Thursday, 13 January 2011

Stop putting it off any longer! The time is NOW!

Now is the time! For those of you running a spring marathon now is the time to stop putting off getting going and start doing your training. Before you know it you’re marathon will be upon you so get going!

What are the key things you should be thinking about right now?

1. Run regularly.

With the right training you teach your body to cope with the marathon distance. Regular running is the key to your success. No one will do it for you. Regular running means different things to different people. For a total novice this might begin with 2 or 3 times a week of jogging/walking interspersed with running lasting for 20 to 40mins. For a more experienced runner 5, 6 or more runs of an hour or more each week would be regular running.

2. Get a routine.

Being able to run regularly comes from developing a great routine. Identify times in your week when you can get out of the door and go for your run. Find the best times that fit with your family, work and other lifestyle commitments and, as much as possible, stick to them. This might be first thing in the morning, at lunchtime or after work. Missing a few runs here and there doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things but a stop-start fragmented running routine certainly won’t see your fitness improve and your marathon goal achieved.

3. Be consistent.

A few weeks of running won’t make you a better marathon runner. Many consistent weeks put together will. Consistency and routine in your training mean you will lay the foundations for running longer and faster in the future.

Proper Bonkers.

I’ve been thinking about these things a lot more recently as it’s all about the Comrades Ultra Marathon (56miles of South Africa’s finest miles in May). Having only done 1 ultra marathon before, and vowing I’d never do another one immediately afterwards, my training really does now need to start in earnest. I need to run regularly, I need a routine and I’ve got to be consistent with it.

I recently did a little forward planning (dangerous I know) and quickly realized that I’m going to need to take some serious leaps in mileage to hit some of the self set confidence boosting targets that I need to bag before feeling super sure I can go the full distance at the end of May. These targets include being comfortably able to knock out 20miles without blinking, completing a standalone marathon, building up a longest run to 45miles, and putting a series of 2 day long runs together back to back.

When I look at this set of milestones they seem quite out of reach right now but I’m hoping (and previous experience tells me) that once you embark on the journey and begin to tick off your objectives the distances between your milestones seem a little closer together and easier to reach.

If your marathon this Spring seems a little out of reach right now, get your head down, get on with the task at hand, bank the miles and look up every now again to see just how much closer the finish line is.

It’s not as far as you think.

Friday, 25 June 2010

A very long run. 100miles along the South Downs Way

Last weekend I 'enjoyed' (I say that very loosely) my first foray into the world of ultra running. 100miles along the South Downs Way isn’t everyone’s cup of tea for sure. But would it be mine? I finished the votwo South Downs Challenge and it was, well, bloody hard!

I’ve been running my entire life and can even remember that first competitive race at my local running (cinder!) track some 30 years ago. It was an inter schools 100m. I tripped and fell finishing grazed, crying and last. Despite that first unsettling experience running has continued to be part of my life as I’ve ran my way through a track racing, road racing, marathon, cross country, trail and fell, duathlon, and triathlon career. In recent years I’ve become more aware of the ultra running community and fellow runners have been banging on about how great an ultra race is to participate in and badgering me to have a crack at one.

I was regretting this decision some 70miles into the event when my blisters were killing me and my left foot was swollen due to the internal bleed from a torn anterior tibialis muscle.

The South Downs Way starts in Winchester and finishes in Eastbourne. There are 13600 feet of ascent and descent along the trail that follows the old routes and droveways along the chalk escarpment and ridges of the South Downs. Flat it wasn’t. Long, undulating and hard it was.

Day 1- 36miles : Winchester to Cocking. 36miles. Getting into it and getting lost.

I’d made my mind up that my strategy for the event was going to be based on completion and certainly no heroics on day 1. I needed to keep that firmly in my mind as the majority of the field sped off down the trail. My thinking was go to slower than I thought I needed to, to take my time, to ensure I kept adequately hydrated and fuelled and to finish the first day not totally in bits and confident I could complete Days 2 and 3. I’d read that a run:walk strategy was best for ultra’s and opted for the run 30mins-walk 3 to 4 mins and walk all the up hills (and any steep downhills) as a start point plan. This was harder to stick to than I thought as progress was slow and as soon as I’d caught people up, I stopped and let them go again. This didn’t sit comfortably with my former competitive racing brain but I knew I had to be disciplined and hold back for long term survival.

