More highlights from the 4th Annual Congress of Ultra-sports Science.
OK- I’ve been slacking. I promised more highlights from the medicine of ultra –sports conference which was in Denver last summer. It’s been a while. Why? Lots of excuses but you don’t want to hear them. So just like having a bad mile in a race, we’ll shake it off and get back at it.
Recovery after ultra-marathons: Dr. Martin Hoffman, one of the organizers of the conference and the most pre-eminent ultra-running researcher in the US of A talked about some of the best ways to recover after hard work outs and races. Most of his research came from studies done with runners at the WS100.
From a research standpoint, a big question is always how to define recovery. Recovery can be measured by pain scores, blood markers (CPK which is a by-product of muscle breakdown) and muscle fatigue scores. A more novel approach, in my opinion, is looking at how fast runners can run 400M on the track. Dr. Hoffman has been using measure in a few studies now and it seems to be an incredibly valid and insightful way to figure out how the runner is truly recovering without taxing their system too much. They essentially have the runners/research subjects do a 400 pre-race fairly rested and record their time. Post race, they will have them run 400M again and compare times. When their post-race time is close to their pre-race time, they are considered recovered.
In general, after WS100, runners blood levels and fatigue scores improved within 5-7 days of the race but functional recovery (based on that 400M time) took a bit longer. What was the most important variable for recovery? Simply how much you ran to get ready for the race. Runners who did longer training runs for WS100 were able to recover faster after the race.
Dr. Hoffman then looked at the effects of post-race massage and pneumatic compression devices. He presented some data from both WS 1000 and a multi-day ultra race. Bottom line here: massage and compression devices help runners with immediate subjective symptoms but the studies didn’t show any improvements in CPK levels, 400 M run time or muscle soreness scores 5-7 days later.
Finally, Dr Hoffman presented data on something that was completely new to me: Using Riboflavin to help with recovery. Riboflavin (aka Vitamin B2) is a supplement with some anti-inflammatory properties. Runners took 100 mg of Riboflavin before the race, at 90K and after the race. In this small study (18 runners got riboflavin and 14 got placebo), runners who took riboflavin had less subjective muscle soreness. In addition, they had improved recovery based on their 400 M time.
Take home messages: The most important thing you can do to recovery quickly after an ultra is to do longer training runs to get ready for your event. Massage and compression socks have only marginal benefits. Riboflavin really seems to have some promise and may be worth trying but larger studies are needed.