1317–1333

 

Sleep and Athletic Performance

Watson AM.

Curr Sports Med Rep. 2017 Nov/Dec;16(6):413-418.

Cartel of US Public Health Service

WEATHER CONDITIONS AND MARATHON PERFORMANCE

Photo by Junki72 (Pixabay)

We found an article where they studied the effects of weather conditions on male runners in the Boston Marathon from 1897 to 2018 and thought that its results could be interesting to share, as they represent the data from more than 200 thousand athletes in the world´s oldest annual marathon.

It is clear that environmental conditions affect running performance, with temperature, humidity and wind affecting the body thermoregulatory capacity, and consequently the ability of heat dissipation.

A temperature higher than 35°C and/or humidity higher than 60% will affect detrimentally marathon performance independently of previous heat acclimation or nutrition of the athlete, while affecting also the percentage of finishers.

Best performances for elite finishers (top 100) were in conditions of 8°C and 100% cloud cover. When average temperature increased by 1°C finishing time worsened by almost 2 minutes for all finishers, and around 38 seconds for the top 100 finishers.

The wet-bulb globe temperature, or WBGT, is an index of apparent temperature that takes into account temperature, humidity, wind speed and sunlight radiation. Using this WBGT index the best performance for the top 100 finishers was in the range 0-6°C, and 7-10°C for all finishers. When increasing, it also had a negative effect on performances in all finishers.

As for the wind, it affected negatively normal runners, although benefited the top 100. For them the best results were obtained with speeds of 16-17km/h, which probably helped to refresh the body. The best wind came from West direction. Some rain precipitation was also good for performance, working probably as an extra cooling agent.

The key factor affecting performance in the Boston marathon was undoubtedly the temperature, affecting especially to the slower runners, probably because of a less efficient thermoregulation and a heavier body mass. Additionally, exercise in heat conditions increases glycogen use, lactate production, fatigue and dehydration, which would also affect blood flow to skeletal muscles.

Although not included in the previous study, heat effects are smaller in women, more effective in dissipating the heat because of their larger surface area in relation to their body mass.

The Boston marathon´s results cam probably be extrapolated to other marathons, so don´t blame yourself on your time if weather conditions are difficult. And a note for race organizers to pay attention to dates and starting times of races.

 

Bibliography:

The Role of Environmental Conditions on Marathon Running Performance in Men Competing in Boston Marathon from 1897 to 2018.

Nikolaidis PT, Di Gangi S, Chtourou H, Rüst CA, Rosemann T, Knechtle B

Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2019 Feb 20; 16(4): 614.

 

Effects of weather on the performance of marathon runners.

Vihma T.

Int J Biometeorol. 2010 May; 54(3):297-306.

2013 Boston Marathon (photo by Soniasu in Flickr)

MARATHON OLYMPIC CHAMPIONS (XII) – Helsinki 1952: EMIL ZÁTOPEK (1922-2000)

Emil Zátopek, in Leipzig 1951

 “I am not talented enough to run and smile at the same time”

Emil Zátopek

Helsinki has already been selected to host the Olympics of 1940, which were cancelled because of WWII, although in 1947 it was successful again to win the bid for hosting the 1952 Olympics.

These Olympic Games saw the first appearance of China, the USSR and Israel, among other countries. Athletic legends Paavo Nurmi and marathon medallist Hannes Kolehmainen were selected to lit the Olympic flame.

Emil Zátopek was born in a modest family, in the small village of Koprivnice. He initially wanted to be a teacher but was never very good at school. At 14 he started an apprenticeship in a shoe factory in Zlin while going to night classes. He started running by chance, when was ordered to compete in a race by his tutor. Finishing second, it was a turning point for him, as he liked the experience so much that started training seriously.

At the end of WWII he joined the Czech Army, where he was given enough time to train. Following Paavo Nurmi´s techniques he pushed himself to run 100 series of 400 metres, 50 in the morning and 50 in the evening, many times in unfavourable conditions or using army boots. In the 1948 Olympics he won gold in the 10000 metres and silver in the 5000 metres. He followed his Olympic success with a stride of 69 consecutive running victories between 1949 and 1951, breaking a plethora of records, until he got injured while skiing.

