The Impact of AI on Endurance Running Coaching

The latest technological advancement, the Generative Pre-trained Transformer 3 (GPT-3) autoregressive language model, is making waves across the internet. ChatGPT, an AI language model, has learned 300 years’ worth of information in just 6 months, allowing it to engage in conversation with users. This new technology is being hailed as a potential game-changer in many fields, with Microsoft CEO, Satya Nadella, predicting that AI will significantly impact software categories and, I suggest, will extend to diverse areas of study, including endurance running.

Coaches who have tested ChatGPT for creating training plans have reported a range of reactions. While some were thrilled with the results, others were disappointed, particularly when asking for basic training plans for events like the Marathon. The AI-generated responses were basic and lacked the expertise expected from experienced coaches. However, coaches who approached the conversation with ChatGPT in a more personalized way, providing additional context about the goal race and the athlete’s running history, were more satisfied with the results. ChatGPT was able to create a tailored and detailed training plan, taking into account factors such as the specifics of the goal race and the athlete’s available training time. The plan even included suggestions for strength training and cross-training activities.

This technology has raised questions about the role of coaches in the future. However, as renowned coach, Renato Canova, highlights, the training plan should be tailored to the athlete and not the other way around. A coach’s expertise lies in adapting the training plan to the individual athlete and making changes based on the effects of each session. Coaching remains a dynamic process, and the coach’s role cannot be fully replicated by technology.

rear view of silhouette man against sky during sunset

Experienced ultra-distance runners know that performance is improved by a reduction in body temperature. Or, cooling your body with water in the heat will make you run better. This practice has become a priority for long-distance runners.

Science has proved: that heat hurts endurance performance, even when it’s not very hot.

There are many studies on major marathons*. The findings agree that rising temperatures hurt performance – much earlier in a run than we realise. Reducing body temperature improves speed and is likely to reduce the effects on your health from ultra running.

How do we cool our bodies? Some of the following will give you an immediate advantage in your next race.

Keep your body wet, ideally with cold water. Don’t just drink at water stations. Spray yourself with the water. Focus on your head, neck, core and hamstrings. Male runners should tape their nipples securely. It may be loosened by water and become a bloody mess. When you wear compression socks, keep water away from them as they may pool water at your feet.

Light, reflective clothing keeps your skin surface temperature cool in extreme heat. Running vests are generally much better than shirts under extreme conditions.

Apply ice or water to your body using your clothing. Grab some ice at a water station and use your cap, buff, sleeves or pants to keep it near your skin. Stuff it wherever possible. You may have pockets you don’t use at some point. I use my buff to hold a broken water sachet on my head.

Apply cold water to your skin and head before the race on hot days. If core temperature increases in hot conditions, it is difficult to lower.

Remember to test the above in training to see what works for you.

* Studies were sourced from PLoS One, the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, Sports Medicine and the British Journal of Sports Medicine – from 2010 to 2019

Scientists from the Department of Physiology of the University of Granada (UGR) have shown that caffeine (about 3 mg/kg, the equivalent of a strong coffee) ingested half an hour before aerobic exercise significantly increases the rate of fat-burning. They also found that if the exercise is performed in the afternoon, the effects of the caffeine are more marked than in the morning.

In their study, published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, the researchers aimed to determine whether caffeine–one of the most commonly-consumed ergogenic substances in the world to improve sports performance–actually does increase oxidation or “burning” of fat during exercise.

Maximum fat oxidation

The results of our study showed that acute caffeine ingestion 30 minutes before performing an aerobic exercise test increased maximum fat oxidation during exercise regardless of the time of day. The fat oxidation was higher in the afternoon than in the morning.

These results also show that caffeine increases fat oxidation during morning exercise in a similar way to that observed without caffeine intake in the afternoon.

In summary, the findings of this study suggest that the combination of acute caffeine intake and aerobic exercise performed at moderate intensity in the afternoon provides the optimal scenario for people seeking to increase fat-burning during physical exercise.

Reports have indicated that COVID-19 may cause heart damage in hospitalized patients with severe cases of the disease, but it’s unclear whether cardiac injury also occurs in infected patients who are asymptomatic or experience only mild symptoms. This question is of particular concern for athletes because myocarditis–inflammation in the heart usually caused by viral infection–can cause sudden cardiac death during exercise. In a special report published in JAMA Cardiology, a group led by sports cardiologists at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) and Emory University School of Medicine offers guidance for athletes’ return to play after they have recovered from COVID-19.

The researchers observed that athletes infected with COVID-19 who experienced no or mild symptoms did not exhibit signs of heart injury. For such athletes, they do not recommend detailed cardiac screening. The prevalence of cardiac injury in athletes who were infected with COVID-19 is still unknown, however, and the team believes it’s prudent to screen for heart damage in athletes with moderate to severe symptoms. The experts also note that despite recent small studies showing that cardiac magnetic resonance imaging has detected potential cardiac abnormalities in individuals who have recovered from COVID-19, they feel that current evidence doesn’t justify its use as a universal screening tool for athletes’ return to play.

mobility exercises

Mobility training helps develop a full range of motion in your legs. It also plays a crucial role in injury prevention and generally improves joint and muscle health.

Starting with Mobility Exercises

When starting, I suggest a Build from the Base approach. The exercises below are in that order.  Start with Foot Doming and progress up the body to the hips. Start with 10 minutes a day, every day, until you have done all the exercises a few days later.

When you have mastered all the exercises, you may start increasing your sets and load.

Cultivating a daily mobility practice will enable you to resolve recurring issues before an injury occurs.

When building up to long-distance, we need to avoid layering strength on top of movement dysfunction.

Start with this basic approach if you have no existing problem areas.

Focus on Problem Areas

If you suffer from recurring running injuries, start by focusing on the problem area. Not only there, but also the parts above and below the problem. When you have sufficiently recovered, you can start with the basic approach.

ExerciseProblem Area/s
Foot DomingFoot, Ankle
Toe ResistanceBunion, Foot, Ankle
Heel DropFoot, Heel, Achilles
Ankle TurnAnkle, Calf, Shin
Hip HikeKnee, ITB, Hip, Glutes, Core
Step DownAnkle, Knee, Quads, Hip
Step UpQuads, Glutes
Hip RotationHip, Core
Hip ExtensionGlutes
Back ExtensionHip, Glutes, Core, Back, Spine, Shoulders
Mobility Exercises (Click on the exercise for the detail.)