Taking mud indoors

At this time of year, my weekends typically involve mud running and cross country races.

Only a few weeks ago it looked promising that some sort of mud activity was likely and indeed, several mud events and obstacle course races have gone ahead within COVID-19 guidelines.

However, after a steady decline of coronavirus cases since the first peak in April 2020, confirmed cases started rising again in July, with the rate of growth increasing sharply from the end of August.

At midnight on 16 October 2020, London moved into Tier 2 (high alert) coronavirus restrictions, with Londoner’s banned from mixing between households indoors, in restaurants and pubs.

Other parts of the UK, particularly the North West, North East and Yorkshire regions moved into Tier 3 (very high) restrictions.

The Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) said it is “almost certain that the epidemic continues to grow exponentially across the country”.

Also, on 16 October, England Athletics published a guidance update for restricted return to activity for coaches, leaders, athletes and facilities.

While England Athletics continues to promote the benefits of safe exercise, club activity and competition, it is highly unlikely that a 2020/21 cross county season will happen or that mass participation trail races or mud events will take place before Easter 2021.

Both the Surrey Cross Country League and South of England Athletic Association have upcoming races for the season ‘to be confirmed.’

Nevertheless, with a lack of exciting mud events on the immediate horizon, there are numerous ways to make the most of the gifts of nature.

Mud for healing and rejuvenation

The healing power of mud and other minerals have been known for millennia.

As Natural Health Practitioner, Galina St George explains in her book Earth’s Humble Healers, minerals are the source of life on Earth; we need them in order to live; every fluid and solid matter in our body contains minerals; and every cell in our body needs minerals to function and reproduce.

Galina St George describes how the idea of using muds as well as clays and salts as the main source of minerals to improve health and enhance beauty is not new.

For centuries muds have been used for medical applications, therapeutic and cosmetic properties; clays were used by Roman soldiers to heal wounds and disinfect water; and clays are widely known to neutralise poisons, deal with wounds, food poisoning and hunger.

The complex combination of salts and minerals in mud (kaolinite, bentonite, magnesium, potassium, and others) are known to draw toxins out of the body, boost the immune system, tone skin, relieve joint pain and treat rheumatic diseases.

The popularity of thermal springs and mud baths such as Lago di Venere in Pantelleria, Italy; Dead Sea in Israel; Baden-Baden in Germany; Calistoga in California; spa baths in Budapest, Hungary; and the Monihei Carnival at Cangyuan, in China’s Yunnan Province, are in no small part due to the potent minerals and enzymes in mud and spring waters that can help restore a youthful appearance, increase vitality, stimulate blood flow and lymphatic system cleansing, relaxation, and improve physical health and wellbeing.

Given COVID-19 restrictions, travelling is not an option for many of us. However, you do not need to go far to dig in the dirt, dilute some clay and pretend you are somewhere in Baden-Baden; or simply buy mud and slather yourself with sulfuric-smelling ooze.

While we wait for the resumption of mud running and cross country races, weekends for me over the next few months will involve some combination of training/running in as much mud as possible, and taking mud indoors – nourishing myself with mud and clay treatments (AHAVA’s dead sea body mud and Clarins SOS Pure clay mask are favorites) and bath salts.

Wishing everyone safe exercise, health and wellbeing during this unusual time.

Swimming in the Thames

A few week’s ago (12 September 2020), I finished off a summer of outdoor swimming with a 5km swim in the Thames at Dock2Dock.

Dock2Dock was my target event when I resumed swimming about three months ago – frequently training at Liquid Leisure in Datchet, due to its lovely 750 meter loop, superb water quality, super friendly staff, and nice vibe. The lake is about a 40-minute drive from my SW London home, and COVID-19 restrictions meant swimmers had to arrive swim ready. For me, this typically involved top down driving along the M4 in a two piece swimsuit and wetsuit pulled-up waist high.

I also found that I really loved Heron Lake, which is near Liquid Leisure and a few minutes closer to home. Heron Lake also has superb water quality, a friendly atmosphere and 500m and 1,000m courses.

2020 is the second year that I’ve participated in Dock2Dock.

This year, I completed the course in an official time of 1:40:50.

My 2020 Garmin time being 1:40:08.

In 2019 (13 July), my official time was 1:40:36.

My 2019 Garmin time was 1:40:16.

Dock2Dock 2020 official finish time

Swimming in the Thames is a truly magical experience; it’s famous, big, imposing and choppy with incredible views of the city.

I am pleased with both my 2019 and 2020 Dock2Dock times, and I can see a lot of areas for improvement with my outdoor, mass participation swimming, pacing and technique.

Now that I’m dusting off my winter wardrobe and many outdoor swimming venues are closing for the season, my training is likely to focus on strength, movement, running and Peloton cycling (given this year’s COVID-19 restrictions I have a home-based spin studio – kitchen conversion), with some swimming here and there.

With cool autumn/winter temperatures, if you are considering purchasing a Peloton, use referral code K6WMME (valid only in the United States, Canada or the United Kingdom) for £100 off your Peloton purchase.

Back in the water

Back in February 2020, I blogged about how excited I was as a spectator for this year’s big events, including The Vitality Big Half 2020, Virgin Money London Marathon 2020, Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, particularly the 10km open-water marathon swim at the Odaiba Marine Park.

Due to COVID-19, the above mentioned events were cancelled or postponed (new dates for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games are 23 July to 8 August 2021) and my personal experience of lockdown life has involved changing priorities and pace of life along with a lot of online shopping to rearrange my small flat to suit working from home and keep myself amused.

