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Warming Up Before a Run

The temptation when you decide to have a run is to get kitted up and then just dash out the door and get on with it. Even if you do decide to warm up, it’s often just a token effort involving a few seconds of stretching your leg muscles. Heading off at full speed is often a recipe for disaster though, with your chances of getting injured significantly increasing.

Modern thinking is that the classic stretch (when you hold a muscle in a stretched position for a number of seconds) is now a no-no (although I still do them – don’t tell!), and it’s now all about the dynamic stretch. These are stretches in which you are moving about when doing them. Examples of these are:

  • Squats – great for warming up your quads and gluts (very important muscles for running).
  • Butt Kicks – kicking your legs right up high behind you so that your heels are kicking you in the bum.
  • High Knees – jog with your knees coming up nice and high.

What do you buy a runner for Christmas?

I often get asked by my family what would I like for Christmas, and as a runner I’m always after a few essentials, so I thought I’d list them here:

  • Running shorts – if you run a lot, you may find that you’re always trying to find a pair of running shorts! They always seem to be dirty, being washed or drying out after being washed! I’ve somehow managed to survive running 1,200 miles this year on just two pairs of shorts, thanks mainly to them drying nice and quick! Needless to say, I have another two pairs coming to me from Santa (if I’ve been a good boy).
  • Running socks – almost exactly the same situation as the shorts for me, I never seem to have enough! Running in ‘normal’ socks I find can leave me prone to blisters, especially if I run for any great distance in them, hence the need for several pairs of proper running socks. I never seem to have enough though, they are either being washed, lost or dirty. I figure that most runners can never have enough socks!
  • Compression shorts – now this might just be me, but I quite often like to wear compression shorts or leggings under my running shorts. This is because I find my thighs chaff a bit otherwise (too fat!). I have a pair of triathlons shorts that have seen better days, as they’ve probably seen me through a few thousand miles!
  • Cold weather gear – depending on where you live in the world, but Christmas can often mean that it is cold, so a great gift for a runner is some clothing that can help them train through the winter months. Gloves, hats, etc are good ideas here.
  • Energy gels – good to have a nice stash of energy gels for those longer training runs or races.

These are all in the ‘smaller’ gift category (i.e. $20 or under), but obviously if you are looking to spend a bit more, then there is an almost unlimited pool of stuff you can choose from like watches, shoes, jackets, etc. I suggest that you ask the person before you blow $400 on a Garmin GPS watch they won’t use though.

Remember to comment below on what you would like to be under your tree this Christmas.

Injury Woes!

I am currently injured, so it may seem a strange time for me to write a quick blog post on how I went from being injured quite a lot, to hardly ever being injured at all, but here we go anyway…

I used to get a lot of calf and achilles strains. If I was doing a long training run (2+ hours), I would often find that I’d get a light ‘popping’ sensation in my achilles if I was walking (especially if I was going up or down stairs). After Googling what the issue could be, I decided to get my gait analysed at a specialist running shop and see if I needed some specially molded inserts or something like that.

I turned up for my appointment and they got me to run across a pressure pad on the floor whilst they videoed my running gait from behind me. They then played back what was a bit of a horror show! I basically was running with a massive over pronation of the foot where my ankle was almost rolling over each time my foot struck the ground – this, coupled with my 6ft3 hefty frame was putting a lot of strain on my achilles. The running shoes that I was using at the time were basically the worst kind I could have been using. The analyst went out the back to get me the shoes that offered the greatest amount of support that they had in (Brooks Adrenaline) and got me to do the exact same run wearing them. We then looked at that bit of video and I was amazed to see that it corrected my over pronation almost 100%. When I ran, it didn’t feel particularly different, but the results were staring me in the face.

Since then, I’ve always bought these same shoes, getting a new pair every 400 miles or so, and my calf and achilles strains are a thing of the past. Another thing that I did in the last two years which has really helped me is to buy a Stick. This is a massage tool, and is so quick and easy to give yourself a deep massage (I use it mainly on my calves) before and after a run.

My advice if you keep getting injured is to try and find the root cause of these injuries (especially if it is a recurring injury) and seek help from a professional.  I’ve not had a week off running all year, and have ran more than 100 miles each month. I’m only injured at the moment because I fell down the stairs at 2am on Friday and have done my back in! I guess there’s no secret remedy for being a clumsy oaf!

