Why Joggers Labor and Olypians Fly - New York Times

Discussion in 'General Fitness' started by Les Stewart, Aug 13, 2004.

  1. Les Stewart

    Les Stewart Guest

    http://www.nytimes.com/2004/08/10/health/nutrition/10runn.html


    Why Joggers Labor and Olympians Fly
    By GINA KOLATA

    Published: August 10, 2004


    he marathon at the Olympics in Athens this month is fearsome, so grueling
    that even an elite athlete is liable to feel at least a moment of
    trepidation. The 26-mile, 385-yard course includes, among other body-bashing
    stretches, a 13-mile hill so steep it has been described as the equivalent
    of running up a five-story building every mile.

    Your everyday, normal sort of runner, like me, will be breathless just
    watching. But many of the Olympic runners will make it look easy.

    I can run up that mountain only in my dreams, no matter how hard I work. The
    difference between me and them is so great that I find myself consumed with
    curiosity over exactly how much of running fast and far is innate, and how
    much can be attributed to training, motivation and technique.

    I wonder how those remarkable athletes got to be who they are. And I wonder
    what they know, and what, if anything, people like me can learn to be more
    accomplished.

    I have learned a thing or two close to home. I watched as my son took off
    like a gazelle when he was in middle school, uncoached and untrained, and
    went on to be a high school track and cross country star, and then to run on
    the varsity teams at a Division I university. He gave me tips - relax your
    upper body, run on your mid-foot, raise your knees - and they helped. But I
    always knew that there was a fundamental difference between him and me when
    it came to running far and fast. We still run together, but all that means
    is that we start out at the same place and end up at the same place. In
    between, he loses me.

    On the other hand, my son learned in college that there also was a
    noticeable difference between him and the runners who went on to become
    national champions. And it was not a matter of trying harder.

    Researchers say elite distance runners share several inborn physiological
    traits, including large hearts, an efficient way of moving and an ability to
    keep running when they are exerting so much effort that they are panting for
    breath, that make them faster than most recreational runners.

    They also naturally avoid the sort of errors in technique that Dr. Robert
    Fitts, an exercise physiologist and competitive runner at Marquette
    University, sees in recreational athletes who run in 5- and 10-kilometer
    road races.

    For example, Dr. Fitts says, many recreational runners turn their feet out
    to the side rather than keeping them in a straight line. That wastes energy
    and slows runners down.

    "Your feet should go out one in front of the other," Dr. Fitts explained.
    "It is not very difficult to learn. I used to run along the line that is
    painted on a track and I would concentrate on both feet hitting that line."

    Stride length, Dr. Fitts said, is also important.

    "If you have the proper stride length when you push off, then you get the
    proper extension and flexion," he said. "If you take too short of a stride,
    you look like a shuffler. If it is too long, you look like you are bouncing.
    A good runner should almost be able to run with an apple on their head."

    Finally, Dr. Fitts advised, many people hold their arms too high, making
    their shoulder muscles work while they run. "It is better to hold your arms
    along your waist, with bent elbows," he said.

    He added that these are all errors that can be corrected.

    "Most people don't know these things just because they start to run," he
    said "Somebody has to tell you. But most people at these road races are very
    inefficient. They never were taught at all."

    With elite runners, the question is not so much technique but rather the
    tiny physiological differences that make one smooth, relaxed, fast runner
    win every race while another, who looks equally good, falls behind.

    Exercise physiologists say there are three components to great running: A
    high VO2 max, the volume of oxygen an athlete can consume at maximum
    exertion; great running efficiency, a measurement of the energy used to run
    at a particular pace; and an ability to keep going at a high level of
    exertion for a long time, expressed as the percentage of VO2 max that can be
    sustained during a run.

    Athletes with a high VO2 max can pump large volumes of blood to their
    muscles, usually because they have large and powerful hearts, said Dr. Paul
    Ribisl, an exercise physiologist and a runner at Wake Forest University. The
    heart of an average adult pumps about 15 liters a minute. The heart of an
    elite distance runner typically pumps at least twice that amount.


    VO2 max increases with training, as a person goes from physically unfit to
    physically fit. But, physiologists say, even when elite runners are out of
    training - when they have not run for months or longer - they have a VO2 max
    substantially higher than that of a recreational runner.

    Competitive runners are also efficient, exerting themselves less than those
    with less talent.

    Conventional wisdom says the energy required to run a mile is the same, no
    matter whether you are fast or slow. But it turns out that elite runners
    simply do not work as hard as the less able.

