Sunday, 23 February 2014

Strength Training for Runners

The body is a chain of muscles,bones, tendons, ligaments and fascia. Like a chain, if there is a weak link, it will affect the whole thing. The entire organism is the sum of its parts.

That much is fairly obvious, but I need to start at the beginning.

Running as a muscular action tends to use a fair amount of these muscles and tendons to create and harness the power that propels you forward. (Hopefully at a decent velocity) its not just your leg muscles, or just the rebound in you calf muscles and achilles tendon. The whole thing works as one. 
Running is an interesting action, but is a little to complex to go into biomechanically here. Suffice to say that it is a series of one legged jumps, landing on one leg.

If I asked you to stand on one leg and balance, could you?
How about 20 calf raises on one leg?
Or 20 hops in one place?
Or a hop up to a platform?

You might think that you'd be getting tired by now, but think about how many single leg hops and jumps you do in a kilometre. Multiply that by the length of the race. Then think about the rough terrain you're going over.

If you get tired, or find it hard to stand on one leg, or do hops or whatever, yet you manage to run decent distances, how much easier would it be, how much faster could you be if you were competent at a few basic human movements?

We don't train for when it's easy.
We train for when it gets hard. 
As an example. Glutes. The ones that make up your bum. Huge muscles that control hip movement, explosive power and also knee stability. Is your knee stable as you run uphill? How about down? That's when the maximum force is applied through the joint. If your glutes aren't working right, or lack the strength you need to get down that hill easily the joints will start taking the strain, and pretty soon you'll have knackered knees.

The answer? Controversial, I know, but resistance training. Using a controlled environment to learn to engage muscles in certain movements, to work out which muscles are working sub optimally, and subsequently reeducate them to work in a sequence that enables you to run with more efficiency.

Yes, I know the argument about not wanting that bulk up, but that is null and void.
Also there is the dislike of weight training environments. No I can't change your attitude there either.
What I can do is tell you the benefits of weight training for running, and if you want to run faster, perhaps be less prone to injury, maybe you'll take note. Maybe you'll tread the path that most successful runners take.
No, its not a magic bullet, but as part of a varied programme of running, speed and hillwork, it can be that link which gives you that little bit extra.

Thursday, 20 February 2014

Sealskinz socks. As good as they say?

I've been wondering whether to put this review out. I wrote it quite a while ago, but thought I was being a little harsh. On reflection, however, it was the total and utter truth - I wasn't being harsh. I was being honest.
So here it is.
Sorry you guys at Sealskinz - in terms of design, you really need to pull your socks up.

I received a pair of Sealskinz Thin ankle length socks earlier on today. Unfortunately I’d already been out for a bit of a mudfest run, and wasn’t able to head on out as soon as they dropped onto the door mat.
However, unable to contain myself, I set about taking them out of the box, seeing what they were like and what the fit was like. Sealskinz socks that I have had in the past were somewhat notorious for being tubes with no real sock shape.  
Quite a gap at the back there!
Well, as you can see from the pictures, the socks look pretty sock like. Ankle length, and of a thickness that is fairly normal for running socks – which is a bonus as that is what I’m mainly going to be using them for – bogtrotting and fellrunning around the Peak district.
Sock shaped – a bonus.
The feel is much the same as sealskinz always are. Not exactly fabric like, not exactly neoprene like, but somewhere in the middle. These socks say they have merino wool in them, though from looking at them, and generally feeling them, I’d have to say that if pushed, I don’t think I could point to the exact place where the merino wool is!
Shaped? Fitted? A bit wrinkly. 
When I put the socks on, (I’m a size 7 – the mediums are 6-8 so that makes me slap bang in the middle of the size range) they feel a little bit like putting on a pair of very thin wetsuit socks, reminding me of my kayaking days. The first thing I notice is there is a huge gap around my ankles where I would normally expect the socks to elasticate around my lower leg. I don’t have particularly huge ankles, but then, I don’t have stick legs either, and the only socks that have ever felt like this were a pair of old hiking socks with no elastic, AFTER they had been thrashed around a bog for an hour. Having a pair of socks being very baggy about my ankles straight from the packet is a little disconcerting.
Seamless? Thats odd. It looks like a seam
The next thing I noticed was a bunching of the sock around the top of my foot, and then an odd sensation under my left foot – straight down the centre line- almost like a seam. But that can’t be right as the Sealskinz socks are seamless. No matter what it is, it certainly felt like one.
After walking around the house in them for a short while, I began to get used to the feeling of the socks, all except the bagginess behind the leg, which is just a little weird.
However, I’m off out on some nasty cold recces of the Trigger in the next few weeks, there was snow and ice up there when I was out last night, so these Ankle lengths (with an apparent Thermal rating of 2/5) will be on my feet. Whether they keep my feet warm and dry remains to be seen - one thing is for sure, they'll be on my feet when I head out next.

