[Paleopsych] Runners World: Should You Run Naked?

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Sat Sep 10 02:02:36 UTC 2005

Should You Run Naked?

    Nothing came between ancient Olympians and their performance. Were
    they onto something?

    by: Amby Burfoot

    If you ask me, the ancient Olympians were a lot smarter than we are.
    They had the good sense to run, jump, and throw in the nude. When you
    put anything between your skin and the environment--like shorts and a
    singlet, for example--you only decrease your body's cooling efficiency
    (even if you're more...comfortable in certain areas). The so-called
    "modern" Olympians of 1896 were smarter than us, too. They did their
    running, jumping, and throwing in April. Some athletes complained
    about the chilly, damp weather, but Spiridon Louis gave thanks to Zeus
    all the way to his (clothed) marathon victory in 2:58:50.
    Unfortunately, Olympic Marathons have been getting hotter ever since.
    The 1900 Olympic Marathon started at 2:36 p.m. under a 95-degree
    Parisian sun. Twelve years later, in Stockholm, a Portuguese runner
    died in the sweltering Olympic Marathon. Many of us remember Gabriele
    Andersen Schiess staggering across the finish line in the 1984 Women's
    Olympic Marathon in Los Angeles. In Athens this month, both the men's
    and women's marathons will start at 6 p.m., when average temperatures
    are in the mid-80s, though the city has a record August high of 109.
    And the marathoners will be running on black asphalt that has been
    simmering for 12 hours.
    "It's a terrible disservice that the marathoners will be forced to
    compete in conditions where they can't perform their best, and could
    actually hurt themselves," says Dr. William Roberts, medical director
    of the Twin Cities Marathon and president of the American College of
    Sports Medicine. To help athletes deal with the Athens weather, the
    U.S. Olympic Committee has been holding educational meetings since
    last September, when it organized a conference called "Heat, Humidity
    and Air Pollution: What to Expect in Athens 2004." In May, the top
    U.S. marathoners gathered in Colorado Springs for the latest update.
    "We believe the heat actually opens the window of possibilities for
    our marathoners," says U.S. men's Olympic distance coach Bob Larsen.
    "We'll leave no stone unturned in our search for scientific approaches
    to running in the heat."
    The lessons learned by the marathon team will also work for you. Here
    are some of the highlights.

    Heat Acclimation

    Many years of heat acclimation research have convinced most experts
    that you can do a good job of adjusting to the heat in eight days, a
    better job in 14, and perhaps better still in 21. The last
    physiological variable to adapt is your sweat rate, which takes eight
    to 14 days to reach maximum efficiency. Other, faster responders
    include increased plasma volume, decreased sodium concentration in the
    blood, decreased heart rate while running, decreased perceived
    exertion, and increased running economy.
    U.S. track athletes will be given the chance to attend a pre-Olympic
    training camp on Crete about two weeks before they move to Athens. The
    runners will follow a heat-training protocol outlined by Randy Wilber,
    Ph.D., of the USOC sports sciences department, who suggests the
    following: First run in the morning or evening cool; then move to
    warmer times of the day; finally, increase the length and intensity of
    your midday workouts.
    Perhaps no runner has thought more about heat training and racing than
    Alberto Salazar. Before the 1984 Olympic Marathon he traveled to the
    U.S. Army Labs in Natick, Massachusetts, to get tested in a heat
    chamber (where sweat production is measured) and learned to chug two
    quarts of fluid before every workout. But
    then he crashed. He now believes he did too many hard 20-milers in the
    heat. "I was exhausted from the first step of the marathon," he says.
    He finished 15th in 2:14:19.
    Today Salazar is coaching Dan Browne, one of the 2004 U.S. marathon
    qualifiers. He plans to have Browne do occasional workouts in a Nike
    heat chamber and to cut back on the intensity of his speedwork. "No
    one's going to run 2:06 in Athens, so we don't have to worry about
    training for that pace," Salazar says.


