Moving Comfort for women: a review

Words by Ms. Dionne Allen

Recently the team behind Moving Comfort, owned by Brooks, invited simonfreeman.co.uk to have a look at the latest collection of apparel and accessories for women. Wanting to provide the best possible review, it seemed logical to ask Dionne to go along and see what it was all about. Here are her thoughts:

6a778537f00848343eda87452dc05347With 70% market share in the US run market, Moving Comfort, sister company to well established run brand Brooks is gradually taking a hold on the Central European and UK female run market, and after being invited to their spring/summer product launch it is easy to see why.

Moving Comfort is a company geared towards designing female sports bras and apparel that compliment the woman’s figure, no matter what shape or size. Their products are designed to make women feel both fashionable and feminine, giving them the confidence and motivation to get active as a

fit woman is a powerful woman (Moving Comfort Slogan).

Moving comfort is a brand that takes women’s needs to heart and the key to every women’s exercise performance is a “good quality sport’s bra” which is something many of us females take for granted thinking any old bra will do. However as the five points below show a properly fitting and comfortable bra is key to exercise performance and comfort:

  1. Sports bras are an essential piece of kit: as important as a quality pair of running shoes to a woman.
  2. Regardless of size all woman need to wear a properly fitted sports bra.
  3. There are no muscles in the breast meaning that skin and Cooper’s ligaments are the only supporting structures, so wothout proper support the breast will be liable to stretch and may cause irreversible sagging. Once the breast tissue is damaged it CANNOT be repaired!
  4. Exercise related breast pain is believed to effect 70% of active women due to inadequate support.
  5. Wearing an un-supportive or ill fitting bra is likely to affect the female athlete’s running style and performance.

With a sports bra being key to the active female’s comfort and performance, Moving Comfort have committed themselves to high quality product development that meets the needs of every active woman. A key element of their product development is biomechanics, where each and every individual product is vigorously scientifically  tested in the lab, using their individualised ‘Head’ and ‘Heart’ strategy explained below-

  • HEAD means scientific testing to ensure that their bras provide the ‘best’ support and fit that is unique to the woman’ s body.
  • HEART means design through development of a product that looks and feels great; designed and tested by women for women and geared towards ensuring that they produce a fashionable and practical product that is true to their technical roots but fits, flatters and delivers

At the spring/ summer launch I was very impressed on the variety of  Sports bras they have to offer no matter of shape, size or sport. Moving Comfort have a bra for everyone. On a more personal level I particularly loved the Juno Bra which is their number one selling bra in both the UK and Central Europe. This provides maximum support and comfort, reducing vertical and side-ways motion of the bust. This makes this bra perfect for running and as it also comes in a variety of colours to suit every taste – another key selling point which should ensure that a Moving Comfort bra is in every woman’s kit-bag. It is evident that Moving Comfort has every active woman at its heart and are a brand dedicated to providing sports bras that in their words

make women feel fit, powerful and kickassy

… and I could not agree more!!!

One note of caution, though: prior to buying a sports bra, Moving Comfort do recommend going to one of their stockist so that you can get properly fitted to ensure that you get the perfect bra that fits well and gives maximum support. You can find their product range and your nearest stockist here.

So now you have no excuse – what you waiting for? Go get yours!

Trump-eting the future for running shops?

I was running a little late as I approached the new Sweatshop concept store, on Trump Street in the City of London, and as I jogged along beside the building towards the grand entrance, I glanced up to the glazed second floor and saw Nick Pearson, Managing Director, talking to a group of very fit looking people, all clutching a glass of champagne. “This’ll be a fine evening” I thought to myself. Little did I know how fine!

The ground floor of the three storey building is the Sweatshop retail space, but as I came in I didn’t have time to take it in at all – I was ushered up the stairs, just in time to say hello to Nick and find a place to stand before he addressed everyone invited to the opening of this new retail space.