He arrived to Helsinki not in the best physical conditions, but he was able to revalidate his gold medal in the 10000 metres, and win also the 5000 metres, breaking both Olympic records in the process. Running the marathon was a last minute decision, as he had never ran that distance before.

The marathon favourite was the British marathon champion Jim Peters, who was also world-record holder. He had moved to the marathon distance after a humiliating defeat by Zatopek himself in the 10000 metres in the previous Olympics, a distance he never run again. Before the start in the Olympic Stadium Zátopek approached Peters to introduce himself “Hello, I am Zatopek”.

On July 27th at 15.28 there were 66 runners in the start. Peters started very fast, being first at the 5 and 10k control points. At the 15k marker the Swedish Gustaf Jansson had joined Peters in the lead, with Zatopek 2 seconds behind, and a minute later the British Stan Cox and the defending champion, the Argentinian Delfo Cabrera.

Before the 20k Zátopek was already in the leading pack. With doubts in his distance debut, he asked Peters if their pace was appropriate. It looks that Peters jokingly answered that maybe it was too slow. Zátopek increased the pace, and only Jansson was able to follow him.

By the 30k Zátopek was still leading, with Jansson 26 seconds later, and Peters still managing the third place 45 seconds behind. Accompanying him was the full Argentinian team: Cabrera, rising marathon star Reinaldo Gorno, and Corsino Fernández.

Shortly afterwards Peters had to abandon the race with a left leg muscle cramp. His early fast running was too much for him, so that by the 35k Gorno was in 3rd position, with experienced comrade Cabrera behind, and Korean Choi Yoon-chil recovering positions in 5th.

In the 40k Zátopek was more than 2 minutes ahead of his closest opponent, and the victory seemed in hand. His pace had decreased strongly, but he looked relaxed and chatty. When he entered the stadium, all the spectators, standing, cheered him, as they were witnessing and incredible triple gold in distance running, and his third Olympic record in the process, with 2.23.03.

But what happened behind? In the 39k Gorno had surpassed Jansson and got into the silver medal slot. The last 2 kilometres still had more changes. With Jansson now in 3rd, Choi overtook Cabrera for the 4th place. In the stadium Finnish Karvonen outsprinted Cabrera to enter in 5th, ahead of Cabrera.

The first 8 finishers were faster than the marathon Olympic record of 1936, with the top 15 runners doing personal best. As a comparison, Cabrera, also improving his personal best, finished in 6th with a time of 2.26.42, when he had won the 1948´s Olympic marathon in 2.34.51.

Zátopek would not be finished with the Olympics yet. He kept training with Melbourne´s Games in the horizon, including cross-country run while carrying his wife on his back. A hernia, and the subsequent operation took their toll. Nevertheless, he was able to run the Melbourne´s Olympic marathon, where he finished 6th, the same achievement of Delfo Cabrera four years earlier, retiring shortly afterwards.

He stayed in the army, where he reached colonel range, although was expelled for his support to the democracy during the 1968 Prague Spring. He ended collecting rubbish and working in a uranium mine for 7 years. He managed to go back to Prague, where he lived quietly until his death in 2000.

 

Sources:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emil_Z%C3%A1topek

https://www.sports-reference.com/olympics/summer/1952/ATH/mens-marathon.html

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1952_Summer_Olympics

https://www.theguardian.com/sport/blog/2012/jun/22/50-olympic-stunning-moments-emil-zatopek

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

Zátopek around 1951
Zátopek and Gorno in the front page of Argentinian journal "El Gráfico"

RUNNING A MARATHON: VIRTUE OR NONSENSE?

There was a time when running a marathon was seen as big achievement. Before WWII there were no many popular marathon races besides the Olympics and Boston Marathon. In the 1960s the best marathon was in Fukuoka, but it was an elite race, with the best Japanese runners and some athletes invited from overseas.

In the inaugural New York City Marathon in 1970 there were only 55 finishers. As in most races, they struggled to get permissions to use the roads, had a modest budget and not enough runners to make it profitable.

