Science Of Ultra | Ultra Marathon And Trail Running Expertise | World Leading Endurance Science And Coaching

Ultra marathon running physiology brought to you by the world’s leading scientists, coaches, and athletes. Science Of Ultra host, Dr. Shawn Bearden, brings you interviews and more to deliver everything you want to know about all facets of training, nutrition, hydration, environment, psychology, gear, and much more. Become your ultra best!
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Science Of Ultra | Ultra Marathon And Trail Running Expertise | World Leading Endurance Science And Coaching



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Now displaying: October, 2015
Oct 27, 2015
My guest today is Jason Koop
  • Director of coaching for Carmichael Training Systems
  • His list of athletes includes some of the biggest names in ultra running but also people like you and me.
  • And, as an accomplished ultra runner himself, he knows first hand all that goes into performing in our sport.
Jason Koop is back…and he answers some very direct questions, like:
  1. In our last episode with Jason, episode 3, he explained his overall approach to training as transitioning from the least race-specific workouts to the most race-specific. A listener might question then, what is the reason for training short interval high intensity far out from a race at all? How does THAT benefit the overall plan and training?
  2. There are proponents of always training below LT, basically training at race pace or lower year 'round. What are Jason's thoughts on that and what are the physiological mistakes in that approach? 
  3. In the fall, many people are thinking about planning the following year. What should we consider as we question which races we sign up for, especially considering necessary recover time between races?
  4. How does he monitor athletes for signs of over-fatigue on a short time frame and over the course of a season?
  5. What is the physiological basis for doing recovery runs (rather than just taking the day off), and how should recovery runs be implemented in the course of a weekly plan?
  6. How does Jason monitor for progress and improvements during a training plan and how does he know it’s time to move on to the next phase of training?
  7. How long is the final phase (‘aerobic’) of training, optimally?
  8. In that final phase, where we are most race specific, what would we expect to be a weekly volume (distance or time) relative to the goal race and how should that volume be distributed throughout a week?
  9. Physiologically, why not divide the desired weekly volume evenly over 6 days, with one day off…what is the distinct benefit of more and less on different days in this final phase?
  10. The big race is now a few weeks away. How do we balance loss of preparedness from tapering with race readiness - what is an effective tapering strategy for shorter ultras like 50k to longer events, like 100 miler?
Plus, Jason answers two  high impact questions…are you ready?
  1. What are the 2 most common mistakes that you see in athletes prior training when they first hire you?
  2. What are the 3-4 key action items that we can put into practice right away to improve our training?
Oct 20, 2015
My guests today are veterans of Science of Ultra; they joined me in Episode 4.LISTEN TO THAT EPISODE (#4) FIRST IF YOU HAVEN’T ALREADY. Today we continue our series with them on all things sweating, hydration, electrolytes, and fluid balance. 
Up first is Team Leader of the Thermal and Mountain Medicine Division at the US. Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine (aka USARIEM). In addition to his doctorate in exercise physiology, he is also a registered dietician. My first guest is Dr. Sam Cheuvront. My second guest is Principal Investigator in the Thermal and Mountain Medicine Division at USARIEM. He served as the president of the New England Chapter of the American College of Sports Medicine. And, he is an ultra marathon runner himself. So, he knows first hand what it takes to achieve in our sport. My second guest is Dr. Robert Kenefick. Collectively, my guests have published over 200 peer-reviewed papers, book chapters, and reviews. They are two of the world’s leading scientists in hydration and fluid homeostasis, especially during exercise. 
They work for the U.S. Army. So, we must provide the disclaimer that "The views and/or opinions of Dr.'s Kenefick and Cheuvront are theirs personally and do not reflect the views or opinions of the U.S. Army or DoD."
In the first part of this series, episode 4, we focused on the physiology of fluid and electrolyte balance. That episode is packed with fundamental physiology and what we talk about in this episode builds on what we covered in episode 4. So, you’ll benefit most from this episode if you’ve listened to that episode.
Quick background: We sweat to put water on the surface of our skin, which evaporates to the environment. The transition from liquid to gas requires a large amount of energy; sweating cools us because that energy comes in the form of heat, which is drawn from our skin. Sweat that drips off of us, does not provide that cooling benefit. Either way, that fluid loss eventually impacts all three body fluid compartments, which are 1) blood plasma, 2) intracellular (inside cells), and 3) interstitial (outside cells but not including blood).
Listen and learn the answers to these questions:
  1. We start with a scenario: I go for a long run and during the run my urine is dark; after the run I try to replace fluids by drinking plenty the rest of the day and by bedtime, my urine is a much lighter color. But, when I wake up in the morning, it’s dark again…what’s going on?
