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?

What the hell

The “What the hell” effect (or “counterregulatory behaviour”) is a term coined by psychology, eating and dieting experts Janet Polivy, PhD., FRSC and C. Peter Herman. The phenomenon describes a cycle of indulgence, regret or shame, more indulgence, more regret or shame, and so on.

For instance, when we have a goal – say to eat healthy – but slip up, it can make us feel justified in abandoning the goal for the day.

Dr. Janet Polivy describes what the hell as: “What the hell, my diet’s already broken, so I might as well eat everything in sight.”

Cake culture

Dr. Janet Polivy also coined the term “False Hope Syndrome” (or “false hope”) relating to dieting and body image, which is caused by unrealistic expectations specifically due to misleading advertisement.

False hope relates to those who commit to strict diets but end up sneaking food and overeating.

While what the hell and false hope focus on things that are in our control. There are numerous other diet and health blindspots and slip-ups that go without the hollow cry of anguish, “what the hell,” or pity of false hope.

Image credit: Unsplash – Anna Sullivan

High calorie food and refined sugars that we can be oblivious to range from snacks to salad dressings, sauces, toppings and ready to eat foods as well as drinks.

The problem of hidden sugars is highlighted in a 2015/16, Public Health England report that called for a 20% reduction in the amount of sugar in food products by 2020 (allowing for naturally occurring lactose).

In December 2016, the Royal College of Surgeons, faculty of dental surgeons published a statement on combatting “cake culture”: reducing excessive sugar consumption in the workplace.

In January 2019, Public Health England published a supplementary report on drinks, with a particular focus on fermented (yogurt) drinks – calling for a 20% sugar reduction by 2021.

Detailed progress reports by Public Health England will be published annually starting this year and until 2022.

At the time of the reports, it was estimated that 62% of adults in England are either obese or overweight and many thousands of over 18s are admitted to hospital each year because of tooth decay – with high cost implications for the NHS.

Small steps that can mitigate hell, false hope and being blindsided as well as improve overall health include:

  • Be aware of what you eat during the day – Keep a food diary or use an app such as MyFitnessPal or NHS approved OurPath to track consumption, hit nutrition goals and moderate treats and refined sugar.
  • Take action to reduce excessive sugar consumption – i.e. only have cake or treats around meal times or make substitutions to factor anomalies into your diet.
  • Take a long term view and focus on the bigger picture to achieve balance – breaking a diet for a moment or day should not lead to regret, or retreating to what the hell. Avoid rapid weight loss plans, short-term and highly restrictive diets – focus on healthy eating and habits that last a lifetime.
  • Think about what foods you can add to your diet rather than remove – adding high volume plant based foods and protein to your diet will leave you satiated and naturally reduce cravings for food containing hidden calories and sugar.
  • Avoid peer pressure associated with “cake culture” – easy but not simple. Challenge the office cake makers and feeders to upskill their mixing bowl expertise or provide nutrition labels on treats.

“If you are going through hell, keep going”

Winston Churchill

Simply Good For You

Wellness Wednesday by Sweaty Betty: Amelia Freer Simply Good For You Book Launch

Yesterday evening I attended Sweaty Betty’s first Wellness Wednesday for 2020, at Carnaby Street in London (UK), with nutrition scientist and healthy eating expert Amelia Freer discussing her new cookbook, Simply Good For You.

Amelia is one of the UK’s leading nutritional therapists and number one Sunday Times bestselling author of Eat. Nourish. Glow.: 10 easy steps for losing weight, looking younger & feeling healthier; Cook. Nourish. Glow.; Nourish & Glow: The 10-Day Plan: Kickstart a lifetime of healthy eating; and her latest book, Simply Good For You – 100 quick and easy recipes, bursting with goodness.

Amelia Freer

In her latest book, Amelia focuses on simplicity – finding ways to make healthy cooking simple and easy – sharing 100 quick and tasty recipes from her family kitchen that can be followed on any night of the week.

Amelia Freer

Amelia’s message is kind and calm – with the emphasis that living healthily is about consistency, not perfection – a good meal can be one of life’s greatest pleasures and a powerful tool for maintaining health and vitality.

