Running in pollution, core strength, toe joints and more!

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As of September 2017, new Sweat Science columns are being published at www.outsideonline.com/sweatscience. Check out my bestselling new book on the science of endurance, ENDURE: Mind, Body, and the Curiously Elastic Limits of Human Performance, published in February 2018 with a foreword by Malcolm Gladwell.

- Alex Hutchinson (@sweatscience)

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The new issue of Canadian Running magazine is on newsstands now. Lots of good stuff in there, as usual — I particularly recommend the article by Canadian 1,500-metre star Hilary Stellingwerff on her training stint in the highlands of Ethiopia. Lots of behind-the-scenes details about the training of top Ethiopian stars, and a very interesting window into a country that few of us have visited (well, I haven’t).

There’s also my regular Science of Running column. Topics covered: how much pollution you inhale running alongside a four-lane highway; why it’s better to measure your heart rate in a race or workout than in the lab; whether core strengthening actually makes you run faster; whether heavy shoes make you run slower; and whether running is bad for your toe joints.

How fast to run if you’re stranded in the desert

THANK YOU FOR VISITING SWEATSCIENCE.COM!

As of September 2017, new Sweat Science columns are being published at www.outsideonline.com/sweatscience. Check out my bestselling new book on the science of endurance, ENDURE: Mind, Body, and the Curiously Elastic Limits of Human Performance, published in February 2018 with a foreword by Malcolm Gladwell.

- Alex Hutchinson (@sweatscience)

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I had an interesting interview this morning with Karen Steudel of the University of Wisconsin’s Hominin Locomotion Laboratory, for an upcoming feature in Canadian Running magazine. She’s the researcher who caused a stir a few weeks ago with a study revealing that each person has an “optimum running speed” where we burn the least number of calories per mile (nicely summarized by Dan Peterson of 80percentmental here). Until now, strange as it may seem, researchers thought that it would take you exactly the same number of calories to run a mile, no matter what pace you ran at.

Steudel’s real interest is in whether our ancestors a few million years ago were efficient enough runners to chase animals for hours until they collapsed of heat exhaustion, a technique known as persistence hunting. But she’s well aware that the idea of an “optimum speed” might be of interest to runners (and she’s apparently receiving tons of e-mail asking for training advice!). The optimal paces in her study were about 7:14 per mile for men and 9:14 per mile for women — but with just nine subjects, the study is too small to take those numbers too seriously. However, she’s now back in the lab working on a new study trying to determine how limb length affects that optimal speed — another result that will be of interest both to evolutionary biologists and runners.

So what do we do with this information? Well, I’ve often pondered the scenario where you’re stranded in the desert with no food, 100 miles from the nearest aid, and you have to decide what your strategy is. Do you run? Walk? How fast? Seems like if you know your optimal pace, you can maximize your odds…

Running and bone density: more info

THANK YOU FOR VISITING SWEATSCIENCE.COM!

As of September 2017, new Sweat Science columns are being published at www.outsideonline.com/sweatscience. Check out my bestselling new book on the science of endurance, ENDURE: Mind, Body, and the Curiously Elastic Limits of Human Performance, published in February 2018 with a foreword by Malcolm Gladwell.

- Alex Hutchinson (@sweatscience)

***

Wow, research moves pretty quickly. Just a few hours after posting about the lack of good evidence that running helps bone density…presto! I get a press release about an article by University of Missouri researchers in the current issue of the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research about how great running is for bone density. You can read the press release here:

In the study, the researchers determined the effects of long-term running, cycling, and resistance training on whole-body and regional BMD [bone mineral density], taking into account the effects of body weight and composition, in men ages 19 to 45. After adjusting for differences in lean body mass, the researchers found that runners had greater spine BMD than cyclists.

This still doesn’t tell us explicitly about how activities like elliptical training, which are weight-bearing but not high-impact, affect bone density. The University of Missouri researchers seem pretty convinced that the jarring action of running (or jumping around by playing basketball, for example) helps bone density. The question is, how much?