Monday, 15 December 2014

Don't ever forget why you became a runner

This evening I had a short run, just a couple of miles.  Not fast, nothing spectacular at all.  The route was around our neighbourhood and included four times around a block.

The amazing thing was remembering the time when I started showing signs of becoming a runner and plodding around the same streets and weighing three stones more than I do now.  Apart from the weight slowing me down, I was just so incredibly unfit to the point where I look back on myself then and feel ashamed.

That was in 2008.  I was stressed out because of work and found it difficult to cope at times but something turned those worries into a desire to shake myself upside-down and inside-out to become a runner.  Since then I have run thousands of miles, cycled even more, blogged endlessly about both and absolutely loved it.

So this evening in the frosty, damp, dark streets in my neighbourhood I felt so thankful for being able to become a runner.  Yes I'm even thankful for all the hassle that caused me to take up running and to keep me going ever since.

Two questions:
  1. If you are an existing runner, do you remember why you became a runner?
  2. If you are NOT a runner, does this help in any way?

Saturday, 13 December 2014

Today's run and did I tell you.....?

Ivinghoe Lock: frosty December morning
Not the best selfie, granted.  You will have to take my word for it - this is me having reached the first Ivinghoe Lock on the Grand Union canal as it runs through Bedfordshire.

As usual on Saturday mornings, I take the opportunity to run while Hannah is having her dose of kayaking with the local club (LBCC).  Today's run was frustratingly just under the 10 mile mark and alas I didn't have enough time to go any further.  Drat.  Drat but never mind.

It was a truly inspirational run.  Right throughout the day I have felt really great - such a wonderful feeling of all round "well being" and happiness.  This was partly because of the amazing conditions (clear skies, frost, -2 etc) but mostly because of my "mood".  I wanted a good run and although that's what I got, it wasn't quite how I expected it to be....

Cold!
Yes I know, it was cold and this wasn't really any big deal.  Except that it took me "ages" to warm up - probably 25-30 minutes before my fingers were feeling nice and warm (normally this is where I hit a "wall" for a few minutes).

Effort!
And next was that I was having to put some effort in!  I expected an easier run that it turned out to be!  I averaged an 8:30 minute/mile over what was a flat course.  I realised while I was running, feeling a little tired, I didn't have a run with my friend John.  Although John and I don't run hard/far it does nevertheless make a difference in not having had our run.

LBCC training!
I might have mentioned before, the Leighton Buzzard Canoe Club is actually the kayak club at nearby Linslade.  Note to self: ask about that sometime.

Well I thought I'd say that it's been really good training so far.  So much so, I have decided to join as a non-paddling member.  Also, while I'm at it I figured it would make sense for Rachel and Becky to join as well.  Before you ask, I did "mention" this to them and thankfully they were okay about it; just as well really.

So far I have been on two Thursday evening runs.  This lasts about an hour and has involved a bit of interval running.  Good for the ol' ticker etc.  No problems in holding my own, although I know I'd be easily outclassed by some of the other members on sprints.

The third training was altogether different.  This time it was led by Jim, who it has to be said, has already shown he has excellent all-round fitness, which is exactly what I DON'T have.  There were about 10 different exercises to do, all just outside the warmth of the Club House.  Push ups, pull ups, press ups, V sits and all kinds of other exercises, each working a different muscle group.  The idea was that everyone did 100 of each of the 10 exercises.

This showed up my many weaknesses.  While the "leg" based exercises were easy on the surface, some were quite testing and these included jumping up onto a step about 4 inches high and doing this 100 times.  Not easy and I got nowhere near the target.  "Not helped by doing it in the dark" was my pre-prepaed excuse for my pathetic performance with this.

Some of the other exercises were designed to build up your core muscles i.e. six packs in the making.  Flip this was hard going, as I knew it would be!  My daughter Hannah, breezed through!

Common with runners?
This lack of core strength is hardly surprising for myself and it is quite common with runners.  Runners are renowned for being stiff and not very flexible or supple.  Gradually I am addressing that but I do recognise that I don't have the all-round fitness I have had when I've been to the gym 2 or 3 times a week.

I suppose the beauty of these exercises is their simplicity i.e. you don't need expensive gym equipment to do them.  Often the weight of your own body and knowing what to do with it is all that is needed.  Food for thought.

Food for thought also is what my next challenge could be.  As you might know, my main goal during 2014 was the Coast to Coast in a Day cycle ride (150 miles across a hilly northern route).