Mixing Up Your Training

This year I’ve run more miles than I’ve ever run before, but my times are significantly slower than last year (about 30-60 seconds per mile on average I would guess). My reasoning for this is that I’ve tried to run at least 100 miles each month this year, and my sole focus has been on this one target, which has resulted in my training becoming quite lazy and just plodding out mile after mile with no regard for pacing or performance. I’ve also done fewer races this year (last year I probably did at least one race per month, and this year I’ve only done 4 or 5 – 2 of which have been marathons). In the last month, I’ve decided to try and reverse this and I’ve already begun to see results. I’ve started going to my triathlon club’s running sessions once a week which has pushed me into some much needed competitive training, using techniques such as Fartlek and pyramid training. I’ve also started going to my local parkrun at the weekends, which gives me a fast 5k race once a week. My times have already started to come down (also lost some weight which definitely helps) and I got a PB on one of my training routes on Tuesday.

So here are a few tips to help you mix up your training and keep from falling into the same plodding along trap that I did this year:

Run Some Races

This is the anti-plod. A race, even if you aren’t going all out, will definitely get your competitiveness going, you will work hard during a race, and your training leading up to it will probably go up a notch or two as well. Joining your local parkrun will give you a friendly 5k to do every week and wake up those valuable fast twitch muscle fibres.

Challenge Yourself

Never run a half marathon? Sign up for one. Getting a bit bored with running? Sign up for a triathlon. Racing is becoming too straight laced? Enter one of those hilly, muddy, electric cargo net style races that are becoming all the rage these days. Don’t fall into the monotonous running for the sake of running trap that can happen so easily.

Focus on Your Weaknesses

No speed? Enter some 5k races. Crap at hills? Do some hill training or enter a particularly hilly race. By working on your weaknesses, you will become a more rounded runner and therefore a faster one.

Join a Club

Joining a running club is a fantastic way to meet like minded people. You can go along to their training sessions where they will most probably have qualified coaches who can help with your technique and give you drills to take your performance to the next level.

Running With Music – 80s Songs

As a child of the 1980s, my music of choice when it comes to running tends to come from that decade. In this article, I take a look at my Spotify running play list, and list some of the gems on there that give me a boost whenever I’ve out running. Some people like running with music, some don’t – I usually run with music if I’m going on a long training run (i.e. over 5 miles), but don’t tend to use music if it is a shorter run, or a race. Anyway, if you do like to run with music, and like the 80s, then maybe take a look at my top 10 songs below and don’t forget to comment if you like them, hate them, or have songs that you think are deserving of a place on the list! Anyway, in no particular order, here is my 10 80s go-to running songs.

  1. Kyrie – Mr Mister
    A belter. Broken Wings is probably the most famous Mr Mister song, but this is my personal fave.
  2. Money For Nothing – Dire Straits
    Love the Straits and the Brothers in Arms album is a classic. This song is a huge hit from the 80s, backing vocals from Gordon Sumner, aka Sting, this will get your legs pumping!
  3. In The Air Tonight – Phil Collins
    Phil Collins was one of the biggest selling artists of the 80s and deserves a place on this list. This song is fairly slow and tense, so may not lend itself to running particularly, but it still gets you going when the drums kick in.
  4. My Michelle – Guns N’ Roses
    Needed a Guns N’ Roses song here, and it has to be from Appetite for Destruction – one of the best albums ever. This one is high tempo and will give you a nice fast mile!
  5. The Safety Dance – Men Without Hats
    A one hit wonder, but a good un!
  6. Smalltown Boy – Bronski Beat
    High tempo, guaranteed to get you singing along to and looking like a dick!
  7. Burning Heart – Survivor
    I had to choose one song from a Rocky film I guess. This one comes from my favorite one, Rocky IV and is used in the usual training montage sequence (this one is in Siberia or something and Rocky has gone back to nature – lifting up horse carts, etc). Quality.
  8. Together in Electric Dreams – Phil Oakley
    This was from a film which flopped, but is a fantastic song.
  9. Waiting for a Star to Fall – Boy Meets Girl
    Another one hit wonder, but a belter. It has some brilliant cheesy 80s sax.
  10. White Wedding – Billy Idol
    Billy Idol has a few great songs which could have made this list, but this is my favorite one.

Stay tuned to this blog as I may decide to pick out some similar ‘big ones’ from other decades or maybe a genre list. Also, make sure you comment below to let me know what you think of the list – good and bad!

How Running Can Help Lower Your Heart Rate

It is fairly common knowledge that athletic people tend to have a lower resting heart rate than non-athletic people. Cross country skiing is often cited along with cycling and running as the best sports to help lower your heart rate, cyclists use approximately 40% of their total muscle mass, runners use 60% and cross country skiers use 80%.