100miles is a long way!

Having never run further than a marathon I knew that once the 26.2 miles point was reached I’d be into the unknown. On leaving the final check point at Hartling Down car park some 26.8miles in I could feel the onset of friction on the outside of both of my little toes and the start of blisters. So early in the run? With 70miles to go this could be a significant problem. I actually found the final 4miles of the first day very tough. This was compounded by a loss of concentration at around mile 31 and a wrong turn taking us down a steep hillside into Treyford and off course.

I’d decided today to run in different shoes to change the pressure points and hopefully reduce the prospect of even bigger blisters in the same places. At least more blisters was better than bigger blisters! After being bussed back to the finish point at the Cocking car park I questioned for the first time (but certainly not the last) my own sanity for wanting to complete such a hard event. Who

would choose to do this? It really hurts.

Day 2- 34miles : Cocking to Pyecombe. :

As day 2 progressed I found that once the pain subsided from the blisters (the foot just goes numb after a while!) that I was able to settle into a solid rhythm. It was great to be running with a few guys (Phil, Pete and Darryl) and together we were helping each other along the trail. That was one of the great overriding experiences across the 3 days. That despite spending a considerable amount of time in your own headspace, sometimes alone, you always knew that there were others out there on the trail experiencing the same feelings, driving themselves forwards, silently through the pain.

This entire journey was really one of self preservation. It was about dealing with the waves of pain that frequently swept over my body, getting my head down and keeping going. Sometimes the pain would be in my knee, my blisters, my shoulders from my backpack, my old Achilles injury, my new foot injury. As soon the pain disappeared in one area it reappeared in another. But it never really hurt, it wasn’t ‘deep pain’, it was all superficial, just my body telling me it was probably a good idea to stop before things got any worse. But stopping wasn’t the answer. That wouldn’t get me to Beachy Head. Stopping was never an option. So, the pain was pushed out and the running pushed on.

As we approached The Beeding Hill checkpoint at mile 25.8 I’d noticed the pain on the top of my left foot had got significantly worse. It was actually now hurting to foot strike and I was unable to dorsiflex at all. This made running quite difficult and changed my natural gait. Yet again, for the second day in a row we mistook a bridleway sign for a SDW ‘acorn’ and threw in a curve ball wrong turn at between the final checkpoint and the finish. This isn’t good for the already battered spirit. Shorter than yesterday’s mistake (and flatter) we quickly retraced our steps and finished the final few miles to Pyecombe windmill car park at a steady clip in a group of 4.

Day 3 – 30miles. Pyecombe to Beachy Head. The final push.

Starting the 3rd day was somewhat strange. I’ve trained hard before and pushed both training and racing to the edge, but this was different. It was a relentless application of effort. Like a pain valve being slowly released over a long time. Normally in hard training this is the time at which I’d back off and take an easy day but this clearly wasn’t an option. The test today was all about keeping going and making the finish. The shoe swap had helped with the blisters but made the muscle pain around my left foot and ankle much, much worse. This final day from Pyecombe to Beachy Head was really going to hurt. The first check point some 7 miles in passed quite quickly. The second checkpoint was a further 10miles on and because we were on the final day I think it was easier to push out pain and carry on.

The end was in sight (relatively of course) and we had ‘only’ 14miles to Beach Head. The next 6 miles to Windover Hill car park were probably physically the toughest of the 3 days. My left foot was now hurting considerably each time it hit the ground and the swelling had increased. I knew that the pain wasn’t in a hurry to go so it was just a case of head down and keep going. For the next 12 miles I shuffled in silence along the trail. Even being overtaken on a steep downhill by an elderly couple walking to catch a bus at one point! It struck me that for much of my time on the South Downs Way I hadn’t actually managed to ‘enjoy’ the trail. Too much time was spent with my head down focusing on the path ahead. We’d run on chalk, clay, grass, mud, shingle, concrete, tarmac and flint and spotting the finest, smoothest trail routes had become something of an obsession.

