Do as he says, not as I do

Last night I had the pleasure of attending a talk given by my coach Nick Anderson, to a group of runners from my club, the Mornington Chasers. The subject of the talk was rather wide-ranging and essentially boiled down to…

Ways to be the best runner you can be

As usual, Nick got stuck in to some pretty specific advice. And I took absolutely none of it on board. It was almost comical.

Amongst other things and in no particular order, Nick gave the following advice:

  • Hydrate well – I had probably drunk a pint of water all day and that evening drank almost exclusively fruit juice!
  • Eat properly – the Chasers had organised a some lovely food, but I actually ate some chips, some pizza and a couple of handfuls of peanuts. Nick told us clearly in that what we had eaten was not enough – that it was a snack and not dinner – but by the time I had cycled home it was nearly 11pm and I was tired. So I had two small bread rolls with feta cheese and a chocolate mousse. Brilliant!
  • Eat within 5 minutes of finishing your run/session – I had been for a pre-breakfast run at 7am but when I got back it was at least an hour before I managed to eat anything. Then the first thing to pass my lips was a cup of tea.
  • Sleep well – Nick talked about the fact that our bodies enter the phase where we are really repairing the damage from training after four hours sleep. I got to bed around midnight and was up at 5am… so that would be one solitary hour in the recovery sleep phase then.
pizza chips
A runners dinner? It is if you’re an idiot.

To top all that off, I went out today to meet a trail race organiser to learn about how to put on a good off-road event (it was a brilliant day and there will be a report on here very soon). By 2pm I was freezing cold – having spent almost 3 hours walking and running around the course with the organiser and a photographer, leaping in and out of puddles to get the perfect shot – and I had not eaten anything since 8am when I had feasted on just 2 slices of toast.

Life gets in the way of perfect training for most of us. But that is no excuse for being an idiot.

Like many people, I suspect, I allow the pressure of life and work to take over. But that is a choice I make. I can always make different choices if I want.

I could have taken a Tupperware box with a homemade pasta salad to the talk last night and done the same for the day out today. I could have ordered two pints of tapwater at the bar last night instead of orange juice. I could have made a sensible decision about not trying to go for a run before leaving to catch my train to meet the trail race director, which might have afforded me an extra couple of hours’ sleep.

What I think happened is that I did not follow my new mantra:

Run the day. Don’t allow the day to run you.

So please, do me a favour. Do not do as I do. Do as Nick says. If you really care about your running and you really genuinely want to be the best runner you can be, plan ahead and make sure you do the right stuff to allow you to eat, drink, recover and sleep well. That way the training will take care of itself and you will arrive at the start line of your race in the best possible shape. Oh and if you remember, can you drop me an email to remind me to do the same? The address is idiot@simonfreeman.co.uk. Thanks!

The London marathon 2012

As I stood on the start line of the London marathon this year, I couldn’t help feeling a pang of fear. Obviously there was the usual butterflies associated with the desire to do my best, the knowledge that pain was inevitable, the worry that maybe I should have done more or eaten less or worn different kit. But there was an added dimension this year. Twelve months ago, on a hot day, I had run the London in a disappointing 2:43. Disappointing because I had trained hard and thought I was in shape to improve on my 2:40 personal best. The heat and my inability to adjust to cope with that, along with a fairly quick first half, put paid to that. In the subsequent de-brief with my coach Nick Anderson from RunningWithUs we had agreed – me rather reluctantly – that I would not run an autumn marathon in 2011 and instead wait a year for my chance to redeem myself.

So here I was, on another sunny morning, after a year of training, hoping for the elusive personal best performance. Nervous only begins to describe it!

The race unfolds

© Enrique Casarrubios

The air temperature at the start was ideal: around 7˙C. However there was a breeze, blowing from the west and there wasn’t really a cloud in the sky. It was not going to be perfect so I knew I would have to deal with that, but I felt ready.

