Endurance Training – What’s The “Next” Big Thing
You’re in the starting corral of your 7th half marathon. Maybe it is actually your 6th or 8th, but you really stopping counting a few races ago. Looking around you start to notice the other runners. Besides for thinking to yourself whether or not you will finish ahead of him or her, you start to check out the gear. What shoes are those? Are they minimalist, do they have elastic laces, is that “performance neutral”, do they come in other colors. Then you glance to the next person. Is that the new Timex or Garmin? You want to ask if it is easy to use or if they actually monitor their heart rate. Before you realize it you not only made a mental shopping list you actually started to run the race!
For over 6 years, I’ve been involved in running on both the runner and running store side. During this time you get to see a lot of the industry trends first hand. Here are some of the trends I’ve seen and my take on their longevity.
I started my running career with an “old school” MP3 player and couldn’t bear the thought of running without it. Once my races started to become longer and I found myself training in groups, I’d find myself leaving the headphones behind. I don’t think I’ve used them on a run in over 4 years.
While races will continue to prohibit the use of headphones in their races (at least on paper), I do not see listening to music while running going away. What I do see is that running with music is done more by those individuals that run exclusively on their own or are very new to running. Music players are also becoming more integrated with actual training gear. Newer versions of GPS units for instance will be able to play music as well.
Less is more has certainly been the forefront of the running footwear industry for the past year or so. It seems however for every person who swears by the ability of their foot glove to solve their running “issues”, you will find another hobbling around swearing that the damn things caused a stress fracture.
While I’ve dabbled in the land of next to nothing on my feet, I wasn’t as dedicated to the art to allow for the proper ramp up period. I was pressed enough to find time to get in the actual necessary miles for races, yet alone set aside time to run 1 mile workouts. I have however; found a very nice compromise in running with Performance Neutral shoes. These tend to combine the flexibility and lightweight benefits along with providing some cushion, durability and protection from the terrain.
I believe that you will tend to see more people walking in their 5 fingers than running in them. Since most people will be looking for quick fixes to running issues, the discipline required to go truly minimal will not be a good adjustment. The Performance Neutral shoes will work much better for many of those thinking of tossing their Stability or Motion Control shoes aside.
You’ve surely seen the tight sleeves around the calf or the knee high socks many athletes are wearing now. Well these items are generally compression gear. The theory behind compression is that it helps blood flow (allowing more oxygenated blood to the muscles) and quickens recovery periods. Compression is what the “C”, in the old acronym R.I.C.E, stands for.
Compression gear is really not that new. Nurses have worn compression hosiery for decades to help with lower leg fatigue. Many of their patients suffering with circulatory issues were even fitted with special compression garments. Leave it to athletes looking for an edge to use the existing medical application for enhanced sports performance. Even one of the first medical manufactures (Medi – CEP) followed the trend and started making compression gear for runners and triathletes. Along with other top manufactures like 2XU, 110% (also integrate ice therapy) and Zensah, you can find compression socks, tights, shorts, leg sleeves, arm sleeves, shirts and more.
While the benefit of wearing compression gear is proven, it doesn’t always translate for every athlete that wears it. Many prefer to only wear while active, others for the recovery and still more for both. As with most things you get what you pay for in good “graduated” compression garments. Even then the best compression gear only keeps it factory compression ratings for about 6 months with continued use.
For the most part compression gear looks good and does provide the user with the feeling of increased capabilities. In my opinion, it is here to stay as long as people can afford it.
Self Massage – The Stick & Foam Rollers
If you’ve ever been to a race expo, you must have run across the vendor carrying The Stick Massage Tool. It basically resembles a rolling pin that you use to roll/massage your legs, back, arms, etc. The Foam roller is surely the #1 recommend item for those that get the dreaded IT Band injury. We tell you to roll on it and warn you “it’s gonna hurt”. These are both examples of self massage or a bit of Rolfing (vigorous massage) providing myofascial release.
The big names in this field are The Stick, Trigger Point Performance Therapy, TheraBand and OPTP. While I think all these items are great tools to have and use, the vast majority will use only when an injury has occurred or they feel it is coming. Those people are sometimes too late to get the greatest benefit that comes with continuous maintenance.
The Stick, aka the toothbrush for muscles, is by far the best selling gift I’ve seen for runners and triathletes. Since these tools are generally inexpensive and last for many years, they will continue to be mainstays in virtually every athlete’s toolbox. Moji, a newer entry in the field is gaining ground quickly with a unique approach using rolling steel balls.
In the endurance world, supplements sometimes get a bad rap. They are usually associated with bodybuilding or the doping you read about in professional sports. The truth is, even your gel pack can be considered a supplement (in broad terms). This broad definition would be anything consumed outside of your normal diet, which either provides nutrition or stimulation (thermogenic/caffeine).
Most of the time supplements are used because they are convenient. Carbohydrates are quite easy to find in just about everything you eat, but that doesn’t mean that your grilled cheese should be placed in a zip-lock baggie for mile 10 of your half marathon. Gels, chews, beans and sport drinks make it very easy to drink or eat your carbohydrates (usually a combination of 2 or more types of carbs) with minimal effort. Many gels, chews and beans on the market are more than carbohydrates. Some will also contain caffeine and/or amino acids to help aid performance. This is where the line blurs for most as amino acid supplements are/where the holy grail of weight training recovery.
It is true that science and testing is finding that nutrients like amino acids are an aid to endurance athletes, both during and post training. But beyond your mainstream carbohydrates, proteins and caffeine you can find many other products marketed to endurance athletes to either “stop lactic acid burn” or “increase oxygen utilization”. While many manufactures have sound science behind them – CarboPro Systems, First Endurance, Kona Endurance, Hammer, etc. they mostly using the same playbook of ingredients. Concentration of ingredients, quality of raw ingredients and proprietary combinations/ratios will all affect the pricing of these items.
Again my personal opinion is that you will get less results from the majority of these items during your initial “get in shape phase”, as opposed to using them when you are hitting plateaus in your training. During your start you will/should see plenty gains on your own as your body (the greatest tool you have) is adapting to the new stresses you are placing on it. Each training session is a process of breaking your body down and then allowing it the time and nutrition to repair stronger.
Nutrition and supplements are nothing new as a whole. The packaging is going to evolve as we get tired of the old and ratios are going to change as science improves. As more of the population does take up endurance training (running, triathlons, cycling, crossfit, etc.) there is going to be more of a desire to compete and do so legally. Legal endurance enhancers will continue to gain momentum, become more mainstream and may even be the next big thing.