MARATHON BP CASTELLÓ (16/02/2020 – 88)

Just about to start

Score: 5 / 5

Pros: flat course; good parking facilities.

Cons: none we can think of.

Castelló marathon was celebrating its 10th anniversary, and it seemed as a good occasion to try it. There are only marathon and 10k distances, with the half marathon absent. This year also it was recognised with the bronze label from World Athletics.

Arriving to Castelló usually involves traveling through Valencia, that has better connections. With frequent trains between them you can visit both places in the same trip.

The running expo is in La Pergola, a sport facility just in the start/finish area. I delay my visit until Saturday evening, although taking the bib number and kit is quick. There is still time for a short walk in Castelló city centre and get dinner.

The morning appears cloudy and with an ideal temperature of 11°C. The marathon start is scheduled for 9.00, and the 10k only 1 minute later. The broad avenue allows for segregated starting areas, good point in order to avoid confusion during the first kilometres.

Murcia marathon was only 2 weeks behind, and I run it after recovering from a flu. Therefore, the training period had been easy. Still coming back from the first marathon, and the second was already in sight. Having finished in 3.53 in Murcia, I decide to risk and align with the 3.30 group. A good way to prove the point we treated in a previous entry, about risk-taking attitudes and the relation with better achievements.

With a lot of runners going for the marathon distance (around 1000), the 3.30 group is very large at this stage. As probably many of you have experienced, running in large groups is risky. More chances to trip on another runner, especially when some are changing positions constantly. Usually I skip the first drinking station in marathons, as they are also a chaotic point. Luckily, I avoid falling, although I don´t need to worry from the 10k. In the drinking station I start falling behind. Unable to continue with the group, I continue at a good pace until the half marathon, that I cross in 1.47.56.

From the midway point I start feeling more tired. Not at my best the second half of the race is everything about finishing. With my times moving away from my desired target, the 3.45 group also surpasses me. Clearly the second half of the race is slower than the first.

Through the last kilometres there is more public in the streets, as we come back to the city centre. The applauses are always welcomed, but especially during the closing stages of races, when the energy is low, and you try to use every little help available.

I cross the finish line in 3.50.05 (net time of 3.49.46), position 630 of 967 finishers. My second half took a full 12 minutes more than the first. Nevertheless, it is early in the season and a lot more races are still to come.

Thanks for reading.

The 10th anniversary medal
Co-cathedral of St Mary

MARATHON OLYMPIC CHAMPIONS (XVII) – Munich 1972: FRANK SHORTER (1947-)

Shorter winning the marathon Munich 1972
Shorter (1974)

Munich was selected to host the 1972 Olympics over bids from Montreal, Madrid and Detroit. It was the second time Germany was chosen as organiser after the Olympics in Berlin in 1936. The world and Germany had changed much. Nevertheless, everything was overshadowed by the terrorist attack in the Olympic village that ended with 11 hostages and 5 terrorists killed, and almost cancelled the whole Olympics.

Among the great figures of the Olympics were Mark Spitz, who won a total of 7 gold medals in swimming, and the Finnish Lasse Viren, who won the 5000 and 10000 metres, a feat he would repeat in Montreal four years later. 

The Olympic marathon was planned for September 10th at 15.00 on a flat and shaded course that ensembled the Olympic mascot Waldi, a German dog breed characterised for its resistance, tenacity and agility. Among the favourites were Ethiopian Mamo Wolde, ready to defend his title from Mexico 1968, and world-record holder and unique representative from Australia Derek Clayton. The total number of runners was 74 from a total of 39 different countries.

Frank Shorter from the United States was coincidentally born in Munich, while his father, an army surgeon, was stationed after WWII. In his collegiate days Shorter was a good runner in short distances, although he failed to qualify in the marathon trials for the 1968 Olympics. It was in 1971 that he did his breakthrough in the marathon, winning the Pan American Games title, followed by the Fukuoka marathon and finally the Olympic trial in Eugene in 1972.

The race started, and everything was relatively quiet, as there was still a big pack of runners in the 5k (15.51). By the 10k (31.15) the British Ron Hill was in the lead with Australian Derek Clayton. Pace quickened, and Shorter found himself in the front.

By the 20k (1.01.30) Shorter had a lead of 29s over Belgian Karel Lismont, only 1s ahead of Wolde, Finland´s Seppo Nikkari, Japanese Akio Usami and US runner Jack Bacheler. Then they entered the English Garden, a forested park with a wide pedestrian pathway, where they should run for 8 kilometres.

Crossing the 30k (1.32.49) Shorter´s stride was still fresh, with nothing threatening his advantage. His closest pursuers were Wolde and the other US runner Kenneth Moore, with Lismont falling behind.