Taking advantage of the United States running boom in the 1970s, New York marathon grew larger, reaching the 1500 finishers in 1976, the first time the race went through its five boroughs. From then on, the growth was unstoppable, until surpassing the 50000 finishers of the last edition. A similar growth in finishers numbers extended worlwide.

The question that arises is: is running a marathon something to be proud of or not? To answer this question I will follow 2 recent articles, where authors shared their point of view, and reasons to defend his idea.

 

Eldar Saraljic says that running for 42k is not for the weak, as it requires psychological and physical strength, and success is not guaranteed. Nevertheless: is it a virtue we should praise?

A marathon is a physical activity, and as such we don´t usually give praise to people for doing other physical activities. As a competitive sport, maybe we should only give praise to the winner.

His conclusion is that running a marathon, without a cause, has nothing socially valuable about it. Many calories, a lot of effort and a long time spent that could be used in something more useful.

All the response we should give to someone running a marathon is: “Good FOR YOU, my friend”.

 

Simone Gozzano contradicts Sarajlic, and think that he is missing the point behind running a marathon. He agrees that is necessary willpower to overcome “the wall”, when the body runs out of carbohydrates to work properly.

Philippides run from Marathon to Athens, dying shortly after giving his announcement. It was not a self-regarding act. Nowadays running a marathon is obviously a different story: “it sets an example that is good for all”.

A professional marathoner has to train beyond the limits of other runners. Think about the amount of kilometres some of the best marathoners run every week. Eliud Kipchoge for example runs around 180k per week. It represents the ultimate level of determination.

And what about non-professional runners? It takes them also a lot of time, but demonstrate that is a feasible achievement, encouraging others to follow suit.

The training sessions and races contribute to make new acquaintances. People also become conscious of their willpower, which will be available for other activities in life. It also offers health benefits, as sports practice is related with a lower presence of many diseases, contributes to reduce pollution, as people tend to walk more, and raise self-awareness.

His praise for someone running a marathon? “Well done, my friend!”

 

From oneKmore we obviously support Gozzano´s point of view, but with whom you position yourself? We would like to know your opinion in the comments section. Thanks for reading.

 

Bibliography:

http://aims-worldrunning.org/articles/427.html

 

Is running a marathon a virtue?

Sarajlic E.

Think 17(48):101-105, 2018.

 

The virtue of running a marathon

Gozzano S.

Think 18(52): 69-74, 2019.

MICROBIOME, OR HOW YOUR GUT MAY DETERMINE YOUR HEALTH AND PERFORMANCE

The microbiome has gained importance in the last years, going from unknown to the headlines. It has been related with diseases such as Alzheimer, Parkinson or diabetes, among others, and is known to play an essential role in its “host”, as we could be considered in this relationship.

The Human Microbiome Project has shown that it comprises thousands of different species of microorganisms, such as bacteria, microbes and viruses. It is a complex and dynamic ecosystem affected by lifestyle, age, genetics and diet, among other factors. A healthier microbiota is directly related with a better health status.

The total microbiome is formed by the microbiote of the gastrointestinal tract, nose, skin, and other body organs, although is the intestinal one the more abundant and varied. It can weigh a total of 1-2kg, and we will focus specially on it in our entry.

Type of childbirth and first three years of life are key in gut microbiota development. There are differences in the microbiota of children delivered naturally or by caesarean section, who show lower numbers of bifido bacteria, related to a higher risk of asthma and rhinitis.

Exercise has been related with an increase in microbes’ species richness and a higher production of short-chain fatty acids, or SCFA. SCFA serve as energy source for many tissues, reducing inflammation and improving insulin sensitivity. A varied microbioma, with a higher SCFA production, could affect athletic performance because of its anti-inflammatory effects, reduction of recovery time, effects on food utilization and even brain function.

A study where lean and obese individuals were subjected to 6 weeks of aerobic exercise training it was found that their gut microbiota composition was already different at baseline. Without changes in diet composition, their microbiota responded differently to exercise. After the exercise training period there was no difference between gut microbiota composition in both groups.

In obese participants the changes in the microbiota were associated with an improvement of cardiorespiratory fitness, measured as VO2max. After returning to a sedentary lifestyle, improvements in VO2max and enriched gut microbiome composition were reversed.

