Sunday, June 28, 2015

Basic Training Principles is FREE to download on Kindle for the next 2 days!

Quick update! Through Amazon's KDP Select program, I'm able to run limited-time free promotional campaigns for my e-books.  At 12:01am PST on Monday, June 29th, my first booklet, Basic Training Principles for Middle and Long-Distance Running will be FREE to download and share forever for the next 48 hours! Get your copy while you can!

If you don't already know about Basic Training Principles, here's the blurb!

"Rome, 1960. World record holder Roger Moens headlined an impressive field in the men’s 800m final at the Olympic Games. At the gun, Moens led with a fast pace, and by 600m, the lead pack had thinned to five runners. It looked to be a sure victory for the Belgian. But then, something curious happened..."

So begins Basic Training Principles for Middle and Long-Distance Running, a short booklet which gives you an introduction into the structure of a proper training program through the eyes of Arthur Lydiard's legendary training methods, first described in 1962. This booklet is short, gripping, informative, and written at a level which even complete novices can understand. It is designed to be an introductory lesson in fundamental training methods for newly-minted competitive runners.

This booklet was written to get young, promising high school runners eager to embark on a training journey and to set them on the right track for long term development, but any runner, young or old, newbie or veteran, can gain something from Basic Training Principles.

 Thanks as always for your support and I hope you enjoy this free deal! If you enjoy it, it would be fantastic if you could leave a review! Click here to go directly to the Amazon e-book store for Basic Training Principles.  Sometimes it can take the free deal a few hours to kick in, so if it's still priced at $0.99 at midnight PST, wait 'til morning and it should be free! The deal lasts until 11:59pm on Tuesday night.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Modern Training and Physiology & Basic Training Principles are now available on Kindle!

Exciting news! My first full-length book, Modern Training and Physiology for Middle and Long-Distance Runners, is now available on Kindle! It took a bit longer than expected to convert the book to a Kindle-friendly format, but it's finally done.  The paperback version of Modern Training is still available on Amazon if you want a hard copy.

There are two great things about the Kindle edition.  First, it's only $3.99! And second, if you've already bought the hard copy, you can buy the Kindle edition for 50% off with the Amazon MatchBook service! Handy if you've already read my book but want to be able to reference it on the go.

Additionally, you can also find Basic Training Principles for Middle and Long-Distance Running on the Kindle store.  Basic Training is an introductory booklet to running training aimed at middle and high-school aged runners (though anyone can learn something from it!).  Basic Training is listed at only $0.99, but better, it will be completely free from June 29th to June 30th! Be sure to download your free copy on this upcoming Monday or Tuesday.

If you enjoy either of these books, please write a review on Amazon and tell your friends! Modern Training and Basic Training are the culmination of many years of work, and your support makes it all worth it. Thanks to you, Modern Training has sold almost 1,200 copies! Now, that's not going to impress any publishing industry big-wigs, but that's still pretty cool.  Over one thousand runners have bought this book! Now it's accessible to even more people through the Kindle store.

Friday, June 5, 2015

Light therapy for sports injuries: a case study in dubious modalities

In my upcoming book on preventing and managing running injuries (which, I'm sorry to say, is still very much a work in progress), one chapter discusses the roles various medical professionals can fulfill in the prevention, evaluation, and treatment of running injuries.  In many cases, a particular discipline is best-suited for one particular role: a podiatrist is ideally qualified to make custom orthotics, an orthopedist is best-suited to order and evaluate an MRI, and a physical therapist is the right person to create a rehab exercise routine. 

This does not mean that medical specialists see their own role with this narrow view.  There are plenty of physical therapists who prescribe orthotics, chiropractors who order and evaluate MRIs, and so on.  Perhaps because of pride or just a desire to manage all aspects of a patient's treatment, specialists sometimes have a tendency to stray outside of the boundaries of what they do best. 

In my view at least, the primary use of a physical therapist for an injured runner is as a resource for discovering muscular tightness or weakness that contributes to injury, evaluating running gait to identify any biomechanical flaws, and developing a rehab program to return to healthy running.  There are many fantastic physical therapists who focus almost entirely on these aspects of injury treatment. 

