‘Comfortably Numb’ Trail Race Post Mortem

So – Survived this extremely technical run and lived to tell the tale…just!

Not quite the time or the placing I was hoping for, but I’ll take it for what it was – A good first serious forray into the world of trail racing. This race is known as a ‘west coast classic’ in these parts of the world, for a number of reasons. The main one being is that it really is extremely darn difficult, because of the ascending, descending and in particular, over the terrain in which you are asked to do it!

It was noticeable right from the start that I had the legs of many of the ‘racers’ as I inadvertently ended up leading the strewn out pack up the first fire road hills and onto the first couple of single track trails. However, this is where it all went wrong. I almost immediately hesitated and took a slight wrong turn and the 3 guys behind me all took off in the ‘correct’ direction. No big deal, just took off after them.

This was quickly followed by two or three kilometers of straight up switchback hills and worse, causing one or two to walk some of the steeper climbs. The terrain quickly switched to a ‘wall to wall’ root carpeting of the forest floor together with rocks, some mud and naturally more climbs as the first half of this race took us predominantly uphill.  It was in here that I quickly learned that my road speed alone was not going to be enough as I vied for my position for a few kilometers with a couple of guys who were 1) seasoned trail runners and 2) very accomplished at descending rapidly in this loose, slippy terrain. And so it went with them passing me on the downhill and me overtaking on any flat (not that there was much ever!) and the uphill sections.

This definitely become a little weary for me until I let these guys simply stay ahead for a bit. So out there on my own for a while allowed my to ‘run’ (more of a run , hop, step, dance and jump really) at my own pace and also come a little unstuck once or twice as I struggled to find any race markings and the natural path – obviously slowing me down further. A couple of near full body-plants into the ground were beginning to niggle with my temperament as I become more frustrated with myself until I eventually hit the ground a little harder, dusted myself off and took off again.

Eventually we reached a slightly rockier, firmer section of the race which allowed me to plant some firmer footing as I was getting fed up with the tree roots at every step and this typically meant being out in the open with the sun beating down on me.

Eventually I approached what I thought was territory that I recognized from a couple of previous forrays into the very end section of this trail as I’d previously tried to accustom myself with and felt a little happier. That was until I spotted a photographer on the course and tripped coming down off some rocks and boulders. Down and with the wind sucked right out of me, I really wanted to stay down to regroup, but with this photographer telling me I was doing great and in 6th or 7th place…for now, I realized that I had to get up and back on my running feet quick, not least as my pride was hurt and all I could think about was hoping he hadn’t captured that magic moment on film!

Shaken and in a bit of pain, I carried on, but in trying to shale off the niggles, I was quickly passed on some tricky downhill sections by a couple of speedstars who’d come from deep within the pack. By now, I was longing for some open, buff trail, where I could open my legs and really run. I knew I had the legs and speed to take these guys ahead of me, but was being well beaten by a few guys who were obviously far more comfortable on this terrain than I was.

Eventually I came out of the technical trails onto something I could really run on and set about giving some real gusto to my effort. Frustrated for miles about not being able to really speed up and let my pace show, I now wanted to see if I coud either catch someone, or at least feel better about pushing the envelope a little with a kilometer or two to the finish.

As I approached the finish, I could hear a few cheers and the tannoy. I’d obviously gained a little ground, but all I could do now was round off the last few hundred meters feeling relatively fresh, but happy to let rip.

Speeding across the line I always feel a little cheated as there’s always the thought that if I feel so good still, why couldn’t I have left a bit more out there on the course?! That said, all in all, a good fun run.

Apparently I’d missed the several bear sightings – too busy looking for my footing to see that far away from me…at least I assume they weren’t that close to me!

I was glad to have made the decision to run with a hand held water bottle. Something I wasn’t inclined to do, especially as there was supposed to be a water station at the halfway mark, which, didn’t materialize. Thankfully, the bottle also broke my fall a few times as well, although not sufficiently to stop me damaging my rotator cuff presumably on lens!