So, that was my first opinion of them, and that was a year ago. To be honest, things didn't actually go up much at all. I sent this blog to the guys at Sealskinz who said that I must have a defective pair of socks - so got sent a replacement pair. Which were exactly the same.

I got on and wore them, bashed about a bit in the Peak district, and as far as being waterproof goes, you might as well not bother. Although there is no particular place that water appears to get in (apart from that gaping one under my calf, at the end of every single run on the moors, my feet were soaked through.
Some people love them because they keep their feet warm- me - not so much. The only way I managed to do that was with a pair of thin merino socks inside these socks- (which are meant to be merino anyway).

Ive been through 4 pairs of Sealskinz socks in various guises. I still have them. They stay firmly in the drawer and only come out in emergency situations- like I've completely run out of all other sock options.
Suffice to say, I am not impressed with the Sealskinz socks. In fact, I have rarely been impressed with stuff made by Sealskinz - when they get it right - like with the lobster gloves- they really get it right.
But the rest of the time, its just a waste of money. 

Sunday, 16 February 2014

The best machine you will ever own

Imagine being given an incredibly expensive machine, something like a machine that creates oxygen, or unlimited power. Something truly amazing that you really can't believe that a) it exists and b) someone has given it to you free of charge.

There are no instructions, just the suggestion that you maintain it well and keep it supplied with the best fuel possible. Anything less than the best will make the machine perform less optimally and be much less efficient. It will also break down and possibly stop working completely.

You might take care of it. You might keep it well maintained, especially if you could see the inner workings getting clogged up and manky, you might also be spurred into action.

Now imagine that this machine isn't just expensive, but rather, irreplaceable. Without it, you will die.
Would you then take care of it? Giving it the best possible fuel? Or would you spend money on other things, getting away with low quality stuff that, although keeps it going, isn't the best for it, potentially reducing its effective life.

Yes, this is a long and over-laboured analogy, and if you haven't got where I'm going with it yet, you should have.

Your body is the most amazing and irreplaceable thing you will ever have.
Every cell, every bit of blood, every muscle and sinew, every nerve, neuron and brain cell needs to be given nutrition. Where does it get that from?

From the stuff we put in our mouths.
Where else would it come from? You are not just what you eat, you are absolutely made up of what you consume.
If you eat "good stuff" which has high nutritional content, that nutrition goes to all the microscopic parts of the body that you don't know about, don't think about, and sometimes, don't even understand. The body is held in balance by what it is you are eating.
Start consuming food and drink that is non-nutritious, which doesn't have all the bits and bobs that the body needs. Using cheap, frozen food instead of fresh (as and when you can), the cells and blood and everything inside you are not getting what they need. The body becomes less efficient at processing, and generally becomes a bit less good at what it does. Things start breaking down, maybe you become a little more susceptible to colds, and your quality of life goes down.

Now, I'm not saying to go out and count calories, not unless you really want to. Instead, take the step of being in control of the quality of what you put in your mouth.
Make it contain as few preservatives as possible. Fresh food, fresh veg, as good meat as you can get, proper cuts, not nuggets or chemically enhanced easy meals.

Yes, it may be a bit more expensive, yes, it might mean taking time out to go visit a local butchers or grocers, and these are tough economic times. But at the end of the day, its your body. What you put in it will affect what you get out of it. (It'll also have the added bonus of circulating money in the high street, in the local shops, as opposed to giving it all to tesco, or whichever monster-market you shop at).

Even if you don't agree with this, at least just sit down for a moment and consider, if you don't see the connection of food to actual health, where, exactly do you think the body gets energy to live, heal, process and progress as a being?
Just a thought.

Wednesday, 12 February 2014

Inov8 x-talon 212 - new version

The x-talon. Legendary shoe from Inov8. It stayed the same for many years, (how many I’m not so sure, but it was at least 5), which in the world of the consumer and the shoe is a bit unique. Not a lot of companies
now have the same shoe with the same design for more than a season, let alone a year.

Old 212's just over 4 inches wide at the toe box
Now, however, it has been revamped. Colours have changed, and, we are assured, the only other thing to have changed is the midsole, which is injected PVA instead of something else – which basically makes the shoe more stable.
Great! So when I got my hands on a pair, I thought I’d wander around the house in them before rushing out to grind those lovely studs down on any of my local runs.