Finally, after nearly 6hrs running (and 21 in total) we saw the welcome wooden post of our entire journey. Beachy Head 2miles. We kicked in a searing final 2miles (probably about 9min miling!) and closed in on the votwo crew welcoming finish line.

South Downs Way Challenge. DONE. Do I have plans to do another one? No way!

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

Staying healthy for better training

Being ill really is dull. For the first time in as long as I can remember I've recently been forced to lie shivering and shaking in the bed whilst my body wrestles a bug for a few days. I'd forgotten how deliberating being ill can be and am thankful for my normal good health and vitality.

Our bodies are amazing. From the moment we are born they start to build a defensive shield to protect us against the onslaught of bacteria. Our immune system hunts down invaders to the body and eliminates them. It also protects us by developing anti-bodies and immunity to certain ‘nasties’ preventing us having the same illness again and again. I'm hoping this is true as my daughter Ruby got ill with this bug just before me and I'm hoping she doesn't get it back again!

As a runner being ill wreaks total havoc with the training! Infact, more often than not it slides to a total standstill. This is the best course of action. Your body needs its energy for repair and to get healthy and doesn't need to expend it training.

Healthy people are ill less often, feel better in themselves, have more energy and are less stressed! However when we run, especially if we’ve run hard, we a leave a window of low immunity open for a while. This can leave us more prone to bugs and illness. That’s why it’s really important for active people to think about how we can minimise our risk of catching bugs. Finishing your run and then not refuelling adequately, going out for a run and then heading straight back into a warm, air conditioned, bacteria laden office with people coughing and spluttering, or not changing your clothes and being cold post-run really doesn’t help keep bugs at bay, So, what does?

A big key to a healthy immune system is to eat a healthy balanced diet. Stack up with junk and the price could be illness. Fresh fruit and vegetables, carbohydrate, proteins, and essential fatty acids all play a part in keeping our defences strong and fit for action. The key vitamins to support your immune system are zinc, iron, copper, selenium, A, B6, C and E. All of these can be found in sufficient quantities in a well balanced diet. If you are concerned over a lack of any essential vitamins or minerals a ‘top up’ in the form of supplementation might work for you.

Carbohydrate plays an important role in supporting the immune function. The Atkins diet is not good for fighting the winter lurgy. Trying to loose weight quickly simply adds stress your body. A steady weight management programme that is based on eating the right amount of the right foods at the right time coupled with a regular, progressive and appropriate exercise routine is the way to go.

Protein and essential fatty acids are also vital for immune function. Protein is important to help your body recover and re-build your muscles after running. A lack of protein will mean that your body will not be able to repair itself adequately and your run the risk of getting over tired and run down. Great protein choices are soya, lean cuts of meat, fish, and eggs.

Probiotics are ‘friendly bacteria’. Everyone needs these to survive. They help us to syntheses vitamins and help rid our bodies of harmful bacteria found in the gut, such as viruses, helping stimulate the gut immunity and enhancing our disease resistance. Probiotics can be eaten in foods such as live yoghurt, but it has been found more effective to stimulate the activity of existing healthy bacteria in the gut by eating certain foods such as bananas, asparagus, garlic, wheat, tomatoes and onions.

Wash your hands regularly. Our hands pass over countless objects in the day that many people have touched, including money, door handles, pens, taps, hand railings, buttons on cash machines, telephones. The constant contact spreads virus. By washing your hands with soap and warm water you will be reducing your chances of catching whatever lurks!

Avoid touching your face. Viruses like to get into your body through your eyes mouth or nose.

If you feel like you are coming down with something and are questioning if you should run that day – DON’T! Remember the 3D’s; If in DOUBT DON’T DO it! Exercising when you are ill can only prolong your illness, so rest and allow your body to put all its energy into fighting the illness.

After your run make sure you get warm and dry, rehydrate with plenty of fluids (even if it’s cold outside), and eat something healthy to replace your energy within 30minutes of finishing your workout.

When you see someone has a cold, cough of the flu steer clear! That might be tricky when they are your husband, partner, child or the person you sit next to at work yet you can think about strategies to minimise physical contact when they are really ill!

