Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Know your Sweat Rate, and finish your races strong

Normally we focus on our sweat rate during those hotter months, but it is something you need to keep in mind when you’re running in the Antarctic Marathon as much as at Badwater.

Knowing your sweat rate can be the key to avoiding some of the most debilitating and indeed deadly conditions you can experience when running Ultramarathon distances, such as dehydration or Hyponatremia. Keep in mind that when you sweat you are losing electrolytes as well as fluid.

Measuring your sweat rate is fairly simple; basically weigh yourself before and after an event. Add the weight of anything you consume during the run to the difference, and you will have the weight of fluid that you have lost as sweat during the run (assuming you didn’t pee, bleed or vomit!). The volume of fluid you lose is equal to 1 litre per kilo of weight lost. Then just adjust for the time you were running to give you your rate (so if you lost 1.5litres in 2 hours, your sweat rate is 750ml per hour).

This figure is not definitive for you as it will vary dependent upon conditions, both physiological and environmental. The most noteworthy of these are temperature and humidity. Your body sweats as a means of cooling your body, and is most effective when the sweat evaporates from the surface of the skin, rather than dripping off or being absorbed into clothing. 

Obviously you can’t do much about the environmental conditions, other than trying to run in the shade or out of the wind (and these actions can make a significant difference to your sweat rate, especially when you’re running for 4hours plus). Where you do have control is on your clothing choices and the key considerations should be on the type of material, colour and how closely it fits.

So it is important to calculate your sweat rate under a variety of conditions, and to log these so that you can understand how your body will react during races. When you have an appreciation of your sweat rate you can plan your race strategy more effectively and hopefully get you to the finish feel sharp and strong.

Happy Running!


"My advice is that you should use your brains more and train less."  - Yiannis Kouros

Training 21-10-2010 (Hill repeats on trails)
Training 23-10-2010 (28.4km Hill trail)
Training 24-10-2010 (32.1km Trail)
Training 26-10-2010 (Hill repeats on trails)

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

A Beautiful Running Quote - the "Why" of distance running.

A good friend of mine sent me this quote as he thought it was appropriate for someone with a running affliction.  I wanted to share this with you...

"At least I was fit. I ran thirty miles a week. I had begun during a period of my life when I felt I had little control over anything. Things were happening and I could do nothing to stop them, so I looked for control elsewhere.

I sought sovereignty over myself. I wanted change, some sort of escape or transformation.

I ran everyday back then, as far and as hard as I could. When I got back from a run, I’d pull my soaking training gear off and stand in front of the mirror. My gut disappeared. My chest filled out. My muscles got hard. My face got thin. I had my hair razored down.

I shaped my body to the force of my will . . .

. . . I still ran hard. I waited for the endorphin high, my chemical reward. It didn’t come every night, but when it did, my mind reached. My imagination became fierce. I made decisions. I empowered myself.

In uncertain times, the road was an absolute. It could not be cheated or duped; I could only do that to myself. I never did though. It was a pure thing. It liberated me.

. . . when I went out in the rain or cold late at night, and ran past houses with people sitting inside, I felt separate from them, I felt superior to them. I knew something that they didn’t.

Every now and again, I’d pass someone going to a gym in expensive gear, or out with a personal trainer, or I’d overhear people talking about their diets and weight and what they were going to do about it, and I’d laugh at them. These people didn’t need personal trainers. They didn’t need gym fees or Stairmasters. They didn’t need Lycra or diet books.

They needed determination. They needed asceticism. They needed to alleviate their weakness, their softness of mind. They needed to want this more than they wanted that."

Every runner inspires me.

Happy running,

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Don’t run junk miles, make your training count

I was struggling with my motivation early the other morning, and my normal 15 minutes from getting out of bed to getting out of the house had increased to 30 minutes. I stood outside the house, having planned to do a long (30-40km) session the night before, and was weighing up a quick run up the local mountain (as the easy option) or a hills session instead. The longer session was not even a consideration!

