The Outside Blog

Dispatches : Running

On Cloudracer

The Cloudracer’s rubber springs are no gimmick. Though the Swiss-engineered shoe sports a thin, almost minimalist mid-sole, the rubber pads compress on each impact, so it takes almost all the sting out of the road while still feeling fast and low to the ground.

“I didn’t know what to make of this shoe at first, but I’m sold,” said one tester. The swap of rubber springs for foam cushioning should also boost the life span, and hot-weather runners will love the extremely breathable, all-mesh upper.

The bottom line: A tempo-run tool for the fleet of foot, but pronators and heel strikers should steer clear. 7 oz; 5 mm drop

$130, on-running.com 

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Smaller Runners Have the Advantage at Badwater

Until December 2013, California’s 135-mile Badwater ultramarathon, which started in Death Valley and ended at the Mount Whitney Portal, was considered the ultimate endurance test in an extreme heat environment.

That’s when a temporary moratorium was placed on all sporting events in Death Valley. Obviously, the announcement threw a wrench in this summer’s 37th edition of Badwater, scheduled to take place July 21 through 23. But you can’t just axe the world’s toughest footrace, so race organizers revised the route, which now incorporates more than 17,000 feet of elevation gain between Lone Pine and Whitney Portal. Although temperatures might not reach 125 degrees, the 97 brave souls who toe the line will likely still be treated to triple-digit temps.

And although some runners will incorporate special clothing and aid-station ice baths into ther races, other runners will have a more natural advantage: their body size.

While running in hot weather, an athlete’s primary goal—besides winning—should be to maintain a constant core temperature by balancing heat production and heat loss. Exercise itself creates internal heat. In fact, 80 percent of energy produced by exercising skeletal muscle becomes heat (the other 20 percent generates adenosine triphosphate (ATP) to power the muscle. Extremely hot environments can also cause athletes to take in heat, just as cold environments cause us to lose heat.  

Runners also battle heat externally via hot weather and humidity, both of which make running more difficult. Hot temperatures cause heat to transfer from the environment to the body, while humidity makes evaporative heat loss more difficult. In comfortable environments, to get rid of excess heat, blood is shunted to the skin, where warmed blood can lose heat through evaporation (sweating) or convection (if skin temperature is greater than the environmental temperature). Both evaporation and convection depend on the skin's surface area—the larger surface area, the better the heat loss.  

So, bigger runners should be better at cooling off, right?

Wrong.

Surface area and body mass (that is, muscle mass) are not at a one-to-one relationship—for every unit of body mass you increase, you don't get an equivalent relative increase in surface area. Smaller runners actually have more surface area relative to body mass, which gives them greater heat-loss ability for their relative mass.

According to a study in the European Journal of Physiology, this “distinct thermal advantage” corresponds with speed. Because lighter runners produce and store less heat than heavier runners at the same pace, they can run faster or farther. This difference was most striking in hot, humid conditions (95 degrees, greater than 60 percent humidity) and essentially absent in cool conditions (59 degrees).

Indeed, in 2004, exercise physiologist Tim Noakes published a related study in the Journal of Applied Physiology finding that African runners ran faster in the heat than their Caucasian peers. “Larger Caucasians reduce their running speed to ensure an optimal rate of heat storage without developing dangerous hyperthermia [heatstroke],” the study reports. “According to this model, the superior running performance in the heat of these African runners can be partly attributed to their smaller size and hence their capacity to run faster in the heat while storing heat at the same rate as heavier Caucasian runners.” 

In this study, the heavier Caucasian runners (169 pounds) ran approximately 10 percent slower during 30 minutes of exercise in hot conditions (95 degrees, 60 percent humidity) compared to the lighter Africans (131 pounds). The difference is dramatic when considering both groups ran the same time in the exercise test conducted in cool conditions (59 degrees).  

In other words, a slower but smaller runner has a substantially better shot at beating a faster but larger runner if the temperature is high enough.

Although many other factors can help regulate core temperature (clothing, heat adaptation, genetics, age, etc.), the bottom line is that the smaller you are, the better you should be able to handle the heat. So although the Badwater 135 might not reach 130 degrees this year, the soaring temps should be sufficient to give an advantage to the slight of frame.

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The 4 Most Influential Fitness Trends

Every year, data and news service Thomson Reuters compiles an index of the “World’s Most Influential Scientific Minds.” Scientists earn a place atop the list by publishing several articles that rank among the top one percent most cited by fellow researchers.

“Citations offer a direct testament to work that scientists themselves judge to be the most important to ongoing research,” said Gordon Macomber, managing director of Thomson Reuters Scientific and Scholarly Research, in a press release.

With that in mind, we combed through the most influential sports science journals to find their top-cited articles over the past five years. Presenting what all that research has to say about our health:

We’re Obsessed With Shortcuts

The Source: Journal of Applied Physiology

We want to go fast. But we don't want to do the hard work. Nitrate and protein supplement research dominates the literature. Nitrates, found in beetroot juice, were found to make exercise more efficient and help endurance athletes go stronger longer—if they drank 17 ounces of the stuff every day for at least three days before go-time.

And in muscle-building news, the journal’s top-cited study concluded that whey hydrolysate beats out soy protein and casein for post-workout muscle recovery. Athletes who downed a drink with 10 grams of whey hydrosylate after performing resistance exercise had a 93 percent greater muscle protein synthesis response than they did after consuming a drink that contained the same amount of casein.

