Usain Bolt raced in the 100m in the Diamond League in Rome last night with an impressive 9.76 seconds, to show that he is back with a vengeance. You can see his run here.
But for me, what was more interesting – let’s face it, there are not too many obvious tactical moves in the 100m, which is what I love about watching elite athletes race – was his comments to Jonathan Edwards and Colin Jackson afterwards. Bolt said that his relatively poor performance in Ostrava in the Czech Republic the previous week was reversed because he realised that he was not sleeping and eating properly on his trip to Europe.
The power of ZZZZZs
I love the simplicity and straight-forwardness of all that – the training is done and he clearly knows how to handle pressure. So what did he need in order to obliterate a field containing a good number of the best sprinters in the world? A couple of hours extra sleep!
This is a great lesson for all of us. The truth is that life gets in the way of great performances. I guess that in Bolt’s case it is a constant stream of media interviews, events, parties and sponsorship obligations. For you and me it could be a stressful job, family commitments, busy social life, etc.
But whatever the reason, if you are not sleeping and eating well, especially in the run up to a key race, your performance is likely to suffer. So try to plan for that – obviously no one will think it odd if Usain Bolt has a mid-afternoon snooze or is in bed at 8pm the night before a race, but if you care enough to want to make the most of your training on race day, maybe you should try that too.
I am just back from my second ever training camp and this one was a belter. My coach, Nick Anderson from RunningWithUs, spends three weeks in the Algarve, Portugal and for 10 days the athletes he coaches or knows through running, are invited to come out and ‘enjoy’ the benefits that a running camp can offer.
Last year was a novelty for me, but this year I have been able to survey the whole concept of a training camp with a more experienced eye and I think there are quite a few benefits to getting away to a training camp or even a running weekend. Here are my top ten;
1. the weather
– there is always going to be the chance that the weather won’t play ball. Indeed on our camp there was one day when a storm blew in and we all went for a run in the rain while the UK basked in sunshine. However in general finding a spot where the weather is generally better than at home makes training more pleasurable and can even allow runners to acclimatise in case they have hot weather on the day of their key race.
2. a change from the old routine…
The reality is that for many of us, training – and especially marathon training – can become monotonous. So going away for a few days or a week or even more can provide new places to train, new people to train with and even new training sessions to ward off staleness
3. … a new routine!
There are few, if any, distractions, on a camp. No meetings being put into your diary. No need to travel for business. No family commitments. No issues with public transport. In short, not very much that requires a training schedule to be re-jigged. So if the plan is for a morning and evening run every day, that is what you end up doing.
– the romantic notion of the loneliness of the long distance runner might be embedded in the minds of many runners, but the reality is that in Kenya and Ethiopia, running is a team sport. One of the benefits of a training camp is the opportunity it train in a group, to surround oneself with positive people with a similar focus and drive, to watch and learn from others and to get immediate feedback from others about how we are doing. The only problem is that solo pre-breakfast runs the day after you return from camp can tend to be very, very lonely affairs!
– one third of the training triangle is fuel and a training camp is the ideal opportunity to get nutrition and hydration right. All too often I find that I end up eating on the go on the way to a meeting, bolting lunch after a midday run or squeezing meals in around runs or sessions. On a camp, with no meetings to go to and the chance to run at the optimum time, rather than when work or other commitments allow, eating well and regularly is much more possible. Which results in feeling strong enough to run more or harder. Virtuous circle!
6. rest and relaxation
– as with nutrition, the lack of time pressures plays a crucial part in allowing more training but also more of the things that support more training: rest and relaxation. Anyone who has read about the way that the worlds most elite runners, from east Africa, train, will know that when they are not running, they take their rest very, very seriously, spending hours sitting or reclining out of the sun or taking long snoozes between sessions. A lack of stimulus and an appalling choice of TV channels, as well as the aforementioned good weather, means that all of us on the camp spent hours on sun-loungers or stretched out on sofas, recovering from one session whilst preparing for the next one.