New 212's Just under 4 inches wide at the toe box
My immediate impression was that they were smaller. I normally wore my old x-talons with the same socks that I normally wear all Inov8s with – a pair of big woolly Teko walking socks. Yet getting in the new style x-talons was a struggle, and once on, they felt absurdly tight. 
Nothing changed? Hmm. Maybe its just new shoe tightness that needs to be worn in?

Different pair of socks, and yes, they felt comfortable. I *know* what my old x-talons felt like, and these were different. After a bit of a wander around, yes they felt good, and slipper like as the shoe always used to, but I have a thin foot and normally wear BIG socks, the option of going for a thinner pair was open to me - lo and behold - a brilliant pair of comfy shoes. However, Surely something must have changed to make that much difference to the way they fit my feet...

So I checked the sole against the old model. They seemed narrower, by about a finger width. Surely not? Optical illusion?
That much difference between them
Well, the tape measure came out next, and the shoes are actually thinner across the sole on the toe by about 1.25cms. Not a whole lot in the grand scheme of things, but quite a lot when you consider how little difference you need in a shoe before things start going wrong and getting painful.

All that, though is just academic, unless you have large paddleboards for feet, in which case you might want to think about trying on a pair of the new style x-talons before committing your cash to them. How do they run?

I’ve been out for a few fast paced runs in them, but not raced in them yet, and all I can say is that yes, they are as good as the original. One of the best shoes on the market for fell running. Hopefully they will stay good for as long as my previous pair (750km or so).

For proper mud bashing this winter, I suspect the Mudclaws will get more use, but as the mud and clag gives way to slightly drier (ie, still sodden, but not quite as much), then the x-talons will be the most used shoes in the rack.

Still really really good to run in though
Just as an update - I've now used the X-talons for a couple of races, and a few training sessions. As
expected, the 300s have seen a fair bit more use this winter. Overall, so far - the 212's are comfy, the laces are great, but I think I'd have difficulty getting the shoes on with the normal thick socks that I used to wear. I love running in them, and I do actually like the colour.
The grip is still the same, and performs as well as ever.
However, that small sizing issue, which doesn't bother me, but it might well be quite an important point for a few of you with slightly heavier set feet.
Don't assume they will be the same - try before you buy.  

Sunday, 9 February 2014


As a bit of a follow up to the rant I had about people calling me stupid (or inferring that, just read the other blog), because I'm a runner, I found myself using the same name tag to a few people this last august as I was up on Snowdon.

Imagine the situation, the cloud has been down for a good 24hours. The wind has got up over the past 12. The visibility is pretty much 10 metres from about half way up the mountain, its driving rain, and generally pretty nasty.
We were up there, full on proofs, lots of stuff on and still wet through and not particularly enjoying ourselves. Intelligent? Insane?

Well, I'd go for intelligent in terms of the type of clothes we were wearing, and the fact we were out in that weather... well, we didn't really have a choice. It was an assessment.

Yes, its the top of Snowdon, and yes, there is a train up it so I was expecting to see a few people wandering around the summit in clagged out conditions - no visibility at all. What I didn't expect to see was a large number of people wearing plastic bag macs, wandering around in what can best be described as "pumps" having walked up there.
Who in their right mind decides that they are going to wander up a mountain so woefully underprepared that it defies belief?
What is more, who does that, and then drags a small child up there as well? If the weather conditions are not particularly clement, and potentially going to get worse, what would possess you to even attempt it? And if you don't know if the weather is going to get better or worse... you really shouldn't be going up there in the first place.
Yes, there is a cafe. Yes there is a train. That doesn't make it a cunning plan to go up a hill with little to no preparation for significant amounts of weather.

No, I don't think they are "insane", or indeed "crazy".
I think they are stupid and irresponsible.

Sunday, 2 February 2014

Long Mynd Valleys Fellrace, 2014

After drying out our stuff, having some rather nice tea, and some beer last night. we Glossopdalers went across to Church Stretton this morning to have a go at the new and improved version of the Long Mynd race, the second half of the Combined Mercia weekend- which we started yesterday with the Titterstone Clee race.