Luckily, with the exception of the OCR World Championships I had only committed to participate in one event this year, Dock2Dock 5km swim, which has not been cancelled. This swim is currently scheduled for Saturday 12 September.

Having been cast off and adrift without swimming, I’m now anchored down (to abuse a metaphor) and back in the water as lockdown restrictions are easing and outdoor swimming venues are opening and operating within COVID-19 guidelines.

My first swim of the year was on 5 June, at Liquid Leisure in Datchet.

A month on, my swimming fitness is improving and I’m not missing swimming pools one bit. I’m loving outdoor swimming so much, I doubt that when pools reopen, I will be in the queue.

From an almost existential crisis to finding freedom, fulfillment and enjoyment through outdoor swimming; I need a very good reason to visit a leisure centre (a hot tub and sauna could tempt me).

Given my location in South West London, I am fortunate to have several open water venues in close proximity. My chosen lakes/venues are Liquid Leisure in Datchet, London’s Royal Docks and The Haven, Bedfont Lakes Southside. The latter two venues require NOWCA membership (approx. £12 per year) and sessions can be booked using the app ACTiO.

NOWCA (National Open Water Coaching Association) offers a selection of safe swimming lakes and venues around the country, operated under the supervision and guidance of qualified coaching staff.

If you’re in the UK and looking for a safe place to swim, NOWCA is a great resource to help you dip your toes.

Hydration, hydration, hydration

The human body is about 50 to 70 percent water – we constantly lose fluids from perspiration, urine and through our breath; and replace what we lose by eating and drinking.

During the summer months we’re frequently reminded how important it is to drink plenty of water (and all kinds of other drinks from tea to modulate brain efficiency to red wine for better gut health). Hydration orthodoxy recommends drinking a minimum 2 litres of water per day, or a minimum of 35ml of water per kilo of bodyweight, and more if exercising and sweating.

For athletes, the topic of thirst, hydration and dehydration is complex, with even more complex physiology, ever evolving science, technology, recommendations and advice.

It is proposed that thirst increases our sense of perceived effort, while dehydration increases the strain on our cardiovascular system; and it is important to maintain the body’s state of homeostasis as much as possible before, during and after exercise, to ensure you perform at your very best and recover adequately.

In terms of fluid balance, the goal prior to exercise is to have the body in its euhydrated state so you are sufficiently hydrated and able to perform at your absolute optimum, and not worry about hydration mid activity or finding a medical tent and IV drip post event.

The story of cyclist Taylor Phinney’s dropped water bottle at the World’s TT in 2013, that impacted his perceived sense of dehydration and performance in the final stages of the race, is an example of why we should stay ahead of thirst and not overthink when plans go wrong.

Instead of worrying about when and how much water to consume, it is important to understand why we should drink so much water, as opposed to tea or red wine or other liquids and fuels.

H2O

Water is the common name for dihydrogen monoxide or H2O. It is more than a substance, it’s a complex arrangement of molecules with a specific growth pattern.

Composed of two gases, hydrogen and oxygen. Water is the basic element of life.

Liquidity

A particular regularity, cooling, causes a more dense structure producing ice, a solid. If the molecular structure is heated it opens up and becomes a stream. Water is capable of being gaseous, liquid and solid. It is capable of being stored as energy, a gas, or liquid.

Water is able to assume a huge variety of forms

In his book, ‘Emotional Anatomy,’ Stanley Keleman says that the state of liquidity reveals the state of human life. An embryo or an infant is somewhat liquid-like, fragile yet flexible. Growth makes the organism more dense, stringy and solid. Death brings liquefaction and a gaseous state called decomposition.

In other words, water keeps us young.

Water, a structure of molecular geometry, is capable of electrification – generating a current, just as the rotational movements of the earth, the processes of heat, or the cold of space generate a current. These forces create various fluids, from bound water to gaseous water, from ice to gas, forming under proper temperatures an electrified fluid that has different properties.

Similarly, protoplasm flows and pulses; and the human body does the same, becoming muscle bound or flaccid. Fear and anger stiffen the organism; love and caring soften it.

Water transforms itself, making cells with boundaries that evolve further into blood, tissue fluids, lymph, sweat, urine, semen, vaginal fluids, spinal and joint fluids, exhaled water, digestive juices and hormones. These fluid mixtures are not free-flowing but are stored in cells, pouches, and bladders until expelled by powerful cell and muscle pulsations of hormones and enzymes manufacture and help stimulate these specialised fluids.

These fluids stimulate growth, produce energy, stimulation and connections – impacting performance and exhaustion, and they are responsible for our quality of life.

They facilitate biological, emotional, and psychological integration, and produce deep feelings and states of knowledge.

Emotions and feelings follow the rules of water

When we brace ourselves for shock or a blow or when we harden we confine pain, our liquid state is like ice.

When we melt with love or dissolve into tears, our feeling state is liquid.

Our visceral state gives rise to feelings of hunger, emptiness, yearning, longing, followed by satisfaction and fullness.

We emote and are a geyser or a river. We act like a tide or an ice flow. We cascade and stream. We cry and sob, sigh and moan emitting formed fluids.

These are the dynamic powers of water finding a way to transform itself into structures and thereby change itself.

We are a sea of liquids

Keleman identifies liquid life in the language of function: The flow of thought, the tides of feelings, the waves of intuition, the ocean depths of feelings, the waxing and waning of psyche. They are messengers that signal behaviour.