Possibilities for my next challenge in 2015 could be:

  • Improve my swimming! Should include learning front crawl which could then open up some possibilities
  • Tackling some TdF climbs in France (yay!)
  • Two marathons, target time for each is well under 4 hours
  • Running 1000 miles in 2015
  • Chiltern 100 in a decent time
  • Still thinking of other options and open to suggestions.....

Friday, 12 December 2014

Harvest Morn milled linseed (Aldi)


In our healthy diet for sometime we have had linseed, also known as flaxseed.  We normally buy the seeds whole and then grind them in a coffee grinder into a fairly fine powder in batches to keep us going for a couple of weeks.

So it seemed a worthwhile buy when Rachel spotted this packet in Aldi.  As you see, it's pre-ground, or milled as they say, linseed with added gojiberries, sunflower and pumpkin seeds.  All this adds up to be a nice healthy cocktail of goodness with it being a good source of Omega 3 and plenty of fibre.

Getting it into our kids!
Easier said than done!  However, we use this in quite a few different ways, after all we need to get this into our kids somehow or other.  Ordinarily they'd turn their noses up at all this healthy stuff and inform us it is "not my favourite Daddy" thinking that if they say it politely enough they'll be let off.  This kind of good food gets into us by including it in our homemade bread: this works really well.

It's probably made it's way into all kinds of other dishes without any of us knowing - vegetarian lasagne, soups and other scrum my dishes too.  For just myself, it also features in my ultra healthy and well balanced Cyclist's Breakfast which is also affectionately  known in our house as 'gravel'.

Oh and the benefits of all this?
On the packet it says 2 tablespoons of milled linseed will help achieve the daily intake of fibre and Omega 3.  Fibre is something we all need to maintain our healthy digestive tract; in fact it's a whopping 15.7grams per 100grams.  Omega 3 helps the cardiovascular system in staying healthy.

As 41% of this is a mixture of dried gojiberries, pumpkin and sunflower seeds there's a range of other nutrients in there as well.  Gojiberries are said to be another of these super foods but this is probably faddy hype.

The cost?
Sorry, can't remember but we reckon it's under £2 for the 225gram pack, so not too bad and available from Aldi.

And we think....?
Use it for it's goodness as the flavour is a bit bland.  Added to soups, casseroles, bread, cereals, muesli and even your own special blend, just like my own Cyclist's Breakfast, or gravel as it is also affectionately known as.

It's probably worth keeping it in the fridge as the oils can become rancid if it's left unused for too long.  This is why we buy the linseeds and grind relatively small quantities.

Related
Linseed / flaxseed


Wednesday, 10 December 2014

Every little run helps

Last Saturday I was due, as normal, to have my long run but things didn't quite work out that way.  As usual I took Hannah over to Linslade for her kayaking on the Grand Union canal but this time there was some ice on the canal.

The club's decision was to hold back for a while, to allow the ice to thaw a little more as there is a danger the boats will get damaged.  This meant I only got a short run in, about 3 or 4 miles instead of the usual 10.  Initially I was feeling a tad disappointed and yet it was the right thing to happen because:

  • I had run 5 or 6 miles the day before with my friend John.  As you know I am his cruel, ruthless and totally mean trainer.  Besides, it's sometimes good to have a day in between runs to avoid injury.


  • It was an opportunity to have a few faster bursts, rather than the long, plodding kind of pace I have on my longer runs.  These faster bursts are great in raising my heart rate to the point I would have difficulty in talking more than a couple of grunts.  At this level it's best to limit these to less than 5 minutes.


  • The scenery was lovely!  A cold, crisp morning and I regret I have no photographs to truly capture the beauty of it.  In fact the only ones I have are:




Sorry, both of these photographs are scraping the barrel somewhat.

Nevertheless this was enough to have that "feel good" sensation and a dose of the Runner's High afterwards.  So another few miles done and an opportunity to think a few things through but nowhere near enough.  Right now I'm having a demanding time at work and I find I'm looking forward to the Christmas holidays more and more.  Although, mentally, I could have done with a longer run, it was not without it's benefit and I'm thankful for that.

Please check out this related post  Running - the benefits of little and often  which outlines more of the above in greater detail.  This post proves there is truth in this: for the regular or aspiring runner, every run does bring benefit and it's important to believe that.

Also related:
Note to self: I'm a runner, I need to run
Running in the winter

Tuesday, 9 December 2014

The things people say

When cycling, people quite often hurl a few insults my way.  This last year has included "get the f***out of my way" and "you cyclists are all plebs" and followed by "you think you own the road, get off and on to the pavement where you belong".