At 40k (2.05.31) it was clear that Shorter would get the Olympic gold medal. He was more than 2 minutes ahead of Lismont, who had recovered and was now in second place. Closely behind were Wolde (5s) and Moore (39s), and further behind Kimihara and early leader Hill, who recovering his pace was fighting for a good result.

Around 17.00 everything was quiet in the Olympic stadium, with public waiting for the marathon leader to enter, run a full lap and claim victory. A big applause received the first runner as he left the marathon tunnel. It wasn´t Frank Shorter, but an imposter! 22 years old German student Norbert Südhaus appeared wearing a running kit and a competitor number. He had waited in a car outside the stadium until the most convenient moment. Unstopped he headed to the finish line, as the leader Shorter, majorly unnoticed, was entering himself into the stadium.

Südhaus, with his joke achieved, disappeared through the tunnel again, and attention focused finally on Shorter, who had continued running towards the finish line. As he got closer, Wolde and Lismont entered the stadium too. Shorter claimed victory in 2.12.19, personal best and only 8s slower than Bikila´s Olympic record (Rome 1960). Lismont was second in 2.14.31 and Wolde third in 2.15.08, the third and fourth fastest Olympic marathon times ever.

The top three contenders had been fantastic marathoners.

Mamo Wolde´s bronze medal after his Olympic victory in Mexico 1968 was the fourth consecutive medal in marathon for Ethiopia. His Olympic days finished in Munich. Being 40 years old he had managed to compete against much younger athletes (Shorter was 24 and Lismont 23). His later life was treated in the previous entry of this series.

Karel Lismont was also an accomplished marathoner. His silver medal in Munich was his first defeat in 4 marathons. He returned to the Olympics another 3 times, in a running career that spanned until the Olympics of Los Angeles in 1984. He will participate also in our next entry focused on Montreal 1976, where he was also one of the top contenders for victory.

As for Frank Shorter, during the following years he continued running marathons, winning all but one before the Montreal Olympics in 1976, where he arrived as one of the favourites.

The story of the Olympic marathon in Montreal in 1976 will be the focus of our next entry.

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Sources:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1972_Summer_Olympics

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Athletics_at_the_1972_Summer_Olympics_%E2%80%93_Men%27s_marathon

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

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

Olympics logo for Munich 1972
Conmemorative stamp for Frank Shorter´s victory

MARATHON PACING AND RISK-TAKING ATTITUDE

Picture by Fitsum Admasu (Unsplash)

To finish a long-distance event is required that individuals allocate their energy throughout the event. Thus, the speed control during an event is referred to as pacing and is of scientific interest alongside the factors that influence it.

Usually the studies focused on elite runners, although several recent ones have explored large samples of non-elite marathon runners, with marked differences in ability, motivation, experience and pacing strategy.

Thus, it was found that runners who slowed more in the marathon generally was because their self-forecast result differed greatly from their actual performance. Overconfident runners started the marathon too fast, with greater slowing compared to more “reasonable” runners, who started at less aggressive paces.

 

The study

In a recent study were analysed over 1300 runners’ reports, specifically about finishing time, pacing, training, running experience and psychology. Therefore, five variables associated with pacing were quantified: competitiveness, goal achievement, risk taking in pace (RTP), domain-specific risk taking and willingness to suffer.

 

Pacing definition

Pacing was determined as the percentage difference between the completion times of the second half of the marathon vs. the first half of the marathon. Positive pacing indicated that a runner ran slower in the second half of the marathon (slowing).

[pacing = (second half time − first half time) / first half time ∗ 100]

 

Factors affecting pacing

Some studies had already correlated greater levels of competitiveness and goal achievement with faster finishing times. Nevertheless, the association of these factors with pacing was not so important. Thus, runners may be focused in attaining a good performance in every marathon they ran, and therefore try to start with a conservative pace, or alternatively start aggressively risking a dramatic slowing. Both runners could be highly competitive and goal oriented.

There was found a strong evidence correlating RTP and pacing. The RTP running strategy is usually decided beforehand. Before a race, runners decide if starting with a conservative pace to get a satisfactory performance, or start aggressively, hopeful of managing to keep the pace and achieve a successful performance in terms of finishing time. Thus, RTP correlates with faster paces, but also a greater risk of slowing later in the race. Risk-taking runners are aware that the pace they have decided to pursue may jeopardize their results. An overconfident runner will also start running faster, but unaware of later result.

More even marathon pacing is associated with greater experience, age, training and being a female. More long runs, training at a faster than marathon pace and more completed marathons are factors also facilitating a more even pace. Nevertheless, greater training distances was also surprisingly associated with greater slowing, maybe as a result of overtraining and not getting enough recovery time.