Special guests

Nick then announced that he would be joined at the microphone by some special guests and one by one they emerged from the crowd: Chrissie Wellington, Liz Yelling, David Weir, Christian Malcolm… the list went on and on. How had I missed these people? These heroes of mine? I must remember to be a little more observant in future…

The thinking behind the store

But before that, Pearson took us through the idea of the Trump Street space. The space is divided up between five partners – Sweatshop in the ground floor retail space, City Athletic, a gym operator in the basement and, on the second floor, Perfect Balance Clinic, offering physiotherapy, massage and osteopathy, The Running School, giving expert advice and coaching for those looking to improve their running technique and The High Altitude Centre offering simulated altitude training on spin bikes or running treadmills at the equivalent of 2000m to 3000m.  They have also found space for a community area on the second floor where there will be free exercise and fitness activities and anything else they can think of.

The idea for bringing all of these facilities together in one space, Nick told me after his speech, came from one of the founding principles of Sweatshop – of helping take runners to the next level. They have discovered that Sweatshop customers often need more than just some new running kit – they need help with training, injury rehab, biomechanical issues and even a bit of thin air!

Won’t all be plain sailing

So the team at Sweatshop have brought it all together and I think it will really work. I think that the location is perhaps a challenge – the Square Mile is not renowned for being the most accessible place for those less-affluent but hopefully the facilities will be enough of a draw to get people to come and have a look.

There is also the challenge of making sure that people don’t think that anti-gravity treadmills and altitude chambers are just for the very elite of running. But Nick is aware of both these concerns and I am sure he has a plan in place to deal with them. There are even a few ideas that I have had that might find a home on Trump Street, so watch this space!

Warning: name-dropping section

And after a wonderful couple of hours of talking to some amazing people including Chrissie Wellington (who remembered me from when I presented her with last years RESPY award), Martin Yelling (we discussed how wonderful it is to not easily be able to describe what you do, because you do so many diverse things!), David Weir, Mike Antoniades from the Running School, Mike East from Brooks, the entire Fit Brands team, Paul Shanley from Run247 and lots of other people, I headed downstairs to leave… and into a running Aladdin’s Cave!

The retail experience

The retail space that I had rushed through on my way in is fantastic and I really think that a financial health warning should be applied to the door. Every brand is there with plenty of space to get around. There are racks and racks of shoes (including a very interesting looking Adidas racing flat that I haven’t seen before). There are gait analysis treadmills and some really cool touches such as a walkway made up of old marathon race numbers (at one point I ended up standing on Aly Dixon’s number from the London!) and club vests from the length and breadth of the country hanging from the ceiling.

So all in all, I think that Nick Pearson and his team at Sweatshop have done really well. The space looks great and I think that if they can get people to visit Trump Street, they will start to create a hub for runners. This could be the way that the bricks and mortar retailers take back control from those online and I for one will definitely be back to have another look around.

The Sweatshop Trump Street store can be found at 6 Trump Street, London, EC2V 8AF and on Friday 7 and Saturday 8 December they are giving away £50,000 of prizes to the first 500 people to spend £30 in store including specialist running gear, a pair of spikes signed by Olympic Champion Jessica Ennis, a high altitude training trip for 2 to Kenya with flights and accommodation, and a trip for 2 to the Diamond League Athletics Meeting in New York as well as flights and accommodation. Details here. So I’d get down there if I were you!

The thigh’s the limit

Before I get started, I apologise for the terribly cheesy title to this review: I love thinking up snappy and catchy titles for the articles I post on here and sometimes a groan-inducing one will pop into my head. Normally I try to replace it, but in this case, it stays… so sorry about that.

The review today is about quad-guards, specifically the Compressport ForQuad product that Tim at Compressport in the UK was kind enough to send me to review.

What are quad-guards?

Ordinarily I don’t wear quad-guards. I tend to find that compression socks and tights work best for me as a recovery aid after a tough session, a race or a long run. But this summer was the ‘Summer of Ultras’ in my household as my wife Julie and I took on two ultra marathons and all the training that goes with that.

