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
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
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
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
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
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.
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.