7. hands-on coaching and advice
is a luxury that we all really benefited from on our training camp. It is rare for runners, except for the most elite, to have as much contact with their coaches as we had with Nick and Phoebe from RunningWithUs on this camp. The opportunity to ask those things that you always wanted to know, but were afraid to ask over a coffee after a morning run, was priceless (well, not quite – there was just the cost of travel and accommodation…)
8. the opportunity to try something new
– for me the new-ness on this camp was running twice a day every day except the two days when we went for a long run. So 13 runs in 7 days, brought to you by the ability to spend the majority of the day eating, sleeping or resting.
– I have yet to meet someone who goes to the effort and expense of going on a training camp to moan or whinge. Sure, there were points where injuries flared up or sessions didn’t go to plan, but in general the mood was massively positive and the closest I came to an injury was a side strain from laughing so much.
10. the aftermath
– having returned I am pleased to report that all of the things that I think about my training camp have an effect after the fact – I am back in the UK and despite the terrible inconvenience of work and the worse weather, I feel fit, lean and positive. And ready for my marathon in three weeks.
So in conclusion, I can only say that I think that camps, whilst undoubtedly indulgent, are hugely useful and great fun, so if you have a chance to try one, I suggest you do. It might be the key to unlock a new level of running.
After the great fun I had with the A-Z of running brands – which you can see here – I decided that a good use of a Sunday run with Dionne Allen and her flatmate Lorna, would be to create another list. So we tried to come up with the A-Z of Runners Health. As is to be expected when you have three runners together – especially when two of them are running close to eighty miles a week – it was pretty easy to get the list started. So as far as I can remember, here is what we came up with – please help to fill in the gaps and suggest some better entries for letters, so that we end up with the definitive list:
A – Accupuncture B – Bandages C – Compeed D – D.O.M.S – thanks to Mitch Hawkins (@trainandscoff) E – Embrocation F– Foam roller – great suggestion from Mike Wilesmith (@mikeyw405) G – Gait analysis H – Heat packs I – Immodium J – Joints – suggested by Progait and Kate Lee so thanks to them K – Key-hole surgery L – Liquids (from Kate Lee who’s training for MdS so will need liquids aplenty!) M – Massage N – Nipple tape (blame Dionne for this one) O – Osteopath P – Pain killers Q – R – Rest S – Sleep (Thanks to Jane Hansom from Sponge Marketing for this one) T – Toenail clippers (via Jane Hansom from Sponge Marketing) U – V – Vaseline (making its second appearance in an A-Z!) W – Warm-up X – Y – Yoga (thanks to Kate Lee for this one) Z – Zinc… OK we were struggling for a ‘Z’
There are quite a few gaps in there and a few extremely dodgy suggestions, so please comment or tweet me @simon_freeman and let me know what should be in the list.
When I started running, pain was something that I understood would be inevitable, but assumed would be temporary and periodic. However as I progressed my training over the years increasing my mileage as well as the intensity of my sessions, I came to realise that pain could be a pretty constant companion. At the moment, as I am logging regular 65-70 mile weeks, I wake up every morning with a very tight, sore right ankle. Following my easy morning run and after an hour at my desk my right knee twinges. By lunchtime there is a pain in my lower back. And before I set out for my session in the afternoon my IT Band feels like a tensioned steel cable. These niggles are a part of being a marathoner.
The regular companionship of mild pain or discomfort has, however, made me think about what it is like for other runners and especially 100+ mile-per-week elite athletes.
Elite runner, elite pain
In Charlie Spedding’s brilliant autobiography, From Last to First, he describes how, when he was training full time, pain was something he had to deal with constantly. This was especially true for his Achilles tendon, thanks to which he almost died after a negative reaction to an operation he was having.
So what about contemporary elite athletes? I had the opportunity to ask Ben Moreau, an aspiring Olympic marathoner, Scott Overall, whose 2:10:55 at Berlin in 2011 secured him the first place on the Team GB marathon team and Alyson Dixon who is also hoping for a place in the Olympic marathon for Team GB.