I found that after long training runs – for example a 6 hour run from 10pm to 4am on New Year’s Eve – I would have two issues: sore feet and sore upper-legs, the hamstrings and quads (front of the thighs) in particular. I tried running in compression tights but they were too restrictive around the waist and too hot after a while. So Compressport came to the rescue with a pair of the ForQuad for me to try.

They are essentially a tube of material, the right size to go around the thigh, that is tight and elastic enough to offer support and compression.

Do they work?

These little unassuming tubes of fabric were a God-send! They fit perfectly, with enough compression to make you know that you are wearing them and they are holding everything firm, but not so much that they cut off the blood supply below the knees. They miraculously stay up and I mean they really stay up – after 4 or 5 hours of running and sweating and pouring water on myself, they were still perfectly in place. And during and after my runs, my legs felt great. There was decidedly less fatigue and little or no D.O.M.S, which I can only assume is due to the fact that they hold the muscles in place and reduce damage that way. The fact that they also cured my propensity to get some chafing between my thighs after 4 or 5 hours of running, was a massive bonus!

So there you have my review: I think the Compressport ForQuad guards are brilliant. They definitely reduce fatigue, they eliminate chafing and, possibly best of all, they make you look like an ultra-marathon runner! Worth every penny, just for that…

Marathon Road and what we can learn from it

Tonight I stumbled upon a video called Marathon Road. Lasting just over ten minutes, this is a mini documentary, produced by Ideatap Studios, about a group of runners training for the US Olympic marathon trials race, this weekend in Houston.

The reality of elite marathoning

I think that the video is really well made – very nice shots, great choice of music and I like the style of interviews. But what really struck me was what the runners were saying about training and racing. There was no talk of the paces they are running at or the splits for their intervals. They just talked about the mental approach to the biggest event in their lives. They talk openly and honestly about how tough it is to get through training hard. How the mental effort of keeping consistent training for eight or ten or twelve weeks of a marathon training programme is mental training for the race itself. They talk about how hard it is to get through marathon training without becoming ill or injured. They talk about how difficult the race will be, requiring mental effort, decision making, commitment and the ability to deal with pain. And then they talk about hope…

The spirit of marathoning

The four men that feature in this film capture the essence of marathon running for me – they know the training is tough. They know the race will be tougher. They know that their main aim is to push themselves to the absolute limit and yet one can see that they believe they can do it. They know they will prevail. They are not going to waver for one minute in the face of the massive task they have set themselves.

That for me is the lesson for everyone here, whether you are a seasoned marathoner or a first timer. Whether you are aiming for Olympic qualification or a 6 hour finishing time. Be positive. Stay strong. Commit. Be the best runner you can be.

Marathon Road by Ideatap Studios

The Mental Muscle with Rasmus Ankersen

I recently attended a one day seminar called the Mental Muscle, presented by Rasmus Ankersen, the High Performance Anthropologist. The seminar was billed as an exploration of the factors that create environments where high performance becomes the norm, and that is exactly what it delivered.

The Gold Mine Effect - out soon!

To begin Rasmus Ankersen offered the delegates a brief background to his life and how he ended up starting a project that would take him around the world trying to find common links between ‘gold mines’ of high performance. Having harboured ambitions of being a top-flight footballer, Rasmus’ career was shortened by injury and so he found himself coaching. He was part of the coaching team in charge of an academy in a rural part of Denmark.

At one point Rasmus was coaching a player called Simon Kjaer, who at the time was considered to be disruptive, lacking discipline and low on talent. He was not one of the players picked by any of the coaching staff when they were asked to nominate the five players they thought would ‘make it’ in the game. Several years later, Simon Kjaer is now considered to be a world class footballer.

Simon Kjaer - hidden talent

This inability to spot Simon Kyaer’s talent by a team of highly qualified and experienced coaches, forced Ankersen to ask what it was about talent that was so elusive. What Rasmus found is pretty exciting.

Genetics vs application

Ankersen said that in many cases there is a temptation to assume that dominence in a particular sporting field by a national or even regional group, must be down to genetics. Or in the case of individual prodigious exponents of a particular field, down to natural talent. But Rasmus told us that he was doubtful that this was the answer to the question of why these groups or people were so much better at whatever it was they did than everyone else.