During these 5 minutes of mental deliberation I did manage to have a moment of clarity.  Basically the run up the mountain would have contributed very little to my training, especially as I’m only 4 weeks out from my next 100mile race (actually 174kms) – the Great North Walk 100. Also I felt I needed to do something worthwhile given that I had had a two rest days as my wife had been away for the weekend and I couldn’t tempt my 6 and 8 year olds to come and join me for a few hours running!

Junk miles!
I opted to do a hill session, where I knew I was going to get a genuine benefit, and could probably have squeezed the effort of the 30-40km session into a much shorter period.

To have taken the easy option would have been to run “junk miles”. They can be detrimental using up energy reserves, risking injury and offering little in strength (or running form improvement), without actually progressing your training.

All too often runners, and especially ultrarunners when training for a specific event, find themselves watching and pushing their weekly mileage to fall in line with a training plan. Now I am very much in favour of having a plan, but that should be centred on the output and performance benefit, not just on the distance you run.

This doesn’t mean you should be out there killing yourself in every session, finishing completely spent and needing days to recover. You should still go out and run for the pure pleasure or being out in the environment, feeling the blood pumping and endorphins rushing, but not every time.  There should always be flexibility in any training schedule, but I would suggest keeping true to it about 80% of the time, sort of the inverse of Pareto’s principle.

Just keep in mind that there is a limit to how much you can improve your running performance in a short space of time, or with intermittent training sessions.  Always train with a goal in mind and whatever that specific goal is, it should be for some performance enhancement, be it in speed, strength, running economy, or even psychological enjoyment.

So train hard, become a better runner and have fun.

Happy running, 

 “It is futile to do with more things that which can be done with less” – Occam’s Razor

Training 16-10-2010 (30km Hill session on trails)
Training 19-10-2010 (Hill repeats on trails)

Friday, October 15, 2010

5 Top tips and techniques for running hill repeats

This week I’ve changed the focus of my training to more strength related workouts. For the previous weeks, and indeed months, the core of the running I have done has been more slow and steady than anything else.

The results of this have been very pleasing, especially with regards to Cardio-Vascular fitness.  My heart rate is lower and recovery just great.  Where I have been failing is in strength, with legs getting pretty tired on the hilly trail runs.

So I have found a tough section of rocky, dusty, root and branch strewn track which is pretty steep, about 1km long, 100m vertical climb and conveniently 5kms from home (perfect for a warm up). I’ve done a couple of sessions this week (with another planned tomorrow) of 3 and 5 reps. These sorts of sessions really help you work on your strength and toughness, improve your running form and you get a lot of training benefit in a short period time.

I’ve come away with 5 things that have helped me get the most of the training session:

1 Thrust from your hips (!) – This applies to both the uphill and downhill legs, as it keeps your body upright and reduces the tendency to bend forward. Bending forward puts strain on your back, hamstrings and can cause your feet to lose traction, wheel spin if you will. By pushing from the hips you are ensuring that you engage your strong running muscles, your glutes, quadriceps and calves. So you will strengthen all the right muscles to improve and maintain good running form, and ultimately reduce your susceptibility to running injuries.

2 Run Smooth – this is a good general tip, but when running hill repeats pay special attention on the downhill legs. I like to visualise running on a silk carpet and try to land and lift my feet softly. This usually means keeps knees bent and feet/ankles relaxed on contact with the ground. You are trying to avoid the heavy foot fall associated with downhill running, and using your knee cartilage as a shock absorber – a sure fire way to a short running career.

3 Balance – carry your arms out to the side to assist with balance. The steeper the hill (or faster you’re running) the wider you hold your arms. On the really steep sections go all out and aim for the “kid being an aeroplane” style. This is purely for safety and can help recover a stumble before it becomes a fall (and potential tear, blood, break, enforced rest from training, DNF).

