RESEARCH: Studies reviewed this week: 01 February 2021 to 07 February 2021

EQUIPMENT: Are running socks beneficial for comfort?

This study takes a deep dive into socks and investigates "the effect of socks and the effect of not wearing a sock on perceptions of thermal comfort in relation to changes in foot skin temperature and shoe microclimate". The authors found that:

  • Similar thermo-physiological responses were observed when wearing socks (regardless of fiber type) compared with not wearing a sock.
  • Surprisingly...exercising without a sock resulted in greater perceptions of foot wetness, stickiness and thermal discomfort.

Leading them to conclude that:

Socks therefore play an important positive role in the reduction of tactile and mechanical inputs (predictors of foot wetness perception, a key contributor to wear discomfort) generated between the foot and the shoe

PRACTICAL TAKEAWAY - while there doesn't seem to be a thermo-physiological difference between wearing and not wearing socks, the perception of comfort is increased when wearing them and this may be beneficial for performance during longer efforts.

PSYCHOLOGY: The psychology of ultra-marathon runners

This systematic review investigated the psychological characteristics of ultramarathon runners. While the results were not surprising, it is useful to have a set of characteristics and a description to better understand ultramarathon runners.

The authors highlighted that:

  • The most important factor motivating ultra-runners to engage in their sport is the opportunity to achieve personal goals.
  • Ultra-running is associated with a psychological drive to explore physical and mental limits.
  • Running an ultra-marathon causes an increase in fatigue and a decrease in vigour and tension.
  • These mood changes resolve within one week to one month after the race.

PRACTICAL TAKEAWAY - having clear goals and an acceptance that the race will be hard and test you is perhaps the "right" mindset for embarking on an ultra.

TRAINING: Effect of the Cooldown Type on Session Rating of Perceived Exertion

I've shared a few studies on sRPE in the past (here and here) and I belive it's a useful measure for quantifying training load. However, it is a purely subjective measure which can be impacted by factors such as the time between the session and the assessment. In this study the authors set out to determine the impact of the cool-down on sRPE.

They found that:

The lowest sRPE was observed when passive cooldown was performed. When the hardest training sessions were considered, a significant main effect of cooldown modality and duration and an interaction effect between these variables on sRPE were obtained. The lowest sRPE was observed during the longest cooldown (15 min).
The findings suggest that sRPE may be sensitive to the selected cooldown modality and duration, especially following the most demanding training sessions.

PRACTICAL TAKEAWAY - try to take record your sRPE in the most consistent way and be cautious of any mental heuristics that may sway your assessment.

NUTRITION: Sodium bicarbonate improves sprint performance in endurance cycling

I've never tried sodium bicarbonate as a supplement because I thought it was for short, sprint efforts and because of anecdotes of it causing stomach issues. This study examined it's use in a situation that is far more interesting to me. The test protocol had participants ingesting sodium bicarbonate (NaHCO3) as follows:

NaHCO3 or NaCl was supplemented prior to (150 mg kg−1) and during (150 mg kg−1) a 3-h simulated cycling race with a 90-s all-out sprint (90S) at the end.

The results showed that:

"NaHCO3 intake improved mean power during 90S by ∼3%" leading the authors to conclude that "NaHCO3 supplementation prior and during endurance exercise improves short all-out exercise performance at the end of the event".

PRACTICAL TAKEAWAY - sodium bicarbonate may be a useful ergogenic aid for sprint performance at the end of endurance races.

TRAINING: 25 Years of Session Rating of Perceived Exertion: Historical Perspective and Development

This is a useful paper for your references to understand sRPE and it's history.

The sRPE as a method of monitoring training has the advantage of extreme simplicity. While it is not ideal for the precise recording of the details of the external training load, it has large advantages relative to evaluating the internal training load.

PRACTICAL TAKEAWAY - sRPE has a long history, is well understood, and is a simple, free, and easy measure of training load.

ALTITUDE: Altitude training in endurance running: perceptions of elite athletes and support staff

This is my favorite type of study: looking at what athletes actually do. "Elite British endurance runners were surveyed to identify the altitude and hypoxic training methods utilised, along with reasons for use, and any situational, cultural and behaviour factors influencing these".

The authors found that:

Almost all of the athletes (98%)...surveyed had utilised altitude and hypoxic training and 75% of athletes believed altitude and hypoxia to be a “very important” factor in their training regime.
Athletes and support staff were in agreement of the methods of altitude training utilised (i.e. 'hypoxic dose’ and strategy), with camps lasting 3–4 weeks at 1,500–2,500 m being the most popular

PRACTICAL TAKEAWAY - athletes are using altitude in the manner prescribed by research and clearly believe in it's importance. I have a large set of papers shared on altitude on the resouces page that would be a great place to start if you're interested in this training intervention.

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