He pointed out that in the case of Moses Kiptanui – the 3,000m and 5,000m world record holder as well as steeplechase world record holder and World Championship and Olympic medal winner – none of his extended family of 500 showed any ‘talent’ in running, despite obviously being closely genetically linked.

And when it comes to individual prodigies, such as Mozart or Tiger Woods, they were the products of environments where their fathers introduced them to the field they would become renowned in, at preposterously early ages.

The key in all these cases, was starting early and working continuously and as hard as possible.

Talent as the entry ticket

Who's holding the entry ticket here?

Rasmus acknowledges that a certain degree of ‘talent’ is the entry ticket required to put individuals with potential in a position to become exceptional. Much like basketball players who need to be tall to start with or sprinters who need to be blessed with a high proportion of fast twitch muscle fibres, only those who work the hardest actually excel.  Tall people or people with a high proportion of fast twitch muscle fibres are actually pretty universally evenly spread. But the will to turn that initial advantage into excellence, is not.

Rasmus went on to introduce us to a theory proposed by James Flynn, Emeritus Professor of Political Studies at the University of Otago in Dunedin, New Zealand, who has suggested that in fact the existence of pockets of excellence is less to go with the distribution of talented people and more to do with how good any particular society is at capturing and nurturing a talent.

Capturing and nurturing talent

For example, Rasmus believes that the east African dominence of middle and long distance running is less to do with an uneven distribution of genetics and more to do with an uneven distribution of self belief and the desire to work hard.

This uneven distribution of the desire for hardwork – what could be commonly called ‘hunger’ – is key to Rasmus’ argument and to the concept of the Gold Mine Effect. After the seminar Rasmus was kind enough to allow me to publish a section from his up-coming book, which explains the important of hunger:

Hunger factor 4: Spartan and simple facilities

I still remember my meeting in Iten, Kenya with one of the world’s absolute best 1500 m runners, Augustine Choge, as though it were yesterday. I’m watching his training on a running track a couple of kilometres outside Iten. Choge has just launched into the last of his merciless interval runs which he has been forcing his body to endure for the last 45 minutes. Stony-faced, he rounds his last corner and accelerates towards the finishing line, where I’m sitting in the baking hot sun watching them train.

Mr. Choge is the very man I have come to meet. He was the fastest man in the world in the 1500 m in 2009. After training we sit for a while in his big white Land Rover, the only sign of his success, and trundled back towards his home. Twenty minutes later, Augustine Choge turns in onto a grass field between two trees and parks in front of two dilapidated shacks.

Somewhat taken aback, I ask him: “Is this where you live?”

He nods. By Western standards it looks more like a chicken shack than somewhere people would live. And certainly not the world’s fastest 1500 m runner. The rusty hinges let out a high-pitched squeak as he opens the wonky wooden door into his living room. Here, an old massage couch and a sofa with a cover full of holes come into sight. An old 15 inch television set is chattering away on the table. The walls have been papered with old newspapers. Behind the tiny living room is an even tinier double room with a bunk bed and from the ceiling hangs a small electric bulb which struggles to light up the room.

This is where Augustine Choge sleeps. But not alone, it transpires; he shares his accommodation with David Rudisha, Kinnear’s best 800 m runner, who this year managed to topple his fellow countryman Wilson Kipketer’s 15-year-old world record.

I have great difficulty believing what I see as I sit in Augustine Choge’s living room as he boils water on his humble gas cooker to make the Kenyan tea he drinks after every training session. This man has made an absolute fortune from his sport. He drives around in a big Land Rover and could easily buy himself a fashionable flat in Nairobi. Nevertheless, he isolates himself in this little chicken shack a few hundred metres from the centre of Iten all year round – interrupted only by the few months when he is competing in Europe. These are, as he puts it, the optimum conditions for doing what it takes. Sleep, train, eat, sleep, train, eat, etc.