4 Have a squat at the top – I’ve found that at the top of a long tough hill my legs feel shot and my stride length is hardly measurable. To remedy this I squat down for about 5 breaths, sitting on my heels. It stretches the big muscles out and I can almost feel the lactic acid being squeezed out of my thighs. I can then stand up and jog comfortably back down for another repeat. Not sure if this is purely psychological, but it seems to work.

5 Don’t take no for an answer! – The toughest part of hill sessions for me is that point when you go around a bend and you see that you’re still not even half way up. At that realisation my legs feel like they are suddenly drained of all their strength and all I have going through my head are words like “tired”, “stop”, “walk”, “weak” and “rest”. I mentally took a step back from this half way up one set and thought why is it that I can feel relatively ok at one point and then without any reason feel so bad – the rational answer must be that it is in your head. When you acknowledge that the fatigue returns to the levels before you considered the workload ahead.

It’s the same reason why you feel like you could do 10 more sets when trotting back to the start, but can’t work out how you will complete just one set on the way up. So tough it out through those hard sets, and remember it is only when you are out of your comfort zone that you are training your body for the challenges an ultra poses.

Happy Running


“You only ever grow as a human being if you’re outside your comfort zone” – Percy Cerutty

Training 12-10-2010 (16.9km Hill session on trails)
Training 14-10-2010 (21.1km Hill session on trails)

Monday, October 11, 2010

Focus on Goals, not obstacles

I was speaking with Ray Zahab today and he told me of a time on his 111 day Sahara crossing that they had a sandstorm that lasted 21 days straight. He and the team could have packed down for 3 weeks and wait for it to pass, but that wasn’t considered as an option. It was out of their control and they just had to adapt to it and keep running.

We’ve all been in races be them a 5km, 10km, Marathon or Ultramarathon where it seem s that the Gods are conspiring against you to make it seemingly impossible to run effectively. We finish the race and have used the final few miles justifying our poor performance to ourselves and drawing up a string of excuses.  

It’s not something you hear from the winners of the races, and these guys and girls go out there week on week taking out the titles. There are no excuses for poor performance they take full accountability for their results.

They make no excuses for those things over which they have no control. There is a lesson to be learnt here.

No matter how hard you train there is always going to be the unexpected to deal with and how you deal with this can be the difference between finishing or a dreaded DNF. The trick is to try and train for the unexpected, and for your training to be specific for the planned race to minimise the factors that can catch you off guard.  

So if you’re training on loose rocky terrain, find a similar surface to train on.  The same applies for hills, running in the heat or the cold, in humidity or in the rain. Now it isn’t always going to be possible to mimic the heat of Badwater, or the altitude of Leadville, so you may have to get creative to simulate the expected conditions. So perhaps you could try running with an extra couple of layers of clothing to simulate the heat. Perhaps you could try breathing through a straw to simulate the breathing difficulties you can get at altitude!

Even when you have trained well and have prepared yourself for the expected conditions there are still a huge number of things that can happen that knock you off balance. These are issues such as breaking a shoe lace, suffering unexpected blister or even a Heart Rate Monitor failure when you’re used to training by your heart rate. 

Whatever it is that happens, how you respond to it can make or break your day. So take control of what you can control, and don’t sweat what you can’t. Wipe the spider’s web off you face, get the leeches off your legs and try and see the positives in what other people would see as obstacles. After all obstacles are what you see when you take your eyes off the goal.

Happy Running


“Always bear in mind that your own resolution to succeed is more important than any one thing” – Abraham Lincoln

Saturday, October 9, 2010

5 Reasons why as a runner you should visit your Physiotherapist?

I had an unplanned visit to my physio last week as I had been suffering from a bit of ITB pain. I was sure that it was just down to a fairly significant increase in my running training (by about 100%, rather than the recommended 10%a week!).

