ATC 355: Run Plateaus, The Science on Run Cadence and Injury Rate (Hint: No Consensus), Triathlon Maintenance While Strength Building, Heat Adaption Protocols and More

July 28, 2023


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Intro Banter:

  • Recent episode with Phil Maffetone on music and NOT listening to music during exercise.
  • How meditative a long workout can be when you keep the headphones off and tune into your body.
  • Lucho shares about his recent MAF test comparison of running at altitude/hilly vs. running at flat sea level (and being 2min faster per mile at sea level).
  • A reminder: we’re almost never the same athlete in harsh conditions (altitude, heat, humidity)… so don’t get down on workouts where you seem less fit but it’s the conditions that are likely to blame.
  • Basal body temperature readings (BBT): regularly low BBTs under ~97F-97.4F can be indicative of hypothyroidism.

Jenn says:

Followup on Stroller Running Show

Thank you so much for putting your anecdotal “research” running with your stroller. Yes to single arms! We really need that rotation through the torso as postpartum women who’s pelvis & pelvic floor are healing. That rotation helps to decrease downward pressure (as well as leaning forward). Love this episode so much! — from a mom & PT who specializes in pelvic floor health

Anonymous asks: 

Breaking Through a Run Plateau

I am a lifelong athlete who started triathlon last year and am training for my second Wisconsin 70.3 on Sept 9. My goal is to finish middle of the pack, having had a blast! I know that you may not be able to answer this in time for this year’s race, but I would love to incorporate your guidance next year or between seasons.

I have plateaued on my run!  My current schedule is: one long run, a shorter Z2 run (or run off the bike), and a high intensity run workout. I am using a Training Peaks plan and get help from my triathlete friend who coached me last year. The seemingly obvious solution would be to change up my program and take a volume-based  MAF-like approach, but there are two issues I am facing that may guide your advice and lead me to be hesitant about doing that.

First, is that long runs are currently a slog and adding more volume sounds awful! Historically, they were my favorite because I love jamming out to music in the beautiful area I live, while high fiving the regulars I see on the trail. However, due to injury, I have been working for 6.5 months to change my cadence from 150/160 SPM to 180spm and stop swinging my hips like a salsa dancer! Now, I run with a boring metronome, paying attention to my form, while my watch berates me for going under SPM target, especially after mile 6 when form starts falling apart without real effort. I sure hope it clicks soon! I also LOVE the intensity stuff! It’s always been my favorite and my SPM naturally increases, so I can listen to music, be in the moment, and just have fun.

The other is concern about a diet-based target. I have a 26-year, pretty significant eating disorder history that magically eased up a ton last year when I switched over to triathlon and simply couldn’t get away with skipping meals and not fueling during long workouts. My obsession with thinness has mostly shifted and I am all about being strong! While I do objectively eat quite healthily 80% of the time, for the first time in decades, I let myself have cookies or even a slice pizza without berating and punishing myself. Did you know cookies are delicious! I am trying not to consider any foods bad or harmful. So, trying an approach that leads me to hyper- focus on food or target fat-adaptation is really slippery for me; my brain likes lists of foods I can avoid. When I read the MAF food recommendations, that part of my brain lit up. I simply can’t go down that road again, I’m just too happy now.

Do you have any advice for the run plateau? Should I just be a slower runner who has fun (once I can get this cadence thing down) and reframes long runs as mental endurance practice? I love this distance, so don’t want to switch to short-course races.

Thanks so much!

-Anonymous, aprox 2,914 feet below Lucho

What the Coaches say:

  • How are we defining a run plateau?
  • In order to shake a plateau you have to change the stimulus.
  • Add some intensity without adding volume, perhaps.
  • Was it really an injury caused by cadence?
  • Injury was peroneal tendinopathy, weak glutes, etc.
  • Don’t try to bump cadence by ~20 strides per minute on long runs. Better to do the cadence work in much shorter drills–we learn best this way!
  • Also, Born to Run 2 cadence drills (our podcast with the authors here).
  • Watch alarms are so triggering and miserable for most of us. Don’t be miserable.
  • Cadence may be lower on longer runs compared to faster runs, to some degree this is normal. Just like longer bikes there are natural variations. 
  • It seems like the stride frequency stuff – research is mixed on whether 180 target helps or not, it’s definitely not a certainty (like most things in science)
  • Running injuries are multifactorial. SOme people can have horrible mechanics and never get injured. Others work on form all the time yet are constantly injured.
  • Higher cadence CAN help BUT this piece is NOT a guaranteed way to prevent injury.
  • So many other factors to consider like foot strike pattern, how hard are you pounding when running, etc.
  • The idea of 180 bpm came from an observation by Jack Daniels of elite runners running very fast.
  • Implement functional strength training beyond running: TRX elevated reverse lunge, jump roping, hopping, knee ups, Born to Run 2 drills, etc.