I saw the same thing at MVP Track & Field Club in Jamaica, where the world’s best sprinters trained on the diesel-scorched grass track – not the hypermodern running track I had expected for athletes of that calibre. But as Stephen Francis puts it:

“There’s no need for anything that is not absolutely necessary. A performance environment should not be designed for comfort, it should be designed for hard work.”

This seriously challenges the modern American/European mindset. In poor, rusty and overcrowded facilities in the West it’s almost impossible to create world stars. We instinctively strive for groomed fields, top-level technology, comfortable surroundings. It’s just that the burning question is: Do we develop better performance in fine, fancy and comfortable facilities? Or is it possible to imagine that it may be advantageous to train under primitive, humble conditions like Augustine Choge certainly does, and which Stephen Francis insists on at the world’s most successful athletics club? Perhaps these are in reality perfect facilities for developing World class performance because they really test people to find out whether they have the will to maintain their focus, which is what it’s all about, and at the same time send a clear signal that the road to the world elite is far from easy or comfortable. Perhaps luxurious surroundings diminish effort. The Gold Mines deliver the point that if you want to create and maintain drive, then aim to make and keep facilities spartan and simple.

This idea confronts anyone who works on a day-to-day basis with talent development with a number of urgent questions. If hunger is created and reinforced by spartan and simple facilities, does this give certain parts of the world an advantage? And if it does, then how is an English boy growing up in an affluent and comfortable society ever going to match the hunger gnawing inside the belly of the Brazilian boy growing up in a São Paulo favela? It important to emphasise here that the message about simple and spartan facilities does not mean that we in the West should tear down our ultramodern training centres and train in rusty old fitness centres and on uneven grass tracks. Nor does it have anything to do with Roger Federer not being able to win a grand slam if he stays at a luxury hotel. But we must understand that creating World class performance does not necessarily require World class facilities. The Spartan conditions at the Gold Mines make sure that nobody falls asleep in comfortable surroundings and constantly reminds their performers of the humbleness and laser-like focus that is required to get good and stay good.

(reproduced with kind permission of Rasmus Ankersen. All rights reserved. Please do not reproduce without permission)

Cultivating my hunger

So where does that leave me? Well, it is always going to be a challenge to replicate the conditions necessary to create Rasmus’ hunger for success in a comfortable society like ours.  But I do think that it is possible to create deep intrinsic motivation if the concept of competition and self-development is put at the heart of the ways in which we educate our children and if as adults we accept that we must be live the change we want to see in future generations. So on that note, I’m off out for another run… if I keep going, I might just become the world class runner that I know I have the potential to be (maybe!)

Fuel on the run: SIS Go Gel

As you would expect, I am increasingly paying attention to nutrition in an attempt to squeeze more running performance out of myself. Training and rest make up two sides of the performance triangle – the other side is nutrition. However as much as I do to improve my nutrition from day-to-day, there is always the matter of race-day nutrition to worry about and, like most runners, I turn to gel sachets to fuel myself whilst racing.

I have tried quite a few in my years of running. I have tried High5, Powerbar and Lucozade, often based on what is available at the race expo and which are pretty standard, sticky, gloopy offerings. I have also tried slightly unusual fuel sources including Honey Stingers, which are essentially little packets of honey and Torq gels, which come in a delicious albeit slightly odd Black Cherry Yoghurt flavour.

But my current gel of choice is the SIS Go Gel and I’ll tell you why. Mainly it is because I like the fact that the gels are isotonic which means that, except for on a really hot day or at the end of a marathon when I am always going to be dehydrated, the gels can be swallowed without liquid. I tend to find that I want to be able to take my gels when I plan to take them and not have to wait for a water station. There is however a trade-off, which is that the gels are quite big but there isn’t the same amount of carbohydrate (SIS claims that there is 22g of carbohydrates in each sachet) that there is available in the other, smaller gels.

I tend to approach the use of gels by taking one a few minutes before any race longer than 10 miles and then one gel every 45 minutes (so ideally one during a half marathon and three during a marathon) during the race. I know that I am lucky in that I have no problem getting gels down and keeping them down and whilst they are not the most palatable things in the world, I believe they help to top-up energy levels during a race and put off the ‘wall’ until… well after the race has finished, which is ideal!