I edged closer to the front of the Championship start pen than I had the year before. No matter that the qualifying standards for the Championship start are pretty tough (sub-2:45 marathon or sub-75 minute half for the men), there were still people that I would have to pass, so I wanted the clearest run possible. We were walked up behind the elite men and after the elite field introductions, right on time at 9:45am, we were off!

I had been told by Nick that the first three miles were to be the warm-up. In fact, with a downhill start and a bucket-load of adrenaline, I passed each mile marker at target race pace – 6 min/mile. But it felt great – really easy and smooth and I soon feel in step with a group running at the same pace. The only downside to this is that I was shielded from the westerly wind which I would encounter in the last six or seven miles, so I wasn’t prepared for it when I faced it on my own. Still, I was loving racing and the feeling of gliding along.

By half way I was still feeling great. I had talked to Nick about pacing the race right and we had agreed that I would go through half way in 78-79 minutes. As I passed under the half way gantry the clock read 78:30. Perfect.

It’s getting hot in here…

The only issue at this stage was that it was warming up. I had consumed two of my four gels by that point and so I took out the two that were tucked in my arm-warmers and pulled my arm-warmers down to my wrists. But then I just had hot wrists. So the arm-warmers came off and down the front of my shorts. A mere 800m later and my new cod-piece was feeling very uncomfortable. So out they came and I tossed them to the side of the road about half a mile before we turned right into Wapping. I felt free again!

I had also decided that I needed to take on water. I think that one of the problems in 2011 was that I didn’t adjust my water intake sufficiently and so I was horribly dry by the time I was forced to stop and take a drink. This year I deliberately slowed through the water stations and made sure that when I took a bottle of water I drank three or four good mouthfuls. The rest went either over my head or more usually I squirted the back of my legs (ahhhh, bliss!)

Friends and crowds

I have heard it said that one runs the first half of a marathon with the head and the second half with the heart. I agree, that there is a switch where emotion becomes massively important. During the race I heard my name called out a few times. At mile 16 I saw my Mum and Dad. At mile 17 there was an advanced RunDemCrew party with Linda Byrne shouting encouragement. At that stage I still felt pretty good.

Just before the 21st mile, on a very sparsely populated section of the course, I saw Nick and his fianceé – and fellow coach – Phoebe. I was feeling good and just thinking about getting my head around the last 10km. Nick and I locked eyes and he repeated the instructions he’d given me before the race for this point. Relax, work hard and try to catch the vest in front. At that point I knew that I was going to succeed with my targets.

At mile 21 I passed the RunDemCrew‘s main cheering point. That was a massive boost as a huge group roared me on (you can read about what it felt like to see the ‘Crew here). Next stop, the Mornington Chasers.

The Chasers cheering…

My club, the Mornington Chasers, traditionally have a cheering point on the Highway, near mile 22 so they can see the runners just after half way and then again on the way back with 4 miles to go. On my route out to Canary Wharf I had, of course, seen the Chasers across the road and I noticed that the club flag was tied to a huge tree. I banked that bit of info for later.

On the way back I spotted the tree from quite a long way away, but this is a dead straight section of road and I know that Tom Craggs, who had his hawk-eye on times for the Chasers running, also saw me quite a way out. I must admit, and I’ll take this opportunity to apologise, that I didn’t really see anyone except Tom. But there was another rush of noise, much like at the RunDemCrew station, which sent the hairs on my neck into a frenzy!

In 2011 I had passed this point, and many of the same people, in a bad state and quite a way behind schedule. This time I had good form, I felt great, I was on track and I loved seeing the flash of smiles and hands and the noise. Four miles left and I was going to do it.

The end is nigh

From Tower Hill the race did become a matter of battling the wind and trying as hard as possible to catch the person in front. I pushed as hard as I could, but the lack of a group to shelter from the wind with meant that I was working hard to keep 6 minute miles. Some of the people I passed looked crushed and I flew past them. Others, who were holding it together, proved impossible to catch. So I simply locked in the pace (thanks to Alex Kitromilides for that phrase), repeated my mantras and concentrated on not allowing the nausea I was feeling to develop into anything that would slow me down.

