Coaching News September
One of the biggest challenges of trying to use a low resolution narrative when presenting a natural running form workshop, is that when it comes to the detailed discussions, only a high resolution narrative will suffice. The difficulty here, however, is that these sessions are nearly always time pressured in trying to condense what would ordinarily be several hours of theory into a short delivery window. And so it was when I attempted to do just this at the recent Duathlon Hub training weekend.
Every time I teach this particular part of the theory, the content changes and thus no two sessions are ever the same. Depending on the interests and prior knowledge of the participants or, more importantly, on the questions or feedback I receive, the delivery always meanders off the script in unique ways. In this most recent case, the question I received was not only worthy of a diversion during the session, it prompted me to go back to my notes to ensure that I had got my story straight.
In the high resolution narrative, there are multiple contributory biological factors in our ancestors’ ability to survive the transition from inhabiting the tropical forest to the savannah. In fact, there are probably somewhere between a half dozen to a dozen factors which are deemed critical to this success and thus, our survival as a species. In the low resolution narrative, I have a tendency to use one key example – that of our ability to sweat – to simplify the delivery and make a key point.
To support this example, as most people haven’t heard of a kudu (a kind of antelope inhabiting the savannah), I ask the audience to consider what happens when they take their pet dog or a horse out for a run on a hot day. The explanation is that their inability to sweat as a method of heat regulation offered us an advantage over other mammals. This provided our ancestors with a critical adaptation that enabled them to source food with the necessary high calorific content that ultimately fuelled (no pun intended) our rise from failed forest dweller to masters of all we survey.
However, as was rightly pointed out to me by workshop attendee Gill Fullen, horses certainly do sweat. Indeed, of course, horses sweat, as do dogs, and so the sound bite is factually incorrect. Gill’s comment therefore sent me scurrying back to my notes to work out why and how I had reduced the high resolution explanation to this simplified version.
It is not just our ability to sweat that is a key evolutionary advantage. It is our capacity to sweat more than other mammals that is significant here. We share apocrine sweat glands with our mammalian cousins, which form their prime effective sweating apparatus, however humans also have an abundance of eccrine sweat glands (between 5 and 10 million) that cover our body, particularly in the palms of the hands, the soles of the feet and the head, that provide the prime cooling system for humans.
As a result, we are able to secrete more than a litre of liquid an hour which evaporates from the surface of the skin cooling the blood beneath, and the body as a result. In contrast, not only does a horse lack the volume of sweat glands, it is also covered in a fur coat which, whilst reflecting solar radiation, stops the air from circulating and prevents the sweat from evaporating. To supplement the cooling system, in extreme conditions, animals such as horses pant to increase evaporative cooling. However, one of the additional evolutionary advantages that comes from bipedalism, is that we have an adaptive breathing system that allows us to breath independently of our walking or running cadence. Equally critical for our survival, is that our endurance running pace forced our prey to increase its pace from a sustainable trot, to an energetic gallop. At a gallop, quadrupeds such as antelope and wildebeest (and horses) are easily able to outrun us. However, they are only able to take one breath per leg cycle and thus, whilst galloping, are unable to pant, the process of taking short, sharp, shallow breaths.
This limitation comes from the movement of the internal organs against the diaphragm in accordance with the rhythmic timing of the animal’s gait. Thus, whilst galloping, the animal must synchronise the breath with each stride, an insufficient process to enable both breathing and cooling to effectively take place. To complete the story, all our ancestors had to do was to track the chosen (probably the largest) animal in the midday heat, ensuring that it never had sufficient time to cool, thus forcing its body temperature to a critical level when the animal would collapse.
For those who wish to learn more, the primary source for this theory is:
Bramble, D. M., Jenkins Jr. F. A. (1993). Mammalian locomotor-respiratory integration: Implications for diaphragmatic and pulmonary design. Science, 262: 235-40.
For the low resolution narrative, I would urge you all to read The Story of the Human Body: Evolution, health & disease by Daniel Lieberman. It’s a thoroughly absorbing book.
Slightly closer to home, we have had an excellent month with athlete successes at the Powerman Zofingen ITU World Long Distance Duathlon Championships, taking Applied Triathlon Coaching’s overall medal tally to 30 medals in multisport competition! Additionally, our regular marathon runner Deb Self successfully completed the slightly longer 112 mile challenge that is the Rat Race Coast to Coast. The photos from this event are simply stunning! Well done to all.
We are now heavily engaged in planning for next year and would like to welcome those athletes who have recently joined our ranks. This is always an exciting time for us as we get to know your objectives and ambitions and learn to work with you. Please note however that we are heading to the Lake District for our annual week-long retreat this weekend and therefore will be preparing training plans to see you through this period. Although we will have internet access, the connection can be slow so please do call if you need any assistance.
Happy training in these beautiful early autumn days.