There’s so much more to water than we can imagine.

Keep hydrating and perform at your absolute optimum!

Good drivers have dead flies on the side windows

Embracing social distancing and improving running ability and agility

In the current time and what will likely be a significant period of history, in which we should leave our homes only for essential shopping, work (for key workers), or once a day for daily exercise (in the UK). It is really encouraging to see so many people walking, jogging, running and cycling.

While it is positive to see so many people embracing the gift of exercise, in contempt of a virus that preys on those with underlying health conditions. Our preferred choice of moving our bodies, outdoor exercise, freedom and connecting with nature does not come without irritations and restrictions.

For instance, in my borough, Richmond Upon Thames, local council guidance recommends to only use parks and green spaces once a day and stay two meters away from other people at all times #SocialDistancing

My nearest big park, Richmond Park, has closed park roads for motor vehicles and cycling is suspended (with the exception of NHS workers cycling to work) to deter congestion and groups. Nearby riverside towpaths have also put restrictions on cyclists and runners to reduce traffic and footfall.

The physics of social distancing combining seasoned athletes, many of whom have had important races and events cancelled or postponed, and with high energy reserves, specific training goals and a fast pace; mixing with a high number of people new to, or reintroducing walking, jogging and running to their daily routine; along with the hubbub of dog walkers, folks popping to the shops, meanders and glazed wanderers. Depending on your tribe, there’s bound to be some vexation and minimal compassion for those obstructing and infringing your space.

Similarly, for everyone exercising outdoors, the etiquette of creating space along with the question of what a safe distance is when walking, running and cycling behind someone is tricky.

Researchers at KU Leuven and at the Eindhoven University of Technology found that depending on the wind, 10-15 meters is the approximate distance that we should stick to during COVID-19 times.

While the COVID-19 pandemic is unnerving for everyone, it is important to help nurture and encourage outdoor exercise, positivity, health and wellbeing; share knowledge and skills on exercising safely and the long-term benefits of our chosen activities; and mitigate further restrictions.

The following outlines five simple types of training and skills to help maintain suburban fitness, good observation skills and social distancing for runners:

Fishhook technique

The fishhook technique, as described in ‘Sniper & Counter Sniper Tactics – Official U.S. Army Handbooks’ by U.S. Department of Defense (ISBN 9788026876168), is used by sniper teams to backtrack or circle around its own trail in an overwatch position. The snipper team can observe the back trail for trackers or ambush pursuers. If the pursuing force is too large to be destroyed, the sniper team strives to eliminate the tracker. The sniper team uses hit-and-run tactics then moves to another ambush position. The terrain must be used to advantage.

fishhook for sniper teams

For running training, the fishhook technique is used to keep a group of runners together, regardless of pace, ability and overall distance, with very fast runners doubling back on their trail to touch base with the back athletes. The fishhook technique ensures that all runners keep moving, stay together and finish together, with the fastest in the pack exercising speed, stamina, change of direction and re-accelerations; while slower runners gain progressive fitness and practical cues from their peers.

Ordinarily, the fishhook technique is an incredibly social form of group running and can be challenging good fun.

In current times, adapting the fishhook to avoid that elderly person walking slowly in your track, or for giving you an extra minute or two to avoid that dog walker lingering on the path/pavement, or group of slow-moving walkers/joggers obstructing your passage on a busy road or narrow path. By doubling back on your trail, you can assess if there’s adequate space to continue or choose to take a diversion.

Indian runs and fartlek training

Indian runs can be described as a team jogging single file around a playing field, with the last person in line sprinting to the front, when that person gets there, the next person at the end of the line sprints to the front of the line, and so on and so forth.

Fartlek training is simply defined as continuous running intermixed with interval training – periods of fast running and periods of slower running. Fartlek’s can be done alone or with a group, and the idea is to continuously move, combining speed, deceleration and re-acceleration for the prescribed duration.

In the current time, while we want to avoid jogging single file, modified Indian runs and fartlek’s may be unavoidable for uninterrupted training.

ZigZags

ZigZag drills often include forward-backward-forward sprints and forward-backward-forward change-of-direction. The drills focus on linear speed, change of direction, unorthodox movement and explosive power in the lower limbs, and they are commonly associated with soccer – specific to moving the ball during the match as a cutting manoeuvre; or for American football running back drills for body balance and control.

ZigZag drills are typically done around cones, slalom poles or bigger obstacles, passing around the obstacles, keeping eyes up. Cones are placed 3-5 meters apart in one straight line or as a rectangle. Three meter gaps work the cut step, while the five meter gap works on controlled acceleration.

ZigZags might sound simple, but the change of direction and agility involved requires different types of skill training. We’ve all experienced or seen folks out walking, running or playing a ball game who are incapable of changing track or speed. In large part this can be attributed to old injuries or weaknesses, ankle, foot or knee instability, suppressed reflexes or antagonist inhibition. Many times, people are unaware of, or simply tolerate or push through these deficiencies. It pays to empathise with anyone in this situation and to instinctively kick-in your own ZigZag skills.

The current climate is an ideal time to work on ZigZags as they can be done in a relatively small area; and the enhanced physical preparation and skill acquisition from ZigZags will help to build reflexes to deal with unexpected perturbations for your important outdoor runs.

Think of imaginary cones, slalom poles or bigger obstacles as safe zones from micro-virus droplets – you need to reach the markers for safety. Incorporating this drill into your training improves motor skills, speed, changes of movement, and re-accelerations.