Your resting heart rate is best measured when you wake up in the morning and haven’t had the chance to move around making cups of tea, the kid’s breakfast, etc – anything that will get your blood pumping. The ‘normal’ range is usually between 60-100 bpm. Anything below 60 bpm is considered on the low side and the technical term for it is bradycardia (slow heart rate). It’s not out of the ordinary for people who train regularly to have a low heart rate, one reason for this is that training can increase the size of the heart and therefore allow it to pump out more blood around the body.

Just because the heart rate is lower doesn’t necessarily mean that it pumps less blood, it just means that it is more efficient. Stopping training can reverse the effects, so if you stop running for any reason (injury for example), you may find that your resting heart rate increases again.

You may find that if you have a low heart rate that you experience lightheadedness when standing up quickly, or when doing squats for example, this is usually nothing to worry about, but obviously if you start experiencing this more frequently or if more severe symptoms occur such as fainting, chest pain or shortness of breath, then seek advice from your doctor.

How to measure your heart rate

You can get some apps on smartphones which measure your heart rate, but I am unsure of how accurate they are. I use a heart rate monitor when exercising to see how hard I am pushing myself, but this is a bit of a faff if you just want to measure your heart rate first thing in the morning. The easiest way is to just test your pulse: place two fingers on your radial artery which is on the flat bit of your wrist on the thumb side; once you have felt your pulse, count how many beats there are in 15 seconds, and then multiple this value by 4 to get your heart rate in bpm (beats per minute).

How Many Miles a Week Should I Be Running?

This article will help guide you as to how many miles you should be running each week. Running the most miles isn’t necessarily going to make you Olympic champion, in fact, it is more likely to put you on the physio’s treatment table. Here are four quick tips and rules on how many miles you should be looking at running each week and how to achieve these without getting injured.

Mix Up Your Training

Don’t just plod out mile after mile at the exact same pacing each week. Mix them up by throwing in some Fartlek speed work, some track running (why not join a running club?), hill training. By introducing these different types of run to your schedule, you not only can help your fitness and speed, but also stop you getting bored with doing the same old routes at the same old pace.

What are you Training For?

Your weekly mileage is obviously going to be related to the type of race that you may be training for. If you’re training for a 5k, then your mileage is going to be a lot less than if you are training for a marathon (where your long runs can be up to 20 miles or so).

What are you Aiming to Achieve?

If you just want to finish a race to tick it off your bucket list, then you won’t have to put in as many miles compared if you are aiming to finish high up the finish list or to beat a rival or smash a PB.

Don’t Change Your Mileage Too Quickly

Experts often cite that you shouldn’t up your weekly mileage by more than 10% at a time, i.e. if you are running 15 miles a week, don’t suddenly up it to 30 miles the next week as you will put yourself at risk of injury. The best practice is to do things gradually and listen to your body. If you are exhausted from your recent run, then maybe take a day or two off.

Estimated Weekly Mile Targets

Here are some estimated targets for your weekly mileage (obviously elite or experienced club runners would probably run more):

Training for a 5k: 20-25 miles a week
Training for a 10k: 25-30 miles a week
Training for a half marathon: 30-40 miles a week
Training for a marathon: 30-50 miles a week

Simple Tips to Improve Your Running Form

These are three basic steps to improve your running form:

  1. Running Tall

    This is a very common issue for runners (especially me), and it gets even harder to remain nice and tall the longer you run and the more tired that you get. The proper running form should have a slight forward lean and this lean should come from the ankles, and not from the waist. This should be a natural thing for your body to do, so in order to try and achieve this, you should just focus on running nice and tall and as straight as naturally possible, and you should hopefully have this nice, natural forward lean. Pretend that you are a puppet and you have a head string, don’t drop your head down like the puppeteer has nodded off to sleep, hold your head up high and you should straighten up.

  2. Foot Striking

    Lots of runners (especially those that are new to the sport) tend to over stride and therefore become heel strikers. Ideally your foot should be making contact with the ground directly underneath your hips, i.e. not in front, or behind your body. Whether you strike the ground with your heel, toes, or mid foot, isn’t necessarily the issue, but if that foot is not underneath your hips, then that could be bad news. Correcting this will help reduce injuries and also help your stride become more efficient and fluid.

  3. Cadence

    This word (familiar to cyclists where it is the number of times you spin the crank in a minute) is the number of steps that you take per minute. The accepted cadence that coaches believe you should aim for is around 180 steps per minute. The easiest way to work out your cadence is to count how many times that one of your feet strikes the ground in a minute and then double it up to get your overall cadence. If you’re under 180, work on increasing it, likewise, if you’re over 180, then try and bring it down a bit.

Any running form tips that you think can help others, just comment below and we will Tweet out the best ones.