On reflection though, not a bad performance, slower than I had predicted by about 1o minutes, but given falls and wrong turns, not bad. Definite room for improvement and a nagging desire to quickly improve my technical downhilling skills.

Next up, the ‘Tenderfoot Boogie 50KM in 6 weeks. Mainly trails, but nowhere near as technically difficult!

Maybe we’ll give the Xterra trail running championships here in Whistler a throw of the dice with a concerted effort to run trails between now and then. Shouldn’t need much incentive, especially with a chance to run in the world finals in Hawaii at stake!

‘Comfortably Numb’ – Trail Race

This somewhat aptly named trail race takes place this 4th week in June in and around Whistler, BC. Due to the heavy snowfall this past winter, even this late into the year, there will still be a lot of snow to contend with on the trail during the race, further adding to the complexities of this run and its already numerous challenges.

Personally, as much as I love trail running, I guess you’d say that my bread and butter is on the smoother, buffer road surfaces. However, this year I am determined to focus a lot more on trail running, not least because it is far more enjoyable, better scenery, more fun and a lot easier going on the body in terms of the impact with each pounding step or stride. On another slightly ‘blue sky’ approach, around the part of the world I live and the way society is taking to this sport, there are a lot more trail running challenges and perhaps a greater chance to get sponsored as an athlete – Like I said, ‘blue sky’ approach!

I currently live in the mountains and have an embarrassment or riches outside my door when it comes to trail running, so it seems only fitting that I grasp this opportunity with both hands.

Now, as with most sports, most training and fitness is very sport specific. The greatest, fittest swimmers in the world do not translate into some of the best runners simply because they are ‘fit’. Same deal with translating from road running to trail running. Although similar, trail running engages and requires a lot more of the runner. More concentration when judging your step and how to approach the terrain, different muscles – a lot more core for example and a lot like everything, there is a completely different skill set is involved with the trails. For me, my biggest development is to improve on my descending skills as some folk will literally throw themselves down any and all terrain, no matter how slippy, dangerous or imposing it looks and this is where much time is made or lost.

So having already ran the Zurich marathon in some heat and sickness earlier this April and a half marathon just 3 weeks ago, I embarked on throwing myself at as much trail running as I could handle in the 3 weeks build up to this race. It is an extremely technical race and this in itself is perhaps one if not the biggest challenges of this course.

The terrain is a real hot pot of slick tree roots crossing in every which way, to rocks and boulders, wooden bridges, some slick, some not, switchbacks to ascend & descend with no real end in sight and a chance….just a chance of sighting or coming across a bear or some other wildlife.

Personally I cannot wait to get at the course and see what exactly it has to offer. Apparently in places there are still patches of snow to navigate, so we’ll see just how much this slows the course down. The record was set at 1hr 49 by an outstanding athlete, so I can only hope to come in somewhere around the 2hr zone and hope that with these conditions I place well. Given my self certified novice status at trail competitions, this will serve as a real test as to how well prepared I am to handle the arduous trails out here in BC – How hard can it be, eh?

Understanding the need to taper and recover from races and training

As runners we’ve all heard about the need to taper or recover leading up to important races, but why do we hear so much about it?

Most of us will appreciate the need to ‘back off’ from our rigorous training at times or perhaps tak a day off from running altogether as our muscles and body just feel too fatigued to get out there and run some more, but why? You can often read that there is a benefit to running / training whilst on tired legs to mimic how you will feel in the latter stages of a race for example. This is often a form of raining that those preparing for an ultra marathon might do – say a 25/30 mile run on Saturday followed by another 15/20 on Sunday.

What many don’t fully appreciate is that it is while resting that our body repairs and heals itself. In other words, the adaptions that take place after a hard work out, such as a long run or speedwork, tempo runs, etc, these only take place while resting. When we are pushing ourselves to improve, be it to run longer or faster, we create many microscopic tears to our muscles. It is this damage that when healed and repaired, grows back stronger – allowing us to be stronger, faster or more adept at running further.