The takeaway? Everyone's looking for a fitness shortcut. In reality, diet tweaks and supplements might help you eke out that final percent of performance gain. But for most athletes, sticking to the fundamentals will yield more immediate results.

We Want to Embrance Bionic Technology

The Source: The American Journal of Sports Medicine

Platelet-rich-plasma injections (aka PRP) were the hot topic in this journal. As the top-cited article explains, PRP injections are prepared from one’s own blood, and contain “growth factors and bioactive proteins that influence the healing of tendon, ligament, muscle, and bone.” More and more pro athletes are turning to both stem cell and PRP injections to try to avoid the uncertainty and down time associated with surgery.

Using one’s own blood as a body boost is nothing new. Tour de France cyclists have been extracting their own blood—sometimes centrifuging it down to just the red blood cells, then re-injecting it—for years. As Bike Pure explains, autologous blood transfusion “is not detectable and is perhaps not technically “doping”, but remains a banned technique affording a massive boost to an athlete over fatigued competition” by delivering extra oxygen to working muscles, and “increasing the capacity of the muscles to use oxygen by up to five percent.”

Unlike blood doping, PRP injections are not illegal. In 2011, the World Anti-Doping Agency removed PRP from its list of banned substances after noting a lack of evidence that the procedure enhances performance. PRP is for healing.

We're Terrified Of Concussions

The Source: British Journal of Sports Medicine

For athletes in contact sports like football, researchers are particularly concerned about concussions: their long-term effects, how to spot one, and how to decide when an athlete is ready to play again after suffering one.

Since top researchers released a popular consensus statement on concussion in sport in late 2008, research on the condition has exploded. We know now, for example, that men take more than twice as long as women to recover from a concussion. (An average of 66.9 days vs. 26.3 days for women, likely because the female hormone progesterone may play a protective role.) And that 10 to 20 minutes of low-intensity aerobic activity can alleviate symptoms and expedite recovery.

Helmet technology is getting smarter, too. In football, the new Riddell SpeedFlex helmet is “designed to disperse energy, reducing the risk of trauma,” SB Nation reports.  A built-in response system “is intended to alert coaches when a player suffers a significant hit to the head, or multiple hits that combine to pose a risk. And in the endurance sports world, Swedish company POC introduced helmets with MIPS, a technology designed to reduce oblique impact forces on the brain by allowing the helmet’s shell and liner to move separately.

We Think Sitting Is Killing Us

The Source: Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise and Exercise and Sports Sciences Reviews

In perhaps one of the most talked-about studies from this journal, scientists linked time spent sitting to mortality and found that the longer people sit every day, the higher their mortality rate. The revelation brought on a wave of stand-up desk articles and an urge to at least get up every 15 minutes to take a lap around the office.

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High Society, Higher Trails

The Leadville Race Series is right around the corner, and if you've scored one of the two suites at the Governor's Mansion, consider yourselves lucky. The historic building on Eighth Street is not only blocks from the race start but also among the few accommodations in town that offer full kitchens complete with cook tops, refrigerators, microwaves, toasters, and coffee makers (runners, you can cook your oatmeal or cream of wheat exactly to your liking on race morning).

{%{"image":"http://media.outsideonline.com/images/leadville-mineral-belt-trail-view_fe.jpg","caption":"You'll feel like you're on top of the 10,000-foot town when you wake up at the Governor's Mansion."}%}

Athletes will also love that each suite (which can sleep up to four) has its own entrance and private bath; no waking up everyone on your floor at 3 a.m. as you're sneaking out to the race start or attempting to clear your bowels for the tenth time that morning. 

The first-floor Jesse McDonald suit, named for the former Colorado governor who built the house in 1893, opens into a formal parlor with high ceilings and a gas fireplace. In fact, the Victorian decor—lace curtains, floral wallpaper, antique furniture—makes you wonder for a moment if McDonald himself might come through the front door.

The property is now owned by Jo Ann and Jaime Stuever, who relocated to the Centennial State from Florida in 2005. "Both Jaime and I feel that if you are going to change your life, do it in a big way," Jo Ann says. "I always dreamed of living in an old Victorian house, and when I first walked in the front door, I knew the Governor's Mansion was perfect."

During the past nine years, the couple—in addition to learning to ski—has enjoyed hosting guests and sending them out on adventures in and around Leadville. In fact, they became so engrained in the community that in 2011, Jaime was elected as Leadville's mayor. If you ask him, he'll tell you all about the town's mining history and how it came to be the highest incorporated city in North America.

Surrounded by the highest peaks in Colorado, the quintessential mountain town main street boasts several sporting goods stores, antique shops, and eateries, all in a half-mile stretch. Start your day with an early morning latte and breakfast burrito at City on a Hill, a charming coffee shop that roasts its own beans and showcases local art (this summer, Precision Peaks grace the walls; you likely won't be able to leave without purchasing your favorite mountain).

If time allows, explore the area's many trails (check out the Mineral Belt Trail, which loops 11.6 miles around town, or go father afield to Turquoise Lake or Mount Elbert). Afterward, refuel at High Mountain Pies or grab a late-night beer at the Silver Dollar (what the saloon lacks in local draughts, it makes up for in atmosphere).

{%{"image":"http://media.outsideonline.com/images/leadville-downtown-saloon_fe.jpg","caption":"The one and only saloon is the perfect place to have a cold one and bask in the glory of the Wild West."}%}

And don't forget about the second-story deck back at the Governor's Mansion. It just might be the best place in town to watch the sun set over the Rockies and prop up your tired feet.

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