Past Westminster and along Bird Cage Walk, I just counted and counted. I saw Catherine Wilding on the right and flicked her a wave. But really all I could do was keep pushing. As I came onto the Mall I could see the clock and raced for every second I could get. Nothing registered in that final 300m. I crossed the line in 2:38:30, in 138th place, with a new personal best and bloody sore feet.

And that is really the story of my race. I was a little disappointed to run a positive split and ‘lose’ 90 seconds in the second half (78:30 1st half vs 80 minutes for the second half) but PB are rare as hens’ teeth and so I’m delighted that all the work paid off on the day and I managed to hang on into the wind in the last few miles. What I do know is that it was most definitely worth the training and I’ll be back for more!

The three E’s: engaged, enabled, and energized

You need three of these...

I recently read an interesting post on Fast Company about how to get the most out of employees. I was fascinated by what the article called the three states that employees need to be in, in order to deliver the best possible results for their employer: engaged, enabled and energized.

It made me think about what it takes to be the best runner you can be and I think that the same three words can be applied here too. I have just finished reading Adharand Finn’s book, Running With The Kenyans, in which he strives to uncover the secret to Kenya’s dominance in distance running and the marathon in particular. Without going into too much detail, the ‘secret’ isn’t really a secret at all – it is an ideal mixture of circumstances, motivations and opportunities that are exploited in that part of the world more and better than anywhere else.

Three important aspects of what Finn discovers, however, are that the runners he encounters are:

• 100% focused on running and do whatever it takes to be the best – they’re engaged

• they have ideal facilities in the form of traffic free, dirt trails at altitude, a plethora of training partners and some excellent coaches – they’re enabled

• they are surrounded by reminders of the benefits that running could bring them – they’re energized

What does that mean for me?

So how does that relate to our running? Well I think it is important to try to create our own ways to have the three ‘E’s in our running lives.

For me that will involve surrounding myself with the best runners I can to inspire and advise me. That will mean that I am engaged with what I am doing.

I will make sure that I am getting the best possible advice, in my case from my coach Nick Anderson, and being part of a training group, so that I am enabled to improve.

And I will keep reminding myself of why I run – to try to find out how good I can possible be and to create a situation where I can inspire and help as many runners as possible – which will ensure I remain energized.

So what will you do? How will you make sure that you have all the three ‘E’s in your running: engaging, enabling and energising. Please let me know what will work for you.

Top ten reasons to go on a training camp

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

The group that trains together eats together...

– 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.


4. company

Training in a group = harder, faster sessions

– 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!


5. food

– 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.


9. positivity

– 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.

Runner at the Sharp End #2: Richard Gregory

This is the second in a series of interviews with Runners At The Sharp-end (the R.A.T.S). For an explanation of what I am defining as a runner at the sharp end have a read here. Richard, a member of the famous Ranelagh Harriers, is a fierce competitor, especially in cross-country races and excels at any distance he tackles on the road (his personal bests are testament to that, as you can see below). Here is what he told me;

SF: To begin with could you give us some background about yourself and your running? What distances do you run? What are your personal bests (and what were your first times for those distances)?
Richard going great guns in the 'cross' Image from Ranelagh Harriers

RG: Mostly half marathon and marathon at the moment, with a bit of cross country through the winter.
Half Marathon PB – 70.43 (Amsterdam 2011) and my debut was 81.16 (Brooklyn 2007)
Marathon PB – 2.30.46 (London 2011) with a debut 2.50.54 (New York 2007).

SF: How long have you been running and why did you start in the first place?

RG: Started about five years ago (though I’d run a bit through school – mainly to keep fit for hockey, which I played reasonably competitively).  I was living in New York at the time and had barely exercised for a few years; running round Central Park seemed a good way to get in shape.  A friend then convinced me a 10k race would be fun… a half soon followed, and when a New York marathon place came about (rather by accident) it seemed I better give it a go.

