Fartlek & Low Things in West Auckland Part 5




© Copyright – 2011 – Christopher Kelsall

The following installment of Fartlek and Low Things in West Auckland (Part 5) covers, for the most part, the subjects of muscle fibre recruitment as well as an in-depth look at the need for fueling in training. To fuel or not to fuel is the question!

The Livingstones and company were competitive distance runners during the late1970s through to the mid-1990s, when they ran at the national level in New Zealand and Australia. Now they coach others.

Keith Livingstone is a Chiropractor with a practice in Australia and is the author of the very popular book, Healthy Intelligent Training, the definitive text on the famous Arthur Lydiard method. Colin is an author and illustrator living in England (he provided the illustrations for the book, Healthy Intelligent Training).

You can read part 4 here.

Chris: In part 4 of Fartlek and Low Things in West Auckland, we were talking about cycling and it's effect on running....

Keith:...back to this unusual question...

Lance Armstrong is quite a serious cyclist, but he could only run a 2hr 59m marathon in New York, with a celebrity escort to get him over the line. Endurance training is very, very specific. I helped Kari Cornwell, a 43 year old lady with asthma, run faster than that, last year, and she didn’t need celebrity fanfare to get her over the line! She’s just tough and persistent, and works around her limitations.

Good runners can become good cyclists, but the reverse is harder to accomplish. Jack Foster (who ran 2hr 11min for the marathon at age 42) used to replace the traditional Sunday run with a long bike ride, but he flew around very steep farm country the rest of the week. I remember him hurdling high fences at age 47 in a national cross-country, and getting pipped right on the line by Rod Dixon’s brother John. On very little notice he trained for the New York marathon at age 50, and ran 2:20 and bits. He’d been getting into hang gliding before he started re-training. There was a major incentive to be the first 50 year old under the 2:20. Lots of former distance runners (me included!) like cycling as you can go a very long time without any of the muscle soreness you can get from running. But it doesn’t replace the running; it’s just a pleasant form of active aerobic conditioning and or recovery.

Chris: On behalf of the cyclists out there, how about salt and sugar intake on longer runs?

Keith: What? A teaspoon of iodized table salt for every kilogram of body-weight should be added to 3 teaspoons of white sugar for every 10 kgs body-weight, mixed in a litre of filtered water, and drunk as often as possible during your long run ‘till your sweat cakes all around your mouth, you vomit, and then realize that this is a very silly thing to do.

Gavin Harris: Oh to vomit!

Do you recall the runner who awoke in a cold bath to a floating layer of vomit?

In the late 70's there was a runners flat in Central Auckland. The athletes who lived there ran hard and drank lots of beer. Lydiard himself had endorsed and enjoyed beer.

After one long hard run one of the athletes then got into a long hard beer drinking session and then, as was his custom, ran a long hot bath and sank into it to ease the tired body. Unfortunately the combination of beer, hot water and a long run weren't a good combination and within a short period of time this athlete had dozed off.

Chris: Sounds dangerous.

Gavin: Yeah fortunately drowning didn't occur, however, when said athlete woke hours later, his skin was shriveled like a prune, the water long had since gone cold, as had the layer of vomit that was floating on the top, bits collecting in groups were floating eerily around; creepy, stalking-like, technicolour rainbow chunks and swirly effluent.

Colin: Nice vomit story.

Gavin: Imagine reaching down to pull the plug on the drain, getting up and you are spotty with bits of vomit collected on your body...and cleaning out the drain in the cold air, so to run the bath again, to get yourself clean.

Chris: I wonder who this resembles.

Keith: Resembles? That was me in THE FLAT, 1977. 19 years old. Woke up in my bath, at 5:30 am, still in my running gear, in a very cool bath, with a scum layer lapping over my whitish tee shirt and at my mouth. Never, ever drunk much after that, really. I suspect I have good alcoholic genetic potential. Went in to my mate's room and found him face down on the floor by an elegant, heaped little pyramid of vomit on the ancient carpet.

Chris: Nice.

Keith: We survived on canned casseroles of various types and fish and chips, and there was an industrious trail of sugar ants always going up and down from the kitchen sink. We improved after that.

