Study reveals physical demands of two-hour marathon

Some of the elites runners were tested at Exeter Arena

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Elite runners need a specific combination of physiological abilities to have any chance of running a sub-two-hour marathon, new research shows.

The study is based on detailed testing of athletes who took part in Nike’s Breaking2 project – an ambitious bid to break the two-hour barrier.

Professor Andrew Jones, of the University of Exeter, said the findings reveal that elite marathon runners must have a “perfect balance” of VO2 max (rate of oxygen uptake), efficiency of movement and a high “lactate turn point” (above which the body experiences more fatigue).

The VO2 measured among elite runners shows they can take in oxygen twice as fast at marathon pace as a “normal” person of the same age could while sprinting flat-out.

“Some of the results – particularly the VO2 max – were not actually as high as we expected,” Professor Jones said.

“Instead, what we see in the physiology of these runners is a perfect balance of characteristics for marathon performance.

“The requirements of a two-hour marathon have been extensively debated, but the actual physiological demands have never been reported before.”

The runners in the study included Eliud Kipchoge, who took part in Breaking2 – falling just short of the two-hour target – but later achieving the goal in 1:59:40.2 in the Ineos 1:59 challenge.

Based on outdoor running tests on 16 athletes in the selection stage of Breaking2, the study found that a 59kg runner would need to take in about four litres of oxygen per minute (or 67ml per kg of weight per minute) to maintain two-hour marathon pace (21.1 km/h).

“To run for two hours at this speed, athletes must maintain what we call ‘steady-state’ VO2,” Professor Jones said.

“This means they meet their entire energy needs aerobically (from oxygen) – rather than relying on anaerobic respiration, which depletes carbohydrate stores in the muscles and leads to more rapid fatigue.”

In addition to VO2 max, the second key characteristic is running “economy”, meaning the body must use oxygen efficiently – both internally and through an effective running action.

The third trait, lactate turn point, is the percentage of VO2 max a runner can sustain before anaerobic respiration begins.

“If and when this happens, carbohydrates in the muscles are used at a high rate, depleting glycogen stores,” Professor Jones explained.

“At this point – which many marathon runners may know as ‘the wall’ – the body has to switch to burning fat, which is less efficient and ultimately means the runner slows down.

“The runners we studied – 15 of the 16 from East Africa – seem to know intuitively how to run just below their ‘critical speed’, close to the ‘lactate turn point’ but never exceeding it.

“This is especially challenging because – even for elite runners – the turn point drops slightly over the course of a marathon.

“Having said that, we suspect that the very best runners in this group, especially Eliud Kipchoge, show remarkable fatigue resistance.”

The testing, conducted in Exeter and at Nike’s performance centre in Oregon, USA, provided a surprising experience for a group of amateur runners in the UK.

“We tested 11 of the 16 runners at Exeter Arena a few years ago,” Professor Jones said.

“Some local runners were there at the time, and it was a real eye-opener for them when a group of the world’s best athletes turned up.

“The elite runners were great – they even joined in with the local runners and helped to pace their training.”

Former NFL players may not suffer more severe cognitive impairment than others, study indicates

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DALLAS – Nov. 11, 2020 – Even though repeated hits to the head are common in professional sports, the long-term effects of concussions are still poorly understood. While many believe that professional athletes who experience multiple concussions will end up with severe cognitive impairment later in life, a UT Southwestern study suggests that may not necessarily be the case.

The preliminary study, published in Cognitive and Behavioral Neurology, looked at a small cohort of retired professional football players who had a history of concussions and were diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment (MCI), a known risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease. The 10 retired athletes, plus 10 nonathletes, were given a battery of cognitive tests to assess their verbal memory, learning, and language skills. The nonathletes also had MCI but no history of traumatic brain injury.

“For the most part, the athletes had a similar cognitive profile to the nonathletes,” says Nyaz Didehbani, Ph.D., assistant professor in the department of psychiatry and the study’s corresponding first author.” But they did score lower on a couple of items, more specifically on our naming test, which has been showing up in a number of our studies. A consistent complaint from many of our athletes includes word-finding and naming difficulties.”