The link between exercise, gut microbiome composition and performance is clear. Therefore, any improvement to the gut microbiome will affect positively your metabolic health and sports results.

What you can do for your gut microbioma? Although there is a genetic base for gut composition it can also be affected by external factors:

  • Negative factors: pollutants and pharmaceuticals
  • Positive factors: a diet rich in prebiotics and probiotics and exercise.

A better understanding of the microbioma will allow its targeted manipulation in the future.

Meanwhile, and once again, exercise is related with a better health outcome. Don´t forget to exercise yourselves and follow a varied and rich diet. It will give you a longer life, and more importantly a healthier one.

 

Bibliography:

Community characteristics of the gut microbiomes of competitive cyclists.

Petersen LM, Bautista EJ, Nguyen H, Hanson BM, Chen L, Lek SH, Sodergren E, Weinstock GM

Microbiome (2017) 5:98

 

The Gut Microbiota: A Clinically Impactful Factor in Patient Health and Disease.

Rodriguez DA, Vélez RP, Monjaraz EMT, Mayans JR, Ryan PM

SN Compr. Clin. Med. (2019) 1: 188. 

 

Exercise Alters Gut Microbiota Composition and Function in Lean and Obese Humans.

Allen JM, Mailing LJ, Niemiro GM, Moore R, Cook MD, White BA, Holscher HD, Woods JA

Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2018 Apr;50(4):747-757.

 

The microbiome of professional athletes differs from that of more sedentary subjects in composition and particularly at the functional metabolic level.

Barton W, Penney NC, Cronin O, Garcia-Perez I, Molloy MG, Holmes E, Shanahan F, Cotter PD, O’Sullivan O.

Gut. 2018 Apr;67(4):625-633.

MARATHON OLYMPIC CHAMPIONS (XI) – London 1948: DELFO CABRERA (1919-1981)

Cabrera in the front page of magazine "El Gráfico" (1948)
Cabrera crossing the finish line in first place (London 1948)

After a 12 years gap because of WWII, the 1948 Olympics were to be organised by London. London had already been selected for the 1944 Olympics, finally cancelled because of the war, and although it almost didn´t apply to host them in 1948, finally won the bid. Therefore, it became the first city to host the Olympics twice, after doing so 40 years earlier.

Still struggling to recover after WWII the Olympics looked as a good opportunity to rebuild the trust among the nations, although Japan and Germany were not allowed to compete, and the Soviet Union did not send any athlete. Because of the rationing and economic climate no new venues were built, and athletes were accommodated in existing places instead of building an Olympic village.

In the marathon there was no clear favourite as many races had been cancelled during the war. Finnish Viljo Heino as the world record holder for the 10k and 1-hour was someone to watch, as he was debuting over the marathon distance. Marathoners from the Soviet Union showed great promise, but they were not to compete.

Delfo Cabrera Gómez was born in Armstrong, in the province of Santa Fe, Argentina. From humble origin he used to play football and started running back home from work. In 1932, after Juan Carlos Zabala triumph in the Olympic marathon, he decided to pursue a running career. By 1938 he moved to Buenos Aires and began training in San Lorenzo de Almagro under the talented coach Francisco Mura. Winning some titles in shorter distances, he had to serve in the army during WWII, where he met Juan Perón. The Olympics of 1948 were to be Cabrera´s first major international competition.

The marathon was to start at 15.00 on August 7th, Saturday, with 41 athletes in the start line. Three of them had run in the last Olympic marathon held in Berlin 12 years earlier, a long time that had changed history, and truncated many promising sport careers.

Argentinian Eusebio Guiñez took an early lead, but in the 10k checkpoint Etienne Gailly, from Belgium and debuting in the distance, was in the front. By the 20 and 30k checkpoints, nothing changed in the front. At this point Guiñez was still in second position, with the Korean Choi coming third, and Cabrera slightly behind.

With the hilly course starting to take its toll on some athletes by the 35k checkpoint Choi moved to the front, with Cabrera second, and Gailly and Guiñez following. Only 2 kilometers later Choi started limping and abandoned the race, losing the chance of revalidating the marathon for Korea, as it had happened in 1936.