At registration we were given a bag with race number, 2 elastic bands to give in at certain checkpoints and a "race permit" which was to be given in at the entrance to the start pen. Crikey. Taking the counting idea to full potential.
The weather was ok-ish, but as I went up to have a quick look at the final descent, the rain started to fall a little, so it was a "waterproofs on" affair, as far as I was concerned. We stood around for a while, and were counted into the pen, feeling very much like sheep. Even with the majority of my clothing on - I only had my waterproof trousers left in my bumbag, I was bitterly cold, and Claire mentioned that I was shivering quite a lot. Deciding that I didn't want to take my waterproof off to show my number to marshals, I put my vest on over my waterproof. Which would not have been a problem if it was on my shorts.

No, Im not going to stop with this numbers on shorts thing. Its an eminently sensible place to put your number if the chest is covered by, for example, something which is staving off hypothermia.

Anyhow, so eventually we started, unfortunately without Tom Brunt, who left his shoes at home, and without a Pete Bland Van around, no where to buy a new pair. Boom, straight up the first hill, and I went passed Chris, but the fast boys were way out front, and running fast, uphill. I figured that conserving my energy might be a good idea, considering that most of the ascent comes in the last 3 miles. However, the sun soon came out, and there was me, in a waterproof, with a vest over the top, rapidly becoming in danger of overheating.
Over the first hill, and blast down the first descent - which was ridiculously loose mud/soil type mix, which made good running. Though even with mudclaws on, I was still slipping all over the place. (If you wear mudclaws, and you aren't slipping, you either aren't running fast enough, or you aren't on gnarly enough terrain!).

On the next ascent, I started with the amusing, and somewhat complex affair of removing one layer but not the other, while not dropping my gloves, hat, or losing any places. It took a while, but I managed it all quite well, before the real slog up the hill started. At this point I could still see Nic Barber from Pennine, and I was a little concerned that I might have started off a little fast, but continued on my way - Mike Robinson, the Dark Peaker from yesterday was close on my tail, and overtook me up the hill.
As the hill flattened out, we battered over some heather, and then onto a trail, where there was a fair old headwind. A group of about 5 of us made good time up the path, overtaking Mike, and gaining some ground on him.
The next bit variously involved heather, turks heads, and more heather. Not all that much of a path, and so we blasted through that - my long miles on Bleaklow last week held me in good stead for that. Down to the next checkpoint, and back up a long old ascent - along a stream line. By this time, there were 4 of us who were regularly swapping places, chatting between each other, and generally running hard.

As we hooned down the next valley, I heard a shout from up above, and the non-racing contingent of Glossopdale (Jules, Andy and Dan) were sat in a sun trap half way up the hill, giving us encouragement, which was nice.
As we passed the next checkpoint and turned left up the first of the big hills, I downed a gel, slowing to a walk along still relatively easy terrain, and was soon striding up the hill, which was surprisingly slippery. The guys ahead were slipping every 5th step or so, which surprised me. Until I got to the same bit, where I fell into the same pattern.
I have to say I surprised myself by overtaking someone uphill, and then caught up with a Mercia guy, who I then followed for pretty much the rest of the race. There was also a Welsh runner, who was truely stonking on the uphills, but not so on the downs.

Up and along and over, down, up, legs burning, continuing to pace and count. All I knew was the ground in front of me and the people around me. I was worried that I was going to cramp up, slow down, or just get overtaken. Yet, somehow I held on.
Downhill before the final up. The really big one, and we went at it hard. I overtook the Mercia guy, which turned out to be a mistake. Dave Ward of Pennine was creeping up on me, and I'm certain was trying to sneak past without me noticing, though I kept with him to the top, where Dave and I peeled off right instead of left, and ran for a couple of hundred metres, before noticing that everyone else had turned left.
A hard left, and a hard few hundred metres over rough ground, realising that everyone just behind us from the climb was now in front. Including Mike Robinson. I continued on with the hard running and managed to pass all but 2 of those that had regained time and places on me, the Mercia guy, and an Eryri runner, who appeared to have sprung from no-where.
I recognised this as the point just before the final descent, and readied myself for a bit of downhill racing, should it be necessary. To be honest, the Mercia guy didn't concern me. I'd followed him for so long I figured that it would be pretty horrendously rude to just blast past him in the final few metres. The others were a different matter entirely.

We plunged down the final descent, which is quite a long steep bank, and I took it relatively easy for about half of it, until I heard crashing steps behind me, just as it got really steep. Someone was attempting to overtake.
Not having any of that - so I gathered myself, and dropped like a stone on a slightly different line, passing the Eryri guy and following Mr Mercia across the stream, and pretty well jogged into the finish, with Mike hard on my tail.
17th, and first Glossopdale.