When you are tired your body just can’t catch up and something has to give, and it’s usually your health. Avoid constantly driving yourself into the ground. Aim to get enough sleep so that feel rested. At least once a week try and wake naturally and not to your alarm.

Monday, 15 March 2010

Marathon Investment

Recently I have been bombarded with questions about how to run marathons. Some folks want to complete their first whilst others want to run faster. The latter got me thinking. How much do people who want to run faster really want to run faster? What is their ‘personal marathon training budget’ and just how much are they prepared to invest to achieve their ambitious goals?

The best thing you can do to hit an ambitious goal is to really want it. There’s no point fluffing about with ambitious targets. They need to be embraced and set upon with real purpose, passion and intent. Waiver and your ambitious target will slip away. Engage in pointless chaff and your target disappears. Take positive, informed action and make difficult but necessary choices and really commit to your ambitious goal and you’ve a greater chance of turning it into a reality.

If you want to run faster than before you need to train harder and smarter than before. You’ve got to train your body for what you are asking it to do. That means focused long runs, with sections at target race pace, threshold and faster running workouts, having a clear race place and nailing your hydration and nutrition strategy. Serious goals demand serious preparation not half-hearted attempts with limited gusto, poor perseverance and lack of deep commitment.

If your goal is to run faster this year (at a marathon or any other distance for that matter of fact) it’s all well and good to talk about it and wave your target about in the wind but when are you going to actually stop the hot air and actually start with the action?

Questions to you?

  • What do you want to achieve?
  • How much do you really want to achieve it?
  • What do you need to do to make this aspiration a reality?
  • What are the major barriers / obstacles you face?
  • What is the immediate action you are going to take to start on your road to success?
  • What else can you do to make your dream run goal achievable?

Now go and do it!

Friday, 8 January 2010

Sometimes we can all get a down in the dumps about our running and search for inspirational stories to kick start our mojo. I found my inspiration very close to home recently. After carrying bags and a baby whilst my wife made her return to competitive (low key) racing in the Christchurch 10k recently we stopped by a friends house to watch my sister race the European Cross Country Championships in Dublin. For those of you who follow running you may know that she retired from top flight racing in these Championships last year. To race again this year was a last minute ‘bit of fun’ as she put it the week before.

Watching her take the race literally by the scruff of the neck in traditional ‘Yelling’ style right from the start made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. She was putting into practice aggressive front running and saying to the rest of the field, “come and get it. If you’re going to beat me today you’re going to have to work hard for it”. Ok, I had my doubts like everyone else if she could keep up the relentless pace but I also knew that the longer she stayed away the more confident she’d become. Liz and I screamed at the TV for the next 25mins. When she rounded the final bend having lead from start to finish a smile crept across her face and a tear down mine. I was so proud of her for a typically gutsy run. She’d made the race an honest test of proper cross-country running and was a deserved winner on the day.

Perhaps I should take a leaf out of my sister’s book and return to competition after ‘retirement’ 2 years ago. Then again, perhaps not. I think I’ve gotten too comfortable with my relaxed runs along the beach and coast paths. But surely this isn’t a bad thing is it? We all run for different reasons, we are all fortunate that we can, and the thrill and enjoyment of just doing it is reward in itself. I’ll put the racing flats back in cupboard now.

Time right now seems to be spent frantically trying to meet a few end of year work deadlines whilst wrestling with Christmas present purchases and never ending food shopping. With Christmas almost on top of us I’m just wondering how to fit my festive running in around a hectic social calendar and have come up with these ideas to keep the miles banked:

  • Time your runs over Christmas around going out when the most dreaded relatives arrive. Best of both worlds. More time running. Less time engaged in pointless social dialogue and probing.
  • Ask for running related gifts then you get to try them out immediately upon receipt.
  • Run fast when it’s dark. Wear all black and look like you’ve robbed something.
  • Run fast when it’s dark. On Christmas Eve. Wear red. Plus a big white beard. You’ll look like your giving it all back.
  • Convince your overweight friends and family that actually running is good for you as it helps you burn off another mince pie – but you have to go when it’s time to do the washing up for this to be effective.
  • Convince your husband/wife/partner that you going for a run at Christmas is all about their investment in you as a person. You’ll come back in a much better mood.