Chris: I should hope so. Let me guess, you raced the next day (that day)?

Keith: Yes, which leads into the NZ Methodist U-20 Cross-country title which Colin beat me in later that day. Old Reverend Sylvester thought that my dry-retching within 100m of the finish was valiant effort at work. I’d been bargaining with Colin halfway round the course to ease up and leave it to the finish, but he put the boot in...

Paul Fartier: Reminds me of the infamous Puss Puss flat in Onehunga with MX riders, shift workers and runners sharing toast and cheese and pickled onions for breakfast.

Paul Martin came home after one long weekend shift with no sleep. He told a would-be armed robber to F$#K off!! and laughed at him... the type of running Paul Martin did was after pigs in the Coromandel bush. Anyway he had breakfast then went straight to bath. The curious juxtaposition to the axolotyl (neotenic mole salamander) in the tank next to the bath was quite ironic as he was pasty white and almost catatonic. He would be that way for days until a piece of meat was thrown into the tank within striking distance then "POW!!!" it would strike by reflex and munch away on it's dinner...

...So Paul climbed into the bath, must of been 9AM after we had all departed for work and when I arrived home at 5.30, he was still there, not a hint of soap near the water. The reptile as still as Paul only maybe whiter? No amount of prodding could wake him so we resorted to ( there were a few of us crowded about by now ) pulling the plug and laughing as he wriggled around trying to get comfortable as the water and last available warmth drained from his totally prune-skinned body, bloody funny at the time, but no vomit....

Back to the Subject of Salt and Sugar Intake While Running

Colin: Just forget it. Get used to long runs without it...this is not a good habit to develop...plus this would play havoc on your system getting a ‘false reading’ or a sugar/salt rush when you are trying to deplete the body’s stores...making the body gradually adapt to the demands of endurance running.

Keith: The purpose of the long runs is to increase your efficiency at utilizing the abundant fatty acids as a fuel, which will keep your high-energy stores of glycogen relatively untouched and therefore still available for the business end of a distance race. The best way to increase your body’s capacity to use fatty acids as an alternative fuel is to take the muscle to local exhaustion of its glycogen supply, thereby FORCING it to do what it can with the fatty acids. Initially, this changeover in fuels is felt as the legendary “wall”, but after persisting in long efforts over several weeks, you’ll naturally get much better at using fats, then the “wall” is more like lace curtain.

Running on Premium Fuel: Frogs, Japs and Saxons

So these bright sparks who top up with gels all the time are running off premium fuel when they should be forcing their bodies to adapt to the endless fatty acid fuels that are floating around everywhere (not to be confused with vomit floating around everywhere).

They’re DE-TRAINING the system which will give them the biggest advantage in competition. A world-class marathoner can hum along aerobically at 5-minute miles on a fuel mix that is very high in fatty acids.

So it’s kinda like you have an engine that can run off diesel and high octane unleaded. The diesel is a slow-burn, low-energy yield hydrocarbon, and traditionally diesel engines were regarded as smelly, low horsepower things. HOWEVER, have you seen what they’re doing with diesel engines these days? Man they can go! Check out the BMW 335D! Not only does it look good, but it can give you a big wallop in the back when you accelerate from 120 to 140 mph! Man.. those Saxons know how how to make a machine!...

Colin: And the Frogs!!!!... I reckon I’d wipe your Bimmer with the latest Renault Megane RS that has 246 hp in a nice compact little chassis. Always loved competition Peugeots and Renaults.

Renault used to have a rally spec Alpine ES ( Equipment Speciaux) which looked like a Priest’s car...a humble Renault 12 body with wider wheels and a killer power to weight ratio. Dashboard like an aircraft cockpit...black bucket seats. A little car capable of 130mph and cornering at 80 was a big deal in 1983. How about that 406 with the 3 litre V6? That bugger was a near 150mph saloon that handled as well as any BMW. However, my dream car would be a Westfield Megabusa...0-60 in 3.2 seconds. Twin Suzuki motorcycle engines bolted together in a tiny, superbly built body...a four wheeled motorbike.