SF: Are you coached? And if so, by whom?

RG: Yes – Nick Anderson – since summer 2010.

SF: (Aside from your coach, if you have one) who or what has been the biggest influence on your running and why?

RG: Any number of friends I’ve made through running – anyone, at any level, who shares enthusiasm for the sport, improving at it, and having a good time along the way.  Simon’s written on the benefits of running with a group, and I’d definitely agree: I love that running has both that brilliant social side to it, and can be the best possible space for some private thinking time.

SF: What is the best piece of running advice you have ever been given? Who gave you that advice?

RG:

Take responsibility for anything you can control; react positively to anything you cannot.

Sounds a cliché, but pretty fundamental to running as much as anything else in life – though at the time it was a throwaway comment from someone (who’ll remain nameless) who should know better!  It stuck with me, not least when a vomiting bug reared its ugly head seven days before the London marathon.  Keeping calm that week was as important as getting better, and thankfully by the Sunday morning I was fighting fit.

SF: What is your favourite bit of kit and why?

RG: Much as I love comfortable kit – and toys – top of the list is two healthy legs.

SF: What has been, or where is, your favourite race?

RG: For atmosphere – New York marathon, very closely followed by London.
For how I ran – Amsterdam half a few years back.  I’ve run faster since, but it was a day when everything clicked: I just felt incredibly relaxed and enjoyed a rare and wonderful flowing feeling (and a huge pb, much quicker than I’d considered possible at the time).

SF: What do you think has had the biggest effect on you improving your times?

RG: More, more consistent, and structured training.  I didn’t have a clue what I was doing when I started out.  Nick’s coaching has been a huge help in learning the different ingredients, and how to put them together.

SF: With the benefit of hindsight, if you could give your younger self any advice, what would it be and why?

RG: Probably just to get stuck in at an earlier age: running’s something I’ve always enjoyed, but didn’t really get into until my late twenties.  Part of me wishes I’d got more involved on the track in my teens; I’d like to know what I could have done over 800/1500m!

SF: Do you stretch enough?

RG: No!  As well as stretching, I’m a big believer in core work (strength and conditioning) – I don’t do enough of that either, but really notice the difference for injury prevention and improved running form.

SF: What do you think about the general state of running in the UK and, assuming you don’t think it is perfect, what could be done to improve it?

RG: Participation seems to be on the up, which is brilliant – anything to help get people out the door and exercising is good news.  At the sharper end – the likes of Paula and Mo are an inspiration, and I’m far from qualified to say what’s needed for more to come through at that level.  In between, it would be good to see greater depth of “good club runners”, as there was in the past, and I would love to see anything that helps inspire more people to see what a brilliant sport it is, and put the work in to find out what they might achieve.  For starters the London Marathon coverage seems to miss an opportunity each year in jumping from the elite race to the masses: there are some wonderful stories of talent and dedication in between.

SF: What is your overall ambition for your own running? What do you think you need to do to achieve that?

RG: The ambition is simply to make the most of chances to keep on improving at something I really enjoy.  The volume and quality of my training has increased markedly over the past year or two: as with any runner, right now it’s just a case of putting the work in, trying to make sure I rest enough, and eating well.  Hopefully that will translate into a great marathon buildup and race at London this year.

SF: Please complete the following: I run because…

RG: Two reasons for me: I get a kick both out of running itself – nothing beats being outdoors and active – and the honesty of seeing hard work turn into improvement.