As for domain-specific risk taking, results showed that runners who don´t take risks in marathon pacing, are not usually taking risks in other situations.

Similar was the case with the willingness to suffer, a magnitude introduced in the present study. A runner with low willingness to suffer may start cautiously and decide to slow down substantially to experience little discomfort. Alternatively, a runner with high willingness to suffer may start aggressively, and if successful don´t slow much.

 

Conclusions

RTP was a strong parameter to predict marathon slowing and pace during a marathon among non-elite runners.

Future studies should consider more variables influencing marathoners pacing decisions, such as the ability to use various paces and post-race assessments of pacing decisions during the race. Altogether they could give additional insights in performance for scientists, coaches and athletes.

 

What type of runner are you: Risk-taker or more even marathon pacer?

 

Bibliography

Risk Taking Runners Slow More in the Marathon.

Deaner RO, Addona V, Hanley B.

Front Psychol. 2019 Feb 27; 10:333. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2019.00333

Picture by James Orr (Unsplash)

EDP MURCIA MARATHON (87 – 02/02/2020)

Belluga Square (or Cathedral Square): finish place of the EDP Murcia Marathon
4.5/5

Pros: 2 t-shirts in the running bag; start & finish in central Murcia.

Cons: maybe the course could avoid the long Azacaya avenue section.

We continue completing Spanish marathons from list.

Marathon 87 took a while. Firstly, I considered Málaga, but then I registered for Marrakesh, on January 26th, taking advantage of a cheap Black Friday flight offer. Man proposes, God disposes: a persistent fever attacks me the day before traveling. Sad, I put health first and decide to cancel the whole trip. Although I can recover some expenses, is not the case with registration and flights. Despite the experience, running a marathon deserves respect, especially with another marathon on the agenda only one week later.

Recovered by Tuesday, I manage to do 3 short training days in a row. Feeling physically tired, at least they are useful to remove the rust before heading to Murcia. A long 8 hours bus trip gets me there on Saturday afternoon.  I have time for lunch and go to my hotel before the running expo opens in the evening. After the last cold days, the warm weather is welcomed and inviting for a walking tour of the city.

The running expo is in a gym. Quickly I take my runner kit and meet the first known faces: our Santi Hitos going for his marathon 307, and British Brian Mills, whom I met in some races while living in UK, with nearly 1400 marathons!

Forus Murcia, allocating the running expo

Later, I have a pizza and go to sleep. The hotel is just 400 metres from the start: perfect if you don´t want to stress yourself with more walking/traveling early on marathon day. Strangely I sleep better than before other marathons.

With the marathon planned at 9.00, there is also a half marathon race. Additionally, there is a 10k race scheduled at 9.20. In perspective is the way to go cost wise for many races nowadays. Obviously running a marathon takes a while and the city needs to block roads for longer, but offering more distances increase the number of potential participants. Total of runners close to 3000, with around 500 for the full marathon distance, offering a generous cut-off time of 6 hours.

Sunny and warm morning with no wind we start the race. Unknowing of my fitness level I position myself between the 3.30 and 4.00 groups: finishing below 4 hours would be a good result.

Marathon & half marathon start

Marathon follows a course that we must run twice. Some sections are in the city centre, and other ones following long roads leading outside of town. These sections offer less pleasant sights and public.

In the 12k the runner in front of me stops suddenly in a turnaround point for the 10k, to ask the marshal if that is only for the 10k runners. Obvious it was only for them: the sign was clear. I end up falling on the ground and damaging my left elbow while trying to avoid knocking him down. After helping me to get back on my feet I carry on. No much to complain now as the race is far from over.

I cross the half marathon in 1.50.24, with the 4.00 still far behind. For the second lap gaps among runners are long. Nearly the 30k I am surpassed by Lola, with a stylist stride, and a bit later by David. My pace decreases as temperature raises, although I keep good hydration levels and don’t feel heat too badly.

Crossing the “wall” and heading back to Murcia the last section of the race goes quickly, knowing that I approach the finish line. Despite the early afternoon hours, public is not very abundant yet. In the Cathedral Square I finish with a net time of 3.53.09, in 229 position out of 455 finishers. Race done, and happy despite my earlier fears.

Time to go back to the hotel, get a shower and prepare to travel back. A few hours by bus await to get home and think about other objectives not far away.

Thanks for reading.

