MARATHON OLYMPIC CHAMPIONS (XXVIII) – Sydney 2000: NAOKO TAKAHASHI (1972-)

“I would get up at 6:30 and run 50 km before breakfast. Then another 20 km. It was rough but I didn’t dislike it. I had to suck it up. I needed to cross that pain barrier” 

Naoko Takahashi 

Sydney won the bid to host the 2000´s Olympics against Beijing, Berlin, Istanbul, and Manchester. It was deserved for Australia due to its continuous support of the Olympic movement, as one of the few nations that had never missed an Olympic Games, along with Greece, Great Britain, Switzerland and France.

Thus, Games were scheduled between September 15 and October 1, springtime in the southern hemisphere to ensure warm weather. 199 nations were present, with the absence of Afghanistan, banned due to the Taliban regime, and the presence of 4 athletes of East Timor competing under the Olympic Flag as their country was still unrecognised.

Although the town of Sydney is hilly, marathon´s organising committee designed a point-to-point course, going from North Sidney Oval to the Olympic Stadium, with only a few hills and turns, and the last 500 metres within the stadium.

Women´s race was scheduled for September 24 at 9.00. Among the 53 participants were the previous two Olympic champions, whose victories we have already told, Russian Valentina Yegorova and Ethiopian Fatuma Roba. But more top-level runners were there, ensuring a very competitive race: for Kenya world record holder Tegla Loroupe and the double winner of both, the Chicago and London marathons, Joyce Chepchumba; Manuela Machado (Portugal), Lidia Simon (Romania) or Naoko Takahashi (Japan) to name only a few.

Naoko Takahashi was no strange to the marathon distance when she arrived at Sydney. She had debuted in 1997 in Osaka with 2.31.32, transitioning from a running career focused on the 5000 metres. On the following year she won Nagoya´s marathon, setting a new Japanese record (2.25.48), and subsequently became Asian champion in Bangkok with a margin of 13 minutes, while improving the national record to 2.21.47. She would miss the World Championships of 1999 because of a knee injury.

After the race started Marleen Renders from Belgium took the lead. Her advantage was 18s at the 5k, but only 3s when crossing the 10k in 17.16, with a big group behind. Renders´ attempt was over soon afterwards. Crossing the 20k (1.08.10) there was a group of 5 runners at the front, with Takahashi, her countrywoman Ari Ichihashi, Simon, Esther Wanjiru (Kenya) and Kim Chang-ok (North Korea).

From that point onwards the selection process began. First were Wanjiru and Chang-ok losing contact, followed by Ichihashi. At the 30k (1.41.39) it was clear that the victory would be decided between the two front runners, Takahashi and Simon. With 8k remaining Takahashi managed to leave Simon behind, although she was unable to open a big gap with her.

At the 40k (2.15.19) Takahashi was 28s ahead of Simon, who accelerated her pace and chased Takahashi more intensely. But it wasn´t enough and victory was finally for Takahashi, who got the first gold medal ever in athletics for Japan.

Takahashi´s time of 2.23.14 improved the Olympic record established by Joan Benoit in Los Angeles 1984. Simon finished second in 2.23.22, the shortest difference in the women´s Olympic marathon, thanks to her strong finish. Third was Chepchumba in 2.24.45. As for the previous Olympic champions, Roba only finished 9th, while Yegorova abandoned after the 15k mark.

The victory of Takahashi made her a celebrity in Japan, although she continued running marathons with great success. In 2001 she became the first woman in breaking the 2.20.00 barrier, thanks to her victory in Berlin (2.19.46), although her record was short-lived because Catherine Ndereba broke it in Chicago one week later. She won again in Berlin in 2002, and also Tokyo 2003, but failed to qualify in the Japanese team for the Olympics of Athens 2004 and Beijing 2008. After this latest disappointment she retired.

Regarding the other runners in the podium, Lidia Simon became World Champion in Edmonton 2001 (2.26.01), appearing again in the next 3 Olympic Games, bringing her total number of Olympic marathons to 5! A long Olympic career defending the Romanian flag going from 1996 to 2012. As for Chepchumba, she managed to add the marathon of New York 2002 to her other important victories.

