Polar snow

Ewen, as you imply, De Castella’s demanding 10 mile sessions including fairly fast down-hill running at Stromlo almost certainly contributed to his good performance in Boston, but it is intriguing to speculate that they might also have contributed to the fact that he is now ‘well and truly retired’ at 51. Of course there are many possible reasons why a former world record holder might choose to take it easy as middle age approaches.

However, it is disconcerting that some evidence indicates that elite athletes who stop training tend to deteriorate faster in middle age than sedentary individuals.   In a comparison of 64 sedentary men with 89 endurance-trained men, Pimentel and colleagues (Journal of Applied Physiology, volume 94, pp 2406-2413) found a more rapid decline in maximum oxygen uptake (VO2max) after age 50 in the endurance trained men. Not surprisingly the accelerated deterioration was associated with reduced training volume, though the causal mechanism was not established. In a 30 year follow-up study of men who had participated in the 1966 Dallas bed rest study in their youth, McGuire and colleagues (Circulation, 104, 1350-1357, 2001) found that the cardiovascular deterioration due to 3 decades of aging was less than that due to 3 weeks of bed-rest at age 20. Of special note with regard to the mechanism of deterioration, they found that the decrease in VO2max could be attributed mainly to decreased ability of muscle to extract oxygen from blood. In other words, the deterioration with age was largely due to deterioration within the muscles, though whether this deterioration was merely a loss of aerobic enzymes, or to the loss of fibres, and/or capillaries is unknown.

In the 4th edition of his book ‘Lore of Running’, Tim Noakes proposes that the springiness of muscles is significantly compromised by large numbers of runs over 21k, and he advocates that runners seeking a sustained quality running career should minimise eccentric muscular damage. So, I will continue to be cautious about forms of training that focus on eccentric contraction. Maybe the most important thing is allowing adequate recovery, especially when the legs start to show signs of cumulative fatigue over several consecutive days.

With regard to the recovery from my recent hamstring injury, my easy 7 Km run today went well despite the rather stripey weather. Fitful sunshine alternated with brief flurries of snow. Although the flurries were brief, the flakes were small and compact, typical of polar snow borne by a north-easterly airstream. Nonetheless it was good to be out of doors. After a gentle warm up, I gradually increased pace up to 5:30 min per Km for the 6th Km and was not aware of any discomfort in my hamstring. So I hope that after a week or two of gentle running I will be able to return to moderately intense efforts by mid February.

3 Responses to “Polar snow”

  1. Ewen Says:

    I’ll swap you some hot westerly wind borne dust for some of that polar snow!

    Those studies make me wonder what is the best method to retard muscle deterioration due to aging. My friend Kathy from Calwell trains with a high quality/low volume (2 X-training or rest days per week) schedule. This may have contributed to her running times that are not much slower than what she was doing 5 or 6 years ago. She’s 52 and one of the best for her age in the country.

    Of course the high quality (2 interval sessions per week) carries it’s own risk of injury.

    I can vouch for ‘springiness’ disappearing due to excessive long runs, as my high jump performances have been abysmal when doing marathon training.

  2. canute1 Says:

    I am happy to hold onto the snow – this is the best snow we have had since my return from Canada to UK 8 years ago. Tonight, cycling home along the river bank with bright moonlight shining on the snow was magical, though staying upright was challenge. Nonetheless, reading of the 40+ temperatures in Melbourne in the past week did make me a little nostalgic for Australian summers.
    I am intrigued by the idea of a training schedule that includes a few moderate or high intensity running sessions, together with cross-training to sustain the aerobic fitness each week. However, my recent experience of torn muscles certainly confirms the dangers of increasing speed without adequate preparation. A reasonable amount of low and moderate intensity running is clearly essential before pushing into the high intensity range. So, once my hamstring has healed I will return to a schedule of several moderate intensity runs a week augmented by several sessions on the elliptical. It hope to test the effectiveness of this strategy with a few races in the spring.

  3. Ewen Says:

    We had 39C today at 5pm (I’m waiting for it to “cool down” before running), and 40C is forecast for tomorrow. Not great for running any sort of distance!

    I hope the injuries do the right thing so you can test the strategy. I’m always interested in hearing about different training methods.

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