Name recall, or the ability to see something and name it, diminishes quite frequently with normal aging, says Munro Cullum, Ph.D., vice chair and chief of the division of psychology in the department of psychiatry and the study’s senior author. “It’s not that they have lost the ability, but rather have a reduced ability to quickly retrieve words when they’re shown a picture.”

Despite differences in their ability to name recall, the retired football players scored similarly to the nonathletes on verbal memory and learning. This is in contrast to findings from other studies in which a history of concussions in athletes has been found to also affect these areas.

“Overall, the study is suggestive that just because you’ve had a history of multiple concussions, it doesn’t mean you will develop a neurodegenerative change or problems later in life,” says Cullum.

The retired NFL players range in age from 64 to 77 and played anywhere from six to 14 years in the NFL. The nonathletes were selected from an Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center database at UT Southwestern. The groups were similar in age, sex, race, and education.

One clue as to why multiple concussions appear to have a selective effect on name recall may lie within the brain itself. Imaging from other studies done by the UT Southwestern group on these athletes demonstrated an interesting phenomenon.

“We had an imaging finding of an abnormality in the white matter deep in the part of the brain where word retrieval is thought to occur,” Cullum says. These studies found that changes in white matter in retired athletes with a history of concussions were linked to poorer performance in naming, though it is still unclear why only this area of the brain appears to be affected. The authors are designing experiments to learn more.

Although the degree of the cognitive impairment wasn’t much worse in retired athletes with MCI, this study provides only a small picture of the issue. There is evidence from other studies that exposure to repeated concussions can lead to earlier onset of MCI and that cognitive impairment may be higher in retired athletes.

The team at UT Southwestern is working to resolve these conflicting results from other studies by following a larger cohort of retired athletes over time. They are seeking to investigate the long-term effects of concussion on the brain by assessing how cognition changes over time, the rates at which it changes, and the effects of comorbidities (the presence of other illnesses) and psychological factors in athletes with MCI and a history of head injuries.

Within the context of this study, the authors are also interested in looking at different ways to evaluate cognition to better understand the state of neurodegenerative changes in athletes and to determine if the link between concussion and MCI is direct or correlative.

“Their being professional athletes does not necessitate automatically falling into this doom-and-gloom category that the cognitive impairment will progress and worsen,” says Didehbani. “Those cases are really just a subset, just like with the normal population.”

For young athletes, inadequate sleep leads to decreased performance

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November 9, 2020 – Most young athletes don’t get enough sleep – and that may significantly affect their sports performance, according to a paper in the November issue of Current Sports Medicine Reports, official journal of the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM). The journal is published in the Lippincott portfolio by Wolters Kluwer.

“There’s growing evidence to suggest that youth athletes don’t get required amount of sleep, and that this negatively affects their performance,” comments Mark F. Riederer, MD, of C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, author of the new review. He believes that the trend toward more-intensive training might contribute to a lack of adequate sleep in in young athletes.

Rested and ready? Youth athletes need more sleep to do their best

Faced with competing demands including school, sports, and social life, young athletes tend to put off sleep in favor of other activities. Generally, the evidence suggests that they don’t meet recommended guidelines for sleep duration: 9 to 12 hours for children aged 6 to 12 years and 8 to 10 hours for adolescents aged 13 to 18 years. For example, one study found that more than 90 percent of teen gymnasts get less than 8 hours of sleep per night.

Most studies find that young athletes get less sleep than non-athletes; they may sleep longer on the weekends, trying to make up their “sleep debt.” The evidence suggests that young female athletes sleep less than their male counterparts. However, elite-level teen athletes of both sexes seem to get more sleep – possibly related to higher sleep need due to higher training loads.

Although studies vary, the evidence suggests that getting less-than-recommended sleep leads to decreased performance on the playing field. Some papers report that inadequate sleep has significant effects on reaction time, strength, speed, cognitive learning, and decision-making.