  2. What is the time-frame for fluid/electrolyte shifts among body compartments?
  3. As we sweat, the fluid and electrolytes initially come from the interstitial compartment, specifically around the glands near the surface of our skin. As we run and sweat…what do we know about fluid shifts and electrolyte shifts across the three body compartments during prolonged exercise.
  4. Another example, I run and take water = regular urination and clear; drink electrolyte solution = less urination and darker…we talked about the physiology of this in episode 4 but now, putting a real world example to the physiology, what’s happening to me in those cases?
Then we move into specific preparation for performance
Dr. Kenefick is an ultra runner and a leading expert on this topic, plus he has access to all resources for measurement and testing. He must never have any problem with fluid and hydration...right?
  1. Once in a while, we hear advocates of ‘bonk’ runs where one would purposefully dehydrate or go out without water. Clearly, this can be very very dangerous and we recommend against doing bonk runs. Out of curiosity, thought, is there any evidence that we can train in a way that will help us to perform better in a dehydrated or low volume state?
  2. Keeping ALL ELSE EQUAL, what are the practical, relative effects of each of the following on sweating: long clothing vs short vs nothing (same material - just different coverage), tightness of clothing, type of material, color of material?
  3. What are the definitions of adaptation, acclimation, acclimatization?
  4. What does it mean to be acclimatized to a hot environment with respect to body fluids, hydration, and sweating?
  5. What are best practices for preparing to race in warmer environments? Exercise, sauna,…?
  6. What is the recommended protocol for acclimation to heat in preparation for an event?
  7. What is the time-course of gain and loss of heat acclimation?
  8. When we plan for thermal stress from the environment, we must consider not only temperature but other factors such as wind, sun exposure, and humidity. Let’s say that we have gone through the acclimation protocol. Is there a cut off temperature/thermal stress range, below which, there is no benefit to performance. How can we gauge whether going through the protocol will be of benefit?
  9. Specifically thinking about what’s going on during running: at what body temperature do we begin to sweat and where on the body do we sweat first, most, etc.?
  10. Should we be concerned about gear placement (e.g., hydration pack vs waste belt) with regard to efficient sweating and cooling? E.g., would we expect any appreciable difference in fluid loss or cooling over time for someone wearing a hydration pack vs waist belt vs none or handheld bottles.
  11. To what extent does carrying extra weight affect sweat loss due to the extra work of carrying it; e.g., as much as 5 lbs for some full hydration packs vs 1 lb or so for a full handheld. 
Many people have the idea that, while running, ‘if they are continuing to urinate and it isn’t very dark, then they are probably OK’. We’ve established that watching urine color - DURING exercise - is not a reliable method for monitoring hydration status. So, “How can I monitor myself for appropriate fluid replacement and maintenance during an ultra marathon (or during a long training)?”   
Our wrap up, big money question today...WHAT’S THE ANSWER?
Oct 13, 2015
My guest today is Scott Trappe, PhD
Dr. Trappe is the Director of the Human Performance Laboratory and John and Janice Fisher Endowed Chair in Exercise Science at Ball State University. He received his undergraduate training at the University of Northern Iowa where he was captain of the swim team. He worked for US Swimming at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs while obtaining his  M.S. at the University of Colorado. His PhD training was with Dr. David Costill at Ball State University followed by post-doctoral training in muscle physiology with Dr. Robert Fitts at Marquette University. For the past 20 years, he has been working with NASA to help optimize the exercise prescription for astronauts.  His work has also been supported by the NIH. Concurrent to the work with NASA, he’s conducted exercise training studies in older adults, aging athletes and various college and elite athletes. Using a whole body to gene approach, he and his colleagues have gained a better understanding of muscle plasticity. He is an expert in the area of adaptations to training and to disuse - or detraining. And, he joins us today to talk about that plasticity, specifically in the area of balancing training with detraining as it may apply to tapering.
In today’s episode Dr. Trappe and I talk about training adaptations, then detraining, then put those together to come to some conclusions about the tapering period where we try to balance these.
The questions I posed to Dr. Trappe include:
  1. Genetics. There was a belief that genetics provide each person with a particular range of possibility and that there is a limit set by those genetics for each person such that one person’s maximal potential may be below another’s lower spectrum. Is that correct and to what degree do genetics compare with training for our endurance capacity.
  2. What is the time-course for the various adaptations: capillarity, mitochondrial capacity, power, neuromuscular control, etc.? [for clarity, capillarity is the density of capillary blood vessels within skeletal muscle - which is important for oxygen and nutrient delivery ; mitochondrial capacity is the sum of the tools a cell uses for generating ATP while utilizing oxygen] - it will vary based on the volume and intensity but we talk generally about the components.