To be honest, I think I could have gone harder, though I'm not sure where. If I had gone faster at the beginning, would I have then blown up on the final climb? Would I have cramped? I don't know - but it's good knowledge for the next time.
The hill reps and fitness is obviously getting better, which is great encouragement to continue with what I'm doing for a few weeks before stepping it up another level.

Found out at the end that I was 2nd in the overall weekend championships- by about 4 minutes altogether. So I missed out on a prize by 1 place today as well.
Ah well, get older, or get faster.

Landie/camper combo. How Cool!
Great to see so many folk out today, especially as the weather was glorious. Nice to be thanked by someone for putting out the controls for the Marmot Dark Mountains last week as well - always good to be appreciated.
Thanks to all the marshals and the race organisers, well done to Caity for winning yesterday, and 2nd today, getting the overall womens Shield for the weekend.
Good day out - now back to the grindstone - again, apologies for no pictures, I'm sure that some will become available over the next few days, and I'll add them as and when - however, I did see the coolest ever landie/camper - and have a picture of that - so you can look at that instead.
For the moment, here is my Strava track

oh, and here are the Titterstone clee results, and here are the Long Mynd results , and the combined weekend champs results.

And I still think we should be allowed to wear numbers on shorts.

Saturday, 1 February 2014

Titterstone Clee

The Glossopdale army made its way to Church Stretton this weekend to make an assault on the dual billing of Titterstone Clee and the Long Mynd fell races.

There has been a weather warning out for this area of the country and it certainly showed as we made our way along wet and occasionally flooded roads to the start.

Registration wasn't too much trouble, but with the new FRA regs in mind a few extra measures had been put in place. We were given wrist bands that matched our number to give in at the top of the hill, and there would be a count through as well.

The weather was proper grim. Wind and sleet turning to snow. It was cold and my clothing option was a baselayer, vest (with number attached) waterproof top, hat and BIG gloves.

We were also told that a map was essential. Thankfully the organisers had thoughtfully printed out a load of A4 maps of the area with the start and finish helpfully circled. Completely pointless, a waste of paper, but apparently necessary.
We warmed up in the sleet, and I recced a good finishing line, and then we were gathered together to pass through a funnel in number order to wait for the start. Where we stood, chilling off nicely before the race. That was the coldest I got all morning.

Soon enough we were off, and I managed to get within the top 6 as we barged across the wet ground. Never looking behind, I just concentrated on churning up the hill. After half a k I was in 4th, but with others breathing down my neck. The top 3 were slowly eking out a lead and I wasn't entirely sure of the line to take.
At that point, Mike Robinson of Dark Peak came past, so I had someone to vaguely follow.

The hill kicked up and the top 3 accelerated away. Cresting what I thought was the top, I realised there was a bit more of an up to get to the top. The wind was battering straight into us at that point and the guy directly behind me was obviously using me as cover.
Enough of that.

I walked, let him overtake and immediately started running again, using him as shelter. Not that there was much at all, what with the sleet hammering into us.

We got to the top just behind mike, I figured that I'd make some time up on the descent, but engaged in a bit of a farce as I attempted to give my band in at the top. It kept getting blown back at me and I'd be damned if I was going to open my jacket to show my number.

The 2 guys further down the field who (illegally) had their numbers on their shorts probably had no such problem. Numbers on shorts. Much more intelligent choice for those conditions. Bloody stupid FRA rule.
But I digress.

After the faff and farce at the top, I turned and saw how far away the next guy was behind me. (An advantage of out and back races). Excellent, just needed to chase down the guys in front. By this time they were 50 an 150metres ahead of me so I had my work cut out.

The first guy didn't appear to be entirely happy about descending, so I'd overtaken him within a few hundred yards. Mike was a different matter and was a long way down the hill so I just kept him in my sights and went for it.

I knew I was catching him, but was also running out of hill rather rapidly. The end was coming up, and I could see my pre-reccied line coming up. Inexplicably, Mike took a line down to the road. Yes. My chance!

Accelerating across the bog and moor, my eyesight blurring, I stretched it out towards the finish, hitting the road just in front of Mike, despite being 30m behind him just before he turned down his path.

Dig in and sprint to the end.

4th. In 22:23.

I then had to show my number- beneath my waterproof- to show who I was. Would have been waaaay easier to have it on my shorts. But hey. That's an intelligent idea. It'd never catch on.

Well done to the rest of the harriers, unfortunately we don't know the positions yet as they weren't available at prize giving. Caity was first lady, Zoe was 3rd lady and Lins was first LV45.

Sorry, no pictures, we have Long Mynd tomorrow and I won't have computer access til we get home.