    In a study of elite runners, good runners and untrained, but equally
    physically fit runners, Dr. Don Morgan, an exercise physiologist and
    recreational runner at Middle Tennessee State University, and his colleagues
    found that the better the runners were, the less effort they exerted running
    at a particular pace.

    But within a group of equally good runners, there were profound differences
    in efficiency. In treadmill tests, Dr. Morgan found that one runner could
    end up burning 20 percent more calories than another running the same
    distance at the same speed.

    The inefficient runners were not necessarily those who looked more awkward
    as they ran.

    "Some runners in our lab don't look good when they run, but they are very
    economical," Dr. Morgan said. "Others are aesthetically beautiful but are
    not economical."

    Exercise physiologists are focusing on ways to make runners more efficient.
    They speculate that a number of factors might determine efficiency, and that
    some, like the biochemistry of the runner's muscles or the structure of the
    runner's body, are simply innate. But one factor, stride length, might be
    amenable to change.

    About 20 percent of the competitive runners that Dr. Morgan and his
    colleagues tested were overstriding, or taking steps too large for maximum
    efficiency. None were taking steps that were too small. The researchers set
    out to train the overstriders to take shorter steps.

    For three weeks, five times a week, the athletes ran on treadmills at the
    physiology lab, their pace set by the beat of a metronome. That rhythm
    forced the runners to shorten their strides, and, as a consequence, they ran
    about 3 percent faster.

    "For someone like me, it wouldn't make any difference," Dr. Morgan said.
    "But for an elite runner, that small percentage change could mean a big
    deal."

    The third characteristic that elite runners have, but that can also improve
    with training, is an ability to continue running for long times at a high
    level of exertion, the so-called anerobic threshold. That pace, said Dr.
    David Martin, an exercise physiologist at Georgia State University, is "when
    the conversation stops and the work begins." If you can carry on a
    conversation while you are running, he said, you have not reached it.

    For runners to increase the amount of time they can run at their anerobic
    threshold, they have to run at that level in training, exercise
    physiologists say.

    "Good American runners do train at an anerobic threshold pace," Dr. Martin
    said. "But sometimes these runners, they're little studs. They get out there
    running, but, they say: 'This feels so easy. I know the coach said 10 miles
    at anerobic threshold, but I'll just pick up the pace.' Then they are
    overtraining."

    The result, he said, is poor performance.

    While a high VO2 max, great efficiency and an ability to run long distances
    at the anerobic threshold are common in elite distance runners, few excel at
    all three.

    Dr. Morgan and Dr. Jack Daniels at the State University of New York at
    Cortland, for example, studied elite runners who were equally fast. Some
    would have a high VO2 max, but lower economy than their peers, or vice
    versa.

    As for the rest of the population, improvement is possible, but no amount of
    training can turn a person who is not gifted into an elite athlete. This
    became clear to one researcher, Dr. Robert R. Wolfe, when, in graduate
    school, he began running with Brook Thomas, a friend who had come in fourth
    in the Olympic trials.

    Dr. Wolfe, now the director of the metabolism branch at the University of
    Texas Medical Branch at Galveston, had run competitively in college. But
    running with his friend, he always lagged behind.

    At one point, Mr. Thomas was injured, and he did not run for five months.
    When he was ready to return to running, he called Dr. Wolfe and suggested
    they run together.

    They set off at a fast clip, with Mr. Thomas setting a five-and-a-half
    minute-per-mile pace.

    "I was just dying, trying to keep up," Dr. Wolfe recalled.

    He accosted Mr. Thomas. How could it be that after all those months away
    from running, he could cruise along at such a speed, with no apparent
    effort? Mr. Thomas replied that he had always been able to run at that pace.

    "That was a watershed for me," Dr. Wolfe said. "That's when I realized that
    no matter how hard I train, I will never get to that level."
     
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  2. Bethowmuch

    Bethowmuch Guest

    A little lengthy, if I wanted to read a book I'd have bought gone with wind.
     
  3. Dot

    Dot Guest

    Les Stewart wrote:
    > http://www.nytimes.com/2004/08/10/health/nutrition/10runn.html
    >
    >
    > Why Joggers Labor and Olympians Fly
    > By GINA KOLATA
    >
    > Published: August 10, 2004


    > The 26-mile, 385-yard course includes, among other body-bashing
    > stretches, a 13-mile hill so steep it has been described as the equivalent
    > of running up a five-story building every mile.
    >


    Am I missing something in interpretation?