Examples of ZigZags:

ZigZag Sprints
ZigZag Sprints
ZigZag Sprints
Change of Direction Speed (CODS) and Agility drills

There are several interesting studies that investigate the physical attributes that relate to linear speed, agility, change of direction, and explosive power including Jones P, Bampouras TM, Marrin K (2009) ‘An investigation into the physical determinants of change of direction speed.’ (The Journal of sports medicine and physical fitness. 49. 97-104); and Popowczak M, Rokita A, Świerzko K, Szczepan S, Michalski R, Krzysztof M (2019) ‘Are Linear Speed and Jumping Ability Determinants of Change of Direction Movements in Young Male Soccer Players?’ (Journal of sports science & medicine. 18. 109-117).

These research studies found that the most effective neuromuscular control for change of direction speed (CODS) is influenced by running speed and eccentric knee flexor strength; and that sprints and jumps are the most effective training skills for forward, backward, and sideways motion.

Bleep and shuttle run test

The Bleep Test, also known as the beep or multistage fitness test, is a method developed in the 1980’s to test the fitness and maximum aerobic capacity (or VO2), or stamina, of an athlete.

The standard test has 21 levels, and each level consists of a different number of shuttles. The test is performed by running between two markers placed 20 meters apart, at an increasing pace as indicated by the beeps. The test ends when you can no longer keep pace, or level 21 is completed.

An audio recording of the beeps can be download at Google Play (Android) and Apple Store (iPhone).

The constant shuttling back and forth works on turning and being efficient with your turns. If the turns are too wide, then valuable seconds are wasted; and as the speed required for higher levels is fairly quick and as rest time decreases, it is important to be as efficient as you can.

In a research study by Ramsbottom R, Brewer J, Williams CA, ‘Progressive shuttle run test to estimate maximal oxygen uptake’ (British Journal of Sports Medicine 1988; 22:141-144), it was found that the correlation between VO2 max and shuttle level, and VO2 max and potential 5km running speed was almost 100% precise for active men and women.

In the current times, the bleep test can provide a good workout in a limited space and useful information on your aerobic fitness.

Jump rope

My view is that jump rope workouts are extremely effective, and as you might expect, doesn’t require much more than a rope and a little space.

Results from published research reports on comparative training responses to jump ropes and jogging are insightful as well as confusing – due to questionable methodologies, test groups and incentives to participate.

Research by John A. Baker (1968) ‘Comparison of Rope Skipping and Jogging as Methods of Improving Cardiovascular Efficiency of College Men,’ Research Quarterly. American Association for Health, Physical Education and Recreation, 39:2, 240-243 (DOI: 10.1080/10671188.1968.10618043) found that a daily program of rope skipping for 10-minutes is as efficient as jogging daily for 30-minutes for improving cardiovascular efficiency as measured by the Harvard step test.

The research report found that rope jumping at a moderate pace (administered to 92 male students) roughly equivocates to running an eight-minute-mile.

By comparison, a report by Michael T. Buyze, Carl Foster, Michael L. Pollock, Sheila M. Sennett, John Hare & Neil Sol (1986) ‘Comparative Training Responses to Rope Skipping and Jogging,’ The Physician and Sportsmedicine, 14:11, 65-69 (DOI: 10.1080/00913847.1986.11709222) found that ten minutes of rope skipping does not elicit a training response comparable to 30 minutes of jogging. For this research, participants included sedentary volunteers (17 women and nine men) split into groups of rope skippers and joggers. The skipping group had higher injury and drop-out rates compared to the joggers.

Jump rope workouts and tutorials:

There are lots of easy to learn jump rope variations including single-leg and split-leg jumps, running in place and taking off and landing on both feet, etc.

About 7 reps of 2-3-minute skipping intervals will strengthen the calf muscles and improve the elasticity of the surrounding tendons and fascia. Skipping also improves coordination and helps to improve overall cognitive function.

Imagine that you’re a boxer – a traditional boxing round is three minutes of work with a one-minute break in between each round. A few rounds of skipping will soon get you fighting fit.

Jump rope tutorial by Rush Athletics
Jump rope tutorial by Rush Athletics

Summary

By developing tools to be observant and notice your surroundings, and anticipate the need to fishhook, fartlek and ZigZag into your outdoor exercise, as well as experimenting and testing yourself with the Bleep Test and jump rope skills, your motor ability, coordination and stamina will stay at optimum levels.

“Good drivers have dead flies on the side windows.”

Walter Röhrl (World Rally Champion 1980 & 1982)
Featured image credit: Rowan Harrison from Farnborough, England – King of Europe Round 3 Lydden Hill 2014, CC BY-SA 2.0, Link

Tough trail shoes for isolated runs

A lot can change in a day, or over a few months. From new year celebrations, gearing-up for a year of participating in exciting races and the spectacle of world record chasing marathons, and the Olympic Games, to COVID-19 lockdown, self isolation, social distancing and cancelled events.

In the UK, like most of the rest of the world, the country is experiencing a national emergency with measures imposed to limit the severe spread of COVID-19, including restrictions on leaving home and social distancing.

Living in London, exercising outdoors (once a day) and understanding the law of the jungle, I’m constantly maneuvering to avoid folk who typically walk head down, resolutely sticking to their track, and out for blood of anyone infringing their protective zone.

In these times, it pays to be fast and fleet-footed; run away and get off the beaten track.

While my current favourite road shoes are Mizuno Wave Emperor 3 and Saucony ISO 2 – mixing-up light and ultra fast with easy, comfort and cushion.