“[S]tudies consistently demonstrate that lack of recommended sleep results in poor sense of well-being, increased perceived training load, and poor placement in competitions,” Dr. Riederer writes. Sleep deficits may also place young athletes at risk for injury and illness.

Other recent findings include:

Studies of napping and other sleep interventions show inconsistent effects on athletic performance.
Young athletes with symptoms of insomnia may be at increased risk of burnout, along with a higher risk of dropping out of their sport due to injury.
Levels of the stress hormone cortisol are increased after competitive matches, leading to reduced sleep time and quality.
Poor sleep may be linked to obstructive sleep apnea among college football linemen.
Inadequate sleep might be a risk factor for bony stress injuries (such as stress fractures).
Although it has been suggested that using smartphones or other electronic devices before bed can lead to impairments of sleep or athletic performance, one recent study found no such effects.

“The message for young athletes is, getting recommended sleep can improve your performance,” Dr. Riederer comments. He notes that an emphasis on increasing training workload to improve skill and performance may adversely affect young athletes in other ways.

“Trends like early-morning training schedules, two-a-day practices, and late night practices and competitions come at the expense of good sleep habits – as well as leaving kids less time to socialize and do homework,” Dr. Riederer adds. “We need to ensure our youth athletes are getting adequate amounts of sleep, and there is evidence to support this claim.”

Concussion: How the NFL came to shape the issue that plagued it

Press Release:

ANN ARBOR — Players kneeling during the national anthem is the most recent NFL controversy, but certainly not the first nor the biggest.

Concussion has dogged the NFL since the 1990s, and its initial response — avoidance and superficial gestures to mollify critics — damaged its public image. However, in recent years, the league has repositioned itself as a leader in concussion prevention and research, a new University of Michigan study shows.

The study found that the NFL’s newly proactive stance shows how a large organization can wrest control of and shape the very issue that haunted it.

“They said, ‘We’ll change, but it’s going to be on our terms. We want to be the leaders in concussion,'” said study author Kathryn Heinze, U-M assistant professor of kinesiology. “They said, ‘If we have to change, we’ll take credit. We’ll create the funding. We’ll create the partnerships with other organizations. We’ll work to pass new laws.’ When they finally realized they had to do something they realized they had to be the leaders.”

The NFL is likely one of the few organizations that could achieve this, largely because it’s so influential, Heinze said. Still, the league would have been better off implementing these changes years earlier.

“There’s a lesson here around getting ahead of these changes sooner and avoiding the intermediate stages where organizations resist or avoid change,” Heinze said. “They may have avoided some of those lawsuits, or the Judiciary Hearings on concussion, yet we still see this path very often.”

The study’s purpose wasn’t to judge the NFL’s handling of concussion, but rather to look at how one organization reacted to demands for institutional change. Heinze stressed that findings in no way suggest that the NFL has done all it can to protect players from concussion, only that it has now adopted a leadership role in addressing the problem.

Researchers looked at the NFL’s response to concussion from the early 1990s to 2015. From the 1990s to 2008, the NFL either dismissed concussion as a non-issue or made superficial gestures that didn’t yield substantial change, a strategy called decoupling. Later the league made significant but incremental changes that didn’t yield fundamental shifts.

For instance, in 1994 the league created a concussion study committee, but most members were affiliated with the league and weren’t concussion experts. Later, it appointed an independent director, but 10 of the 14 members remained tied to the league in some way.

However, from 2009 to 2015, the league responded to intense, coercive internal and external pressure by making fundamental organizational shifts, the study says. For instance, it abolished the existing, much-criticized concussion committee and established the Head, Neck and Spine committee, which consisted only of concussion experts unaffiliated with the NFL.

More importantly, Heinze said, the league changed its ideology and also engaged in advocacy, which enabled it to shape the agenda regarding the concussion issue. It finally acknowledged the long-term effects of concussion. It served as a broker, forming partnerships with academia, government and business. It was instrumental in passing a law in 50 states to protect youth athletes who experience concussion; only four states passed this law prior to NFL involvement.