Multifactorial Determinants of Running Injury Locations in 550 Injured Recreational Runners 

  • 550 injured runners (49.6% female) with a medically diagnosed RRI were included. 
  • A logistic regression model was used to determine the association between the biomechanical parameters and RRI locations. Because injuries can be associated with age, sex, and body mass index, these variables were also entered into the logistic regression. Results: Strike pattern and peak vGRF = vertical ground reaction force were the only biomechanical variable distinguishing an injury from the group of injuries. 
  • Look at other variables: foot strike pattern
  • In terms of cadence, a low step rate has been shown to increase the risk of anterior lower leg pain in competitive cross-country runners (17). 
  • No association between cadence or VILR Vertical instantaneous load rates  and injury location or sublocation was found. VILR = the peak change in vGRFs over the linear portion of impact phase of stance (generally first 15% of stance). 
  • Bottom line: The researchers concluded that cadence did not correlate with injury occurrence. 

Relationships between Habitual Cadence, Footstrike, and Vertical Load Rates in Runners

  • No association between one’s natural cadence and injury risk (assessed via vertical load rates) in both injured and uninjured runners.
  • “We found no relationships between habitual running cadence and vertical load rates. The highest load rates were in injured RFS runners, and the lowest load rates were in FFS runners, regardless of injury status. Future studies of gait retraining to increase CAD and reduce load rates should follow runners long term to examine this relationship once CAD has become habituated.”

The ED Factor & Diet

  • Fixation on the cadence issue in running, correlation with personality type.
  • The idea that triathlon can heal from an eating disorder—true to some degree, but not completely.
  • Dr. Phil Maffetone episode that Tawnee mentions where they “debate” diet and Tawnee makes a case for food freedom when recovering from an ED or disordered eating.
  • Do the MAF training you can ignore the diet component if it’s not relevant or healthy for your mental state (eg when recovering from an ED).
  • Look holistically at Fit But Unhealthy.
  • Objectively check in with HRV to measure stress, but don’t live by the wearables.
  • In an injury context, consider: nutritional status, running form, training load, training progression, sleep quality, gut issues, other health conditions/illnesses, etc.
  • But also food freedom… there is a growth where it turns into loving nourishment.

Jenny W. asks:

Training When “In Between” Races, and Adapting to Heat

I am 59 years old and have done mostly endurance training for past 10 years along with some triathlon races. I did some weight training to prevent or to rehab an injury. I used to put muscles on easily so I set consistent lifting aside while I spent a lot of time on endurance training. I started working out in my mid 40s, learning to swim and bike. I have not done any sports prior to then.

I am now losing muscles and I do not gain muscles as fast as I used to. I plan to spend more time on lifting heavy and do the endurances activities for the enjoyment.

I was in Mont Tremblant for IM 70.3 that was canceled due to smoke from the wildfire. Both the run and bike courses were hillier than I expected. I would like to complete the race sometime in the future.

My question is what I can do with swim, run and bike so I can get back into race training feeling strong when I am ready. Is it better to do some workouts to keep some strength in endurance or start fresh when I am ready? I plan to establish routine and lift five days a week while I take break from endurance training.

My next question is on heat. I do not do well in the heat. We were expecting sun and 85F for Mont Tremblant. The run course is hilly without any shade. I would’ve been running during the hottest time of the day and thought that walking up the hill might be my only option during the race. There weren’t that many hot days leading up to this race since this race is at the end of June. I heard of a few people who love hot racing condition. Is there a way to train to get to love the heat? How do I determine how much of heat training I should do for hot racing condition? Should I have over dressed for bike and run through out the training for the race? There were a string of hot days leading up to the race day. Should I have crammed in as many days of training in the heat?

Thank you so much for ATC.

What the Coaches say:

On heat acclimatization

  • Very time-based, need exposure of 20-30min minimum that elevated HR e.g. sauna, but not a comfortable sauna session.
  • Get in hot environment, ie train, at certain HR and you’ll see drop in pace/watts and that’s to be expected and shows the work is happening.
  • Key point: When doing heat training, look for a drop in performance!
  • 10-15min in hot water works as well, especially when paired with a workout.
  • Point is, we’re getting body core temp over 100F, around 102F or so.
  • Overdressing is one way but this can be tricky.
  • We generate heat through movement, the more intense the more heat, even more so in hot weather–hydrating appropriately is critical to “survive” this.
  • Heat adaptation helps blood volume, that’s one way we physiologically adapt and get stronger in heat.
  • Know when to back off with the heat exposure–i.e. stress your body just enough, don’t go overboard with it.
  • Takes at least 2 weeks of DAILY work to adapt to heat, sometimes 4+ weeks. Plan accordingly.
  • Book mention: The Untethered Soul.

Training maintenance

  • Podcast mention, OMM 6: Minimum effective dosage as an idea for endurance training maintenance between race periods while focusing on strength.
  • Couple short workouts a week of each sport.
  • Consider WHY you want to take a break, i.e. burnout or just placing focus elsewhere.
  • Diet tie in.
  • Tangent: looking at the immune system, 70% is in our gut, when gut is compromised we are compromised in so many ways.
  • Don’t go from 0 to 5 sessions a week in strength training! Gradual build, space out recovery, adaptations when recovering.

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