The outright winner for moving seamlessly from urban roads to trails, in my recent experience is Inov8’s X-Talon G 210.

These lightweight, super-flexible running shoes are designed for racing at high speed over all kinds of soft and extreme terrain including mud, mountains, fells, and trails as well as swimruns.

The lightweight shoes weigh 210g and feature durable graphene-enhanced rubber grip that’s stronger, more elastic and harder wearing than most other trail shoes.

Graphene being about 100 times stronger than the strongest steel, and with its density being dramatically lower than any steel – makes it the thinnest and strongest material on the planet.

I took the opportunity to head out in torrential rain to find as much mud as possible.

The X-Talon G 210 fared extremely well, with the shoes maintaining flexibility, breath-ability and lightness. My leggings on the other hand were all kinds of mess.

The shoes held firm, secure and responsive no matter the terrain. The 8mm studs made light work of both compact and soft terrain and were also comfortable over road and concrete pavement.

Given the current COVID-19 lockdown restrictions and with my local terrain combining road, pavement, track, paths, mud and hills, it’s great to have shoes that can handle the combination of city, urban roads, hilly dirt trails, forests and fields.

Drop3mm
Footbed3mm
Lug depth8mm
MidsoleInjected EVA FUSION
Midsole stack9mm / 6mm
Sole compoundGraphene Grip
Product weight210g
Inov8 X-Talon G 210

These snug-fitting shoes will definitely make the most of rain, mud and out of the way trails as the seasons change in the UK from torrential rain to April showers.

For an overall score from 1-100 to summarize my opinion, I rate Inov8 X-Talon G 210 90/100.

What are your shoe recommendations for the current lockdown, avoiding walkers and other folks out stretching their legs?

South West Londoner’s intro to fitness

Important questions I frequently ask myself:

“If you could do anything you wanted right now, what would it be?” Run

“What is your passion?” Running

“What are your life dreams?” Running

“What gives you the greatest pleasure?” Running

“What personal dreams do you have for your life?” Running

“What race should I do next?” Surrey League Cross Country Round 4 at Richmond Park (at the time of posting this blog, this was last weekend, so I need to plan the next race)

“Where are the best fitness studios nearby, that I haven’t previously visited, without spending a fortune or enrolling in a fixed plan?” To be answered

At the start of the year and with a little time on my hands, I attempted to complete my FAQs. Any other meaningful questions will need to wait.

Given the abundance of choice in South West London and thereabouts for gyms, fitness and yoga studios, physical well-being, needs and experiences, I didn’t need to think too hard to find ‘the best’ local fitness studios with fantastic offers.

Top of my list and the first fitness studio I visited was Yoga Hub London on Sheen Lane, near North Sheen Railway Station and a plethora of coffee shops and other yoga studios.

Yoga Hub offers a 30 day intro for £45 – unlimited classes for 30 consecutive days; and provides a variety of classes and practice styles in its light and airy heated yoga studio.

The ethos of the studio embraces yoga – an ancient form of exercise and meditation that focuses on strength, flexibility and breathing to boost physical and mental well-being. The studio provides something for all and is about challenging your limits; physically, mentally and learning to breathe through it.

In addition to an excellent schedule of classes, Yoga Hub London regularly hosts workshops and masterclasses on fitness and nutrition, handstands, crow and headstand, ashtanga, yogasana and yin, and lots more.

On February 1st, “Hunter,” from the hit 1990’s television show Gladiators (real name, James Crossley), led a two hour Strength & Conditioning Workshop. I didn’t sign-up for this workshop (workshops are not included in the intro offer) but I wish I did. James Crossley is super-human and built like a Greek God.

During the 30 day intro period, I attended 20 classes, combining Vinyasa Flow, Yin, and HubFit.

The second intro offer that I purchased was for Barnes-based Clifford Studios.

Clifford Studios offers a variety of classes and a flexible timetable that aims to get people moving and break down as many barriers to exercise as possible.

The bespoke studio’s small class sizes ensure that teachers give attention to each class member as well as getting to know their individual needs and aims.

The small classes are lots of fun and feel like you’re benefitting from a 1-to-1 session.

Using the studios intro offer of 10 classes in 10 days for £10, I attended ten classes over six days, including TRX Yoga, TRX fitness, Sweat + Strength, Sweat + Swing (kettlebells), Vinyasa Flow and Yin.

Next, I took-up Core Collective‘s intro 3 class taster pack for £40, visiting the Kensington studio, by Holland Park. Core Collective also has prime locations in Knightsbridge and St John’s Wood.

Core Collective’s swish facilities include state-of-the-art equipment and class-based exercises including interval training, cycling, yoga, spin and TRX.

The Kensington studio also includes beautiful art curated by Maddox Gallery, that gives the studio are very special and cool vibe.

With Core Collective, I used the 3 class taster pack to attend TRX / BURN and CIRCUIT / TRAIN classes.

Although not in SW London, I couldn’t not include visiting The Fore in King’s Cross. The Fore is a boutique studio offering class based TRX exercises and personal training along with a co-working space, alternative medicine and a cafe.

The Fore offers a £15 trial class pass. The studio’s signature classes include Foretitude, Noga, Skill RX, Forebody and Four X Fore. Each class combines TRX with a range of elements, including free weights, Skillmill running machines, rip trainers and cardio, to create challenging full body functional workouts.

Using the £15 trial class pass, I was put through my paces in the 45 minute Forebody class – a pure TRX session that harnesses your own bodyweight to develop balance, posture and core muscles to increase overall strength.