When I asked Ben about whether he deals with constant pain he said that, thankfully, he doesn’t. However Ben went on to tell me that he has trained through pains that have lasted for weeks and that in fact at the moment – with 13 weeks until his shot for a place on the Olympic team at the Virgin London Marathon – he has a hamstring issue that has been going on since early December (that is for around seven weeks). Ben said that this pain has meant that he has reduced intensity of training somewhat but that his volume of training has remained constant.
Scott Overall was similarly sanguine about pain when I asked him, telling me that
I think the aches and pains that athletes have are natural as I think its quite un-natural to be running over 100 miles per week, week in and week out
and he went on to say that in his experience a pain is often a sign of a problem away from the site of the discomfort. In his case calf pain was due to hip issues:
once I had a calf problem but the cause of this was because my pelvis was out of alignment and the pain was showing itself at the weakest part of the chain. No amount of stretching or icing the calf would help it because the root of the problem was with my pelvis, and it was this that needed to be corrected.
Last weekend I was at a marathon training conference in Brighton and had the opportunity to run with Aly Dixon, who is looking to take the third and final place in the Team GB Olympic team for the London Games. When I asked Aly about managing pain she laughed wryly, after all Aly has only recently returned from injury having run last year’s World Championship marathon in Daegu with a the double whammy of fracture to the distal phalanx (big toe) and sessamoid (ball of the foot) that she thinks started when she ran the Great South Run in 2010.
Aly is reported as saying that she was in pain during that race “but thought it was because I needed to change my shoes as they were worn out.” Aly went on to tell me that because the pain was intermittent she assumed it was a natural part of having increased her mileage and that it was something she just had to manage. In interviews Dixon described how the physios at Team GB in Korea did a great job at managing the ‘niggle’ to allow her to run after which they discovered the broken metatarsal.
Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional (according to the Buddha)
So we have established, from some of the best runners in the UK, that with hard training comes pain and niggles. There is of course, quite a challenge in telling the difference between natural soreness or tightness and the start of an injury. So what do the experts say? Well Scott Overall told me that
Elite athletes tend to be very in tune with their bodies and would know why something is sore, it might be my calves are sore because I did a session on the track the night before, or my Achilles is sore because I’d stupidly been walking around in flip flops the previous day. A lot of the time there is a reason for the pain and you can generally narrow it down to what’s caused it.
and Ben Moreau gave me tips on how he manages the inevitable discomfort:
if I feel like I’m changing my running style to accommodate it [the pain], I’m on a hiding to nothing and so will have to rest
if it is getting worse constantly, that’s a bad sign, so I’ll rest
assess rest vs healing and see if a reduced training amount now will impact the end goal vs possible benefits
Aly Dixon, now something of an expert in dealing with pain and recognising (or ignoring) injury, told me much the same as Ben – that she tries hard to recognise when pain is constant or worsening and affecting the way she is running and then decide whether, with a goal in mind, rest is possible and appropriate or whether she simply needs to push on and manage the issue.
How does that affect me?
To summerise, it seems that pain is an inevitable part of being a marathon runner and to avoid all pain would mean that the runner was not able to train enough to really reach his or her potential. The challenge comes when the pain is not a niggle but actually an injury. Scott Overall advises that
It’s important to nip these niggles in the bud before they get anymore serious. Keeping on top of things and getting regular physio and even massage can really help – if those things are not an option then just simply stretching or getting a foam roller to massage yourself.
One thing I have learned from talking to Ben, Scott and Aly is the importance of getting to know your body and recognise the difference between a niggle and an injury. Obviously being overly sensitive will mean that one doesn’t run enough whilst not being sensitive enough means that a serious injury could develop whilst the runner stubbornly refuses to acknowledge it.
I think that my advice would be that if you feel sore before you run, get out of the door and go for a 10 minutes warm-up. If after that the pain goes then it is fine to carry on (but get a physio to check out the area of pain anyway) but if the pain really remains or worsens, go home and immediately book an appointment with your favourite physio!