    I've seen this statement before and have been puzzled by it, since I
    thought a story was somewhere around 10 ft. I did find an online
    converter that had 1 story = 10.82675 foot [survey]

    That's 54 ft in 1 mi for 13 miles - or about 1% slope, assuming even
    slope. That's 700 ft over 13 miles (less elevation change than I get in
    an 8-mi loop route). I'm having a hard time applying the term "steep" to
    a 1% slope, esp. for elite runners. Around here, that's considered flat.

    I was just wondering if I'm misunderstanding something.


    Side note: while googling (unsuccessfully) for a course profile, I found
    an interesting paper on techniques for measuring courses
    http://www.fig.net/pub/athens/papers/ts29/TS29_1_Tsakiri_et_al.pdf

    Dot
     
  4. >A little lengthy, if I wanted to read a book I'd have bought gone with wind.

    Cmon now, let's be honest, you'd go to the library and steal it.
     
  5. >> The 26-mile, 385-yard course includes, among other body-bashing
    >> stretches, a 13-mile hill so steep it has been described as the equivalent
    >> of running up a five-story building every mile.

    >
    >Am I missing something in interpretation?
    >
    >I've seen this statement before and have been puzzled by it, since I
    >thought a story was somewhere around 10 ft. I did find an online
    >converter that had 1 story = 10.82675 foot [survey]
    >
    >That's 54 ft in 1 mi for 13 miles - or about 1% slope, assuming even
    >slope. That's 700 ft over 13 miles (less elevation change than I get in
    >an 8-mi loop route). I'm having a hard time applying the term "steep" to
    >a 1% slope, esp. for elite runners. Around here, that's considered flat.
    >
    >I was just wondering if I'm misunderstanding something.


    I saw an elevation profile somewhere. There's a rise starting near
    halfway of about 190m (a bit over 600 feet) over 12 kilometers. That's
    probably what the writer was thinking of. She may have been looking at
    the same chart and confused miles with kilometers.

    --
    Brian P. Baresch
    Fort Worth, Texas, USA
    Professional editing and proofreading

    If you're going through hell, keep going. --Winston Churchill
     
  6. Dot

    Dot Guest

    Brian Baresch wrote:
    >
    > I saw an elevation profile somewhere. There's a rise starting near
    > halfway of about 190m (a bit over 600 feet) over 12 kilometers. That's
    > probably what the writer was thinking of. She may have been looking at
    > the same chart and confused miles with kilometers.


    Thanks, Brian. That makes a little more sense, but is still less than 2%
    slope on average (closer to 1.6%). I wonder if it was one of those
    compressed profiles that makes all hills look big.

    Dot
     
  7. >> I saw an elevation profile somewhere. There's a rise starting near
    >> halfway of about 190m (a bit over 600 feet) over 12 kilometers. That's
    >> probably what the writer was thinking of. She may have been looking at
    >> the same chart and confused miles with kilometers.

    >
    >Thanks, Brian. That makes a little more sense, but is still less than 2%
    >slope on average (closer to 1.6%). I wonder if it was one of those
    >compressed profiles that makes all hills look big.


    I b'lieve it was. (Ever seen the profile for the NYCM? Makes the first
    mile look dam' near vertical.) In any case, the "five stories in a
    mile" bit would probably intimidate anyone who doesn't have some
    experience running. (Newspaper reporters have the unenviable job of
    having to be instant experts on whatever the days topic is. Even the
    good ones slip.)

    --
    Brian P. Baresch
    Fort Worth, Texas, USA
    Professional editing and proofreading

    If you're going through hell, keep going. --Winston Churchill
     
  8. Dot

    Dot Guest

    Brian Baresch wrote:
    >>>I saw an elevation profile somewhere. There's a rise starting near
    >>>halfway of about 190m (a bit over 600 feet) over 12 kilometers. That's
    >>>probably what the writer was thinking of. She may have been looking at
    >>>the same chart and confused miles with kilometers.

    >>
    >>Thanks, Brian. That makes a little more sense, but is still less than 2%
    >>slope on average (closer to 1.6%). I wonder if it was one of those
    >>compressed profiles that makes all hills look big.

    >
    >
    > I b'lieve it was. (Ever seen the profile for the NYCM? Makes the first
    > mile look dam' near vertical.)


    I may have, but I know I've seen it on some of my trail routes, which is
    why I've learned to check units on both axes, descriptions, etc - or
    better yet, go run it.


    >In any case, the "five stories in a
    > mile" bit would probably intimidate anyone who doesn't have some
    > experience running. (Newspaper reporters have the unenviable job of
    > having to be instant experts on whatever the days topic is. Even the
    > good ones slip.)


    Agreed. When envisioning 5 stories, one usually thinks of it as stairs -
    not spread out over a mile or so.

    Dot
     
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