The class was intense and good fun – there were only two of us attending this Friday, 10am class, so it felt like a PT session. Given the elite trainers at this studio, £15 is really good value.

Next, and if you know your way around a gym. A good way to get a workout, try something new and save money, is to get a free taster pass for a gym. For this option, I visited Anytime Fitness Twickenham.

Anytime Fitness Twickenham is an affordable gym with state-of-the-art equipment that’s open year-round 24/7.

I visited Anytime Fitness Twickenham on a Friday at 6pm. This is an off-peak time for the gym in terms of number of gym users – even with capped membership, this popular gym can get very busy – so I made the most out of an enjoyable and easy 4-mile treadmill run, free weights and stretching.

Worth a mention:

Mid-way through January, I attended an England Athletics Movement Skills Workshop at David Weir Leisure Centre in Carshalton, Surrey.

This workshop, incorporating classroom and practical skills (drills, jumps and throws), doesn’t really count as an intro offer but worth including in this blog as it only cost £20, and the facilities at David Weir Leisure Centre are an athletics lover’s dream.

The Leisure Centre is more of a sports village with an athletics stadium, indoor track, state-of-the-art gym, gymnastics, swimming pool, soft play area for kids and cafe. Pay-as-you-go prices range from £4.50 for a swim and £14.50 for a gym pass.

In late January, I completed an introductory TRX Suspension Training Course, hosted by SIX3NINE in Covent Garden. SIX3NINE is a specialist gym staffed by elite trainer’s and has been named one of the best providers of personal training in the UK numerous times.

The TRX course cost £149.95 and SIX3NINE has a 2 FOR 1 introductory offer for £20.

Summary

By taking-up several local intro offers – attending 34 classes over 30-days (I could have attended more, but as you might expect, other commitments spoilt my fun) – the total cost was comparable to your average gym’s monthly membership.

Nevertheless, the new and diverse experiences were really enjoyable and challenging, and all the studios were incredibly welcoming.

I highly recommend looking out for offers, trial packs and workshops, and I hope to continue finding other great local offers. I have an eye on Fulham-based studios Terra Hale and Paola’s Bodybarre who both specialise in TRX, and I hope to visit them soon.

Now I’ve had a taste of all these amazing studios, the downside is that I want to continue visiting them all, all the time. The problem being, I’ve already used their intro offers.

Chocolate addict, hell yes

Research confirms chocolate makes you happy

But does it make you happier than running, Nutella or peanut butter?

Research studies published in 2018, show there might be health benefits from eating certain types of dark chocolate – minimally 70% cacao, 30% organic cane sugar.

Suggested benefits include positive effects on cognition, anti-inflammation, stress, cholesterol, mood, memory, immunity and other beneficial effects.

A summary of some of the reports and my non-scientific analysis follows:

Cognition

Flavanols in dark chocolate are said to increase blood flow to the brain, promote formation of new neurons and improve or enhance connections between neurons.

Some research studies find that eating dark chocolate may improve brain function and help prevent neurodegenerative conditions, such as Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease.

Image cred: Pablo Merchán Montes on Unsplash

The findings of a small 2018 study found that flavanols present in dark chocolate may enhance neuroplasticity, which is the brain’s ability to reorganise itself, particularly in response to injury and disease.

Image cred: eniko kis on Unsplash

Anti inflammatory

It is widely acknowledged that cacao is a major source of flavonoids which are extremely potent antioxidants and anti-inflammatory agents.

Stress levels & blood pressure

The flavanols in dark chocolate stimulate nitric oxide production in the body. Nitric oxide causes blood vessels to dilate, or widen, which improves blood flow and lowers blood pressure.

Cholesterol

Dark chocolate contains certain compounds, such as polyphenols and theobromine that may lower levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol in the body and increase levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol.

Doctors often refer to LDL cholesterol as “bad cholesterol” and HDL cholesterol as “good cholesterol.”

Mood

In August 2019, a study led by University College London (UCL) was published that looked at whether different types of chocolate are associated with mood disorders, found that eating dark chocolate may positively affect mood and relieve depressive symptoms.

The study also found that individuals who reported eating any dark chocolate in two 24-hour periods had 70 per cent lower odds of reporting clinically relevant depressive symptoms than those who reported not eating chocolate at all.

The sample of chocolate consumers who ate the most chocolate, of any kind, not just dark, were also less likely to report depressive symptoms than those who didn’t eat chocolate at all.

However, researchers found no significant link between any non‐dark chocolate consumption and clinically relevant depressive symptoms.

Principally (and similar to ‘runner’s high’), chocolate contains a number of psychoactive ingredients which produce a feeling of euphoria similar to that of cannabinoid, found in cannabis. It also contains phenylethylamine, a neuromodulator which is believed to be important for regulating people’s moods.

Experimental evidence also suggests that mood improvements only take place if the chocolate is palatable and pleasant to eat, which suggests that the experience of enjoying chocolate is an important factor, not just the ingredients present.

Image cred: Stan B on Unsplash

My non-scientific analysis

The research studies reveal that eating chocolate makes people happy, regardless of cocoa per cent, but higher than 70% cacoa has additional health benefits.