Chris: Well this has gone sideways.

Keith: Right! Back to the running. Chris, diesel was always regarded as a crappy fuel, until the engine was developed that could get the best out of it. Then suddenly it wasn’t “crappy” anymore.

Chris: I think I got it.

Keith: You are thick! You’ve just missed a couple of golden endorsement opportunities right there! Do you realize how much dough you could get for product placement like that? I literally gave you that on a platter and you’re too much of a dipstick to notice! You are an internet consultant and a journalist, aren’t you?

Anyhow....you develop your engine so that it can extract just about as much horsepower from diesel as it can from petrol.

Chris: Got it.

Keith: OK good. The diesel represents the fatty acid stores in the body, of which we have a huge amount, and the high octane petrol represents the very limited carbohydrate (glycogen) stores that are usually loaded within the muscles if they’ve been rested enough.

Chris: Got it.

Keith: Ok good.

We surmise that the “heavy, wooden legs” feeling we get in the closing miles of our long runs early in a base-building season represents the unloading of the final intramuscular glycogen stores from the oxidative fast twitch IIA muscle fibres, and if you get extremely tired to the point you slow to a doddle, even the pure fast twitch IIB fibres get involved. This sequential recruitment of muscle fibres from small (slow twitch) through to big (IIA fast twitch) and then biggest (IIB) at low intensities is known as the “Size Principle”. From small to big, like the Honda Odyssey’s Variable Cylinder Management technology, that maybe gets you running on 3 cylinders around town, but opens up to all 6 on the open road.

Colin: Bloody good cars, those Hondas! Mr. Honda has a 500 year plan doesn’t he? And they’re making robots now....can’t beat the Japs for polishing the stone into a masterpiece. I mean a Samurai sword...the katana....masterpiece in steel...I once cut a pumpkin in half with one of those bastards in a single swipe.

Keith: Yeah, metallurgists these days are stuffed how the Japanese swordsmiths managed to fold hundreds of layers of steel into each shaft. The Suzuki Katana 1100 was a breakthrough bike too, eh? Mate of mine had one, “Guss Gunther” used to race bikes professionally. That’s his actual name though he’s a chiropractor now!

Chris: Hey! That’s product placement again, isn’t it?

Colin: For what? Honda making Samurai swords now? They would probably make bloody good ones...

Keith: Yeah...as I was saying....

With the lower intensity of longer running, at first muscle fibres of all types are called into action, then the slow twitch muscles are preferentially recruited to maintain muscle tension, initially using a mix of fatty acids and carbs, then getting more and more into the fatty acids as the run continues, but even slow twitch muscles eventually start to fatigue a bit, around the 90 minute mark for the Average Joe, and as they do the load is gradually transferred to the more powerful oxidative fast twitch fibres. This is extremely selective, and directed by the nervous system. With enough long running to fatigue, and enough gentle aerobic recovery each time, these intermediary fast twitch oxidative fibres will eventually adapt and use fatty acids as well as carbohydrates. I think they do have a limited inherent ability to use fats as fuel, untrained, but training of any type takes our fast twitch muscles back to an oxidative capacity, with the ability to use dual fuels.


Keith: (rolls along...)

It’s surmised that our ancestors’ activity levels were so high that the natural state for human muscle has a lot of oxidative/aerobic IIA fibres. Like the Vikings, who could row all day, and then go ashore and pillage. What were their muscle fibre distributions like? Their arms would have been 3-foot blood vessels. With plenty of aerobic training, and repeated runs to local glycogen depletion, eventually the nervous system and those muscle cells get the message that they should respond.. and they do!

It seems whether fast twitch muscles are trained extensively and aerobically, or intensively and anaerobically, that they’ll always shift to an increase in aerobic or oxidative enzymes. So pure fast twitch IIB will shift to oxidative fast twitch IIA, and IIA can become very very oxidative as well as retaining power outputs, but the muscle fibre types never go the other way. In other words, a slow twitch is never going to become a fast twitch of either kind, no matter what, but even if you strength train a fast twitch muscle, it’ll shift to an oxidative or aerobic capacity. Cool eh?