Now, if we continue to push ourselves hard every day, running or training on already damaged and fatigued muscles, it becomes very hard to train well. I wouldn’t encourage it, but anyone who’s tried to run hard and / or long every day will tell you that their training performance simply suffers as they struggle to maintain the quality. It is for these reasons, amongst others, that we need to back off and have ‘recovery days’, either cross training (perhaps biking or swimming for example) or possibly even have a day off after a hard session. Think how hard it is to complete your weekly long run in the build up to a marathon or half marathon if the day before you completed a multiple set of speed interval repeats. Your long run suffers, you may not complete it all as planned and such, you won’t get the benefits that you would have otherwise received.

So after weeks of building up to your race goal, doing all the ‘good’ things, such as hill repeats, tempo runs, speedwork, etc, your body will hopefully have made some pretty big adaptions, but chances are, is that there are still a lot of muscle tissue damage that needs to be fully repaired and glycogen stores replenished and topped up. To run at your optimum – often known as ‘peaking’, you’ll need to have all muscles rested, fully repaired and feeling fresh. This means reducing the volume of training you’ve been doing. Too often people will also reduce the number of quality sessions in this ‘tapering’ period, which will typically be somewhere between 2-3 weeks for a marathon and less for shorter distances.

The trouble with reducing the ‘quality’ sessions too much is that your body will begin to lose its leg turnover speed. So, you should reduce the number of speed repeats, or the length of the tempo runs, but keep some fast leg turnover work even into the last week – to a degree. However, as you reduce the mileage over the couple of weeks leading up to your big race, your legs should begin to feel ‘fresher’, even sprightly. Your energy levels should feel good as your start to burn off less glycogen and calories, fat, etc. This said, be mindful not to overeat and consider reducing your fat and calorific intake as your reduce your output. It is natural to put on a couple of pounds in the last week or so, but no point in undoing all that good work, eh? It’s hard dragging extra weight around a course!

Similarly, after your race, in particular a long distance event such as a half or full marathon. Your body will probably have run as hard and as longer as it ever has. No matter how you feel immediately after the race, you will have created some damage, hopefully only microscopic muscle tissue tears, but often bigger problems to tendons and cartilage. Running too much too soon after the race will greatly increase the risk of getting injured. Muscles will be fatigued and further stressing them, particularly in the first few days and week will often result in a breakdown. When fatigued muscles don’t work properly, the force and impact each stride has on your body will need to be soaked up, possibly by tendons or bone. Trust me, this IS how we get injured!

Ease back into running slowly. Nothing too long or too fast for a couple of weeks afterwards. Don’t get me wrong though. This period before and after our race where we’re reducing the amount of running we do is tough. For me it’s the worst and the hardest part of training for a race. I’m a runner, I want to run, but running and training smart will help you all in the long run. Something many of us all learn the hard way!

Sick? Injured? – Get flexible with your race goals

So all the hard work has been done. That race, be it a marathon or a half marathon that has had you training religiously for the last 4-5 months will be upon you in a matter of days. There’s just one snag – somehow you’ve managed to pick up a little niggling injury or a bad cold or sickness bug!

Some would say this is ‘sod’s law’, but actually it is all too common. The risks of pushing ourselves into training too hard and long, or perhaps more appropriately – not training wisely, is that we can push ourselves into an ‘overtraining’ scenario and our body gradually begins to breakdown. This is why it is so important to listen to your body. When you are fatigued it is difficult to go out a run a good quality hard training session, be it a tempo run or speed repeats, etc that we will actually benefit from. Just to be clear on this point – our body’s improve from overstressing ourselves and then recovering. It is in the ‘recovery’ stage that we actually improve and why more often that not, the day after a hard workout should be spent resting or perhaps with an easy ‘recovery’ run. If we don’t do this, there is only so much our already overworked and fatigued muscles and tendons, heart, etc can take before something has to give.