Finish line

MARATHON OLYMPIC CHAMPIONS (XVI) – Mexico City 1968: DEGAGA “MAMO” WOLDE (1932-2002)

Mamo Wolde and Abebe Bikila together with his coach Onu Niskanen

The Olympics in Mexico were the first to be staged in a Latin-American country, and the unique ones held at an altitude over 2000 metres above sea level (2240m). The reduced air resistance was an advantage for sprinters and jumpers, who achieved astonishing world records, but a burden to long-distance runners, because of the reduced oxygen levels.

They were the first Games that used a synthetic “tartan” surface for track & field events, instead of the cinder surface used until then. They showed the first woman lighting the Olympic cauldron (Queta Basilio) and the first doping disqualification (Swedish pentathlete Hans-Gunnar Liljenwall for drinking several beers).

Athletics were marked by the first backwards jump in the high jump event (Dick Fosbury), the Bob Beamon´s long jump world record that would be in place until 1991 (8.90m) and the black-gloved raised fists from 200m medallists Tommie Smith and John Carlos in support of rights of the black-American community in the United States.

Regarding the marathon, the high altitude of Mexico gave an advantage to Ethiopian runners, among them the two-times defending champion Abebe Bikila. Over the same course it was organised a marathon one year in advance, which was won by Gaston Roelants from Belgium, (2.19.37), two minutes ahead of a pack of Japanese runners headed by Kenji Kimihara.

Mamo Wolde was born in Dirre Jille, 60 kilometres south of Adis Abeba, and his appearance in Mexico was already his third Olympic participation, at 36. As his hero BIkila, he was also an army member. He had already competed in the Olympics of 1956 in Melbourne, where he finished last in the heats of 800m, 1500m and 4x400m. In 1960 in Tokyo he finished 4th in the 10000m and couldn’t finish the marathon. By 1967 he was in top form, after winning the Zarautz Marathon. Already in Mexico City, he won earlier the silver medal in the 10000m and qualified for the 5000m final, although he skipped it, in order to be fresh for the marathon.

The marathon was planned on October 20th, on a tough course comprising many sharp turns and a final uphill section (km 36 onwards) to finish in the Olympic Stadium. 75 athletes took the start at 15.00 with warm and sunny conditions from the Zócalo square, just in front of the Cathedral. At the 10k (33.54) there was still a group of 20 athletes at the front. Everyone was trying to save energy, conscious of the hard conditions. At the 20k (1.06.02) the big group has started to fade. Roelants was in front accompanied by the British Tim Johnston and Kenyan Naftali Temu, winner of the 10000m one week earlier. Bikila had already retired.

Just before the 30k (1.39.20) Wolde took the lead, followed by Temu, and Japanese Kimihara in third. The Kenyan paid his previous effort and suddenly slowed to a walk just before the 35k. The position in the temporary podium was occupied by New Zealand´s runner Michael Ryan.

By the 40k (2.12.59) positions were unchanged. Wolde was more than 2 minutes ahead of Kimihara, followed very closely (6s) by Ryan. And positions wouldn´t change as runners entered the Olympic Stadium. Mamo Wolde won in 2.20.26, a slower triumph than fellow Bikila´s victories in 1960 and 1964. 12 years after his Olympic debut it was his time to take the limelight. More than 3 minutes later would enter Kimihara, to get the silver medal 14s ahead of Ryan.

With his gold, Wolde obtained an astonishing third consecutive gold medal in the Olympic marathon for Ethiopia. An it would not be his last marathon appearance. At the Munich Olympics in 1972, and already 40, he managed a bronze medal in the marathon event.

As for Kimihara, he had already finished 8th in the Olympic marathon in 1964, although the silver medal in Mexico was his top Olympic finish. He was a prolific marathoner, and Asian champion in 2 occasions. He would also come back in Munich, finishing 5th.

Mamo Wolde future, as Bikila´s, would be difficult. He was arrested in 1993 accused of an execution during the Ethiopian dictatorship. He spent 9 years in jail awaiting trial, despite IOC efforts for his release. Finally, he was sentenced to 6 years in prison, but was released as he had already spent longer in detention. He would die shortly after his release of liver cancer, aged 69.

Another Ethiopian marathon legend with an inappropriate ending.

