Japan: Kobe, Tokyo and ICEE

Recently, I visited Japan for the first time. I was there to present some of my/ our PhD work on menthol at the International Conference for Environmental Ergonomics, and meet with staff from Teikyo university to discuss collaborating with them to develop their Ekiden running programme.

First things first some tips for the traveller: Starbucks only opens after 8am, if you don’t like fish you’re going to struggle, and avoid Adult only hotels (I learnt this one the hard way aka 1 vibrating bed and fluorescent bath tub later). But in all seriousness, Japan was a great experience and I look forward to heading back in 2018 and beyond (if they’ll have me).


ICEE Kobe 2017

This was my first ICEE, but after this I’ll certainly make an effort to attend in future. The conference is held every two years (to avoid the biannual biennial drama) and has a great breadth of content. I must stress this isn’t a sports science conference as such, but many of the talks are relevant and discussed considerations, mechanisms and theories that may apply or strengthen a sports science investigation.

It was evident a lot of thought had been put into the conference programme, with dedicated student sessions, multiple early career researcher symposia and plenty of time for discussion during poster sessions. Expanding on this, the student programme was excellent with a strong mix of oral and poster presentations, food and social evening, and a valuable publishing workshop from Prof. Mike Tipton (Researchgate; Twitter).

The conference has a real family feel, due to relatively small numbers (~200), allowing a mix of informal and formal ‘learning’. By this I mean that more established aren’t seen as some elite but are easily accessible and more than happy to chat about all sorts (I had the pleasure of discussing canine and equine physiology over lunch, although this is becoming a habit!).  On a more personal note, I was really pleased with the reaction to our menthol work. It seems a lot of researchers are interested in exploring and exploiting TRP pathways, and I had some great chats with Martin Barwood, Koen Levels and Kirsty Waldock about potential menthol applications and spin offs.


As mentioned, there were some great presentations and posters. Nicole Coull was a worthy winner of the best student poster, but I feel Loughborough were robbed of the double with Margherita Raccuglia finishing a strong second in the oral presentation. Although not awarded, I feel there were two contenders for the best use of statistics: Ash Willmott and Jamie Stanley both smashed this, compared to other presenters who relied (too) heavily on p-values and null hypothesis significance testing. Ash highlighted individual responses and displayed these against typical error, the data were presented simply and conclusions as to meaningful change in measure could easily be drawn. Jamie on the other hand presented entirely effect sizes and magnitude based inferences; this was really refreshing but I think he hit the nail on the head when he mentioned the ability to apply these results to the field – p-values mean nothing to a coach or practitioner.

Attending ICEE really reignited my PhD drive, and my love of (environmental) physiology. Having different conversations with different people in a different room is always a good thing. I’m looking forward to the next one in Amsterdam 2019 already.

A trip to Tokyo to chat with Teikyo

Teikyo University are a Tokyo based university, with a strong sporting culture and programme. WINTEC, through some excellent and ongoing work by Greg Smith, Marin Haggie and TJ Pieters, have supported their rugby team for a couple of years now. Presently, we are looking to extend our work to complement their in-house operation around Ekiden running. For the uninitiated, Ekiden consists of runners completing a distance relay on the roads. Distances vary depending on age but the event Teikyo athletes compete in against other universities comprises 10 athletes completing 210km over two days. Previously, England Athletics have sent a team to compete at the prestigious International Chiba Ekiden off the back of the 6-stage, although haven’t done so in recent years.

I went to the meeting with an open mind and enthusiasm. Why change something for the sake of it? was my thinking. I wanted to hear what was going on and think about how we could support and educate, instead of imposing on current practices. Teikyo are currently exploring S&C for runners, and have begun using jump testing (Squat and Vertical) as a correlate to performance. I think developing this into a monitoring system is the first step, and we can look to support other initiatives such as altitude training and nutrition interventions in time but getting the basics right is key to building a strong programme and strong athletes. It was a real privilege to chat and hear about running from a different cultural perspective, and I hope I get to play a hands on part going forward.

Some Take Homes

  • Respect is a big part of Japanese culture, it permeates into most aspects of society. We could learn from this.
  • The implications that arise from environmental physiology are wide reaching and have the potential for massive impact at a societal level. Whilst it was great to have a couple of minutes of peoples’ time to chat menthol, global warming and the heat at the Tokyo Olympics are much bigger issues
  • Avoid Adult Only Hotels
  • Don’t bother running with a GPS when travelling to foreign cities. A Casio never hurt anybody.

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