But many other physical therapists are wedded to their "modalities"—in-office treatments that purportedly improve healing or reduce pain.  The ones you are probably most familiar with are therapeutic ultrasound and electrostimulation (also known as TENS), but there is a veritable cornucopia of modalities that are sold to physical therapy clinics which claim to reduce pain, speed healing, or otherwise assist with the rehab process.  Some modalities even have research supporting their use, though this almost inevitably consists small, uncontrolled trials. 

Today I want to break up the allure of technological modalities by looking at one specific example called "light therapy."  Though it might sound like a quasi-mystical alternative treatment, light therapy is a real modality used in many physical therapy clinics.  The claim is that an intense beam of light, usually generated by light-emitting diodes (LEDs) or sometimes lasers, can penetrate the skin and stimulate mitochondria in the muscle cells if the light is of the correct wavelength.  The stimulation of the mitochondria allegedly speeds healing from fatigue and injury.  Again, this sounds borderline crackpot-physiology, but that idea is from a real study published in a scientific journal.  

To show that the light therapy machines used in a typical PT clinic are most likely useless and overpriced, I don't have prove that specific wavelengths of light have no effect on muscular mitochondria.  I just need to prove it is no better than any other basic source of light. Like, say, the Sun.

The sun is a really fantastic source of light.  As an exceptionally large black-body radiator, it puts out a wide spectrum of very intense light.  Part of this spectrum is in the "therapeutic photon" range of 600 to 1000 nm cited in marketing literature for light therapy devices.

Now, how does the photon output of the sun compare to a typical light therapy machine? We'll take a look a typical machine from Dynatronics, a company which produces equipment for physical therapy offices.  I don't mean to pick on one particular brand—light therapy equipment by Dynatronics is largely identical to products from other companies when it comes to technical specifications—we just need one specific machine to draw technical details from.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Twin Cities 1 Mile in retrospect: How slow was it? A statistical analysis

2015 TC 1 Mile Champions Garrett Heath and Heather Kampf

The Medtronic Twin Cities 1 Mile is one of the premier road miles in the United States.  It has hosted Olympic medalists and has borne witness to several sub-four-minute miles.  In addition to a top-flight pro race, the TC 1 Mile features several "open" waves, which usually total over two thousand finishers.  The traditional course was flat and very fast.  This year, the installation of a new light-rail transit line forced the course through downtown Minneapolis to be changed, likely permanently. 

This course change was announced a few months ago, and after researching the elevation profile of the new course, which gains about 30 feet of elevation in the first half mile before flattening out, I published an article in which I predicted the new course would be five to eight seconds slower. 

The race itself, which happened last Thursday, was held on a cool, rainy evening with slight winds.  Weather data pegs the exact conditions at 54 degrees F, light rain, and 9 mph winds at race time—certainly not conducive to the very fastest times, but not terrible.  The winner, Garrett Heath (a Minnesota native), took the win in 4:08, which was a sharp contrast to Nick Willis' blistering 3:56 course record the last time the race was held.  Heath himself was runner-up in that race with a 3:57. 

By looking just at the pro results, the new course looks substantially slower than the old one, but you could chalk this up to cautious tactics early in the race, or just a fluke from a small sample size.  To get a real answer on how much slower the new course was, and how accurate my prediction was, we'll have to do some statistical analysis.

The rest of this article will go in detail on the methods I used to compute how slow the course actually was, but if you're just looking for a quick conversion, here it is: For competitive runners, the 2015 TC 1 Mile was 13 ± 3 seconds slower than the 2013 course. A more accurate conversion is to multiply your 2015 race time by 0.9581 to get the equivalent 2013 time and multiply your time by 0.009 for the uncertainty. 

Saturday, April 25, 2015

The bone stress injury model: a new way to deal with stress fractures and stress reactions in runners

An MRI reveals a tibial stress fracture
Traditionally, overuse injuries to the bone in distance runners are divided into two distinct categories: stress reactions and stress fractures.  Runners who develop pain along one of their bones hope desperately that they have the former and not the latter, since the usual prescription for stress fracture recovery is six to eight weeks of no running whatsoever.  The usual restrictions for stress reactions depend on the doctor, but typically involve two to four weeks away from running.  Some doctors, coaches, and runners eschew the term "stress reaction" entirely because, in their view, you either have a stress fracture, or you don't—that's all there is to it.