Although the race looked in its closing stages, it was far from finished. Gailly managed to get in front again, with some runners coming strongly from behind. The Belgian entered the stadium first, but his dramatic effort proved to be too much, and that last lap was to be decisive.

Cabrera entered the stadium shortly behind, followed by the British Tom Richards. Both surpassed Gailly, who was then relegated to third. Cabrera crossed the finish line first, claiming another gold medal in the Olympic marathon for Argentina, only 16 seconds ahead of Richards, and a further 26 seconds ahead of Gailly.

Argentina accomplished three athletes in the top 10, with Guiñez finishing 5th, and Armando Sensini 9th, an achievement that was not repeated in the marathon until 2008 with Ethiopia.

After the London Games Cabrera won the inaugural marathon in the Pan American Games in Buenos Aires in 1951. His Olympic adventure had another chapter, in Helsinki in 1952, where he managed to finish in sixth position. He retired in 1957 and maintained his involvement in the sport, getting to preside the Argentinian Olympic Association. Sadly, he would die in a car accident in 1981, returning from a tribute in his honour, but his legend would be present forever.

Sources:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1948_Summer_Olympics

https://www.sports-reference.com/olympics/summer/1948/ATH/mens-marathon.html

https://es.wikipedia.org/wiki/Delfo_Cabrera

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

Marathon departure from Wembley Stadium

RESPIRATORY MUSCLE TRAINING AND SPORTS PERFORMANCE

Some time ago exercise physiologists thought that the VO2max was the single determinant of human exercise performance in the respiratory system, assuming that maximal ventilation could be maintained indefinitely.

Nowadays it is known that inspiratory muscles tire with exercise, and that the increased work of breathing during exercise also demands higher blood flow from the circulatory system in order to sustain muscle contraction. This effect is called “inspiratory muscle metaboreflex”, and is caused by the accumulation of metabolites in the respiratory muscles, which trigger a widespread vasoconstriction in order to allow a higher blood flow in the lungs.

Muscle fatigue and vasoconstriction are limiting factors of physical performance, and give way to the so-called respiratory muscle fatigue, or RMF, firstly described in marathon runners during the 1980s.

Measuring maximal inspiratory pressure (MIP) it was found that after running a marathon there was a fall in MIP, with no alteration in the maximal expiratory pressure (MEP). Consequently they talked about an inspiratory muscle fatigue, or IMF, without expiratory muscle fatigue, or EMF.

The overall effect would be:

                                                           RMF = IMF + EMF

               (Respiratory Muscle Fatigue = Inspiratory Muscle Fatigue + Expiratory Muscle Fatigue)

When using a ventilator to help with the inspiration process during breathing it was found a 4.3% increase in leg blood flow. On the contrary, when the ventilator was used to add resistance to the breathing process, leg blood flow decreased by 7%, worsening leg fatigue.

There is evidence that strengthening of respiratory muscles can potentially improve physical performance. The strengthening procedures are defined as respiratory muscle training, or RMT, and they could be focused on inspiratory or expiratory muscles, therefore distinguishing between IMT (Inspiratory Muscle Training) and EMT (Expiratory Muscle Training).

Among the physiological effects to consider after RMT:

  • diaphragm hypertrophy
  • change of muscle fibers (increasing proportion of type I and size of type II)
  • improved neural control of respiratory muscles
  • increased respiratory muscle economy (reducing work of breathing)
  • attenuation of the respiratory muscle metaboreflex (therefore preventing blood diversion away from limbs)
  • decrease in perceived breathlessness and exertion (allowing longer exercise times until exhaustion)

RMT exercises can have exercise intensity fixed, with the physical activity carried away until exhaustion, or time trials. Time to exhaustion is sensitive to small physiological improvements, making it a good indicator of training procedures.

Among the methods we could talk about:

  • Endurance training, using voluntary hyperpnea. It involves recruiting respiratory muscles during deep breaths. It requires to learn correctly the techniques, used in many relaxing/meditation procedures.
  • Resistance training, with external loads in mouth position. It involves using a device, with many commercially available. One of the most popular categories is the linear pressure resistors (LPR), which are affordable and can be easily used in training.