To conclude this ramble about pain, I think that my coach Nick Anderson of runningwithus, gave me some great advice this morning. We were out running together and I mentioned my sore ankle. I told Nick that the pain subsides within a couple of minutes of waking and goes completely once I have been walking or running for a minute or two. Nick said that this meant that the problem is manageable at the moment, but with three months until my ‘A’ race – the London marathon in April – I should get the ankle checked out by a physio now to avoid problems later as the volume of training continues to increase. I think that this is pretty good advice for all you marathoners out there so please let me know what you think and what you are doing to be the best runner you can be despite the pain!
Ed: Dionne has written a piece about dehydration that spells out the dangers and importance of preparation. If you have any comments please leave them for us and if you’d like to contribute, please contact me.
The ballot for the London marathon 2012 has been drawn and autumn marathon season is well and truly underway with less than a week till marathoners take a bite of the Big Apple across the other side of the pond…. forget Christmas, marathon fever is upon us!!
This casts my mind back to this year’s London marathon; there I was at the mile 25 mark watching zombie like figures stagger along the Mall. It was obvious to me that many of the runners had ‘hit the wall’ putting every last ounce of blood, sweat and tears to reach the finish line after 26.2 miles of the famous roads of London town and battling through the pain pushing themselves to exhaustion!
Hitting the wall
This got me thinking; what causes this phase of hitting the wall and how can athletes steer passed it so they have a much smoother and enjoyable ride to the finish line?
It was when doing my dissertation whilst studying sports management at the University of Birmingham that I got some ‘fuel for thought’ about one of the detrimental causes which could have such a negative effect on performance.
Research into dehydration
According to research, one of the common causes of hitting the wall is dehydration. When an athlete becomes dehydrated fluid is lost from the blood making it thicker and harder for the heart to pump an adequate supply of blood with each heart beat. This places the body under huge stress as the heart works to supply an efficient amount of oxygenated blood to the working muscles. Just a 2% reduction in body fluid can have a negative consequence for performance whilst dehydration can lead to a 6% reduction in performance and often will have a detrimental effect on the health of the runner, leading to symptoms such as intense thirst, impaired judgement, fatigue, anxiety, headache and in more severe cases, where adequate fluid had not been replaced, it has been known for runners to suffer from strokes or in extreme cases can lead to death.
Many of us are guilty of waiting for the thirst mechanism to tell us when we need to drink, however there is reason to suggest that this thirst mechanism is ineffective, because by the time it kicks in you are already likely to be mildly dehydrated by around 2% body weight. This is the 2% body weight that can lead to a 6% reduction in performance, meaning those that are not keeping hydrated could lose out on reaching their target time no matter how well their training leading up to the marathon has gone. It has therefore been noted that the athlete must be well educated in the advantages and importance of being properly hydrated in order to avoid severe dehydration and the consequential conspicuous impairment on overall performance, specifically when competing in endurance events like the marathon.
Effects of dehydration
As a result of the notable effects of dehydration on performance, specific hydration guidelines have been recommended by the American College of Sport Medicine. They suggest that an athlete needs to consume between 150ml and 200ml every 15-20 minutes of exercise equivalent. This is up to 600-1200ml per hour. However it is important to note that you don’t over hydrate as this could also cause adverse effects on performance, not least the dreaded ‘stitch’. Fuel for thought indeed!
This brings me to my final thought and the famous quote ‘poor planning leads to poor performance’ as it is clearly evident that without having the efficient amount of fluid in place performance is likely to be reduced and those goals you have worked so hard to achieve will be further out of reach, so grab those water bottles, find the drink that suits you and stand on that start line feeling fully prepared, confident and ready to fly. Good Luck!
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!
I have been running for around 6 years now and I have to admit that I have never been a fan of ice-baths. I suppose that in an attempt to avoid the unpleasantness of immersing myself in cold water, I imagined that they were only for elite athletes or only for injured athletes… of injured elite athletes. Basically I was too chicken!