 

There’s no ‘arm in trying something new

I am afraid to say that the weather is turning towards autumn. It is September and now, during early morning runs or late evening runs, there is a distinct chill in the air. It is not cold, not by a long stretch, but I am tending to find that I want to add a little bit of warmth without breaking out the winter gear. This is why I have dug out and started wearing my arm-warmers.

What are arm-warmers or arm-sleeves?

Basically a tapered tube of technical fabric, arm-warmers cover the arm from the armpit to wrist, gently gripping the arm at the top. They provide an effective barrier against the wind and cool temperatures, whilst having the enormous benefit of being removable. A pair of arm-warmers gives me a little bit of extra comfort when I head out of the door, but can be pulled down to the wrist or removed completely and shoved in a pocket when I warm up.

When I started wearing arm-warmers it was during cycling training for triathlons. But soon enough I was wearing them for chilly runs and now that I am focused completely on running, I still pull them on when it is too cool for just a t-shirt, but not cold enough for a long-sleeve top or even a jacket. They can also have other uses, when it comes to pure fashion, which Ben Moreau wrote about here, but I am not sure that is what they are intended for!

What sort of arm-warmers are available?

For such a simple piece of kit, there is quite a wide range of arm-warmers on the market. By far the most extensive range is amongst the cycling stock. However due to the higher speeds that cyclists tend to achieve (because they use wheels which is cheating, but that is a different story!) the arm-warmers designed for cycling tend to be made of thicker and more wind resistant material. They also tend to have rubber or plastic grippers at the top and sometimes at the bottom, which most running-specific versions don’t have. That said, they are easy to find and therefore might be a good option, certainly if you are thinking you might use them for cycling and running.

Amongst running-specific arm-warmers, the price is often lower than that of cycling arm-warmers, simply because there is less work involved in manufacturing them if they don’t have arm-grippers and as mentioned before, the material is often thinner. However I have found that it is more important to make sure that running arm-warmers need to fit really snuggly in order to ensure they don’t fall down, which can happen if there are no grippers.

My favourites

With a plethora of products on the market, I am not going to attempt to provide a comprehensive review here. However of the arm-warmers I have, my favourites by far are my Nike ones. They fit, ahem, like a glove. They are quite thin but give just enough protection on a cool morning run and, despite not being in any way water resistant, they are great for reducing the chill when I wear them in the rain. They are also pretty good value in my opinion.

My other favourites are the Assos pair that I wear. I did initially buy them for use on the bike, but they are great for running. The extra weight of material, which means they are the ones I reach for when the temperatures really drop, is off-set by the grippers at the top which are just enough to hold the arm-warmers up without being irritating. The only downside is that, like all Assos kit, they are pretty expensive.

Other products that it is worth considering include those made from wool, which many runners believe are more comfortable, warmer and more perma-stink resistant than technical fabric versions. One example of this is the product from Smart Wool which you can see here.

And if you want to avoid the ‘long cocktail gloves’ look that I was rocking at the Florence marathon last year (see left) there are arm-warmers that are not black, although there don’t seem to be many interestingly designed options in the UK at the moment. However if you can find some or you have a trip to the US planned, these ones look great. Finally, I really like Kalenji kit from Decathlon stores because it tends to be so simple and good value. Their offering might be worth checking out which you can do here.

As I have written before, being comfortable is crucial when it comes to training and racing well and for that reason I would recommend arm-warmers as a useful and practical addition to any runners’ kit-bag. And just ignore the odd looks you might get wearing them with a vest; your arm-warmers simply mark you out as a serious runner!

 

 

How to tackle the perma-stink with Halo Proactive Sports Wash

It’s true that most people training for a marathon will run several times a week. There are people I know who are training for a chance to run for their country who manage twelve runs per week and even I have nine or ten runs a week. One of the challenges we all face is keeping on top of the laundry, especially in winter when the pile can grow at an alarming rate.