Running on the other hand has brought some slightly more endearing comments and interactions.   As one occurred yesterday while on my latest stress busting run in Stevenage, I thought it was worth recording a few:

"Get those knees up, son" said a younger, heavier man in a cheery way

"We wish we could run like you" said an elderly couple with their walking sticks

"Wow you're brave - shorts in the winter - are you a postman?" asked someone in my neighbourhood

"You're doin' well, keep it up" said an encouraging man as I gasped up a steep hill

And my favourite -

"Nice arse" said a couple of middle aged women, walking their dogs on Dunstable Downs last year as I sped passed them.  

No, this is not me!


Monday, 8 December 2014

Latest stress busting run


A few things are happening which I mustn't forget to tell you about.  First things first, we are of course in December and this time of year is not exactly my favourite time of year for getting out there to clock up a few miles and yet there is still a certain appeal.  My next couple of posts will update you on some unexpected training with Leighton Buzzard Canoe Club and coaching my friend John.

Stress busting after work

The above photo was taken in Stevenage last week while on one of my post work runs.  People might knock Stevenage for having a few areas of deprivation, questionable architecture and not in-keeping with the rest of Hertfordshire.  And yet for me, I earn my daily crust there and it's great for running around.

Stevenage was designed as a post-war new town and largely laid out in the 1950s with significant growth taking place for some time afterwards.  In the 1950s the planners had the foresight to construct decent cycle paths and foot paths alongside the main roads which are generally dual carriage ways.  Certainly they could never have foreseen modern traffic volumes and yet it seems to work okay.  This means there are plenty of traffic free routes for runners and cyclists - great!

My latest run was after a particularly tough day at work and it did include a certain amount of stress for me.  Being able to log off, sign out and change into my running gear is a bit of a life-saver at the end of the day.

The conditions for this run aren't very apparent in the above grainy photo.  Actually it was cold, drizzly and pretty miserable.  I know this might sound a bit daft, I was almost hoping the conditions would have been far worse as this would give me something to fight against.  Does that make sense?  Let me explain.... sometimes it's almost as if I need a run to be really hard... to hurt.... to make me suffer.... to test me.  I can fight my way through horrible conditions, have snot running down my chin,  my face pounded by sleet or icy rain, my hands to be bitterly cold.  And yet deep inside I feel so good; I have just run five miles at a fast pace and sprinted the last 50 yards as fast as I could and arrived at my car panting and breathless.

The result?  Hot inside + Body Brimming with Life + Endorphins = Feel Great!


Sunday, 30 November 2014

Stretching - before or after?

"Do you stretch BEFORE or AFTER a run?" is something I have asked other runners and have often pondered which is best.  It turns out there are different schools of thoughts on this and, arguably, it also applies to other sports or physical activities.

Stretching is all about pushing our bodies a little further than they normally go in day to day use.  Just like the (comical) runner above, we can stretch our limbs and core muscles.  A common view is to stretch BEFORE an activity like running.  It is believed this will help prevent injuries and run faster and easier.

A counter view is that muscles should be warmed up before they are stretched, otherwise injuries might occur through the actual stretching itself.

Another view is "why bother at all?" and this is also an entirely understandable question to ask.

All this can be quite confusing, especially for the newbie runner.  Newbies can often be seen doing the briefest of stretches - and I do mean brief as they last no more than 1 or 3 seconds - before they run or get onto a treadmill or cross trainer.  Also it's quite common to see such newbies doing simply one type of stretch and nothing else.

Why stretch?

Whether you are in the BEFORE or AFTER group, proper stretching does make you more supple and this can benefit runners who seem to be on the stiff side.  It is believed that being supple is less likely to lead to injuries and more able to handle technically demanding runs (i.e. cross country, fell running etc).  I know that is stiff label true for myself - I can be very rigid and stiff, not pliable at all.  Runners just seem to be like that, especially long distance runners getting on a bit.

Is limbering up the same?

Not quite but it does have the effect of warming the muscles and losing some of that stiffness.   This includes jogging a little, swaying around while standing still, perhaps the odd lunge.  Nothing too demanding.

What is going on with stretching?

Stretching is all about stretching: as simple as that.  Imagine you're making some bread and you have been needing the dough.  You can pull it and it stretches nicely (providing the mixture and method are right!) but look what happens when you pull it.  You will see the dough does stretch and then it has a number of tiny tears as it pulls apart.

This is similar to our bodies and our own muscles as we do create tiny microscopic tears.  When it heals, the body repairs those little tears and adapts to the new demands being placed upon it, thus muscles and their connecting tendons and ligaments develop that elasticity.

Achieving this elasticity takes time and required regular stretching; it doesn't happen over night.