Normally, the story unfolds something like this: a high school runner develops a sharp, aching, localized pain somewhere along a bone in his lower body.  It doesn't improve much with icing and lowered training volume, so his coach or trainer refers him to a doctor.  The doctor orders an X-ray, examines it, but sees no evidence of calcification, so he orders the runner to ease back into training, but return if pain continues.  The high schooler gives running a shot, but continues to have pain.  The doctor then orders a bone scan or an MRI, which shows bone marrow edema or increased metabolic activity at the location of pain.  This is deemed to be a stress fracture, and the runner is put in a boot, forbidden from running for six to eight weeks, and his season is effectively over.  Sound familiar?

The reason for caution with stress fractures is well-known.  If you have a stress fracture and continue to run recklessly on it, it can worsen and eventually lead to the bone splitting in two—a true fracture.  This can lead to heaps of complications and could end your running career.  There is also a category of "high risk" stress fractures that occur in particular areas like the femoral neck, the navicular, and the sesamoid bones, which are known to have a significant risk for poor healing or nonunion.1 These require even more time off and a much slower return to running.

Problems with the old model

However, doctors and physical therapists are starting to learn what coaches have already picked up on: the traditional approach to low risk stress fractures (as the vast majority are) is inadequate on a number of points.

The case for a new approach to bone injuries in runners was laid out in an exhaustive review article published in October of last year by Stuart Warden, Irene Davis, and Michael Fredericson, three extremely prolific running injury researchers.2 They propose using the term "bone stress injury" or BSI, which is intended to encompass all overuse injuries to bone that runners sustain. 

Under Warden, Davis, and Fredericson's model, bone stress injuries exist on a continuum.  On the most severe end of this spectrum are true stress fractures: a fracture line is observable on an MRI or CT scan, and there is edema (swelling) in the bone marrow and periosteum, the membrane that covers the surface of the bones.  A stress fracture is accompanied by a sharp pain or ache during weight-bearing activity that sometimes persists even when you're resting. 

The next step down the continuum of bone stress injury is the stress reaction: pain and aching during or after weight-bearing that is associated with bone marrow edema (on an MRI) or increased bone remodeling (as imaged by a bone scan), but lacks a visible fracture line. 

Further down the bone stress injury spectrum lies asymptomatic areas of bone remodeling.  As it turns out, if you were to schedule weekly MRIs for a group of high-level runners in heavy training—say, a college cross country team—you would quite often find runners developing transient areas of bone marrow or periosteal edema that would be indicative of a stress reaction, except that they have no pain associated with them, and never develop problems in the area.3 

The biology of bone remodeling

One of the core paradoxes of stress fractures and stress reactions is why they occur in fairly experienced runners.  All medical students can recite Wolff's law—bone responds to stress by becoming stronger.  So, theoretically, running more should lead to stronger bones, not stress fractures.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Using the Tempo Trainer for pacing interval workouts on the track

The Tempo Trainer
As a high school coach, one of the toughest things to teach young runners is proper pacing.  Everyone has seen a high schooler who takes off far too fast in a mile or two-mile race, only to stagger home disappointed and out of energy at the end.  Pacing in races is obviously important, but so is pacing in workouts.  An improperly-paced interval session can ruin the intended purpose of the workout.

Take, for example, a staple high-end aerobic session: "cruise interval" kilometer repeats done at the anaerobic threshold.  A high school runner who is currently in 9:55 3200m shape might be looking to run 6x1km at around 3:30 per kilometer with a minute's rest between each.  When done properly, running each repeat at an even pace, this is a fairly relaxed workout.  However, if poorly paced, it quickly becomes a lot more challenging. 

For an experienced runner or a coach, it can seem baffling when a new runner is incapable of pacing.  Younger runners haven't developed their own internal sense of pacing yet, so they struggle to hit prescribed workout paces, even if the workout isn't inherently difficult. 

Can't you just check your watch every 200 meters? Frequent watch-checking is the most obvious solution, but this brings along a host of problems.  First, you're relying on all of the runners you are coaching to remember to bring a watch, which can be its own struggle.  Second, a watch only allows you to check cumulative times; adding up splits in your head can be a little tricky if you aren't running a mathematically convenient pace.

The proper pace for a 3:30 kilometer is 42.0 seconds per 200 meters.  What I'll often see when a group of high school runners attempts to run this pace is wild variation in the per-200m split, alternating between too fast and too slow.  So, a group might run the assigned pace of 3:30, but will do it with intermediate splits of 39 - 41 - 44 - 44 - 42.  Hardly ideal! You can take a split each 200 on your watch, but then you can't report your overall time to your coach.  Using the watch to gauge pacing can also lead to overcorrection: running a 40-second 200 to "get back on pace" by 400 meters, following a first 200m split of 44 seconds, for example. 