 

Sources:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1968_Summer_Olympics

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

https://www.sports-reference.com/olympics/athletes/wo/mamo-wolde-1.html

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

Bikila in Elgoibar (Spain) 1963

MENTAL HEALTH IN ELITE ATHLETES

Mental and physical health are intimately correlated, as mental health symptoms and disorders increase the risk of physical injuries and delay physical recovery. Among elite athletes, mental disorders are common and may consequently impair physical performance. An International Olympic Committee Work Group has recently evaluated this topic to provide a series of recommendations that we will briefly treat in our entry. They reviewed literature, and considered elite athletes those competing at professional, Olympic or collegiate levels. A 5% of male elite athletes from team sports experienced burnout or alcohol consumption problems, with as much as 45% reporting symptoms of anxiety and depression. Overall the incidence of mental health disorders in elite athletes ranged between 5 and 35%, and 10 to 25% among collegiate athletes. The incidence was worse if suffering from musculoskeletal injuries, surgeries, decreased sport performance or excessive perfectionism. This data is somehow contradictory, as usually sport participation at amateur level is related with a protective effect on mental health symptoms, while having also antidepressant effects. There is a whole set of mental health symptoms: sleep disorders, depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, eating disorders, attention-deficit/hyperactivity, bipolar and psychotic disorders, substance abuse or behavioural addictions, among others. Prevalence of depressive symptoms in elite athletes looks similar than in general population, although elite athletes may not recognise depressive symptoms or may not seek support. Worth pointing out that female athletes may be twice as likely to report depressive symptoms as males. Symptoms of mental health issues are also present in former elite athletes. Transitioning from an active lifestyle is not always easy, and some preparation for post sport life should be encouraged. Although the first line treatment is usually psychotherapy, more severe cases may need medication, whose side effects could potentially impact negatively athletic performance.  

Guidelines for mental health optimisation in elite athletes (see also image)

  • Facilitate access to mental healthcare facilities
  • Attend to cross cultural differences and increase data on bipolar and psychotic disorders, mental health emergencies and athletes with disabilities.
  • Understand early symptomatic stages before becoming fully developed disorders.
  • Expanded mental health screening using optimal assessment methodologies and screening
  • A better understanding of physiological recovery from injury or illness.
  • Additional strategies for prevention and to overcome stigmas linked to mental health help seeking.
  • Promote a healthy environment for sports practice and competition, trying to avoid sponsorship from companies linked to adverse health outcomes in elite athletes.
  • Better understanding of the sport as a society subculture to pursue a positive mental health outcome.
 

Conclusions

  • The IOC pretends to improve mental health in elite athletes, therefore improving their quality of life and serve as a role model for society.
  • To do so, they want to give mental health symptoms and disorders an approach like other medical illnesses and musculoskeletal injuries, with well-informed professionals.
  • Mental and physical health are closely related, and elite athletes should have access to appropriate interdisciplinary care.
 

Bibliography

Occurrence of mental health symptoms and disorders in current and former elite athletes: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Gouttebarge V, Castaldelli-Maia JM, Gorczynski P, Hainline B, Hitchcock ME, Kerkhoffs GM, Rice SM, Reardon CL. Br J Sports Med. 2019 Jun;53(11):700-706. doi: 10.1136/bjsports-2019-100671.   Mental health in elite athletes: International Olympic Committee consensus statement (2019). Reardon CL, Hainline B, Aron CM, Baron D, Baum AL, Bindra A, Budgett R, Campriani N, Castaldelli-Maia JM, Currie A, Derevensky JL, Glick ID, Gorczynski P, Gouttebarge V, Grandner MA, Han DH, McDuff D, Mountjoy M, Polat A, Purcell R, Putukian M, Rice S, Sills A, Stull T, Swartz L, Zhu LJ, Engebretsen L. Br J Sports Med. 2019 Jun;53(11):667-699. doi: 10.1136/bjsports-2019-100715.   Infographic: Mental health in elite athletes. An IOC consensus statement. Reardon CL, Hainline B, Aron CM, Baron D, Baum AL, Bindra A, Budgett R, Campriani N, Castaldelli-Maia JM, Currie A, Derevensky JL, Glick ID, Gorczynski P, Gouttebarge V, Grandner MA, Han DH, McDuff D, Mountjoy M, Polat A, Purcell R, Putukian M, Rice SM, Sills A, Stull T, Swartz L, Zhu LJ, Engebretsen L. Br J Sports Med. 2020 Jan;54(1):49-50. doi: 10.1136/bjsports-2019-101087. Epub 2019 Jul 15.

SUB 1:50 MARATHON, YEAR 2090

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(a short story freely modified from the article “What Would It Take to Run a 1:50 Marathon?” by Michael Joyner in Quillete)

In 2090 a signal event in the field of human-performance enhancement occurred when Alberto Lanza-Fuerte of Bolivia broke the 1-hour and 50 minutes marathon barrier. Many facets of a performance-enhancement landscape contributed to this achievement.

Victor Conte Jr. was a junior-college-educated musician-turned-nutrition-entrepreneur who pioneered the use of pharmaceutical micro-dosing in conjunction with rigorous training to help elite athletes break records. He also sponsored the development of performance-enhancing compounds, thereby demonstrating that innovation in this field did not always require the involvement of the mainstream scientific community or big pharmaceutical companies. Mr. Conte was a victim of the anti-doping campaigns of his era, although the recent rehabilitation of his reputation has helped reverse an injustice imposed during a less enlightened era.