To cut a longish story shortish:

Long aerobic runs done correctly even have the capacity to increase your eventual anaerobic capacity! This is because every fast twitch cell that has become sequentially exhausted has had to respond with an increased capillary bed, and with exercise and recovery, the cross-sectional area of the IIA fibres will increase, thereby increasing the volume of, but not the number of, IIA fibres in the working muscle. You’ll recover from any anaerobic workout much faster because you’ll have fantastic capillary beds all across the muscle, and this increases the rate of fuel supply and waste disposal at the cellular level. Anyhow, it’s all in there in my book, Healthy Intelligent Training, published by Meyer & Meyer, so go out and buy it instead of wasting time reading silly articles by Kelsall! I’ve got a wife and 5 kids to support.

Chris: Maybe you should have stopped at 2, Braveheart.

Keith: Braveheart! would you follow him into battle?

Chris: Uh, maybe yes, no?

Keith: No! Braveheart and those conniving little weasels like him...covering their tracks and squirming out of tight corners are the sorts of blokes who make rules. They hide behind a legion of Praetorian guards, to keep guys like us at bay. Pencil necks do not want you to think freely and be yourself. That is why they invented Political Correctness.....

Rising to a Crescendo


Chris: Ok.

Keith: Did you know that Braveheart, aka William Wallace, was a giant of a man according to contemporary writers?

Chris: No.

Keith: Mel Gibson would be as tall as his broadsword, which I’ve seen at the William Wallace Memorial in Scotland. One writer said that he was able to run down and then dismount a rider from his horse by leaping on them....wonder what his fibre type distributions were like..?

Chris: So William Wallace would be a shot-put candidate?

Keith: Probably hammer throw as well. And discus. Contemporary descriptions of him “at work” have him slicing wide swathes through battlefields with his enormous broadsword. Imagine 6’7” and 19 stone of “pleasantly formed, wild-haired” super-athlete moving like a threshing machine, cutting through legs, arms , bodies ad nauseam and chopping off heads.

Chris: Ok I always thought he was a small guy.

Keith: He was by all descriptions a very big guy, for those times and for these times. Funnily enough, now that you bring it up, thanks to the late ‘man mountain’ actor Fess Parker’s portrayals, Daniel Boone is often thought of as a “big man”, when he really wasn’t. I remember the song on the black and white TV we had in New Zealand...

Chris: Black and White, eh? You are dating yourself.

Singing Loud

“Daniel Boone was a man,
yes a BIG man,
with an eye like an eagle,
and as tall as a mountain was he!”

...all a load of BS! He was a very tough man, no doubt, but contemporary accounts of him have him as being about 5’10”, very stocky and very powerful, and very wide across the shoulders. He dispensed rough justice quite a bit; not quite the amiable giant on TV. He beat the living daylights out of a son-in-law who was knocking his daughter around, apparently, when he was getting quite old. How did we get here?

Chris: We were talking about fuel.

Keith: Right...

Chris: Before you carry on! Was it Peter Snell who first discovered that the fast twitch muscles are activated on a long run once you have depleted the glycogen stores, yes?

Keith: Dave Costill was the first scientist to adequately test and write it up I’d say. Lydiard was the first to discover its training effect. Snell was the pupil, not the teacher, on this one, but I daresay he has done some extensive work on this since. It’s all written up beautifully in my great book.

Chris: So again the secret to great training is that there is no secret. That steady, high mileage is the way to go. Can you think of anyone who has had good success on a low mileage regime?

Colin: Zero. You train the skills you need for the job. So the only way to get endurance is by training endurance.

Keith: None. Even Edwin Moses used to do 12-mile runs in his conditioning base. Usually over golf courses. He wasn’t a stupid man, was he? How many years was he supreme for? It is possible to do well with lowered mileages and appropriate intense work if there’s been an earlier background of higher mileage. Duncan MacDonald won several Honolulu marathons around the 2:14-5 mark, which is a good effort in that climate, and then switched down to track, with times like 13:14 5000m and 3:56 mile.

<<Read part 6 here>>