Discovering the Tempo Trainer

Through a combination of luck and resourcefulness, I stumbled across a more robust solution.  In the fall, I suffered a case of Achilles tendonitis which led to a few weeks of aqua-jogging in the pool to maintain my fitness.  I shared pool space with a club swimming team which occasionally used a small pacing device called the Tempo Trainer to help them set their stroke rate (much like some runners use a portable metronome to assist with setting their stride rate).  The waterproof unit was meant to be tucked inside a swimmer's swimcap and was loud enough to be heard underwater. 

It wasn't until I mentioned the Tempo Trainer to a swimmer friend of mine that I realized that it could be used for pacing interval workouts as well.  My friend remarked that she often used its pacing function so she could hear a "beep" at a prescribed interval during long repeats in the pool.  So, for example, if she wanted to swim a 100 yard repeat in 66 seconds, she'd set the Tempo Trainer to beep every 16.5 seconds, so she'd hear it each time she pushed off each wall in a 25 yard pool.  By judging whether the beep was early or late, she'd be able to tell whether she was ahead, behind, or on pace.

Hearing this reminded me of a special workout called the "Faraggiana-Gigliotti Test" that Italian running coach Renato Canova conducts on his top marathon runners.  The test involves taking blood lactate samples after a series of 2km repeats at a range of potential marathon paces to get a reasonable estimate of an athlete's current marathon fitness.  To ensure his athletes pace each two-kilometer repeat as efficiently as possible, the coach sets out cones every 25m and uses a loud beeper set to beep at the proper interval for the required pace.  As John Kellogg has pointed out, doing so requires the beeper to be placed in the center of the infield, so you don't get pacing variations due to the speed of sound as you round the track.  One central beeper also has to be loud enough to be heard from the other side of the track, and you can only use it for one workout group at a time.  Finally, unless a coach manually resets it or changes the beep interval, the athlete has no control over it. 

The Tempo Trainer circumvents all of these limitations.  It's small enough to easily be carried in your hand during a workout, and it is loud enough to be heard even while running in a group, but not so loud that everyone within a quarter-mile can hear. A large track or cross country team could use one Tempo Trainer for each workout group.  Finally, if you get sick of it, you can turn it off and toss it on the infield.  It also comes with a clip that you could use to attach it to your shorts, but I found it easier to just carry it in your hand.  After doing some research, I bought one and tested it out. 

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Is the new course for the 2015 Twin Cities 1 Mile going to be slower?

Nick Willis leads the 2013 TC 1mi

This week, Twin Cities in Motion announced that the 2015 edition of the Twin Cities 1 Mile will be run on a new course heading north on Hennepin Avenue through downtown Minneapolis, instead of the historic course down Nicollet Mall.  The motivation for this change was construction of a new light rail line that crosses the Mall, with trains that run every few minutes—far too frequent to be able to get a full wave of runners across quickly.
The old course was flat and very fast, and with its very generous prize purse, the elite wave attracted several extremely fast milers.  Because of stormy weather, the race was canceled at the last minute in 2014, but in 2013, Nick Willis set a course record of 3:56.1 in 2013 for a cool $10,000 bonus, and five other runners broke four minutes. 

A new course, but the same record

In a recent interview with Minnesota running blog Down the Backstretch, TC 1 Mile race director Jeff Decker clarified that, even though the course has changed, Willis' 3:56 (and Sara Hall's 4:30.8, run in 2011) are still considered the "event records," so to earn the $10,000 record bonus, these are still the marks a runner would need to hit. 

Which brings us to the new course.  The new route up Hennepin Avenue has no turns to mention, but it does have a noticeable uphill in the first half mile or so.  Down the Backstretch provided a handy chart comparing the elevation profile of the old and the new course.  Can we use this to predict whether the course will be faster or slower, and what kind of performance would be necessary to break a course record?

In fact, we can, as long as we make a few simplifications.  If we can make an idealized model of each course, we can compare their relative "fastness."  As you can see in the chart above, the old course fluctuates a bit, but never gains nor loses more than ten feet.  Because of this, I'm comfortable treating the old course as if it were perfectly flat, i.e. no significant differences from an idealized "fast as possible" course.