It was a recommended experience for a number of reasons-

Get your form assessed – Although like many runners I’m always trying to improve my form and hoping to run past a shop window to see my reflection from the side, you can’t beat the view of a specialist third party.  What was interesting for me, and it showed the knowledge of the therapist, was that I had a very minor medial rotation of my left femur as I run. He said that if I was running the odd 10k, or even a marathon it wouldn’t cause concern, but know that you’re going to be on your feet for 12, 24 or more hours at a time, this slight misalignment will likely cause problems. 

Get a proper massage – No matter how much time you spend on a foam roller, or performing self massage, it is unlikely to be as good as a deep tissue massage from a professional. I had a full 30 minutes of treatment on my hip, and quad on just one leg and the benefit has been immeasurable. 

Learn new specific exercises for treatment – In all the running books I’ve read there numerous exercises recommended to ensure good running form and to prevent common injuries such as Runner's Knee or ITBS, and these are all good. From your therapist’s assessment you will be given specific remedial exercises to correct whatever the imbalance you have. Granted the general exercises won’t do any harm, but it is all about all the muscle groups working in harmony and balance. Not only that, but doing the exercises with your therapist you again get that third party viewpoint to ensure you have proper form with the exercises so you are getting maximum benefit.

You get back on the trails sooner - and with more confidence that you’re not doing any further damage. It can be a great motivator to know what you do when you run is taking you towards your goals, not away from them as we often do because we don’t go to the therapist. 

You get to talk about running - specifically about yourself (everyone’s favourite topic) with someone who has an interest in what you do. That’s worth going for by itself!

So my suggestion to all of you is that you should go to your nearest running savvy physiotherapist and get yourself checked over. If you’re lucky enough to have perfect form you can then use the rest of the session for a bit of a rub down, and who doesn’t like that!

Happy Running!


“Human beings, who have the almost unique ability to learn from the mistakes of others, are also remarkable for their apparent disinclination to do so.” – Douglas Adams

Training 7-10-2010 (23.5km Trail)
Training 9-10-2010 (21.3km Road run)

power systems foam rollers

Friday, October 8, 2010

Dean Karnazes, Karno, Ultramarathonman, call him what you will...

For those of us in the ultra running community there are those that love Dean Karnazes, and those that aren't so keen, seeing him as profiteering out of our beloved sport.

Whatever your position I came across a video clip which you may find interesting. It's starts a little slow but has some interesting points about his physiology and biomechanics.

And ladies, if you're not that interested in the science you can at least get a good look at his calves and thighs!

Happy running,

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Should I get out of bed and run?

On Monday night I revealed myself to be a golfing tragic, staying up until 1am watching the web updates of the Ryder Cup. I had planned on going running at 5am, but hadn’t banked on such a late night, or electing to sleep on the couch (being the perfect husband I didn’t  want to disturb my wife’s beauty sleep.).

So at 4:50am the alarm goes off, and I lie there for a couple of minutes wondering which of the angel or devil on my shoulders would put forward the most convincing argument. Truth is I’m 6 weeks out from a 175km race and I need to make the most of every decent training opportunity.

Begrudgingly I got myself together, and after about 5kms got into a decent rhythm, the pain of leaving the warmth of the sofa had gone. I did my favourite run up Mt Tinbeerwah and as I approached the top there was a bit of mist in the trees.

When I finally reached the top I was greeted with a great view from above the clouds. The other peaks in the area were poking their heads through and then being smothered as the clouds engulfed them again.

Cooroy Mountain
Check out rainbow effect on the shadow
Mount Cooroora
I stood watching them for much longer than I normally would, and I reflected on what I like about trail running. In short it’s not about the clock and you should enjoy the environment. It also reminded me of the many painful hours I spent staring at my watch while training for road marathons, and how happy I am to have them behind me!

By the time I had got home, the tiredness was gone, and I know that I had made the right decision to put on the shorts and get out the door. As Dean Karnazes says in Ultramarathonman, he always finishes a run feeling better than before he sets out, and that’s why he gets out there again and again.

So get out there, as warm as your bed may be, you’ll feel better for a run.

Happy running!