Comparing different chocolates with Running, Nutella and Peanut Butter:

Per 100gEnergyCarbs-of which sugarsFatProtein
Running<<<<<
90% cocoa Lindt Excellence Supreme Dark Chocolate592 kcal14g7g55g10g
85% cocoa Lindt Excellence Dark Chocolate584 kcal19g11g46g12.5g
85% cocoa Green & Blacks Organic Dark Chocolate607 kcal24g14g50g10g
70% cocoa Green & Blacks Organic Dark Chocolate580 kcal36g29g42g9.1g
Grenade Carb Killa Protein Spread Milk Chocolate521 kcal35g5.6g38g20g
Grenade Carb Killa Protein Spread Hazel Nutter533 kcal34g5.6g40g20g
Nutella539 kcal57.5g56.3g30.9g6.3g
Pip & Nut Smooth Almond Butter632 kcal7.5g4.6g54g27g
Meridian Organic Crunchy Peanut Butter596 kcal11.6g5.9g46g29.6g

In the argument for happiness, nutritional values do not provide any conclusive data.

However, based on all evidence reviewed, it seems that running combined with whatever else makes you happy will give you a double shot of good vibes.

Excited for twenty twenty

If you need any running motivation and inspiration over the next few months then a few key events and races are going the extra 6.2, 13.1 and 26.2 miles for you.

The Vitality Big Half 2020

All-time distance running greats Sir Mo Farah and Kenenisa Bekele are expected to line up against each other at The Vitality Big Half 2020, on Sunday 1 March.

For Farah, this half marathon race is part of his journey towards Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, where he will be competing on the track in the 10,000m. While Bekele looks ahead to the 2020 Virgin Money London Marathon, on Sunday 26 April, where he will go head-to-head to Eliud Kipchoge.

Sir Mo Farah winning gold for 10,000m at Rio 2016 Olympic Games

Farah (British, 36 years old), has won the past two editions of The Vitality Big Half, as well as winning gold for both the 5,000m and 10,000m at the past two Olympics and has six world titles from 2011-2017 across the two distances.

Bekele (Ethiopian, 37 years old), is the world record holder for both the 5,000m and 10,000m and has 17 world titles to his name. He also finished just two seconds off the marathon world record five months ago at the 2019 BMW Berlin Marathon.

Kenenisa Bekele winning the BMW Berlin Marathon 2019. Photo cred: Michael Sohn/AP

The Vitality Big Half also brings strong domestic competition for both men and women as it incorporates the British Athletics Half Marathon Championships and will be the official trial race for the World Half Marathon Championships in Poland on 29 March.

Virgin Money London Marathon 2020

Sunday 26 April, marks the 40th edition of the London Marathon – the race was first held on 29 March 1981.

For running geeks: 20 April 2020, marks the 124th B.A.A. Boston Marathon, with 75 elite athletes due to compete.

The Virgin Money London Marathon 2020, men’s elite race is set to include the two fastest marathon runners of all time, world record holder Eliud Kipchoge and Bekele. With these two athletes going head-to-head, the race will be epic.

Kipchoge (Kenyan, 35 years old) became the first man to run a sub two-hour marathon at the INEOS 1:59 Challenge last year, he is the Olympic champion, four-time Virgin Money London Marathon winner and the official world record holder for 26.2 miles.

Eliud Kipchoge winning the 2019 London Marathon men’s race for the fourth time

This year’s elite women’s race is dominated by Kenyan athletes, world record holder and defending champion Brigid Kosgei (Kosgei broke Paula Radcliffe’s 16-year-old marathon world record at the Bank of America Chicago Marathon last October, winning in 2:14:04), 2018 champion Vivian Cheruiyot and world champion Ruth Chepngetich.

It will be interesting to see if elite women’s Ethiopian athletes Roza Dereje, Degitu Azimeraw, Ashete Bekere and Alemu Megertu, can challenge Kenya’s dominance for a top three position.

Further, elite women’s British athletes competing for Olympic marathon places at the Virgin Money London Marathon include four of the UK’s all-time top 10 female marathoners – Jess Piasecki, Charlotte Purdue, Steph Twell and Steph Davis all ran inside the qualifying time of 2:29:30 in 2019.

Women’s world record holder 2:14:04 and defending champion Brigid Kosgei
Charlotte Purdue, finished tenth at 2019 Virgin Money London Marathon in 2:25:38
Jess Piasecki won 2019 Florence Marathon in 2:25:28 and is No.3 on the UK all-time female marathon rankings

Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games (and Dock2Dock)

Aside from athletics, the competition I am most looking forward to at Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games is the 10km open-water marathon swim at the Odaiba Marine Park.

I’ve been fascinated by the tactics of open water swimming for a few years – a sport that’s far less genteel than athletics, with the thrill and excitement of elbows and kicking and threshing about in the water (okay, sometimes this may happen in cross country).

I can’t imagine a runner trying to overtake the competition by running on top of them, pulling their legs or kicking them in the face – all of which seem commonplace in open-water swimming. I’ve wondered if such tactics are due to many swimmers lack of experience and poor eyesight, but figure it’s best to focus one’s efforts on a quick start and strong finish, than to overthink the mayhem of unsanctioned pack swimming.

In addition to a few other events this year, I am due to swim the 5km distance at Dock2Dock 2020, in London’s Royal Victoria Dock. However, FOMO is now creeping in for the 10km.

Dock2Dock 2019
Me at the finish of Dock2Dock 2019, 5km

What events and races are motivating and inspiring you this year?

Sub 2-hour marathon menu

If you are gearing your training for the upcoming marathon season, including developing aerobic power, exercising at a large fraction of this power, focusing on form, foot placement and high running economy including getting yourself several pairs of Nike’s record breaking Vaporfly Next% shoes. Together with strengthening high mental fortitude – mind over muscle, purpose, motivation and the ability to ignore usual physical cues like pain, dehydration, tired muscles, a pounding heart and going beyond the brink.