Last year in March I went on a week long training camp to the Algarve with my coach, Nick Anderson, and a group of the runners he coaches. You can read about the week here. It was a great week of training with so many things that I would incorporate into my training if life and work didn’t get in the way so regularly – at least 8 hours sleep every night, training with a group of totally positive people, spending the day between two runs resting by the pool, hydrating and fuelling well, running off-road for most of the easy runs… the list goes on and on.
And there was something else; after every run we would arrive back at the hotel and all wade straight into the unheated outdoor pool.
Now I’ll admit that there is a world of difference between an unheated swimming pool and a proper ice-bath, but I think all of us on the camp realised the benefits of cooling our legs down immediately post-run. It is a habit that I have tried to resurrect in the last couple of weeks. But being the curious type I decided to try to understand what the benefits are and how plunging into cold water helps us as runners.
The basic theory is that by immersing oneself in cold water – ideally between 12 and 15ºC – blood vessels are constricted which reduces blood flow, swelling and tissue damage. There is also talk of an additional benefit once one gets out of the water, which is that the re-warmed muscles increase bloodflow post ice-bath and this helps “return the byproducts of cellular breakdown to the lymph system for efficient recycling by the body” (according to Nikki Kimball, a physical therapist in Bozeman, Montana, who was named USATF’s Ultrarunner of the Year in 2004, 2006, and 2007).
This is just the tip of the iceberg (I know, that was terrible… sorry) as far as cooling is concerned. The latest technology, adopted by those at the cutting edge of training methods like Alberto Salazar at Nike’s Oregon Project, is the cryosauna; an upright tube that athletes climb into and which is filled with liquid nitrogen which cools the athlete’s skin with temperatures as low as minus 170 degrees Celsius. Click here for a great interview by Steve Cram interviewing Mo Farah in a cryosauna . Quite an amazing bit of kit and dangerous if mis-used; only recently the US sprinter Justin Gatlin suffered mild frostbite from climbing into a cryosauna with wet socks on. Ouch!
There is a huge amount of debate in the running world about the potential benefits of ice-baths with many runners pointing out that there is very little, if any, scientific evidence for ice-baths delivering any advantage at all. Indeed a study published in 2007 in the British Journal of Sports Medicine concludes with this statement: “The protocol of ice-water immersion used in this study was ineffectual in minimising markers of DOMS in untrained individuals. This study challenges the wide use of this intervention as a recovery strategy by athletes. “ (Effect of cold water immersion on repeated cycling performance and limb blood flow Br. J. Sports. Med. 2011;45:825-829)
However there are other studies that take the contrary view, in particular a study by the French Ministry of Sports which concludes by stating that “Overall, the results indicated that the WBC [specific whole body cryotherapy] was effective in reducing the inflammatory process. These results may be explained by vasoconstriction at muscular level, and both the decrease in cytokines activity pro-inflammatory, and increase in cytokines anti-inflammatory.” (Time-Course of Changes in Inflammatory Response after Whole-Body Cryotherapy Multi Exposures following Severe Exercise. Source, Research Department, National Institute of Sport, Expertise and Performance (INSEP), Paris, France.)
To ice, or not to ice?
So where do we go from here? Well, I think that the scientists will continue to debate the issue for a while yet. For me, I take a slightly less scientific view. I believe that cooling my legs helps me recover from strenuous sessions and long runs more effectively. I also think that elite athletes like Mo Farah and Paula Radcliffe would not use ice-baths and cryosaunas if they didn’t have a positive effect.
But more than anything I think that it may just be that leaping into a cold bath makes us feel like serious runners who are prepared to endure discomfort for the sake of improving our results and that adds immeasurably to the psychological strength we need to go hard in those sessions or on race day. I am a strong believer in the theory that one reason for the east African dominance in middle and long distance races (though not by any means the only explanation) is the hardship that the runners there know, which makes running feel like an easy option. That may also explain the dominance of other countries in the past, where strong economies now mean that few endure the sort of hardships that were common even in the UK a generation or two ago. Who knows, but for now I’ll be maintaining my ice-bath routine and secretly hoping there is a definitive study that says they do no good!
