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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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?
Sep 29, 2015

My guests today are Dr. Sam Cheuvront and Dr. Robert Kenefick

  • Two of the world’s leading scientists in hydration and fluid homeostasis
  • Going in alphabetical order, 
    1. My first guest is Research Physiologist and Team Leader of the Thermal and Mountain Medicine Division at the US. Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine (also known as USARIEM). His research includes the study of environmental and nutritional factors influencing human work performance. He is a leader in the fields of human fluid needs, dehydration assessment, heat stress mitigation, and exercise thermoregulation. He’s published over 100 -peer-reviewed papers and book chapters. Our first guest is Sam Cheuvront, PhD, RD
    2. My second guest is Principal Investigator in the Thermal and Mountain Medicine Division at USARIEM. He has published over 90 peer-reviewed manuscripts, book chapters AND reviews on fluid homeostasis and the physiological responses to environmental stress. He served as the president of the New England Chapter of the American College of Sports Medicine and received their Honor Award in 2012. He is also part of the Ultra Clan as an ultra marathon runner himself. Our second guest is Robert Kenefick, PhD.

My guests 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."


This episode is the first in a two part series on fluids, hydration, and electrolyte physiology pertaining to ultra marathon running. We’re starting with the basics and progressing to specific application.

In this episode, you'll learn the answers to:

  1. What are the major body fluid and compartments and definitions the major relevant terms (de/eu/hyperhydration, hyper/hypovolemia)?
  2. What are the mechanisms/routes and quantities of water loss?
  3. How much water does a person need each day?
  4. Drinking to thirst - is it sufficient, like you hear commonly? (spoiler: NO!)
  5. How much salt is lost in sweat - only sodium? To what extent does this change throughout the time-course of an ultra marathon?
  6. What’s in sweat and what are ranges of rates and composition in running?
  7. During exercise, the majority of water gained is in the form of what we drink. But we have heard about getting water also from the breakdown of stored glycogen. Is this accurate?
  8. How can we expand our plasma volume?
  9. When do we need (and not need) an electrolyte-containing drink either during or after exercise?
  10. What is needed in an electrolyte drink beyond sodium?
  11. Hyponatremia; should it be a concern for most ultra marathon runners? 
  12. When does a runner need to consciously add sodium, beyond just following cravings?



Sep 24, 2015
My guest today is Jason Koop
  • Director of coaching for Carmichael Training Systems
  • He’s training everyone from the most famous in ultra running to people in your neighborhood
  • And…he’s an accomplished ultra runner himself…among many others, his finishing list includes Wasatch, Western States, Leadville, and Badwater.
In this episode we learn about
  1. Jason’s overall framework of prescriptions which emphasizes a progression from least event specific to most specific
  2. The optimal time frame to implement a full program
  3. Intervals to raise VO2max
  4. Setting pace and effort
  5. Total interval time of work for raising VO2max and for improving midrange performance
  6. Three broad phases of training and how much work/effort for workouts in those phases
  7. How many workouts per week?
  8. Factoring terrain (and elevation gain) to the workouts
  9. Does Koop use heart rate monitors?
  10. Detraining of VO2max closer to event with Koop’s approach?
  11. Approaches to choosing the number and spacing of races.
  12. Overtraining; over-fatigued/under-rested 
Plus, Jason gives you four pieces of advice that you can implement TODAY to improve your training and racing!
Sep 24, 2015
My guest today is Marty Hoffman, M.D.
  • Chief of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, VA Northern California Health Care System
  • Professor of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, University of California Davis
  • Research Director, Western States Endurance Run
  • Chief Medical Officer, Ultra Medical Team
  • Serves on several editorial boards, and is Editor-in-Chief, Wilderness & Environmental Medicine
  • Has published well over 100 peer reviewed research studies and 11 books or book chapters.
  • He is an accomplished ultra runner himself - He’s the 2008 Grand Master (50-59 age group) National Champion, USATF 100 Mile Trail Championship, Tahoe Rim Trail
In today’s episode:
  1. All about the history and current topics of research at Western States Endurance Runs (WSER).
  2. Hyponatremia at WSER
  3. Learn the answer to, "Is sodium supplementation necessary to avoid dehydration during prolonged exercise in the heat?”.
  4. What do we know today about the long term health of ultra-endurance runners? Is ultra marathon running bad for us AND WHY IT MAY NOT EVEN MATTER?
  5. Learn the most important take-home action items from research at WSER that you can put into practice TODAY!
  6. Find out how you can get involved in research at WSER.
Sep 23, 2015
This is the introduction episode, where I tell you about myself and the origin of Science of Ultra, a podcast for ultra marathon runners.
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