The two-hour barrier for the marathon had already being broken in the second decade of the XXI century. Hope had been expressed during the early part of the century that DNA testing might be used to identify individuals with exceptional athletic ability. By the middle 2020s, however, it had become apparent that simple genetic explanations for complex human traits were difficult to establish. This led to a return to traditional forms of talent identification. Based on the success of East African runners from high-altitude regions, efforts were made to screen large numbers of teenage football players from the Andes region of South America, through a simple 800m run for time.

Even as early as the 1970s, it was known that humans born at high altitude had better lung function in comparison to other individuals. There were also several anecdotal observations of football players successfully transitioning to distance running. When Mr. Lanza-Fuerte was found, at age 16, he ran 1:59 for 800m after a match in La Paz, Bolivia. He was then sent to a training camp and became a world-class distance runner within several years.

There was nothing special about Mr. Lanza-Fuertes’s training, which was based on high-mileage approaches developed in the 1960s and 70s, in conjunction with regular doses of interval training. Several weeks before his 1:49:59 achievement, he ran a session that included six fast mile runs separated by five-minute jogging intervals. His first mile was a 4:04, and he “descended” from there to a last mile at 3:48. Maximal tolerable training loads were achieved through technological advances. These included shoes equipped with embedded sensors that could detect subtle deteriorations in stride and muscle properties, which are known to indicate a predisposition to injury. When these detected changes reach threshold, several easy days of training are indicated to reduce injury risk.

By the late 2030s, it had become clear that drug-testing regimes could not detect many of the novel compounds that were being developed outside of mainstream scientific labs and pharmaceutical companies. So called “gene doping” had become feasible, but worked reliably only in a minority of cases, with off-target effects and durability remaining problematic. The solution to the drug-testing problem was to set upper limits of acceptable values for a number of biomarkers. This had the added advantage of levelling the playing field for all by allowing the careful titration of the relevant pharmaceutical compounds. Every elite athlete now has an almost identical blood profile.

Shoe technology advanced rapidly from 2015 to 2030. Eventually, standards were set so as to limit the recoil properties of both shoes and running surfaces. There were marginal improvements in sports nutrition and fluid-replacement strategies. But anyone looking at these factors through a 100-year lens would find it difficult to assign much of the credit for the sub-1:50 breakthrough to these latter improvements.

In the early and middle parts of this century, interest in electronic gaming increased while interest in traditional tests of physical performance declined. At the same time, there was a worldwide obesity pandemic. Western nations developed crash fitness programs for young people, which included restricting the availability of electronic games and so-called junk food. It also led the Pentagon to develop a Human Performance Enhancement Command in 2047. In addition to sponsoring research and development, the HPEC offered prizes for achievements related to its overall goal. The record for the marathon had remained at 1:57:58 for decades. In 2067, the HPEC offered a $100 million-dollar prize to anyone breaking 1:50.

Mr. Lanza-Fuerte achieved this goal at a former solar-panel factory located below sea level in Death Valley, California. The sub-sea-level location served to increase air pressure slightly, to marginally raise oxygen levels. The indoor 3km track was cooled to a performance-optimized temperature of 5 C, and a fatigue-delaying lighting scheme was employed. As the record attempt progressed, the temperature in the building was lowered by several degrees to minimize thermal strain. Mr. Lanza-Fuerte’s record-breaking run took place after decades of debate about the fairness of pacemakers, which had resulted in the so-called Bannister Rule, whereby pacers were allowed uniquely for the first 80% of a race.

It took just 24 years for the marathon record to fall from 1:57:58 to 1:49:59, an eight-minute improvement. Mr. Lanza-Fuerte was clearly a superior endurance athlete but remember that his laboratory-measured metrics were like those of elite endurance athletes who’d been studied earlier. There was also nothing particularly novel about his training. On review, it is estimated that improvements to shoes and track accounted for perhaps three minutes of the eight-minute gap. Chemical interventions likely had a similar effect. The optimized environmental conditions and pacers were responsible for the remaining two minutes.

Are further improvements possible? That is a question that likely will be answered by the next generation. Probably the answer is yes, for the goal of human performance optimization will never be entirely realized.

HIIT ON PHYSICAL AND MENTAL HEALTH

Photo by Chase Kinney (Unsplash)

It is well known that exercise has many health-promoting effects, with improvements of quality of life in a wide range of conditions. Additionally, there is evidence of protective effects against mental disorders, and improvements if used as adjunctive treatment. Generally, it is recommended at least 75-150 minutes of moderate intensity physical exercise per week, although newer guidelines are suggesting even longer times.