How to stretch

Stretching is about pulling that leg, arm etc into the "stretched" position to the point it might hurt a little or be uncomfortable.  When I feel that I then just back off a little, relaxing the muscle a bit and then hold it there.  Normally I count to 15 - I would like to think I can count 15 seconds exactly but I doubt if I do so my stretch could be anywhere between 10 and 20 seconds.

I think it's really important to stop a stretch if it hurts.  There's a fine line between mildly
"Do you stretch BEFORE or AFTER a run?" is something I have asked other runners and have often pondered which is best.  It turns out there are different schools of thought on this and, arguably, it also applies to other sports or physical activities.

Stretching is all about pushing our bodies a little further than they normally go in day to day use.  Just like the (comical) runner above, we can stretch our limbs and core muscles.  A common view is to stretch BEFORE an activity like running.  It is believed this will help prevent injuries and run faster and easier.

A counter view is that muscles should be warmed up before they are stretched, otherwise injuries might occur through the actual stretching itself.

Another view is "why bother at all?" and this is also an entirely understandable question to ask.

All this can be quite confusing, especially for the newbie runner.  Newbies can often be seen doing the briefest of stretches - and I do mean brief as they last no more than 1 or 3 seconds - before they run or get onto a treadmill or cross trainer.  Also it's quite common to see such newbies doing simply one type of stretch and nothing else.  Some might find this comical to watch and say "ah aren't they sweet, so naive, so uncool, to think that stretching will do anything for them....".  That might be so but remember we all started somewhere and with good intentions we've all made mistakes like that.

What is going on with stretching?

Stretching is all about stretching: as simple as that.  Imagine you're making some bread and you have been needing the dough.  You can pull it and it stretches nicely (providing the mixture and method are right!) but look what happens when you pull it.  You will see the dough does stretch and then it has a number of tiny tears as it pulls apart.

This could be similar to our bodies and our own muscles as we do create tiny microscopic tears.  When it heals, the body repairs those little tears and adapts to the new demands being placed upon it, thus muscles and their connecting tendons and ligaments develop that elasticity.

Achieving this elasticity takes time and required regular stretching; it doesn't happen over night.

How to stretch

Stretching is about pulling that leg, arm etc into the "stretched" position to the point it might hurt a little or be uncomfortable.  When I feel that I then just back off a little, relaxing the muscle a bit and then hold it there.  Normally I count to 15 - I would like to think I can count 15 seconds exactly but I doubt if I do so my stretch could be anywhere between 10 and 20 seconds.

I think it's really important to stop a stretch if it hurts.  There's a fine line between allowing a small number of microscopic tears and stretches that yank things far too far.  Another thing to avoid is any jerky quick movements - this is a sure way to get injured.

So what do I prefer to do?

I definitely prefer to stretch after a run or cross training session.  I have tried it before and it simply doesn't work but if at a race, I do limber up.

Limbering up included a little jogging, wiggling around i.e. using muscles, getting the blood flowing and getting warmed up but definitely not stretching.

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Running up Bison Hill


Last Saturday I had my latest Long Run and once again I loved it.  Before I get into the highlights and the detail of running up Bison Hill, let me give you some key numbers:

Distance: 12.3 miles
Calories: 1676
Elevation: 1,072 feet
Pee / Poo stops: 0
Other runners: one couple
Snotty cyclists: 0
Cheery cyclists: 1
Food / drink: 0

As Hannah wasn't kayaking, it meant I could have a hilly run, instead of the Grand Union Canal towpath and I was eager to head up around Dunstable Downs.  Besides, it was the first proper outing for my new Saucony Omni 13 running shoes.

Bison Hill
Around the Dunstable area, lots of cyclists like to take on Bison Hill which is one of the best hills around here.  As a cyclist I also include myself in taking part in the challenge which is well tracked on Strava.  Now it's important to remember there are a few different versions of the Bison Hill challenge but they all seem to start at the T-junction with Dagnall Road.

Also I took the road route, having slipped my way down the footpath to the road and the start, I got to the T junction start.  The conditions were pretty good - no wind, drizzle, cold (but I was as warm as toast) and little traffic.  I thought I would aim for the 0.6 mile mark which is generally accepted as the finish for cyclists but of course the road continues afterwards.

