Tag Archives: Performance

Why do I run?

My recent inability to maintain my active lifestyle has led to a lot of soul-searching, not the least of which is to ask the question, “If this is the consequence of running, do I really want to do it?”

This simple question poses a number of further considerations, surrounding alternative approaches, consequences of running, including injury specifically and also reviewing what one might consider to be the far more positive and motivational aspects of the sport.

Born to Run
Born to Run

Indeed, if one looks at the statistics of running injuries on an annual basis, you would hardly think it is a sport that people would be motivated to take up at all. My case is certainly not atypical. Christopher McDougall wrote his famous book ‘Born to Run’ because he simply did not believe, after years of trialling different shoes, orthotics and physiotherapy sessions, that he should be sidelined as much as he was. What he found was that over-cushioned running shoes and bad running form was mainly to blame – not specifically running itself. Hence the current popularity of ‘barefoot’ running and different ‘natural’ running techniques, such as “Pose” and “Chi-running“. How many other sports would we expect to take up with absolutely no training? The simplicity of running is both it’s greatest strength and it’s biggest weakness. To coin a phrase, you can “just do it”, but whether you should without training, is the question.

Despite all this, people do take up running and it is becoming more popular all the time, especially ultra distance running, with the community showing no signs of being abated by the increasing number of events flooding the market.

Perhaps though, I have started running too late in life. Many of my colleagues, Tim, Rob and Greg, for instance, have spent a far longer time with running in their lives, having competed at schools, universities or similar. I, on the other hand, only really started running about 15 years ago, and didn’t start taking part in shorter races for 3-4 years after that. Perhaps age is against me. Every injury takes a little longer to bounce back from, and fitness is a constant struggle to maintain. Perhaps I am too old for this game.

Continue reading Why do I run?

Chia Seeds

So, you thought Gillian McKeith invented the concept of superfoods.

Think again 🙂

There are records of ‘Chia Seed’ being used as a food over 3,500 years ago and it was recognized as a superfood by the Aztecs, so much so that it was often used as legal tender for exchange of goods!

So what is so special about chia seeds, and why am I writing about them on a running blog?

Continue reading Chia Seeds

Fear and loathing

One week to go.

My last couple of weeks have been easy by comparison to the peak of my training schedule, but there is nothing better than having reached and passed that point without having sustained an injury. Nevertheless I have to keep telling myself it’s alright to have a rest, as I feel a bit lazy, a bit of a ‘slacker’ 🙂 having only completed a minimal 50 miles last week and with only a paltry 30 miles planned this week 😮

I will need all the rest I can get as the races I am attempting are only four weeks apart, so with a recovery week after each (to let feet and legs, body and mind recuperate) and a taper week before each race, that does not leave much time for training in between.

I am swinging from feelings of excitement over these races, to fear of failure, to loathing of the challenge I have set myself without fully understanding why I am doing it. I have been ‘training’ for this since the end of August after the UTMB – it is a long time to commit to lengthy Sunday runs and early morning starts.

Continue reading Fear and loathing

Barefoot running

This is an interesting summary I picked up from the web – originally published in the Denver post, but with references to Runner’s World and Barefoot Ted (of ‘Born to Run’ fame)

The graphic clearly shows the benefit of running ‘barefoot’ to encourage a mid-foot strike to allow the foot to operate as designed, i.e. as a shock absorber in conjunction with the calf muscles, rather than running with cushioned shoes which force a heel-strike through a lack of proprioception, i.e. the foot hasn’t got a clue where it is in relation to the ground.

Barefoot Running - Overview

The constriction of the foot within a ‘normal’ shoe exacerbates the situation by not allowing the foot to flex and perform its function as intended by nature, and over time the muscles atrophy and the tendons become weak, causing the injuries 80-90% of runners experience on a regular basis.

When running barefoot the muscles and tendons (eventually) strengthen after a transition period and the more natural style which the runner will automatically be encouraged to adopt will reduce the risk of injuries associated with a footwear induced gait (heel strike, overstriding, straightened legs).

Food for thought.

Better than I expected

Expectations are a funny thing.

Sometimes we get exactly what we expect because we are so focused on all the different facets of an event, such as maintaining a certain pace at all costs, that it becomes the objective to fulfil and realise those facets.  The alternate approach is to aim for something far more woolly and generic like ‘doing your best’ and while that certainly has it’s place, it is far less tangible and so more difficult to focus on.

The danger is that if you set your expectations too low, set them conservatively, then you may never realise your full potential.  It is a constant dilemma, in life as well as running, to determine the goals for which you should be aiming.

At the Reading Half Marathon last year, I ran 1:27:07 but my levels of confidence were also significantly higher then, for some reason which I have yet to work out.  Nevertheless, setting a goal for this year involved the usual discussion with John who in the end was the only other of my running buddies who was taking part, that went something like

John – “So, I’m going for 1:25 this year. What do you think?”

Me – “Yeah, sounds about right.”

Continue reading Better than I expected

Fast Week

Things are starting to hot up.

The season starting to move up a gear.

After months of rest, recovery, maintenance and ‘base-training’, call it what you will, I have completed my first race and having rested from the ultra-distance of that one, I am now looking at more speed training sessions prior to the Reading Half and London Marathon in March and April respectively.

Tempo Running

The week did not start well though, on Monday although I had 10 miles planned, it was tipping down with rain and sometimes even I can’t muster the enthusiasm to get up at 5am and pull on my trainers to step out into the wet and cold.

So as it was, I did my 10 miles on Tuesday morning, but then found myself short of a rest day!  I also started a bit of cross-training on Tuesday with bit of core and upper body work.