“Nobody made a greater mistake than he who did nothing because he could only do a little.” - Edward Burk

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Everyday Nutrition considerations for an Ultra Runner

I've not posted on running nutrition before, and as I wolfed down a large slice of cheese cake after my run this evening I thought that now could be the time to talk food.
I’ve joked with people before that the only reason I run the amount I do is so that I can eat what I want, but as I have started taking my running a bit more seriously, that is no longer the case.  You’ve only got to look at the average build of the top 10 finishers of any ultramarathon and they are all lean, single digit body fat percentage types. You could argue that this is inevitable given the training they must do, which is probably true, but at the same time there is clearly an advantage of being lighter when on your feet for 12hours plus.

However, although you may be burning 5000+ calories a day with your normal training regimen, this does not mean that you can get away with eating your normal diet, and then making up the difference with chocolate, bacon, and cheesecake (if only). What you need to consider in your everyday diet is more than just calories.

Running for 10+ hours a week puts an enormous strain on your body’s systems, all of which need different nutrients in the form of Vitamins, Minerals, Proteins, Fats, and numerous other compounds as well as energy to enable them to function properly. The “normal” diets prescribed on every daytime TV show, and newspaper supplement may be fine for the average Joe (or Joan), but as you increase the intensity and volume of the exercises you engage in you will need to do more than just replaced burnt calories.

I’m not going to go into details of what you should eat, because as I have said many times before we are all very different, and you will need to adopt a bit of trial and error to find out what works for you.  The point is that you need to be aware that it’s not just about calories. Think of your body like a car’s engine (by the way I know next to nothing about engines as you are about to see!), it needs more than just petrol. You have to add oil to lubricate it, water to cool it, antifreeze to stop it freezing, and probably lots of other stuff to keep it running efficiently.

Personally I have just changed my everyday diet to help keep my engine running as smoothly as possible, and I am still very much in the experimentation stages.  I have taken to cutting out obvious sources of saturated fats, refined sugars, and anything that is likely to give me blood sugar spikes like coffee and chocolate (doh!). On the plus side I eat plenty of yoghurt (for the calcium and live cultures), oats (low gi and good for reducing cholesterol reabsorption), fruit, nuts and salads (full of vitamins, minerals and loaded with antioxidants) and green tea (again antioxidants and fluids – taste is pretty ordinary, but I’m getting used to it).

I do take a couple of supplements which is a vitamin C tablet in the morning before an early run to get the liver fired up and running, as it’s more practical when you only have 5 minutes before you head out the door.

I also have large dose of fish oil at either end of the day, and a combined Glucosamine and Chondroitin powder for general joint health. No matter how light you are or how efficient your running style is your joints are going to experience a bit of a battering, so you may as well give them as good a chance as possible.  The key thing to keep in mind is that need to provide your body with all the building blocks and energy required to enable it to recover and regenerate properly. I like to have these in the evening before I go to bed, as sleep is the time when your body repairs and regenerates all the damage from the day’s activities, so I want to have all that good stuff there at the right time, rather than it being flushed down the toilet!

The thing for me is that I have increased my training, and I am eating as much as I like (just being a bit more careful about what I eat) and I’ve dropped another 5 pounds. It may not sound much until you think about someone putting that in your backpack before you head off for 24 hours of running!

(That reminds me of a race last year when my support crew put an extra bottle of water in my pack for a long hot section. We forgot to remove it at the next checkpoint, so I carried any extra couple of pounds about 50 miles. It won’t happen again!!)

So just think a little before you tuck into your next meal, and of course you can always have the occasional treat, this sport is meant to be enjoyable. The best place to keep this in mind is at the supermarket. That way you’ll have plenty of the good stuff there at home when you need it.

Happy running!


“They say that time changes things, but you actually have to change them yourself.” – Andy Warhol

Training 30-9-2010 (21.5km Trail)
Training 1-10-2010 (22.6km Trail)
Training 2-10-2010 (26km Trail)