And that was everything for the women´s marathon. In our next post in the series we will revisit the men´s race, where Gezahegne Abera brought a new Olympic gold medal to Ethiopia.

Thanks for reading, and don´t forget to follow us or subscribe if you don´t want to miss our posts.

 

Sources:

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

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2000_Summer_Olympics

https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Olympische_Sommerspiele_2000/Leichtathletik_%E2%80%93_Marathon_(Frauen)

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

Sydney 2000 Olympic Stadium

ACUPUNCTURE AS A TOOL FOR ALLEVIATING EXERCISE-INDUCED MUSCLE SORENESS: IS IT USEFUL?

Photo by Erdenebayar (Pixabay)

High-intensity exercise induces muscle soreness, especially with unaccustomed muscle work. Muscle soreness commonly occurs within 24 hours, reaching a peak between 24 and 72h after the exercise bout. It is associated with muscle swelling, inflammation, pain and weakness, factors that could interfere with daily activities, training and increase the risk of injuries.

Acupuncture is one of the best known traditional Chinese medicines and has been widely used to help recovery from muscle related injuries and muscle soreness.

A recent meta-analysis has investigated the literature in order to find if it is useful to prevent or alleviate the acute effects of exercise.

 

The results

From 32 potential articles only 6 complied with the inclusion criteria. They used a total of 210 healthy participants, aged from 10 to 40 years old (72% male, 28% female). The main results were:

  • Acupuncture alleviated muscle soreness rating, specially 24 and 72h after exercise.
  • The serum levels of creatine-kinase are used as an indicator of inflammation and muscle damage, as their levels increase after intense exercise. Acupuncture decreased levels of creatine-kinase 24, 48 and 72h after exercise.
  • No difference was found in the pressure pain threshold, defined as the minimum force applied which induces pain, between control or acupuncture-treated individuals.
  • Maximum isometric voluntary force was improved with acupuncture after 72h.

The results were limited due to the small number of studies, different acupuncture methods (needles and laser) and different application points.

 

Conclusions

  • Acupuncture seems to alleviate the delayed onset of muscle soreness and improve muscle recovery and performance after intense exercise.
  • The effects of acupuncture started from 24h reaching a peak 72h after exercise.
  • No adverse effects have been recorded to date.

 

Did you have the chance to include acupuncture in your recovery? Does it work?

 

Bibliography

Does Acupuncture Benefit Delayed-Onset Muscle Soreness After Strenuous Exercise? A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Huang C, Wang Z, Xu X, Hu S, Zhu R and Chen X (2020) Front. Physiol. 11:666. doi: 10.3389/fphys.2020.00666

Photo by Ryan Hoyme (Pixabay)

THE FIRST WOMEN OF SPANISH ATHLETICS

Early 600 metres women´s race

The dawn of Spanish women’s athletics can be traced back to 1929, when a few women in Madrid and Catalonia decided to make their way into a world until then reserved for men. In Madrid was created the Sociedad Atlética Madrileña, while in Barcelona appeared the Club Femení i d´Esports.

However, some years before, in 1887, there was already news of “walkers”. Among them, a 11 years old girl, known only as the daughter of the walker “Galayo”, had been able to win a challenge from Segovia to Madrid, separated by more than 80 kilometers, to two riders on horseback.

The first women’s athletic meeting took place in Madrid in 1929, organized by the Sociedad Atlética Madrileña. There were only 6 events, but the first national records would emerge here: 60 meters, height jump, weight, discus, long jump and javelin.

Two years later, on October 24 and 25 of 1931, the first Spanish Women’s Athletics Championship would be held in Madrid. It was a direct confrontation between the teams of Castilla and Catalonia, with a victory for the Catalans by 47 points to 40. The victory went back to the Catalan team in the 1932 edition, which was held in Montjuic, although only 4 athletes from Madrid attended. The championships of 1933 and 1935 only had the participation of Catalonia, while in 1934 they were suspended.