The issue of laundry mountains is made worse in my case by my tendency towards frugality – put simply I quite like to get the maximum possible wear out of my kit (except for shoes which I do replace regularly). This miserliness however leads all too often to the dreaded perma-stink, where kit never really loses the pungent odor that builds up. By the middle of last year I was finding that almost every item of kit I owned has a musty smell even straight after washing. The worse bit of this was that the kit that I liked the most and therefore wore the most, suffered the most.

That is where Halo Sports Proactive Sports Wash came in. I think this stuff is great! I must admit that the first time I used it, I was a little disappointed because the kit that I washed, whilst definitely more palatable, still retained a background whiff. But I washed it all again and the second time was a revelation! Gone was the perma-stink and in its place there was a light, fresh fragrance, which is even better than the floral smelling regular liquid detergent I had been using. Even when holding the armpits of my favourite tops close to my nose, there was not a trace of lingering perma-stink. It seems that after the first double wash, the years of ingrained pong have gone and I now use the Halo Sports Proactive Sports Wash every time I wash kit. The kit always smells great and comes out completely clean, even the dirtiest vests, shorts and socks from cross-country races.

I always like to give a balanced review and that often means finding a downside or two. For Halo Sports Proactive Sports Wash the only things I can think of are; one, the relative difficulty of getting hold of it (but there is a link to stockists on their website) and two; it is relatively expensive – £5.50 for 1 liter vs around £4 for a normal liquid detergent.

However I don’t think that either or indeed both of the negatives that I have mentioned outweigh the benefits of Halo Sports Proactive Sports Wash and any extra cost will almost certainly be saved by extending the life of those items of kit that you thought would have to go in the bin (or if you’re really mean to the charity shop!) that will now last for several more seasons. If like so many of us runners, you are dealing with a weekly laundry-mountain, I’d say give it a go (for everyone’s benefit!)

Sleeping beauty

There are three elements that make up the triangle that is essential for ensuring success in running – training, nutrition and rest. When I was first shown this short list I was more than a little surprised by the fact that rest is considered as important as training and nutrition, but it is considered by almost every coach to be absolutely crucial. Like many runners I know, when I started out I probably used to think that rest was merely ‘not training’, but I now know that in the same way that darkness is not simply an absence of light, rest is not merely an absence of training – it is something that must be thought about and factored in to a training programme.

In our daily lives, it is pretty obvious that we do most of our resting during sleep. However with busy work and social lives it sometimes feels as though we are on the go all the time and therefore it is a good idea to make sure that rest days are just that – a day where there is as little physical activity as possible.

But when it comes to really giving our bodies an opportunity to recover from the stresses of training, nothing beats sleep. So it is essential that we get the most benefit from the precious hours that we spend in bed.

There is plenty of literature about the mechanics of sleep. The website Running Research News has a very interesting article about sleep which is worth reading. You can read the full article here.

The section of the article that I was most interested in is this:

“We sleep in stages that last about 90 minutes. Stages one and two are light sleep stages and last around 3 hours. Then we move into stages 3 & 4   (Slow-wave, delta sleep)  Deep sleep with depressed vital signs and slow, low frequency, high amplitude brain activity (delta waves), leading to Rapid Eye Movement (REM).  During REM our eyes dart about rapidly and we have vivid dreams.  General protein synthesis, cell growth and division, and tissue repair and growth take place during all four stages of sleep, but mainly during slow-wave delta sleep.  The release of growth hormone for cell growth is at its circadian peak during delta sleep, and most scientists agree that delta sleep activity reflects the metabolic activity and energy expended by the athlete during the previous day (Shapiro et al. 1984).”

So given that we have established that sleep is crucial to improved performance, what steps should we take to ensure we get adequate sleep? Well one of the recommendations in the article is to buy a good quality mattress… which is exactly what I didn’t do. When I went to buy a new bed a few years ago on moving into a flat on my own, I went to a well-known Swedish flat-pack furniture retailer where I bought a very fine wooden base and a very cheap mattress which initially was fine. However after a couple of years the mattress resembled a squidgy saucer and my wife and I would struggle to get a good night’s sleep, often managing only a couple of hours before we were woken by having rolled to the middle.