The LPR devices facilitate IMT, as they offer different resistance levels and a chance of evaluation and exercise prescription.

In disease patients and healthy individuals IMT improved physical performance, mainly by improving blood flow distribution.

For athletes, with usually good respiratory function due to years of training, there is no clear protocol defined. Also there are differences depending on the sport type. In aquatic and intermittent disciplines (basketball, football, tennis, etc) the energy is mainly coming from glycolytic pathways, while endurance sports (running, cycling, rowing, etc) use oxidative pathways, which require more oxygen to keep energy levels for longer periods.

IMT is clearly an ergogenic agent in non-aquatic sports, by helping to reduce fatigue and energy expenditure in respiratory muscles. Thus IMT should be introduced in training routines to get an extra advantage and improve performance. Improvements were found in athletes when exercising respiratory muscles twice daily, and at least three times per week.

Don´t forget to train your respiratory muscles, they can be your secret weapon to improve your personal best.

 

Bibliography:

Respiratory muscle training as an ergogenic aid.

AK McConnell

J Exerc Sci Fit, Vol 7, No 2 (Suppl), S18–S27, 2009

 

Inspiratory flow resistive loading improves respiratory muscle function and endurance capacity in recreational runners.

TD Mickleborough, T Nichols, MR Lindley, K Chatham, AA. Ionescu

Scand J Med Sci Sports 2010: 20: 458–468

 

Recent advancements in our understanding of the ergogenic effect of respiratory muscle training in healthy humans: A systematic review.

R Shei

The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, August 2018

 

The effects of inspiratory muscle training with linear workload devices on the sports performance and cardiopulmonary function of athletes: A systematic review and meta-analysis.

M Karsten, GS Ribeiro, MS Esquivel, DL Matte

Physical Therapy in Sport 34 (2018) 92e104

Human respiratory system
Device for Inspiratory Muscle Training Plus+ . (Courtesy of POWERbreathe Spain)

ALMAGRO NIGHT MARATHON (ES) (22/06/19 – 83)

Trophy and t-shirt
Almagro city hall
4.5/5

Pros: registration fee for Spanish Association against Cancer (AECC); good and personal care for the runners from the organisation; big potential for following years.

Cons: no chip-timing, that probably will be solved by next edition; lack of storage space.

Plaza Mayor

Continuing with the purpose of collecting marathons, this would be my first in the autonomous region of Castilla la Mancha. I had worked in Albacete more than a decade ago, but never run a race here.

Going for its second edition I knew about it in the Valdebebas marathon, back in March, and registered immediately. I have always liked night marathons, but no so much the multi-laps ones. Held at the end of June it looked as the perfect race to enter the summer break. With hot conditions there are no many marathons available in the calendar, or they interfere with holidays.

Traveling to Almagro requires some organisation but having train connections with Madrid always facilitates the process. If the marathon is not for you, you can opt for a half marathon, or be part of a relay for the marathon.

The race course is a 3k triangle following an illuminated and perfectly paved Eco Path in the outskirts of Almagro. For the marathon are necessary 14 laps, and 7 for the half. The loop has 3 different sections: the first with trees, a second following a fence, and a third just entering the village. Start and finish line are in the same place, as it is the stand with water and provisions.

For a 22.00 start, with 27-28°C, there are about 40 runners for the full distance, and twice as many for the half marathon. Among the marathon runners there are some familiar faces (Quique, Pepe, Santi, Txema, Antonio…). These low-key races far from the crowded ones are often a chance to meet friends.

From start, front runners go ahead quickly. I get installed in a small group, but after the first lap they go ahead. From the second lap onwards I will run alone, drinking often because of the high temperatures, and planning my energy gels for laps 3 and 6, and then every two laps, in 8, 10 and 12.

I like the course, and laps start adding. After the 6th, I am doubled by the four runners in front, who are considerably ahead. The half marathon goes in 1.51.20.  Seven more laps and I will be on holidays. I only need to keep the pace and is done. With less runners in the course, sometimes is difficult to see anyone besides the animated group in the finish area.