These early women competed in men’s clothing, and often in multiple athletic disciplines, as well as in other sports. The hammer throw category deserves special attention from this period, where Spain held the world best performance from 1931 to 1975 thanks to Aurora Villa and the Moles sisters, Lucinda and Margot. The 22.85 meters of the latter would be unbeatable for 43 years.

Then came the Civil War and Franco´s dictatorship, which saw women’s sport as something inappropriate. The role of women was to be limited to housework and having children.

Only after the creation bye Francisco Giner de los Ríos of the Instituto de Libre Enseñanza, which promoted schooling without distinction of sexes, were women able to return to physical activity.

It was necessary to wait until 1963 to have Spanish Women’s Athletics Championships organised again. A ban of more than 25 years had swept away the sports careers and dreams of many of these pioneers of athletics.

We leave only a brief note of some of them:

*Aurora Villa held the national records for height, length, javelin and hammer throw, as well as the 50-meter free-style swimming. In the first women’s national championships, she won 2 of the 9 events in which she participated, while in the second ones she competed in the 10 available, winning 3 of them.

**Margot Moles was the first female champion in athletics, and as we mentioned before, maintained the world best performance in hammer throw between 1932 and 1975. She also stood out in discus, where her Spanish record was valid between 1934 and 1964. Multifaceted also stood out skiing, where she was a national champion, which led her to the Garmisch-Partenkirche Winter Olympics of 1936 to compete in downhill and slalom.

***Nor could we forget Lucinda Moles, Rosa Castelltort and Joaquima Andreu, who with the previous ones were the first ones to enter a world reserved until then uniquely for men.

Sources:

Wikipedia and “The pioneers of Spanish athletics” by Óscar Martínez (Atletismo Español, February/March 2014).

Castilla Team, 2nd Spanish Championship 1932. Left to right: Aurora Eguiluz, Margot Moles, Aurora Villa y Lucinda Moles

MENSTRUAL CYCLE AND SPORTS PERFORMANCE

The number of women practicing any type of exercise has increased a lot during the last decades, not only as a way of doing physical activity, but also at professional level. Women competing in Seoul 1988 were a 26%, a percentage that increased up to 45% in Rio 2016.

Despite this rise in sports women numbers, research focused on them is still limited. Because of their anatomical, physiological and hormonal differences it should not be assumed that research on men could be applied to them, and it happens too often.

The menstrual cycle (MC)

The MC is a biological rhythm affecting women characterised by a cyclic fluctuation in hormones, specially oestrogen and progesterone.

It is divided in three phases:

  1. Early follicular, with LOW oestrogen and LOW progesterone levels.
  2. Ovulatory, with HIGH oestrogen and LOW progesterone levels.
  3. Mid-luteal, with HIGH oestrogen and HIGH progesterone levels.

Although the main function of these hormones is related to reproduction, research has found that they also have multiple effects in many physiological systems, including the cardiovascular and respiratory. Consequently, they should influence exercise performance too.

A recent meta-analysis investigated the changes in exercise performance during the MC phases. It included 78 studies (total of 1193 participants, 18-40 years old, healthy, not taking hormonal contraceptives), although only 8% were valued as “high quality” and 24% as “moderate quality”.

We point out its main findings.

Exercise performance across the MC

  • During the early follicular phase exercise performance might be slightly reduced when comparing with other phases, although with a big variance between studies.
  • The current knowledge does not support a general guidance on modulating exercise across the MC. A personalised approach should be followed, based on the individual response of each women, of special interest in elite sportswomen.
  • Future studies with better methodologies regarding factors such as training history or participants characteristics will help for a better understanding of performance across the MC.

 

Bibliography

The Effects of Menstrual Cycle Phase on Exercise Performance in Eumenorrheic Women: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. McNulty, K.L., Elliott-Sale, K.J., Dolan, E. et al. Sports Med 50, 1813–1827 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s40279-020-01319-3

ACHILLES TENDON AND MARATHON RUNNING

Photo by Anne Nygard (Unsplash)

Regular moderate aerobic exercise, as running, offers many benefits, but it may also cause musculoskeletal injuries, often in the lower limbs. Among them, injuries on the Achilles tendon (Achilles tendinopathy) are one of the most common and challenging issues related to running.