After a trip to the Andes trekking, we returned to stay at a friend’s house who has a memory foam mattress and the incredible sleep we had there whilst house-sitting for her convinced us that something had to be done.

The answer was found in an advert in Athletics Weekly – the Mammoth Sport mattress as endorsed by Liz Yelling. At the same time it turned out that a good friend of mine, and one of the people who has inspired me to train and race hard when I first joined the Mornington Chasers, had also recently bought one of the mattresses and he highly recommended it. So I ordered one hpoing that it would make a difference to my training by improving my rest.

When the mattress arrived it was vacuum packed in a roll – increadibly dense and heavy, I was amazed that it could fit into such a small box. However on opening the plastic packaging the mattress expanded and unraveled to its full size and within a few minutes it was lifted into place on the bed and we were ready to go (ahem, in a manner of speaking!)

At this point I am going to mention the only downside of the Mammoth Sport mattress – the smell that comes off initially. On opening the plastic covering the smell of foam and plastic was very, very strong and as we live in a small flat where we had to get rid of the old mattress before opening the new one, we had no choice but to air the mattress on the bed frame for as long as possible but then sleep on it that night. For a couple of nights I must say that the smell was pretty strong, although within a week there was no smell at all.

However as far as negatives go, that is it! The mattress is wonderful to sleep on; supportive, firm and perfect for someone like me who sleeps on their side. The temperature is great and I even like the look of it (although that really is a very minor consideration). I sleep much, much more consistently and many of the aches and pains that I used to suffer from with the old bed have gone now.

All in all I would say that this mattress has been one of the best investments I have ever made. I am definitely sleeping better than ever and I am absolutely sure that my wife and I will never go back to a ‘normal’ mattress. So if you can, try one out and see if a new mattress could be the very thing to help you rest more effectively and balance that all important training triangle.

U2 can decide to carry on

Earlier this week I heard U2’s hit “Where the streets have no name” on a radio being played in another room. Suddenly I was reminded of the classic YouTube video – well it is a classic as far as I am concerned! – of the dual in the sun. This was the 1982 Boston marathon in which Alberto Salazar and Dick Beardsley ran the entire distance neck and neck, finishing within two seconds of each other. The video is quite amazing, especially towards the end as the commentators get ever more excited. Check out the crowds and the impressive array of technology used by the television companies to broadcast the race, which goes some way to illustrating what an important sporting event it was.

Equally compelling viewing is the video that usually pops up to the side of the race coverage video – that of Dick Beardsley describing the end of the race from his point of view and, I guess, with the benefit of hindsight.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sC8A9TNRf5A&feature=related]

What strikes me about Dick’s monologue is what he thought during the final few hundred meters of the race. Dick Beardsley had been leading the race, albeit only by the length of his arm, for most of the 26.2 miles. However Alberto Salazar was the favourite and, as Beardsley acknowledges, Salazar  was considered to have the better kick, so it was no surprise when Salazar dropped the hammer with less than a kilometer to go and passed Beardsley just as his hamstring cramped up.

Dick could have eased up at that point. With a cramp in his hamstring and against one of the greatest marathoners of all time and certainly of his generation, Beardsley knew that second place was his and there would be no shame in that. But he didn’t…

Instead he put in one of the fiercest comebacks in any marathon and with only a few hundred meters to go, Beardsley went for the win.

So what does that mean for us? Well I think the simple lesson is don’t give up. I know that in the end Dick Beardsley did not win the 1982 Boston marathon. But he did know as he crossed the finish line that he had given his all and exceeded everyone’s expectations of him, perhaps even his own expectations. I think that the way he raced and didn’t give up also illustrates the kind of man he is and the level that he was training at. He gave it his all and this is what I think that everyone should do, whether that is running the first 10K or the 100th marathon, giving it all allows us to find out what we really are capable of.

So have a look at the videos and remind yourself of your aim. Then in every way you can make sure you give it 100%… you never know U2 might find out that you are capable of more than you ever thought possible.