  3. What components continue to develop over years of training and what components of adaptation to endurance are maximized, if any, relatively early (like in the first year or so of regular serious training) - e.g., we don’t continue increasing capillarity indefinitely.
  4. Training prescriptions are often designed so that a given hard day of training is maximized while still low enough in density so that the next training day (perhaps 2 days later) can be completed with equivalent volume/intensity. How do we optimize this - there is a spectrum - steady runs every day vs very hard one day that takes many days to recover from…how do we plan for the balance so that we are making the fastest, steady gains in endurance capacity?
  5. Some prescription plans cycle three weeks increasing in density (volume or intensity or combination), then back off for a week, then start over with a little increase. Graphically this might look like three steps up and one down, repeat. How does this approach compare to backing off slightly in those three weeks and not stepping down in the fourth week - evening out the 4 weeks so that there is a persistent increase in training density over time. Any benefit of one approach over the other?
  6. Cross-training: physiologically useful or can we get more out of staying 100% sport specific and tailoring the workouts carefully (to avoid injury and boredom)?
  7. When we evaluate training, the goal is to maximize adaptable stimulus and provide sufficient environment for adaptation. To what extent do easy days (recovery runs) layer onto the stimulus for adaptation: is there a stoking effect that keeps the stimulus maintained until the next tough workout OR do recovery runs somehow promote a more beneficial adaptation environment - where do recovery runs sit in the balance equation of stimulate/adapt? …what do we know about the specific mechanisms of the benefits of easy days (recovery runs) between hard workouts?
  1. For an endurance runner with capacity X or Y, what is the minimum stimulus required to maintain what they’ve developed; surely this varies for the different components from neuromuscular coordination and control, through muscle bioenergetics…but what do we know about maintaining capacity?
  2. Trail running, and many or most ultra marathons are on trails, require both endurance and an endurance in power - due to the elevation changes, both up and down hills. Are these capacities different from a muscle tissue perspective…flat ground endurance vs mountain hills endurance? Do those capacities detrain differently?
Balancing Training Adaptation with Detraining
  1. Promoting recovery while resisting losses is the fundamental issue at play in the period called tapering. Whatever you call it, it is the final days or maybe weeks as we approach a key race or event. What are the best practices for tapering for endurance events - what works, what doesn’t?
  2. Recovery required from races - 50k-100mile+ all can take a substantial toll on muscle tissue both structurally and functionally. When muscle is trashed - not a lot has been studied in the specific context of ultra marathons but we do know about repeated eccentric loading [eccentric is contraction while a muscle is lengthening - as is required of the quadriceps while running downhill] - what elements of muscle function recover the fastest and what takes the longest to recover?
  3. Considerations for races in quick succession (e.g., 100k-100mile 4-6 weeks apart, or 50k 2-3 weeks apart)?
We wrap up with two specific questions:
  1. What are the biggest mistakes that Dr. Trappe sees distance runners make in their tapering plans?
  2. What three key messages of advice does Dr. Trappe have for ultra marathon runners with regard to tapering?
Should ultra runners use standup desks at work?
Oct 6, 2015
My guest today Ian Sharman
He is part of a small group in the ultra community - he is both a successful coach with his own coaching company and he’s an elite ultra marathon runner. In 2013 he set the record holder for the fastest Grand Slam of Ultra Running. Since Jan 2014 he has won 6 ultra marathons. AND, he has also earned a top-10 finish all 6 times he has run the Western States 100. So far, in 2015, he has won both Rocky Racoon (which he also won in 2011) and the Leadville 100 (which he also won in 2013). 
I dig into Ian’s approaches and philosophies in coaching to learn:
  1. About his current athlete load and how he trains.
  2. His overall framework of training prescription - the macro-view (philosophy) to training for ultra marathons.
He also answers questions like:
  1. How and when, in a season, do you focus on long runs?
  2. How and when, in a season, do you prescribe high intensity workouts - what is the benefit relative to ultra performance?
  3. When, if ever, is cross training appropriate? What’s the benefit?
  4. There are many terms for training features, like ‘speed work’, tempo, striders, fartleks, 2 per day, back-to-back, etc. Do these play a roll in your training prescriptions - how/why/why not?
  5. What might a week of training look like 10 months from a key event (e.g., Leadville 100) vs 1 month out?
  6. Do you use a HR monitor with your athletes?
  7. What is your approach to monitoring or ensuring that training is balanced with the right amount of recovery; monitoring for over-fatigue or over-training? Recovery runs vs days off?
  8. Tapering; how do you approach tapering with your athletes?
We wrap up with two specific questions for the Ultra Clan
  1. What are the two most common mistakes that Ian sees in prior training plans when an athlete first comes to hire him as a coach?
  2. What three specific action items of advice would he give to us that we can make sure we have in place to optimize our training or racing today?