Talking about running, the marathon is one of the most popular distances. It implies a series of repetitive cyclic movements whose cumulative load has effects on the Achilles tendon that are not clear yet.

A recent article studied ten male non-elite runners, whose tendon structure was checked with ultrasounds before running the marathon, and 2 and 7 days after the race. The main finding was:

  • The structure of the Achilles tendon did not change 2 days after the marathon. However, 7 days postmarathon, changes were identified at the insertion and midportion of the tendon. At this time postmarathon additional running activities had been performed, influencing the recovery of the tendon structure.

Although the study was limited because of the small number of participants and their variability, its main conclusion points out to the importance of an appropriate recovery period to prevent overuse injuries such as tendinopathy.

Don’t forget that rest is an important part of training, even more after running a marathon. Sometimes less is more.

Bibliography

Running a Marathon-Its Influence on Achilles Tendon Structure. Rabello LM, Albers IS, van Ark M, Diercks RL, van den Akker-Scheek I, Zwerver J. J Athl Train. 2020 Feb;55(2):176-180. doi: 10.4085/1062-6050-49-19.

Photo by Clem Onojeghuo (Unsplash)

ZARATAN MARATHON (20/12/2020 – 93)

Runners on marathon day 1

In these strange days with “normal” marathon races forbidden we have come to appreciate the different ones, and we are not talking about the virtual races. Let´s call them pirates, artisans, or maybe my favourite word “clandestine” marathons. They have been organised for a while, complying with all the health and safety requirements, for a very (very) limited number of runners.

A new “secretive” world when the mouth to mouth is essential, and also being ready to run a marathon at a very short notice in a location, which maybe, if lucky, you can get (now you need almost a personal assistant to help you with this).

Following into the steps of some friend/organisers who have maintained our “addiction” ongoing (thanks to Pepe, Javi, David and some others) it was the time to give something back and have the chance of organising (and run) a new marathon.

The place chosen was Zaratán, a small village near Valladolid, and a 4.2k course following dirt paths. As in the Pisuerga marathon we offered 2 batches, one on Saturday and one on Sunday. More chance for the runners and lower numbers on each day (or the chance of running half the distance).

Way out (in another sunny day)
Way in (in another sunny day)

Plan for Saturday was to be in the drinking station, while on Sunday I would run, with Quique carrying organisational duties. But there was always additional help available.

  • Day 1: 6 runners for the marathon (Pepe, Quique, Javi, David, Lola and Josico) and 1 for the half-marathon (César).
  • Day 2: 7 runners for the marathon (Jaime “Nina”, Gorriti, Ángel de la Mata, Lolo, Jesús and Josico doing a double).

Rain during the week made a section of soil sticky in the course. Additionally, although course seemed flat at first sight during the preparatory runs, it was undulating, with 60 metres of ascent on each lap. With cold weather and rainy conditions on Saturday, it offered a bit of challenge for all runners. But what is life without trying to push your limits?

On Sunday weather was more benign, with better temperatures and no rain expected. Running a marathon among friends was a good way to end a complicate year. The finishing time maybe not so important after all (4.06.08).

The 100 marathons were a no-no for 2020, but they may not be far in 2021. Where? Difficult to know yet.

After a successful try in organizing a marathon, although a bit stressful, hopefully more will come on the cards soon.

Happy entrance on the New Year and happy running to you all!

Medal and Bib-number

GPS PRECISION IN MARATHON RACES

Once technology has entered sports practice, GPS watches have become one of the most common devices, especially in running.

GPS watches provide useful information. Pace, distance and height are usual parameters, but they are not always as precise as they should be. Among the factors affecting GPS accuracy we could find width of streets, buildings altitude, high voltage cables, trees or cloudy skies, that may affect reception from satellites.

A recent article evaluated the precision of different GPS models in some of the most relevant marathons.

 

The study

The data was obtained from data published voluntarily by popular athletes in two editions of the marathons of Berlin, Boston, Chicago, London, New York and Valencia. 73898 runners using 85 different GPS models were identified, and their devices classified in road, trail or cell phone types.