In the last few years new approaches to training have appeared, trying to facilitate sports practice in our busy life schedules. One of such varieties is HIIT, that stands for High-Intensity Interval Training.

HIIT is defined as any form of exercise with alternating short bursts of high-intensity exercise (higher than 85% peak heart rate and 80% VO2max). Although we are not going into the many types of HIIT in this entry, they have in common its short duration. Usually a HIIT session can be three times shorter than a traditional Moderate-Intensity Continuous Training session (or MICT).

In our entry we are going to focus on a recent meta-analysis article that has studied the effects of HIIT approaches on health to elucidate if it could be an eligible approach against more traditional practices. Studies with interventions shorter than 2 weeks, or with a frequency inferior to 2 sessions per week were excluded.

From the data extracted in 33 eligible reviews, HIIT participants improved cardiorespiratory fitness, some inflammatory markers and muscle structure when comparing with active controls. The range of benefits was more extensive when comparing with non-active controls, and present across a range of ages going from 6 to 75 years old. Regarding anxiety and depression levels, they improved when compared with pre-training situations (only studied in adults).

Additionally, no acute injuries were reported, and more importantly, adherence rates surpassed 80% in most studies. This high level of adherence is of great interest, as usually sports practice is hard to follow, especially among unaccustomed individuals.

Nevertheless, some adverse effects were also reported with HIIT interventions, but uniquely in patients suffering of cardiometabolic disease, obesity, or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Therefore, the need of more studies on HIIT exercise in these and other diseases.

As for the effects of HIIT on mental health, there were no studies available in people with diagnosed mental illnesses such as major depression, schizophrenia or bipolar disorder, among others. It would be an attractive topic, considering the beneficial effects of HIIT on stress and depressive conditions.

 

Conclusions

  • The data supports the beneficial effects of HIIT exercise along the lifespan in healthy individuals and those suffering of physical, and probably mental, health disorders.
  • When comparing with active controls, HIIT practice improved cardiorespiratory fitness, inflammatory markers and muscle structure more than continuous training sessions.
  • The best health outcomes were obtained with long-interval (more than 2 minutes), high volume (more than 15 minutes) running regimes, conducted 2-3 times per week, for longer than 7 weeks.
  • Because of its high adherence rates (>80%) and short duration, even as short as 10-15 minutes per session, it could be the exercise prescription for certain individuals, although more studies are needed in patients suffering from several conditions.

 

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Bibliography:

Can high-intensity interval training improve physical and mental health outcomes? A meta-review of 33 systematic reviews across the lifespan.

Martland R, Mondelli V, Gaughran F, Stubbs B

J Sports Sci. 2019 Dec 31:1-40. doi: 10.1080/02640414.2019.1706829.

Photo by Meghan Holmes (Unsplash)

MARATHON OLYMPIC CHAMPIONS (XV) – Tokyo 1964: ABEBE BIKILA (1932-1973)

Bikila in 1968

 

 

Men of success meet with tragedy. It was the will of God that I won the Olympics, and it was the will of God that I met with my accident. I accepted those victories as I accept this tragedy. I have to accept both circumstances as facts of life and live happily.”

 

Abebe Bikila

As it happened with Rome, Tokyo had already been chosen to host other Olympics earlier, the ones in 1940, but WWII prevented them. Competing with Brussels, Vienna and Detroit Tokyo was awarded the 1964 Games, carrying out an impressive reconstruction and organisational effort.

The latest technology was used: these were the first Olympics with automatic timing and satellite television. Among other curiosities South Africa was suspended because of its apartheid policy, and they saw the first brand war between rival shoe brands Puma and Adidas.

Japan decided to organize an international marathon on the race course one year in advance, where many of the top world marathoners participated. Victory was for New Zealand´s athlete Julian Kilby (2.18.00).

Regarding Bikila, he mostly disappeared from the athletics scene after his victory in Rome. He only competed in the 1963 Boston marathon, where he managed to finish 5th. In the Ethiopian trial marathon, he won in 2.16.18, only 0.4 seconds ahead of his countryman Mamo Wolde, becoming one of the top contenders for victory.

The Olympic marathon was planned for October 21st over a flat course that began and finished in the National Stadium built for the occasion. As a typical autumn day, it was cloudy and humid. The starting field was formed by 68 athletes, and Abebe Bikila was also there shortly after having his appendix removed in mid-September. He had spent a whole week in hospital but seemed recovered enough.