On Wednesday’s I normally do a short pace run which is designed to keep my legs fresh prior to the mid-week long run, but after Tuesday’s improvised long run I decided to make this an easy run, but as a consequence also chose to take the opportunity to do a longer 8 mile pace run on Thursday, involving 6 x 800m in (average) 3:08 (3:54 /km), with which I was quite happy.

Friday included it’s normal run of 6 miles in the morning and I am looking forward to a rest tomorrow (Saturday) before a 22 mile long-run on Sunday.

55 miles in total, with 5 km more clocked up with the vibrams, but still feeling the calves after THAT!

Planning 2010

So, with base training for the new season in mind, what are my plans?

Well, believe it or not, the UTMB has featured heavily in my thoughts for a million different reasons.

utmb_manAlthough I conceed there may be a certain ‘filtering’ that has occurred over the past couple of months through the romanticising, rose-tinted spectacles of time, I have to balance the event and all it’s trauma against the whole experience, and at the end of the day I still feel myself priviledged to have been able to take part in such an event.

Let me explain. My thoughts fell fairly and squarely into a two types. typically from

“I’m never doing this again” and “This is no fun”

at the low points of the run to the equally extreme, but opposite

“This is an incredible experience”, “The landscapes here are fantastic” and “This isn’t going to beat me”

and despite the fact that I distinctly remember saying to myself that I was not enjoying it at times during the event, I have to consider the fact that I believe I could do better if my feet had not let me down again (or if I had been smarter about looking after my feet, but that is another story….)

At the end of the day I can only think of half a dozen reasons why I wouldn’t do Mont Blanc again, but I can think of a million reasons why I would want to, including training for the MdS (only 18 months away), trying and proving approaches to saving my feet, attempting to improve my time and experiencing the beauty of the region.

So that is part of my plan for next year.  The rest, as with any good book, will be revealed over time!

Base Training

After the sublime adventure of Mont Blanc, the relative mundane of recovery and base training begins.Pyramid

Each year a goal race leads, often anticlimactically, to the recovery the body needs after a heavy period of stress on it. Most people, including myself, will do this with a brief period of rest or sometimes easy running (active recovery?) or even cross-training – the theory often quoted for marathon training is that this ‘easy’ period should be about a day for every two miles of the race distance, i.e. two weeks for a marathon, but 50 days for 100 miles seems a bit excessive, so I’m not convinced the theory is ‘scalable!’.

After a recovery phase for the final race of a season, base training begins for the next season. Some people think of this as maintenance for the body and it is just that – providing an annual ‘recovery’ to mend the body after the rigours of an intensive season, but it also creates a foundation on which to build the next year’s training. The simple cyclic approach to training at a certain level which is maintainable as it does not attempt to increase or increment on the already achievable, but instead allows the body to recover and through repetition become stronger.

Each year, the level of intensity of base training may increase, providing a higher point from which to springboard the latter and more intensive training phases of strength and speed building which are higher intensity, but make up less of the overall training on a weekly, monthly and annual basis.

At the moment my base training schedule consists of a four week cycle of 36, 38 and 40 miles with a step back (recovery) week of 32 miles – in each phase of training the periodicity is evident. All of these differences are based predominantly on variation of the long run and I am planning to do this up until the end of December, when the marathon training schedule will yet again begin in earnest. 

The pyramid begins to take shape.

Final thoughts….

Two days before the event, what are my thoughts?

Anticipation. This is my event for the year and from that point of view it is incredibly exciting.  I’ve been planning and focusing on it for so long now, it has become part of my life, almost (as I’m sure those closest to me would attest) to the point of obsession.

The Thinker (Rodin)
The Thinker (Rodin)

Trepidation. The other side of the coin; With such focus comes the fear of failure, of under-performing on the day, of not living up to my own expectations, and of disappointing those that have supported my endeavour with kind words and donations to my chosen charity.  Training and experience can diminish that, but at the end of the day, it is a single opportunity to get it right.

Paranoia. With each step I take, my mind convinces me that each niggle is a potential race abandoning injury.  I tell it to be quiet – I have listened to it enough in my life, as I begin to realise it is only me that has ever held me back.

Caution.  Simple everyday acts, merely walking along the streets, let alone up and down uneven stairs or heaven forbid cobblestones, fill me with fear as I cautiously wend my way through the ankle twisting urban jungle and the obstacles it lays in my path; tourists, the kerb, London lite distributors, commuters with briefcases at knee height, arrrggggh!

Privilege.  One of my greatest pleasures nowadays, is the enjoyment of the landscapes through which I run and the area around Mont Blanc is one of the most amazing and fantastic to explore on the face of the earth.  I feel privileged and honoured that I will be able to experience so much of that in the challenge that I am taking on.

Solitude.  Often when I run nowadays, considering the distances involved, I run alone. I do not consider this loneliness as most of the rest of the time I am with my family or at work, but for a few precious hours every week I experience the regenerative qualities of  solitude.  Although there will be over 2000 people starting this event, I’ve no doubt that there will be times, especially towards the end when I will be on my own.

Spoke too soon – Typical.

Went out for a speed session this morning, trying to improve my potential for a faster time in the London.

After a successful Half-Marathon time which predicts a 3:01 Marathon time, I am fired up to inch past the sub-3hr marathon point.
So I duly planned to do 2 minute reps (2 minutes fast followed by 2 minutes jog recovery)
The session was going well, but I felt a niggle on the top of my foot that I had not experienced before – very much like having tied my shoelaces too tight.  No pain, but an unusual feeling.
I stopped and loosened my laces, but it made little difference.
By the end of the run I had done 5 x 2 minute reps @ 3:51, 3:44, 3:54, 3:50 and 3:58 min/km pace respectively.
Although the run was good and I was pleased with my performance I was still nervous about my foot although there was still no pain at the end of the run and tight feeling abated as soon as I stopped running.
Time will tell if this is something to be worried about.