Regarding the measured distance Chicago gave the longest (44.2 and 44.6k), followed by New York (42.9k) and London (42.9 and 43.0k). Berlin, Boston and Valencia gave approximately similar results.

 

The results

  • GPS devices usually introduce an excess in measures. It was found that finishing time affected measurements: longer finishing times were usually related with bigger errors. Thus, slower runners usually get longer distances than faster runners in all races.
  • There were differences regarding the GPS model. In general, the road models were more accurate than the trail models and phone apps.
  • Newer devices are not better, and the brand is not relevant. Mobile phones are the devices with the highest deviation.
  • For road races the best choice (most accurate) was found to be the Garmin FR 235.
  • For trail races all models showed significant errors, with Garmin Fenix 5 showing the best results.

 

Do you use any of these models? Are them accurate?

We would to read your opinions.

 

Bibliography

Precision of Wearable GPS in Marathon Races. J. Lluch, M. Rebollo, Á. Calduch-Losa and R. Mollá. IEEE Consumer Electronics Magazine, vol. 10, no. 1, pp. 32-38, 1 Jan. 2021, doi: 10.1109/MCE.2020.2986820.

Photo by Cocoparisienne (Pixabay)

Book: SCIENCE OF RUNNING (Chris Napier, 2020, 224 pages)

Cover of "Science of Funning"

Don´t let the title of this book take you off. There is science, true, but it goes much further. Have a look to the contents list and you will see that it covers most of the aspects related to running.

After a short introduction explaining the basic terminology the book has an anatomy section that covers not only the body muscles and bones, but also the sources of energy, temperature control of oxygen delivery, among others very interesting topics.

For some runners anatomy may be boring and not interesting. Ok, then the next sections should be more appealing. One offers a long selection of stretching exercises focused on preventing injuries, and the next an extensive list of strength exercises that would complement any training routines. These two sections are the longest in the book, using 100 pages between them.

Did I mention that the book is full of images and diagrams? Yes, it is, and that makes a huge difference because every exercise and movement shown would be easy to replicate. Even if you are an experienced runner you will find some exercise to add onto your training routine.

Knowing the basics, the book continues with a section about training where nothing is left out: nutrition, hydration, training loads, pace, fitness… All this and more fits here.

The last section of the book offers different training programs, ranging from a 5k to a marathon. And every training program comes in beginner and advanced levels, which would cover the whole spectrum of runners.

There may be other texts covering some of these topics but getting all in one book with helpful images and at a very affordable price (22€/17$ aprox) should be enough reasons to buy it.

The book to go for every runner, whatever its level and a good option for a Christmas gift.

Advice 1: preferably go for the paper version. We don’t think that this book will get justice as eBook.

Advice 2: if you finally decide to buy THIS book, don´t confuse it with another one with very similar title.

Have a nice read.

Contents of "Science of Running"

CARRIAGE SYSTEMS FOR RUNNING: COMPARISON BETWEEN HANDHELD BOTTLES, WAIST BELTS AND BACKPACKS

Photo by Brian Erickson (Unsplash)

Appropriate fluid and nutritional intakes are essential to maintain performance in sport competitions. Among them, runners, especially in long-distance events, often carry their own supplies of food, drinks and personal items with them, using different systems that may weight even several kilograms.

Among the most popular carriage systems for running are handheld bottles, waist belts and backpacks. A recent article has studied the economy and physiological demands of these carriage systems to determine which one is the optimal.

 

The study

 Twelve recreational healthy male runners of similar physical characteristics and training patterns were recruited (age 22.8 ± 2.2 years; body mass index 24.5 ± 1.8; training days per week 3.2 ± 1.3). They were used to run on a motorized treadmill, but not with any of the carriage systems.

Wearing the same clothes and footwear (shoe mass could influence the metabolic cost of running) they run for 1 hour in different days, separated at least 24 hours, with each carriage system loaded with 1.0 kilograms.

Running economy (expressed as oxygen consumption), cardiovascular effort, lactate levels and perceived exertion were then assessed at submaximal running speeds.