Me and Amelia Freer

Amelia’s recipes sit alongside lots of pragmatic advice about eating on a budget, ingredient substitutions and making use of what’s available, seasonal choices, time-saving kitchen tools, and plenty more tips and tricks.

Key take-aways from Simply Good For You:

  • There isn’t a specific way to eat – healthy living is a balance between eating, sleeping, movement, enjoyment and happiness; it is a journey not a destination.
  • Try to eat 30 different plant foods every week – combinations of veggies, herbs, spices, fruits, nuts and seeds.
  • Work out what works for you; your goals; and what feels right – reduce stress and improve your choices by learning five recipes that you really like, memorise them and make them your own.
  • Be aware of what you’re eating; keep a food diary; connect with how food makes you feel; and focus on what you can add to your diet rather than remove – focus on what you should be eating, not what you shouldn’t.
Sound advice from Amelia to me on page 158 of Simply Good For You: Happy cooking and please RINSE the seaweed! Amelia x

For anyone taking part in Veganuary, Simply Good For You includes a wide-range of plant-based recipes and others that are easily adapted.

Amelia fully supports anyone doing Veganuary or introducing more plant-based meals into their week. Her top three tips for a nutritionally balanced month include:

  1. Be conscious and nutritionally aware that you’re providing your body with everything it needs to function optimally. If in doubt ask for help from a qualified healthcare or nutrition professional.
  2. Plant-based diets tend to be relatively high in fibre, folate, and vitamins C, E and B1, but can be low in vitamin A, B12, D, calcium, zinc and absorbable iron amongst other nutrients. Rather than relying on supplementation alone (although this can be important – particularly for vitamin B12), clue yourself up about what foods contain what nutrients, and how to optimise their absorption, i.e., pairing a food high in vitamin C, like red peppers, with a food relatively high in iron, like pulses and pre-soaking grains to maximise nutrient absorption.
  3. Include plant-based protein at every meal such as nuts, seeds, nut butters, tahini, pulses (lentils, beans, chickpeas etc.), hummus, tofu, tempeh etc.
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VEGANUARY: It is well established within the climate science community that, as a worldwide population, we need to radically reduce the amount of meat we eat and to be conscious of the farming practices behind any of the animal products that we choose to consume. I wholeheartedly support anyone doing Veganuary or introducing some more plant-based meals into their week and wanted to share my top 3 tips to help you enjoy a nutritionally balanced month: . 🥦1. Being Plant-Based does not automatically equal a healthy, balanced diet. You need to be conscious and nutritionally aware to make sure you’re providing your body with everything it needs to function optimally (this goes for any “diet”). If in doubt and you’re planning to continue this way of eating for the longer term, do ask for help (from a qualified healthcare or nutrition professional). . 🥒2. A plant-based diet tends to be relatively high in fibre, folate, and vitamins C, E and B1. However, it can be low in vitamin A, B12, D, calcium, zinc and absorbable iron amongst other nutrients. Rather than relying on supplementation alone (although this can be important – particularly for vitamin B12), also clue yourself up about which foods contain which nutrients, and how to optimise their absorption (i.e., pairing a food high in vitamin C, like red peppers, with a food relatively high in iron, like pulses and pre-soaking grains to maximise nutrient absorption). . 🥬3. Include some plant-based protein at every meal such as nuts, seeds, nut butters, tahini, pulses (lentils, beans, chickpeas etc.), hummus, tofu, tempeh etc. . 🥕There are heaps of plant-based recipes in my new book Simply Good For You and any that aren’t are easily adapted. It is out now in all major bookshops. Thanks to @amazonuk @waterstones @waitroseandpartners @whsmithofficial @tescofood and many independent book shops across the UK for stocking it x

A post shared by Amelia Freer (@ameliafreer) on

Sweaty Betty’s Wellness Wednesday event with Amelia Freer was enjoyable and enlightening, and I’m looking forward to attending future similar events. For those in London, Amelia will be at Kensington’s Whole Food Market on Tuesday 14th January, from 6.30pm-8pm for Simply Good For You Talk & Book Signing.

You are not fat, you are bloated

As an athlete, either at the start of your fitness journey or a regular on Strava’s leader boards, the post festive season and winter months can be a time for resolutions and introspection. January in particular has become synonymous with themed and fad diets, and a for a week or two gyms are busy.