The only thing you will need to consider is how to fuel your muscles and improve your lactate threshold for marathon preparation and racing.

In ‘Advanced Marathoning (2nd Ed),’ Peter Pfitzinger and Scott Douglas point out that two factors that typically conspire to make you slow in the last few miles of the marathon are glycogen depletion and dehydration.

The race nutrition strategy that Pfitzinger and Douglas suggest to improve energy stores is to elevate glycogen in the body by consuming a high level of carbohydrate. The harder you run, the higher the proportion of carbohydrate you use; the slower you run, the higher proportion of fat you use.

In ‘Contemporary Nutrition Strategies to Optimize Performance in Distance Runners and Race Walkers,’ Burke LM, Jeukendrup AE, Jones AM, Mooses M. (Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. 2019 Mar 1;29(2):117-129. doi: 10.1123/ijsnem.2019-0004. Epub 2019 Apr 4. Review), propose that ideal race nutrition strategies should focus on carbohydrate-rich eating in the hours per days prior to the event to store glycogen in amounts sufficient for event fuel needs, and in some cases, in-race consumption of carbohydrate and fluid to offset event losses.

Beneficial carbohydrate intakes range from small amounts, including mouth rinsing, in the case of shorter events to high rates of intake (75-90 g/hr) in the longest races. A personalized and practiced race nutrition plan should balance the benefits of fluid and carbohydrate consumed within practical opportunities, against the time, cost, and risk of gut discomfort (if you need to stop or slow-down for fuel intake, the cost is too high).

In hot environments, prerace hyper-hydration or cooling strategies may provide a small but useful offset to the accrued thermal challenge and fluid deficit. Sports foods including drinks and gels may assist in meeting training and race nutrition plans, with caffeine, and, perhaps nitrate (e.g. concentrated beetroot juice) being used as evidence-based performance supplements.

However, Burke LM, Jeukendrup AE, Jones AM, Mooses M., comment that nutrition-related contributors including body mass and body shape and size (anthropometry), capacity to use fuels, particularly carbohydrate to produce adenosine triphosphate economically over the duration of the event, and maintenance of reasonable hydration status in the face of sweat losses induced by exercise intensity and the environment vary from athlete to athlete and require pre-race conditioning and practice.

Photo credit: Extra Time Media

Burke LM, Jeukendrup AE, Jones AM, Mooses M., look to the dietary practices of East African runners as an ideal, notwithstanding various potential contributing factors for their superior performance from high altitude training to specific anthropometric features.

While dietary surveys of Kenyan and Ethiopian runners have been limited to their home environments and training camps, evidence shows that they maintain their eating practices on the competition circuit or in their Northern Hemisphere training bases because of the low cost and cultural familiarity, as well as self-belief that it might contribute to their success.

The researchers note that diets of East African runners contain substantially different contributions of foods and macronutrients compared with Western practices.

Typically, carbohydrate supplies 60–80% of energy, with high reliance on vegetables (80–90% of diet) rather than animal food sources (10–20%), and limited food variety, with staple foods comprising rice, pasta, potatoes, porridge, cabbage, kidney beans, ugali maize meal, and injera flatbread.

Approximate fluid choices include water (0.9–1.1 L/day) and tea (∼0.9 L/day) with brown sugar and (for Kenyans) milk.

Daily energy intake is distributed over a small number of meals, with prolonged moderate- to fast-paced morning runs being undertaken before breakfast and with nil/minimal intake of fluid.

Meanwhile, meals are consumed soon after training sessions, and high-intensity track sessions are completed as a midmorning workout after breakfast. Indeed, many concepts of periodising carbohydrate availability according to the needs of the session appear within these traditional practices.

Although supplements are rarely used, data from observational studies and accounts of recent attempts on world marathon records by male runners note personalised race nutrition plans including proactive intakes of fluid and carbohydrate, often with the involvement of Western sports scientists.

Interestingly, Burke LM, Jeukendrup AE, Jones AM, Mooses M., highlight the reported or suspected prevalence of acute or chronic periods of low energy availability among these East African athletes relative to calculated or expected exercise energy expenditures for these middle- and long-distance athletes. In other words, these athletes reduce food intake including carbohydrates leading-up to important races.

Burke LM, Jeukendrup AE, Jones AM, Mooses M., put this down to a combination of cultural eating patterns, from a fiber-rich unvaried diet and few eating occasions in a day, food insecurity, and the interaction with high training loads resulting in lack of intake during training hours as well as post-exercise appetite suppression.

Further, East African athletes report that their “ideal racing weight” is lower than their normal training body mass.

Based on sources and evidence reviewed, high consistent daily carbohydrate intake seems to be essential for a sub 2-hour marathon, at least in the months and several weeks before your marathon. So it’s best to factor carbohydrate intake in your diet sooner rather than later.

Fat is not essential in the quest for a record breaking marathon – Pfitzinger and Douglas point out that even the most gaunt marathoner has a stockpile of fat for several marathons – fat is relatively unlimited, whereas carbohydrate reserves are much more limited.

Most importantly, the key nutrition strategy, in addition to reducing calories from carbohydrates, is to reduce fiber in the days before the race, as this will help to prevent an upset gut as well as reduce body weight and excessive water retention, thereby improving power to weight ratio.

What’s your nutrition strategy for important races, and do you have any dietary tips or secrets to share?