Heinze said researchers were surprised by how dramatically an organization’s position could shift in a relatively short time.

“I know it took a while, but once they decided to go in that direction, they attacked it from multiple perspectives,” she said.

Whether other large organizations model the NFL and take a leadership role on controversial issues remains to be seen. Heinze said the NFL’s initial response of denial and avoidance is much more typical.

Nominees announced for Covid Inspiration Award

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Tenacity and determination are some of the traits that propel athletes to greatness. In a year beset by unprecedented challenges, roadblocks and disruptions brought on by the global Covid-19 pandemic, they were also key attributes that drove many event organisers across athletics to meet those challenges and provide competitive opportunities for athletes and entertaining events for fans around the world.

To celebrate those efforts, World Athletics is delighted to announce the nominees for the Covid Inspiration Award, a special honour this year to recognise an individual or group of individuals whose efforts have resulted in the delivery of a particularly inspiring athletics event or experience in 2020.

“Necessity has been the mother of invention for all of us in this pandemic year and we have seen some really creative initiatives and programmes from our athletes and our event organisers, who have had to reinvent their operations and surmount huge obstacles in order to provide competition for our athletes and fans, which is the lifeblood of our sport,” World Athletics President Sebastian Coe said. “We wanted to recognise their enormous resilience and creativity this year by presenting this special award to one of those events that have been exceptionally innovative this year.”

The three nominees, as selected by World Athletics Council Members, are (listed alphabetically):

Herculis EBS Monaco Wanda Diamond League meeting

After a slew of cancellations and postponements that delayed the start of the international season, meeting organisers overcame unprecedented public health and safety concerns, global travel restrictions and painful budget cuts to stage their annual event and finally kick off the interrupted Diamond League season on 14 August, an evening capped by Joshua Cheptegei’s stunning world 5000m record before a crowd of 5000 fans.

In all, 132 athletes – 13 of those reigning world champions – from 36 countries in six federation areas competed across 14 disciplines. Underscoring the quality of the event, 14 world-leading performances were set at the meeting. Of those, 11 remained the year’s best performances at the end of the season.

Ultimate Garden Clash, an original idea by Renaud Lavillenie

A series of three innovative competitions, devised by Renaud Lavillenie and his fellow pole vaulters who presented their idea to World Athletics. The events were held over a five-week period in which athletes faced off via a live video link while competing in their respective training bases.

Organised jointly by the athletes and World Athletics, and broadcast live on its social media platforms, the Ultimate Garden Clash featured separate men’s and women’s pole vault competitions and a triathlon event with three of the world’s best decathletes. The men’s pole vault edition on 3 May between world champion Sam Kendricks, world record-holder Mondo Duplantis and former world record-holder Lavillenie was the world’s first high-level ‘live’ athletics competition since global lockdowns went into effect in March, and attracted more than one million viewers from more than 90 countries in the first 24 hours.

Gdynia 2020 for the World Athletics Half Marathon Championships

The local organising committee in the northern Polish city faced a series of pandemic related challenges throughout the year but never gave up on their dream of hosting a World Championship event, which they did on 17 October in what became the first and only World Athletics Championship held in 2020.

After a postponement from the original March date, the organisers continually adapted to the changing situation, working with World Athletics to design a thorough first-of-its-kind health and safety protocol for the event that ultimately attracted 225 athletes from 54 teams, the second-highest at these championships since the 1998 edition. Peres Jepchirchir of Kenya broke the world record for a women-only race while four championship records, two area records and 21 national records were also set.

The voting process

The winner will be decided by a public vote via the World Athletics Facebook, Twitter and Instagram social media platforms. The combined number of votes from all three platforms will determine the winner. Voting opens on 9 November and closes at midnight on 15 November.

The winner will be announced at the World Athletics Awards 2020 to be held virtually on Saturday 5 December.