And I will leave the last word to David Terry, M.D., an ultrarunner who has finished the Western States 100 and the Wasatch Front 100, 10 consecutive times. “Ice baths don’t only suppress inflammation, but help to flush harmful metabolic debris out of your muscles” and with his record of ultra running, if he says it, it must be true!
Injuries can be funny things. By this I mean they can sometimes seem to come from nowhere and be resistant to all the common treatments whilst at other times their arrival can be well announced and then they respond perfectly to icing or stretching or massage or whatever else is prescribed.
However with trickier injuries it is often a lack of clear solution that results in the injury worsening and become a real season-interrupter. My first brush with a persistent injury that resisted treatment was also my first experience of acupuncture and I learned a lot from both the injury and the treatment.
The injury was diagnosed as patella tendonitis or what many runners refer to as runner’s knee or jumper’s knee. Basically this is inflammation of the patella tendon which is found at the front of the knee connecting the knee cap (or patella) to the top of the shin bone. It is a classic over-use injury which often comes on when the runner increases milage and/or intensity and possibly doesn’t increase stretching to compensate.
In my case I had stubbornly kept running even though I was acutely aware of the pain in the front of my right knee. The pain continued to worsen until it was continuous and especially painful when I was running. And then I hit my knee with a pallet-lifter…
It was the Wednesday before the Milton Keynes half marathon and I was having a particularly difficult conversation with a client on the telephone. I had decided to take my phone and continue the conversation with the client while I took a walk from my office to the factory on the ground floor (I worked for a commercial printer at the time). I was mindlessly pushing and pulling a heavy industrial pallet trolley around whilst listening to the client when WHAM! the handle came down on my right knee. I was in agony (although I managed to avoid yelping and scaring the crap out of the client). By the time I got home that night my knee had swollen up and the tendon was incredibly sore. In desperation to run the race four days later I went to see Gavin Burt at Backs and Beyond who had dealt with my previous injuries. He decided that acupuncture was the best course of action.
Despite being rather nervous, I trust Gavin and so I tried to relax on the treatment table and see what acupuncture could do for me.
According to Gavin – in his typically straightforward manner – the idea behind acupuncture is this:
“If you have a splinter in your finger your brain sees it as a foreign object which may be infected and dirty, and certainly shouldn’t be under the skin so it mounts an immune response and an inflammatory response against it, involving white blood cells and inflammatory substances to disinfect the area and to get rid of the offending splinter. exactly the same process occurs when you have an acupuncture needle in your skin, except this time it’s the damaged Achilles tendon or muscle tear that the needle is inserted into that gets all the good healing stuff that the brain sends down there. so the acupuncture needle is used as an antenna to direct the brain’s attention to damaged tissue to help it heal….. simples, no?”
My experience was that after the initial very, very mild discomfort of the needles being deployed (acupuncture needles are typically made of stainless steel wire and are very thin) there was a sensation not unlike warm water rushing down my leg and around my knee. Gavin and I then chatted for a while – it might have been 20 minutes – before he removed the needles, which was totally painless, and I hopped off the treatment table.
The result was remarkable. My knee felt instantly better and I walked out of Gavin’s practice rooms with significantly less pain than I arrived with. Gavin suggested I ice my knee and rest for a couple of days, which I did. And on the day of the race I was completely pain free – no bruising from the pallet-lifter incident and no patella tendon pain.
The cynical amongst you may well suggest that the ice and rest had the effect of reducing the swelling and resolving the patella tendonitis. I guess there could be some truth in that.
However I am absolutely sure that the acupuncture had a significant effect – not least reducing the pain immediately after the treatment in the way it did. I must admit that I can’t rationalise how acupuncture can help people stop smoking or cure baldness, but I am a convert to the type of acupuncture that Gavin uses at Backs and Beyond. I have been back to Gavin with a few injuries and on the occasions where he has used acupuncture it has worked brilliantly so I would recommend that for those of you suffering from an injury that is not responding to the treatments you are using, find a practitioner that you trust, lay back and see what a bit of ancient Chinese medicine can do for you.