Although not feeling very tired, pace decays in the second half. I cross the finish line in 3.55.20, a time very similar to the last 2 marathons. After a quick shower I get back to the finish area to welcome the last runners.

Marathon number 10 of the year, only 3 behind the 13 I run in 2018, and a whole 6 months ahead. Nevertheless, summer is probably marathon free. Time to rest, get back to a proper training cycle, and some shorter races to improve on my strength and speed.

Thanks to Miguel Ángel for the organising effort, and a recommendation to visit the Theatre Museum and the “Corral de Comedias” in Almagro, and if your available time is longer, the National Park of the “Tablas de Daimiel”.

Ready to go
Corral de Comedias

ICARUS (2017, 121min, Bryan Fogel)

“During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act”.

George Orwell

4.5/5

Pros: halfway between a sports documentary and a thriller; Grigory Rodchenkov, a funny person for whom we feel sorry, as we suspect he was a victim of the Russian political system.

Cons: unclear if Bryan´s samples tested positive or negative; that is impossible to know how deep and wide the doping use sports is, at professional or even amateur level.

When I found this documentary in a streaming platform, I didn´t know that it had won the Academy Award for Best Documentary in 2018, neither that it was about doping in sports and had made headlines. It was an obvious and wise choice to watch.

The documentary starts in 2014 with director Bryan Fogel explaining his decision to participate in the hardest amateur cycling event in the world, a seven-day race in the French Alps called Haute Route. An amateur cyclist for many years, he manages to finish in 14th position overall.

Bryan decides to get through a doping programme overseen by a scientist. The documentary initial objective is to prove that he could get through all the doping controls clean and compete with an extra advantage in next year´s Haute Route. This would demonstrate that the system in place to test athletes is not working.

We know from Don Catlin, director of the laboratory that tested Armstrong more than 50 times over his career, that he never failed a test. He decides to step back as the scientist overlooking Bryan doping programme worried about the consequences on his reputation. He recommends a colleague, Russian director of the anti-doping laboratory in Moscow Grigory Rodchenkov.

After talking in the phone, Grigory surprisingly agrees to oversee Brian´s doping schedule. It will consist of injections of human growth hormone and testosterone, plus a lot of pills, while keeping urine samples frozen.

Grigory travels to LA to meet Brian and collect his urine samples, smuggling them in his own luggage for transportation to Moscow. He is a funny character that worked in 1989 in LA, where he won the Santa Monica marathon, who talks naturally about doping and how he was injected stanozolol by his mother.

Just before Haute Route Brian gets a power test where he achieves 350 watts of power, against the 250 before his doping. Nevertheless, he finishes in worse position than the previous year. After the race he travels to Moscow with the last samples for Grigory.

With Brian back in the USA the documentary turns into a thriller. A WADA (World Anti-Doping Agency) report about the state-sponsored Russian doping program confirms allegations present in an earlier German documentary pointing to Grigory as one of those responsible of a wide conspiracy to benefit Russian athletes. The report calls for a ban of all Russian athletes of the Rio Olympics. Russian official reaction is denying everything and fires Grigory from his position.

Afraid about his life, Brian helps Grigory to travel to the USA, where he goes into hiding and confess to the New York Times and the Department of Justice about the long Russian doping system, and how he was the mastermind behind it since 2012. He confesses that during Sochi Winter Olympics in 2014 many athletes kept using drugs during competition. With KGB´s help, and using an intricate method late at night, when no officials were around, they swapped “dirty” urines for “clean” ones after managing to open intactly the urine bottles.

With all this additional information provided by Grigory Rodchenkov, by June 2016 the IAAF bans the Russian Track and Field team from competing in the Rio Olympics one month in the future. Grigory goes into a witness protection program, saying goodbye to his family, still in Russia, and Brian.

Finally, and despite all the evidence provided, the IOC dismisses WADA´s recommendations and lets Russian athletes to compete in the Rio Olympics, even when the official report stated: “It is impossible to know how deep and how far this conspiracy goes”.

Interviewer: “Have you ever used human growth hormone or any other performance enhancing substance?

Lance Armstrong: “No… I have never taken drugs”