The runners guide to making the marathon feel easy

I believe that one of the keys to unlocking success in the marathon, is training in a way that makes running at target marathon pace feel easy. Obviously there is a requirement to train for endurance, but the more that we can make marathon pace feel ‘easy’ the more likely we are to avoid crashing and burning! So that begs the question, how to make marathon pace feel easy? Well most of the runners I know believe that training at a pace that is quicker than marathon pace is the answer. Indeed on RunnersLife Ben Moreau wrote about the importance of ‘shorter stuff’

it’s good to add in some 5k/10k pace running just to stress different energy systems and also to reset your pace governance so that marathon pace ‘feels’ slow compared to the faster work

Some of the key aspects of my training now are sessions that involve running faster than marathon pace. This can take the form of threshold or tempo running (my coach Nick Anderson doesn’t really differentiate between the two for the vast majority of sessions) or faster stuff either on the track or in shorter races. Below I have outlined some examples based on my target marathon pace of 6 min/mile*

Example sessions

Threshold session – 75 minute run including 3 x 12 minutes at threshold pace with 3 minute jog recovery between (i.e. 15 minutes easy running to warm up then 3 sets of 12 minutes at threshold and 3 minutes jog recovery followed by 15 minutes easy running).

Hill session – Warm-up and drills then 10 minutes at threshold effort then 3 x 12 minutes continuous hills (90 seconds up, 90 seconds down) then 5 x 2 minutes hard on the flat

New River stadium where I do most of my track sessions

Track session – Warm-up and drills followed by 6 minutes at threshold pace then 2 x (6 x 400m) off reducing recovery with 2 minutes between sets. Then 20 minutes at marathon pace.

5km time-trial – Warm-up followed by 5km road or trail race (typically a Parkrun) followed by 3 x 10 minutes at threshold then cool-down

It is not revolutionary of course to build speed work into a marathon training programme, but it is not something that I used focus on particularly or if I did I had no idea why I was doing the faster stuff and what training benefit I was looking for. I recall doing hill sprints involving 20 seconds sprints up a hill followed by as much recovery jogging down as we wanted to take. Or sets of 200m sprints on the track. As coach Roy Benson says there is a “principle of specificity” which means that “if you want to develop a skill, you need to practice it exclusively” so when it comes to training for a marathon, the speed sessions should reflect the nature of the race distance.

This week’s track session

I still don’t pretend to understand all the science behind speed work (although I’m working on it!) but what I do know is that by doing sessions which develop a greater lactate threshold and increase VO2 max, we increase our capacity to operate comfortably at slower paces like marathon race pace. The proof of this was made starkly clear to me last night at the track.

After a pretty taxing session of 6 minutes’ threshold running and then 400m reps at faster than 5km pace off a reducing recovery, I set off for 20 minutes at marathon pace (6 min/mile for me) and I felt great! Despite actually going faster than target marathon pace (I was running at closer to 5:50 min/mile) I felt easy, light, in control and holding good form. I really felt that I could have kept going for much, much longer (although I was definitely in a depleted fuel state from not eating all that well during the day and the hard track session, so a gel or two would have been required to keep me going).

Suddenly I could visualise race day. I could tell how my body will feel after a taper period and with good fuel from the days before the race and the morning of the race. Add to that the excitement of race day and I can start to feel that my predicted pace will feel great. Well at least for the first 20 minutes!

 

 

 

* please note that these sessions are built into a plan from my coach and are in the context of the other training I am doing, so they shouldn’t necessarily be copied directly because your training is likely to differ from mine.

“The only antidote to mental suffering is physical pain” Karl Marx

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.

Ben Moreau
Scott Overall

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.

Alyson Dixon

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:

  1. 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
  2. if it is getting worse constantly, that’s a bad sign, so I’ll rest
  3. 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!

 

 

When more is definitely more

This week two things combined to make me think about the benefits of racing in a group, so I thought I’d write a quick post about that very thing.

My coach, Nick, often asks me to think about the best runs and/or races I have ever had as part of the process of visualisation that I think all serious runners should go through. I now have a little database of such events that I can think back on and they pretty much all have one thing in common – I was not alone!

Working with another runner

One in particular race, that I am very proud of, was the first time I broke 75 minutes for a half marathon. It was in the Birmingham half marathon in October 2010 and the race had near perfect conditions: cold and dry with very light breeze. I had had a hard, consistent training period up to the race and felt in great shape for the Florence marathon a few weeks later. And I was in a pen at the front of the field reserved for those with a quick time under their belt already.