The other common problem is that too many runners actually get sick during their taper just before a race. This is usually because as the physical questions we ask of our bodies (ie; gradually less and less), our body may be tempted to think that is suddenly now taking a vacation and stop fighting as hard as it has become accustomed to. Place yourself in a room full of people with germs, colds, etc and your immune system is a little ran down, then there is potential to be more susceptible to get sick.

This doesn’t mean we have to avoid everyone of course. Just continue to rest up, eat healthily and well, try to avoid stressful situations as much as possible (stress can also have great negative effects on our body’s immune systems) and generally look after yourself. Some may choose to take some supplementary vitamins pills for example and this may well help, but eating well is just as important as all the nutrients you’ll need can be obtained naturally.

So race day is here and you now have a nasty cold. Should you still run?

This is very much a personal thing, but the general rule of thumb is if the affected cold area is above the neck, then it’s OK still. If, however, you have a cough and are having some respiratory issues, then you should definitely consider postponing the race and maybe considering a different upcoming race. The same goes for if you actually have flu and are feeling achy, etc. It can actually be very dangerous to place too much stress on your body if you are suffering this way and if you ask too much of yourself, it is possible to inflict far worse damage on yourself that can potentially take weeks and months to fully recover from.

Assuming you feel as if you should still run though, you need to be realistic. The chances of you hitting that PB you were aiming for are probably very slim and in this authors experience, the longer and harder the race (such as a marathon, which is already taxing enough on the body), the higher the chances you will begin to suffer more than usual, probably sooner and harder than usual as well. Therefore you should consider adjusting your target. Perhaps just aim to run round the course and try to enjoy it, forget about the time on this occasion. At the very least, allow yourself to back off from your original timing. You never know, you may actually feel better than you thought later in the race and be able to kick on a bit and you’ll also recover a lot quicker if you don’t tax your body quite so hard – Bear in mind that if racing with a sickness, your body will probably suffer a lot more stress, maybe causing you to sweat more than usual or even dehydrate a lot quicker amongst other concerns- so LISTEN TO YOUR BODY and be prepared to adapt!

Setting your Race Goal Time & Training for it!

So you’ve taken the plunge and entered an upcoming running race. Typically, unless you’re coming off the back of a great training block period (presumably to compete or complete a different race), you will require a lead time prior to this date to allow you sufficient time to adequately train.

Planning to allow yourself sufficient time depends on a number of factors, such as the distance of the race, your running background and how good a shape you’re currently in and what your realistic goals are for this race.

All of these considerations are equally as important as the next. For example, if you’re a seasoned runner who regularly runs 20-30 miles per week even when you’re not in training for anything specific, then if entering a marathon, you will need to allow a build up of somewhere around 16-18 weeks. There are many great online training programmes that help you get a better understanding of timeframes and actual training to be done, such as http://www.mcmillanrunning.com/. However, if as a seasoned runner, you wish to compete in a 10k race, then you won’t typically need anywhere near this long to get into shape.

Again, attaining the sufficient level of fitness and endurance that you need to hit your goal will largely be governed by what level you are starting from and whether or not your ‘goal’ is actually realistically achievable.

Now, every training programme for a long race, such as a half or a full marathon, will suggest that a staple part of your running diet should consist of a build up of regular ‘long’ runs. This will do many things physiologically, such as teach your body to burn fat as fuel before depleting your glycogen stores (so long as your running at a pace a good 1 min or slower than your planned marathon pace). It will also build ‘slow twitch’ muscle fibres and help allow the body to push more blood to the hard working muscles.

 

However, to improve fitness levels and actually improve times, you will need do more than simply go out a continually run long slow miles. Simple rule – if you want to run faster, you’ll need to train faster. Sounds obvious right!? This also means training smart!