    Everyone knows drinking fluids is supposed to help you run faster. But
    you have to slow down to grab your drinks. America's Steve Spence
    worked on this dilemma when he was training for the hot, humid World
    Championships Marathon in Tokyo in 1991. Spence set up a water table
    on his local track, and then practiced drinking while running
    intervals at faster-than-marathon pace. "I figured if I got good at
    taking my drinks at this pace, it would come easy in the marathon," he
    says. Spence claimed the bronze medal.
    A couple of months ago, Alan Culpepper, another 2004 marathon
    qualifier, visited the Gatorade Sports Science Institute in Illinois
    to get a better idea of his sweat production and hydration needs. When
    he ran for an hour in a heat chamber cranked up to 85 degrees, he
    sweat 1.4 liters. He also learned that he is a salty sweater. "I'm
    much more aware now of my drinking and sodium needs," Culpepper says.
    "I feel more prepared to handle the heat challenges in Athens."


    Storing extra water would be nice, but runners aren't camels. Still,
    two simple substances seem capable of promoting superhydration: common
    salt and glycerol, a liquid supplement. A New Zealand study presented
    at this year's American College of Sports Medicine meeting showed that
    well-trained runners who prehydrated with a heavily salted drink were
    able to exercise 20 percent longer in 90-degree weather than when they
    prehydrated with a minimally salty beverage.
    Not all glycerol studies have shown an improvement in hydration status
    or endurance performance, but a two-year-old study with Olympic
    distance triathletes produced convincing results. In a randomized,
    double blind, crossover study in 87-degree conditions, the triathletes
    slowed down much less with glycerol than without it. "Glycerol lets
    you increase the amount of standing water on board," says U.S.
    marathon guru David Martin, Ph.D. "It's nice to have that extra amount
    during a long, hot race." Spence readily admits he used glycerol in
    Tokyo, Keith Brantly says he used it in his best marathons, and
    Salazar says Browne will probably test glycerol to see how it works
    for him.

    Cool Vests

    In January, a team from the University of Georgia studied college
    distance runners covering 5-K in a 90-degree heat chamber with and
    without ice vests to cool their core before their efforts. The
    "precooled" runners finished 13 seconds faster, which is more than the
    gap that will separate many gold-medalists and fourth-place finishers
    in Athens.
    Recently, the folks at Nike Sport Research have been working to design
    an improved cooling vest that places more of the body's surfaces
    closer to larger volumes of ice. Only field hockey players have tested
    it (successfully, Nike says), but Lance Armstrong and Paula Radcliffe
    were both trying the vest in early summer.

    Cool Clothing

    You already know that a white shirt will absorb less heat than a black
    one. And for the past decade you've read about the amazing advances of
    breathable microfibers. But wait, those shirts are designed to keep
    you warm and dry in the winter. Do you really want that on a hot
    summer's day?
    Nope. So four years ago Nike produced a shirt that several U.S.
    runners wore in the Sydney Olympics. This white shirt sat off the skin
    on small bumps (allowing air to circulate), was constructed of a large
    fishnet weave (more air circulation), didn't absorb sweat (leaving it
    on the skin to cool you via evaporation), and was made of recycled
    plastic bottles. Home run! Too bad Nike called the shirt the Stand-Off
    Distance Singlet (because of the way it stood off your skin), which
    sounded too much like a shirt with a body-odor problem. This year Nike
    has produced something called the Nike Sphere Cool Marathon Singlet,
    with aerodynamic seam placement, mesh construction, and patent-pending
    "Zoned Venting" technology. But give me a Stand-Off Distance Singlet,
    and I'll show you a really great hot-weather running shirt.
    Here's my advice to the U.S. marathoners: Bring your scissors to
    Athens and cut your racing singlet as short as you can. Research by
    exercise physiologist Timothy Gavins, Ph.D., has shown that "the
    chimney effect" can improve body cooling. This refers to air moving up
    the bottom of your untucked shirt and out the top. Or just run naked.
    You'll be reconnecting with your Olympic forebears, increasing your
    chances of a medal, and giving a big boost to NBC's Olympic TV

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