Why are we susceptible to these fads? I’m not a doctor or dietician and I’m not your doctor or dietician, but common sense says keep things in moderation, diet and work-out sensibly – plan for the longer term.

If you feel that you need to restrict calories and increase exercise over the next few weeks, here are a few survival tips:

Hydration and minerals

Facial bloating is primarily caused by dehydration and lack of minerals. Dehydration affects the face simply because we retain water in the face more than anywhere else. A bloated face is a sign that you’re on your way to being dehydrated – your body holds onto water to preserve it. A high amount of sodium (unopposed sodium) in your body will make you look puffy – sodium needs potassium and magnesium to balance out.

Staying hydrated and consuming the right type of sodium such as Pink Himalayan Salt will solve this problem.

Fermented vegetables

Stomach bloating caused by something digestive is the result of gas or fluid accumulating in your gastrointestinal tract, or when your body has a hard time breaking-down certain foods. Short chain carbohydrates, or FODMAPs (fermentable, oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides and polyols) are occasionally the cause of digestive discomfort for some adults.

Cruciferous vegetables which are highly beneficial to gut flora can also trigger digestive distress.

If you’re committed to broccoli and cabbage this month, avoid eating them raw. Steaming or fermenting your veggies will keep your stomach in good health while maintaining all the minerals and benefits.

Fermented vegetables solve the problem of both facial and stomach bloating.

Starting the new year with a 2:09 marathon

This evening, I headed to the Village Hotel Farnborough to attend a Training Talk with past London Marathon winner Mike Gratton. In 1983, Mike won the London Marathon in a time of 2:09:43 – a time which places him 14th on the UK all-time marathon list.

London Marathon 1983 BBC coverage

In anticipation of the Farnborough Half Marathon and 5km on 26 January 2020, Mike gave a talk on the basics of running, racing, injury prevention and diet to more than 100 local runners.

Basics of training

Whether you are new to running or a seasoned athlete, building base training and aerobic endurance is key.

Beginners should progress through walk-runs, while run-chats or 75%-80% max heart rate (or a rate that doesn’t tax the body) are key for established runners.

Aerobic endurance is built through long runs of up to two-and-a-half hours at 75%-80% max heart rate. These develop capillary networks to the working muscles as well as mitochondria (engines of the muscle cells) and encourage the use of fatty acids for energy.

Building aerobic endurance should be introduced early in the training cycle to create a base.

Frequency of running

Mike emphasised that how often you run is important.

While elite athletes incorporate 14-18 sessions per week in addition to gym work. Regular runners should try to include drills, core strength and circuit training to stimulate an endurance effect. Or, combine an easy early morning run on the same day as an evening speed session.

How fast do you need to be?

The most important factor is repeatable speed – speed endurance.

Tempo or threshold runs – continuous running at a good pace close to your aerobic threshold for 10-30 minutes.

Interval training – shorter distances at fast speeds repeated several times with a short ‘interval’ rest, i.e. 10×2 minutes at 5km speed with 2 minutes recovery.

Racing

Race as often as possible – preferably on a Saturday so you can do your long run on Sunday.

Target two or three key races in the build-up to your target race and use these to guage how you are doing.

For a marathon, a ten-miler or half marathon is recommended after about six weeks of a 16-week training block.

Injury prevention

Biomechanical inefficiency and over-use are the main cause of injuries.

Build-up training gradually to allow for adaptations over a period of eight weeks, then rest. Then restart another block of eight weeks, increasing the intensity or change the type of training to have a specific affect.

Typical training blocks comprise eight weeks base endurance; eight weeks speed endurance; and eight weeks of faster training leading to a race or race season.

Diet

Diet is always a topic that captures folks attention and brings-up interesting questions.

In addition to focusing on macros and balancing carbs, fats and protein. Hydration, gels, caffeine and bowel movement while running marathons were most keenly asked about by the audience.

The long and short answer here is that we are all different and need to use our training blocks to test what works for our bodies.

Conclusion

Careful planning, building endurance, and lots of running and racing are the key ingredients to successfully completing a half-marathon or 2:09 marathon.