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The science of fatigue

Minute 1: Tights, shorts & tight shorts

In our younger days, there were 2 surefire ways to get us to roll our eyes and snort sarcastically. First, it was watching people run on a gym treadmill on a beautiful summer day. Second, it was seeing people run outdoors in black leggings on a hot summer day. We may never get over the first “transgression,” but we’ve made some emotional progress on the second issue. It turns out there are benefits to running with lightweight tights such as compression, sun protection, and enough moisture-wicking to actually make you feel cooler than running with bare legs. Plus, many women on our staff simply believe their legs look better in tights. (There’s a reason Lululemon is worth nearly $50 billion.) You can pick up some tips and ideas from this list of “20 Summer Leggings That Are Comfortable And Lightweight Enough For Your Sweatiest Workouts.” But if tights still aren’t your thing, there are more styles of women’s running shorts than ever before. And speaking of shorts, there is apparently lots of online discussion among both women and men about whether you should be flying free or wearing traditional underwear beneath your running shorts. The debate was summarized in this article from last week: “Should You Go Commando in Your Running Shorts?” The long and short of it (pun intended) is that the commando choice really comes down to the shorts you’ve chosen. Most men’s shorts have the built-in brief to *ahem* keep things in place while on the move. Not to mention, the fabric is comfortable and sweat-wicking, so the commando crew is right as rain. No built-in? Grab a set of compression shorts and commando with those. As for women’s shorts, things get a bit more complicated. Much like men’s shorts, many come with the built-in brief, but some women still prefer underwear. It really comes down to personal comfort, and this article, “I tested 13 pairs of women's running shorts and these 4 are the best for keeping you cool during summer,” may help provide some guidance on styles to consider. As Kramer once put it, “I’m out there, Jerry! And I’m loving every minute of it!”

Minute 2: Tune in or tune out

Our dad used to tell us that there are 2 types of people in the world -- those who walk into a room and turn the TV on and those who walk into a room and turn the TV off. (Guess which type he encouraged us to become.) A similar divide exists among runners -- those who would never leave home without music in their ears and those who prefer the soundtrack of their own breathing. Before the creation of Bluetooth and wireless earbuds, listening to music while running was a lot more cumbersome. Bigger headphones, long cord, clunky playback device… you kids don’t know how good you’ve got it! (Sorry, that was a reflex). Today all it takes is wireless headphones and a watch and you’re on the road. Fans of aural entertainment while on the run will point to this new story in support of their viewpoint: “How music helps you defeat fatigue and run better.” In it, the results of a detailed study on perception of effort are explained. The TL;DR is this: listening to music might alter the perception of effort while working out. Thank you, science! There are thousands of music playlists curated specifically for running, including a ton that pair to specific workouts like Nike Run Club. Other studies have been done that targeted the BPM rate. Some people believe that songs with tempos between 120 to 130 BPM tend to work best for faster running, while others feel the 150 to 190 BPM is better for a step per beat average. On the other side of the debate, consider this piece: “The Benefits of Running Without Headphones.” The list includes better feedback from your body and enhanced safety in hearing cars or bicycles approaching.

Minute 3: What we can learn about fatigue from ultra marathoners

A common definition of an ultra marathon is any race longer than a marathon, but it's generally much longer, like 50K, 100K, or 100 miles. For many endorphin junkies, however, just running far isn’t enough. They also want to run up and down mountains in their races. In next month’s Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc (UTMB), for example, athletes will cover more than 100 miles of trail running and 33,000 feet of vertical climbing. That’s basically the equivalent of climbing from Everest base camp to the summit twice during the middle of running a quadruple marathon. That type of extreme event turns out to be an excellent laboratory for studying fatigue in athletes. For instance, scientists can learn how much of fatigue is strictly physical and how much of it is mental exhaustion. In a deep profile from Outside on the science behind UTMB athletes, “What It Takes to Run a Mountain-Ultra-Trail Race,” we learn about a 2019 study of those runners by Dr. Gillaume Millet. There were 2 key takeaways for us. First, we learn that once you get to 15 miles, your level of fatigue will basically plateau. As the article states: “You might want to adopt ‘After 15 hours, it won’t get any worse!’ as an encouraging mantra.” Second, results from the UTMB study suggested that women fatigued slower than men. Part of that is from smarter pacing, but some researchers have suggested that it could be tied to evolutionary mental toughness from the long process of child gestation. Check out details in: “The Woman Who Outruns the Men, 200 Miles at a Time.” If you really want to geek out on the science of fatigue, listen to this podcast interview with Dr. Millet where he explains his research on endurance athletes. And if you’ve been daydreaming about trying an ultra yourself, you may want to check out this story from Trail Runner: “20 Beginner-Friendly Trail Ultras.”

Minute 4: No Pain No Gain

Tell us if you’ve heard this one before -- any path to full-body wellness and fitness begins and ends with cardio. Countless healthy journeys progress from walking, to 5Ks, to half marathons, to marathons. Many people took this approach because cardio was linked to weight loss -- remember the “Fat Burner” setting on StairMasters? A new story in Women’s Health explores the history of this mindset: “More Women Are Choosing Strength Training Over Traditional Cardio For Bigger Gains.” It summarizes new research showing that strength and cardio should be far more balanced than previously understood. Furthermore, “No, Lifting Won’t Make You Bulky. So Pick Up Those Weights!” shares more ideas along the same theme. Lifting weights and adding muscle won’t dramatically decrease your running ability. If you’ve been hesitant to move back into your local gym, but want to do more strength training, check out “Best bodyweight exercises for strength training at home.” It should be noted that as you get stronger, adding resistance is the only way to break out of the inevitable plateaus for gains.

Minute 5: Quick Intervals

  • In this article, “Buying a weighted vest was one of the best fitness investments of my life — it made me faster and stronger in 4 weeks,” Gabby Landsverk discusses her experience strapping 14 pounds of weight to her torso and how it improved her fitness. Quick numbers, she dropped 30-seconds off her casual mile pace after using the weighted vest for 4 weeks. A fitting twist on strength training that ties in nicely with Minute 1 and the focus on a hybrid approach to strength training and cardio.

  • Another 4th of July, another Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest and another championship for world record holder, Joey Chestnut. He devoured 76 hot dogs in 12 minutes. If the math is to be believed, that was 22,800 calories, and 1368 grams of fat. You’re probably wondering, what does this have to do with running? Well, the question is raised - how long would you have to run to burn off that many calories? If you burn 100 calories every mile, then it would take 220 miles to burn off 76 hot dogs. If we’re talking about the ultra-runners we mentioned earlier, maybe they do it in less when they hit the elevation gain too, but the average runner is going to spend a looooooong time on the treadmill or streets to combat the hot dog intake. Yikes.

  • The U.S. Olympic roster is set, and it’ll be the second largest delegation ever assembled. Perhaps most impressively, the U.S. is sending the most women ever to the Olympics. A total of 613 athletes will represent the U.S., including 329 women. It’s the third time more women than men have been on the team, but the overall percentage of females (54%) is the biggest yet.

Minute 6: Daily Inspiration

It’s been a rough week for Team USA Men’s Basketball. They lost two exhibition games before finally winning one on Tuesday. A team that is always, maybe unfairly, compared to The Dream Team, has lofty expectations. With all that said, as every athlete can attest, practice is what gets you to the goal. And sometimes, even the coaches make mistakes. That’s the case for Greg Popovich and staff who also joined the jog and ran at the end of a recent practice. For a guy over 70, he’s still got it. Doesn’t matter your age, you can always run!


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