 

The Running Carrying Systems (see image)

  • HANDHELD BOTTLE: The handheld bottle used had a net weight of 114 g and contained a pouch for storage and a hand strap to hold the bottle itself, with a capacity of 500 mL. The remaining weight were additional items (315 g). Runners could hold the bottle in any hand and change it for personal comfort, although they were not allowed to drink to keep the testing weight at 1.0 kg.
  • WAIST BELT: The waist belt used, with two water bottles, weighted 121 g. It had a strap around the waist to adjust it for comfort. The water bottles were filled with liquid and the pockets contained additional weight to reach 1.0 kg.
  • BACKPACK: The backpack used had a 3-L water bladder and a net weight of 180 g. It contained several straps for fitting comfortably around the trunk and reduce swaying. The total weight of the backpack was increased to 1.0 kg.

 

The conclusions

  • Running economy deteriorated over time across all systems.
  • Carrying a handheld bottle, waist belt, or backpack during a 60-min run at submaximal running speed, showed no significant differences in any of the physiological parameters evaluated.
  • In the absence of significant differences in running economy using these carriage systems is recommended to keep loads to a minimum and choose one based on personal preferences.

 

Bibliography

The Optimal Weight Carriage System for Runners: Comparison Between Handheld Water Bottles, Waist Belts, and Backpacks. Scheer V, Vieluf S, Bitter N, Christ L and Heitkamp H-C (2020) Front. Physiol. 11:571221. doi: 10.3389/fphys.2020.571221

Image from V. Scheer et al. 2020

HARVEST MARATHON(S) (November 2020 – 91 & 92)

Sunset over the Duero river
Conchuela Bridge

With all the restrictions due to the perimetral confinements the fact of being able to run a marathon goes beyond expectations. It could seem enough to run “virtual” events, but not everyone finds the same motivation, specially if one is not very friendly with the running apps.

Once again Javi del Val got the lead in organising a new “artisan” Covid-19 style marathon. This time around the chosen place was Aranda de Duero, in Burgos, in a 5k course following a very quiet road. We had to run a 12k longer lap, and then 3 additional ones of 10k, starting and finishing in the old Conchuela Bridge.

For the first edition we were only 5 runners at the start. The day appeared cloudy, with some light rain in the forecast. During the first lap we run together. Not very sure that I would run this marathon, the previous week I had a long run of 30k. That was not a clever move. My legs felt the previous effort, but thanks to the nice course, and the easier second half of each lap, mainly downhill, laps went by quickly. Although I tried to finish under 4h, the last half lap wasn’t enough to recover the lost time earlier. Marathon 91 finished in 4.01.43.

The first 5 runners (edition 1)

If things had gone according to plan, on the following weekend I would have completed the Valdebebas Marathon. It was an “extra” edition for those runners that couldn´t do it the first time around on March 14th, the same day that Spain came to a total stop. We were unaware that we would be with the same situation months later, and that I couldn´t go again.

The Harvest Marathon in Aranda was going for a second edition, 3 weeks later, as Valdebebas, for the runners that couldn´t run due to travel restrictions on the previous edition. There was some debate whether was appropriate to “count” repeated marathons in the official tallies. Finally, it seemed that while these races had the requisites to enter the category of an “official” marathon (minimum of 3 participants, measured course and medal) they should be counted. There is a pandemic going around and the world is not (and may never be) the same.

So, again I was in Aranda for the second round. This time we were four runners at the start: Javi and me repeating, with Quique and David debuting. With a colder weather, but on a known course and more rested, things should go easily. Quique set a constant pace (5.26-5.27 min/km) that would get us to the half marathon in 1.54.40. The third lap was as usual the hardest, but still on pace to get under 4 hours. I have realised that a better finish is usually linked to an easier first half in the race. Thus, I managed to do my last lap the fastest and finish in 3.48.28 my marathon 92 while removing the thorn in my flesh from the previous attempt.

The final 4 runners (edition 2)

Feeling happy and thankful to Javi and his team of volunteers, it is time to rest and think about maybe fitting one last marathon to say goodbye to this ill-fated for many 2020.