This is the first of a two part blog on training and preparation. I have titled them ‘Pick ‘n’ Mix’ because it is up to you to take whatever part applies; I’ve never copied training or dietary advice 100% and neither should you, instead use it to build your encyclopaedia of knowledge that will enable you to achieve your personal goal.
Before I throw myself into this article, can I make a few things clear? Firstly, at times I refer to specific manufacturers or brands, this is not because I have received free kit or as a cunning ploy to do so in the future; I only endorse things that both work for me and I believe in. Secondly, this is not a twisted opportunity for some sort of self glorification, it is as a result of numerous questions about how I train and what I have done in the past to prepare for certain endurance challenges.
To give you some background on me; prior to taking on fundraising challenges for the CHUF and the heart unit that saved our son’s life, I spent over 20 years as a competitive athlete. Initially running 1500m (pb 3.48) before moving up to road racing and finding a natural place at distances from 5km up to Half Marathon (pb 67.14). Having trained for so long and competing at a reasonable level you would think I knew what I was talking about when it came to training and preparing for running events…wrong! If I knew then what I know now then I think I could have run faster and definitely prevented the numerous injuries that affected my progression as an athlete.
Over the last 3 years I have taken on various events, from running Marathons and the C2C (140 miles in 5 days), endurance bike events, open water swimming and then at Easter this year running 100 miles in 24 hours. All requiring something different and with failure not an option; the pressure has always been immense. Of all of these challenges the 100 mile run was definitely the toughest and for the purpose of these articles I will concentrate on this event and tell you what worked and more importantly what definitely did not!
First get your running gait analysed so you are wearing the correct pair of shoes in relation to your running style (neutral or support and what degree of support), then ensure you are fitted with the most comfortable brand (some are wider or more rigid than others, so take your time with this); once you have found the right pair, do not chop and change. I have worn Adidas Supernova Cushion (now called Adidas Supernova Glide) for the last 8-10 years and will not change. Just because a shop is doing a 75% sale on some random pair does not mean you have to buy them; certainly if the result is an injury which costs you 10 times the money you saved in future physio bills! My personal experience the last time I did this was about 10 years ago when I succumbed to a ‘deal’ and ended up with plantar fasciitis because the trainers were too rigid for my foot plant; 5 months of injury and a frightening amount of treatment to repair the damage. The other advice is to ensure you replace your trainers at the correct time. The general guidance is around 600-700 mile point, but this may differ depending on your style of running, running terrain and personal preference. For similar reasons to before, replace your trainers at the appropriate time so you aren’t lying on a treatment table for weeks on end. For trainer lacing technique please see the following: http://www.eatrunread.com/2011/07/power-lacing-for-runners.html, it works for me and keeps my foot perfectly stable.
The one area of my footwear I have only recently resolved is what to wear after training, when my feet are often sore and swollen. This was until I came across AWP shoes (Twitter: https://twitter.com/AWPshoes); they seem to hold my feet in the perfect position post-exercise thus not further straining already sore muscles, whilst also seeming to improve the long term recovery of my feet and lower limbs. They are actually designed to be worn by clinicians working in operating theatres, but I believe their potential in the exercise market is huge. A number of the guys who took part in our recent Ultra-Endurance C2C3 wore the AWP shoes and thought they were amazing.
When you live in a Country like the UK, where the weather in winter can be cold, wet and windy having the right clothing is so important. Nowadays all running clothing is breathable and lightweight, so please don’t run in cotton tee shirts (If you want some good deals on running gear and especially clothing check out www.Startfitness.co.uk and their More Mile range). Wearing good quality thermal clothing and lycra tights is my option (I can assure you I don’t have the legs for lycra, but they are definitely the most practical). My recent revelation has been compression clothing; I wear my 2XU long tights for every single run in the winter and during the summer when I get my legs out, I wear compression calf guards. Compression clothing not only reduces the vibration your muscles experience during running, thus limiting workload on leg muscles and enabling improved performance; it also enhances post-run recovery (I tend to wear them for a couple of hours after a long run also).
This is the most important part of this blog that you adapt to your own needs. Nutrition should be something that is completely personal; otherwise the likelihood of you adopting it on a permanent basis is low. My general diet is all about balance; we eat a lot of vegetables, fruit, pulses, beans, fish and chicken; so good quality sources of vitamins, minerals, protein, carbohydrate and ‘healthy’ fats are a constant. On top of this I allow myself treats; I have a little bit of chocolate, ice cream, cakes or fried food from time to time; sometimes more regularly and sometimes not. However I control it, so the likelihood of me going mad and making myself sick on chocolate or having a fried breakfast every day for a month is unlikely.
The part of my diet that I am strict about is my water intake. I consume between 6-10 pints of water a day (depending on my training volume). It is my belief that maintaining the correct level of hydration improves the strength of my immune system, controls my appetite and most importantly enables my body to perform at its optimum when I am training.
In terms of specialised sports nutrition, I am certainly a ‘believer’ in the benefits of this during certain key blocks of my training. My routine required me to get up at 5.30am and train for 2 hours before work and then 1-2 hours after work and because I can’t eat particularly close to training sessions I had to think smart. I would consume a high energy/electrolyte gel half way through my 10 mile run or bike turbo session and then have a carbohydrate/protein drink waiting for me at the end. I also rely heavily on electrolyte drinks when completing my long training sessions. Understanding that you need to replace the minerals that you lose in sweat is critical to maintaining performance, so water is not enough all of the time. My choice is to use SiS (Science in Sports) products, because it is what I am comfortable with. The last thing you want to do is change your products only to discover your stomach doesn’t agree with a new product half way through a 15 mile run!!! Maximising your energy intake pre, during and post exercise is absolutely critical to achieving your training goals and ultimately succeeding in your planned event. Use your training to perfect this so on the day you come to take on your chosen goal you the potential for error is minimised.
During my training for the 100mile24hour run, there was a block of 6-8 weeks where I trained for 16-22 hours a week. During this period I never lost the ability to train at the required intensity, got injured or fell ill; something I put down in part to my diet.
My final advice is that it shouldn’t matter whether you are jogging your first 5km race or taking on an Ultra-Marathon, the attention to detail will have a huge impact on your likelihood of success. I have no doubt the goal to taking on the particular challenge was to succeed, so prepare accordingly and I am confident you will nail it.
My next blog will be:
Pick ‘n’ Mix Running Advice – Part II: Mind & Body
You can follow us on Twitter: https://twitter.com/#!/Seb4chuf