The best bit about this race, however, was that after about three miles I was in a little group of three – a runner from Bourneville Harriers and another chap who didn’t wear a club vest. After running together in silence for a mile or so, the Bourneville Harrier mentioned that we were on sub-75 minute pace and asked whether me and the other chap with him were aiming for that target – we confirmed that we were. From that point on (I’d say about 5 miles into the race) we worked together taking turns at the front of our mini-peloton to push the pace along and give the trailing pair a break from any headwind we encountered. As we rounded the bend and saw the finish line the group broke apart as Mr. Bourneville drew away and I in turn dropped Mr. No Club. I had finished in 74:20 with no doubt in my mind that had it not been for the psychological and wind-breaking benefit of working with the other two runners, I would not have broken the 75 minute barrier.

Recent experiences

Then last weekend I was at another half marathon with a few club mates. One in particular, Mr. A, was intending to try to break the same 75 minute barrier, thereby earning a 3As Championship Start at the 2012 London marathon. The day was similarly cool and dry as it had been in Birmingham just over 12 months earlier. But this time there was a strong wind that would at times aid us and at other hinder us as we ran round a circular, and it must be said rather hilly course.

I watched Mr. A. pull away in the first few miles and before long I found myself alongside a runner from Ely Runners. Without any discussion we started working together taking turns on the front to give the other a rest from the really fairly strong wind. As I said the course was really quite hilly so there weren’t many opportunities early on to see far ahead, but after a while the course flattened out and suddenly I could see Mr. A ahead. All on his own. Ploughing into the headwind. Needless to say, Mr. Ely and I caught Mr. A. after a while by which time I think he had spent so much energy trying to maintain 5:40 min/mile that he was knackered and lost more and more time as the race went on.

Expert advice

Then last night while I was out on my run, I was listening to episode 97 of the Marathon Talk podcast when the hosts, Tom Williams and Martin Yelling started talking about racing tactics in their regular Training Talk feature (at around 46 minutes into the show). One of the things that they talked about was racing in a group and ‘tucking in’. They made the very good point that getting into a group does not exempt you of your responsibility to keep an eye on your pace and make sure that you do not slow down as the group slows down (which is common in the latter stages of most races) but they also talked passionately and with great experience about the benefits of working in a group, whether that is to break two and a half hours for the marathon or two hours for the half marathon.

My thoughts and tips

So this all prompted me to write a little about the benefits of working with other runners to achieve a goal. Here are a few tips;

  1. try to pick races where there will be people aiming for the same time as you – I recently compared two half marathons within a week of each other where the smaller of the two was won this year in 72:07, there were only 4 men under 75 minutes (and no-one at all between 73:20 and 76:23). In the larger half marathon, there were 11 runners who finished between 74:55 and 73:59, meaning that finding a group to run with to a sub-75 minute time would be much easier in the bigger race.
  2. make sure that you start your race in the right pen, thereby increasing the chances that you will find others with a similar target pace to yours.
  3. remember to keep an eye on the pace and if the group slows down don’t be afraid to push on, hopefully to another, faster group up ahead.
  4. communicate! Runners will often be happy to work together but it is worth saying a word or two so they know you’re prepared to work together (see point 5 below).
  5. as far as possible make sure you take a fair turn on the front. If you really can’t manage your turn at the front, especially towards the end of a race, let the others know so that they don’t think you are just taking a ride.
  6. if you have to choose between a group slightly faster or slightly slower than your target pace, pick the slightly faster group.
  7. watch where you spit…
  8. check with others about whether they want water as you approach an aid station to avoid crossing one another and potentially tripping someone up.
  9. if you have taken a ride for the last few miles of a race it is rather bad form to suddenly pop out and try to out-sprint the people who have dragged you along for the last half an hour.

I hope that helps and please, if you have thoughts on this or experiences to share please comment below… in a group if possible!

 

Fuel for thought

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!