Australian Ron Clarke started aggressively trying to prove himself after his previous defeats in the 10000 and 5000 metres a few days earlier. By the 10k (30.14) Clarke was still in front followed by the Irish Jim Hogan and Bikila, who had started the race cautiously. The small group started falling apart soon. Bikila crossed the 20k in 1.00.58, 5s ahead of Hogan, while Clarke has fallen to third and was pressed by Kokichi Tsuburaya (Japan), József Sütö (Hungary) and Demissie Wolde (Ethiopia).

By the 30k Bikila had opened a gap of 40s with Hogan, himself with 29s of advantage over Tsuburaya and Sütö, just meters behind. Trying to keep close to Bikila had its consequences on Hogan, who retired shortly after the 35k totally exhausted. Nobody seemed able to reach Bikila. His closest opponents were now Tsuburaya, who in the 40k was almost 3 minutes behind, and the British Brian Kilby and Basil Heatley.

Bikila won the race in an astounding 2.12.11, to revalidate his Olympic title and break the world and Olympic records in the process. And he didn´t seem tired, as he started doing some exercises while waiting for his opponents. Local runner Tsuburaya entered the stadium in second position as the spectators thought he would get the silver medal, but a final push by Heatley gave him the second position and relegated Tsuburaya to third. The victory margin from Bikila was more than 4 minutes!!!

Bikila continued running and winning marathons the following years. His sight was on competing in the Olympic Games of 1968 in Mexico, where he would be 36. In 1967 he suffered a hamstring injury in Spain, from which he never fully recovered. Despite it, he was still a favourite for victory when arriving to Mexico in 1968. Unfortunately, just one week before the Olympic race he felt a pain in his leg. It turned to be a stress fracture and was advised to avoid running until marathon day. It wasn´t enough recovery, and he had to abandon the marathon after 15 kilometres.

It would be his last marathon appearance. In 1969 he had a car accident and became quadriplegic. Fortunately, after 8 months of treatment he was able to regain use of his arms, although he was unable to walk again. He had won all but one of the 13 marathons he had completed during his running career.

But his will was strong, and in 1970 he started practicing table tennis and archery and competed in the Stoke Mandeville Games (a precursor of the Paralympic Games). During the Olympics of 1972 in Munich he was guest of honour, receiving a standing ovation during the opening ceremony. He would die one year later, at 41, from a complication of his injuries four years earlier.

Bikila’s legend has perdured until today, as he is the only marathoner capable of winning an Olympic gold medal twice. Next year, in Tokyo Olympics again, Eliud Kipchoge will try the same achievement and revalidate his victory in Rio in 2016. It will be an event to watch. Unfortunately, it won´t happen in Tokyo itself, as the marathon event has been moved to Sapporo.

 

Sources:

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

https://www.marca.com/olimpismo/2016/04/23/5718d755ca47410a528b45f0.html

https://www.soycorredor.es/atletismo/articulo/leyenda-abebe-bikila-maraton-video

http://aims-worldrunning.org/articles/655-abebe-bikila.html

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

Bikila celebrating his Olympic victory
Tokyo 1964 Olympics logo

2019 ANNUAL REPORT and 2020 OBJECTIVES

 

We go back to our list of our personal achievements and what we are expecting from next year. It is also an ideal time to give thanks to everyone who contributed during the last 365 days.

 

Thanks to:

Clementine for the marathon sponsorship and driver/editor/multitask duties in 1K+.

FA and YM for their gels and handmade personalised presents.

Calle Running for highlighting some of our content in their magazine.

Maurten, whose drinks fuelled some of the season marathons.

PowerBreathe, for the Plus+ inspiratory muscle training device.

The Pamplona marathon organisers, for their economic help with the registration. A pity that the marathon distance is disappearing next year.

…Without these helping hands many races would have been a nightmare.

 

Achievements and some numbers in 2019:

13 marathons:

  • 9 of them new.
  • in 4 different countries (Spain 7, Portugal 4, UK 1 and Chile 1).
  • Adding the autonomous communities of Galicia, Castilla la Mancha and Navarra to the marathon bucket list.

2900 kilometres.

A marathon season best of 3.38.42.

 

Disappointments:

Cancellation of Puerto Varas marathon.

Long summer streak of 100 days without a marathon.

The announced disappearance of the marathons of Pamplona and Vigo, and the continuous changes of dates in other ones.

Registration for the 2020 charitable marathon of Toledo sold out.

 

Objectives for 2020:

Run injury-free.

Get to the 100-marathons barrier.

Maybe is finally time to run the Melides-Tróia, a Japanese marathon or add a new country/continent.

Get a classificatory race to get into the 2021 Transvulcania.

 

Happy New Year!