The first 200 - 300 metres climb gently to the first corner and then the gradient becomes noticeably steeper and this continues for about 0.25 mile with one or two small bends.  I guess the steepest gradient is about 1:5 or before it starts to level out by the car park on the left hand side.  It was at that point my breathing was pretty heavy and hard but I felt I'd paced myself alright.  And it was once I'd reached the car park a cyclist passed me.  He said, in a "gasping for breath" way, he had been trying to catch me up and it had taken him some time and something about me running well.  I said "thanks" as he inched ahead of me and then his speed increased as the road started to level off; it would have been nice to have kept up with him for a while but I couldn't.

At that point another cyclist passed me, also breathing heavily.  So heavy was his breathing, he didn't attempt to speak to me and this was absolutely fine and he was making a really good effort.  Therefore he doesn't count as a snotty cyclist.

Strava
I was looking forward to checking my time on Strava once I'd got home, because I'm now a bit of a convert.

I know that when I'm cycling my time getting up the 0.6 mile climb is a little under 5 minutes (on a good day!) and this puts me in a reasonable position with the Strava segment ratings.  However, there is NO RUNNING SEGMENT!  I am amazed none of the other local runners have set up a segment, or perhaps it's considered too hazardous?  Nevertheless I estimate my time as being 7 or 8 minutes.

I will just have to set it up and see a) what my times are b) how I improve c) compare to other local runners.

Calf muscles
You don't often hear me blog about self inflicted injuries.  I could feel my calf muscles working and pulling hard on the steepest part of the climb.  The following day I could really feel them and happily I'm fine now.  This is the consequence of not running many hills lately!

So there y' go
Bison Hill.  Quite a climb and I'm so pleased I did it.  Those few minutes running up Bison Hill can be agony but it is just for a few minutes and worth doing from time to time, even on a longish run.

Saturday, 22 November 2014

"Help - my ankles and knees ache"

"My knees and ankles ache" said a new runner to me the other day followed by a "should I give up running?".

New runners should take care of their knees & ankles


There is a chance this might have been an excuse for a newbie runner to step back from the aspirations of becoming a regular runner.  Of course it could be a sensible thing to do for some people, for others it is a natural part of becoming a runner and persevering is the route to take.

Here's a few thoughts on this:

Shoes
Making sure a new runner has the right shoes is very important.  When I was getting into running I almost quit because of this very issue; but thankfully I found having a gait analysis and some proper shoes solved the problem for me.  I haven't looked back since.  One more thing, make sure you have some proper running socks too (don't be a cheap skate and buy some cheap, naff "sport" socks).

Take it easy
Don't over do it.  It can take several months to condition your body to become a regular runner.  Just think about your body, especially waist downwards.  All of the joints take a pounding when you start to run, your body is doing something new and it needs time to adjust.  Your joints, ligaments, tendons and muscles all need to become used to running and it takes time, build up slowly, gradually and consistently.

Surface
If you run on a hard surface, you will be subjecting your body to maximum pounding.  The absolute hardest surface is concrete; those rock hard paving slaps.  These paving slabs are bad news for the runner as apart from being rock-hard, they are often cracked and uneven which can easily lead to trips.

If you can run on a softer surface such as grass or dirt tracks this might help.  For some it might even be worth getting in the car, or on your bicycle and going somewhere better for running.

Avoid running down any hills, this will simply makes things much worse.  Hills will come later as you become a more experienced runner and you'll come to like them but for now they are best avoided if you can.  If you must include hills because of where you live, you could try walking down them or taking it very, very slowly.

Running form
Do you run awkwardly?  Have you had previous injuries?  Perhaps your legs or feet are particularly uneven in some way?  You might need to see a Podiatrist as this is a specialist area and you may need some expert advice.

Food
Make sure your diet is good.  The nutritional needs of a regular runner are, arguably, little different to that of a normal, healthy diet.  What defines a "normal, healthy diet" is, of course, open to debate!

Nevertheless regular runners need to ensure they get adequate carbohydrates for the energy needed in running (but don't over do this is you are trying to lose weight!).  More importantly I believe runners need protein in it's various forms (although I am a vegetarian) and antioxidants for repairing the wear and tear.  It would be easy to talk endlessly here about nutrition but let me leave it there for now.

Sleep
This naturally follows the previous mention of food.  Regular runners are unlikely to have any problems sleeping but it is important to make sure you get all the deep sleep your mind and body requires.  Amongst other things, this is where your body will be repairing itself and making itself a little bit stronger each time.  Please, please please, do not underestimate the value of this.

Losing weight
Many people start running to lose some weight (that was me a few years ago) and it's a fantastic thing to do.  However when you run, it is said that 2 or 3 times your body weight lands on each foot, with each footstep.  So if you're 3 stone over weight, just think of that weight landing on your feet each step.  That's quite something to handle, step after step.