To get faster there are many things you can do that work better for each individual. You’ll need to consider speed work, such as running multiple 400, 800 and even mile repeats. Typically you will want to run these slightly faster than your targeted goal pace and assuming it’s the marathon your training for, work up to eventually running somewhere between 6-8 of these mile repeats sandwiched in between a couple of miles slower warm up and warm down (you should also include an appropriate ‘recovery’ time after each repeat to allow you to catch your breath back – typically around 2-2.30 mins jogging, NOT WALKING). You can consider doing these (obviously do more repeats if you’re running shorter distances such as 400 or 800 meters and reduce recovery time in between) perhaps once 7-10 days.

You’ll need to consider strength work and shouldn’t ignore the benefit of working with weights and resistance bands, etc, perhaps in your local gym. A great speed and strength workout is hill running. Doing shorter 400-800 meter repeats on a hill (not as many as if you were training on the flat – you’ll find out the hard way otherwise!), running at around 10k pace, will improve your cardiovascular fitness, your leg speed and strength. Many East Africans will simply find a close hill and push their limits for runs of up to two or three miles or more at a time.

You should also consider adapting training runs to include ‘tempo’ runs. These runs are ran at a pace usually around 15k race pace. They should be built up until you can run these for around 30 mins at a time in the middle of a long run of perhaps around no more than 16-18 miles. Of course, more seasoned athletes with greater speed and competition goals will often run for longer times at this pace – These runs are designed to help develop your lactate threshold and therefore increase the time you can run at a certain speed before muscles begin to suffer as the blood being pumped around can no longer remove ‘waste’ quick enough and your pace will become increasingly harder to maintain.

Now, for all the good speed pace work and tempo run, etc that you can do, you should remember that these are usually hard efforts and the day after should either be considered as a rest day or an ‘active recovery’ day. If you continue to push your limits, you’ll become susceptible to injury, breakdown and even illness if you don’t pay attention to your body’s needs. Not only this, but if you’re still tired from a previous day’s efforts, you won’t be able to train as hard the next time and won’t reap the rewads of a good workout.

There are schools of thoughts that suggest that ‘junk’ miles should be removed from your training schedule. Personally, and this is just how my body reacts, I think there is a place for slower and shorter runs to be included after hard days, especially when you’re trying to increase your weekly mileage to improve your stamina and strengthen cartilage, etc. That said, if your that sore that you may even need to alter your running style or cadence just to get out there, then you should probably just take the day off and stretch, stretch, stretch.

On top of all of this, remember your diet. What you eat and drink and how soon after training can help reduce recovery times and make training easier.

 

Marathon Training in Winter

Motivation can often be our biggest challenge to overcome, especially in winter when it’s cold, damp, icy, windy…even dare i say, slightly dangerous underfoot. So should this stop us from training and logging the miles during these ‘challenging’ months – Of course not!

More often than not, the winter months usually is a lull in the racing calendar, especially for the longer distances. Therefore, this is an excellent time to recover from injuries, overtraining symptoms, correct mechanical issues and strengthen the jinks in our armour. It is also a great time to build a solid mileage base from which your endurance will thank you later in the year.

I you have several months until your planned spring half or full marathon, you should now be logging the long, easy miles. There is less of a need at this stage to be focusing on speed work and high tempo runs, but steady ‘easy’ runs are the preferred ‘norm’. Of course, your planned upcoming race date will largely determine how your planned training should develop and over what period, but typically, you will all benefit from having a solid mileage base from which to start your marathon training programme in earnest.

So it’s cold! – Wrap up warm and wear layers. Consider wearing gloves and long running pants. Just because the sun’s not beating down on you and the temps are minus 5c, this doesn’t mean that we should be considering our hydration needs, especially on runs of over 45 mins or longer.

winter runner

If you live in a wintry environment, consider investing in some ‘yak trax’ http://www.yaktrax.com/ or some similar traction device that will allow you confidently run across snow and ice without fear of slipping and causing yourself damage. If things are too bad outside, consider using a treadmill. I log many a mile on the treadmill, especially when it’s raw ice around me or particularly when doing some repetitive speed training. Not all treadmill running has to be boring or painful, but it can certainly help keep you running when things get bad!

Of course, if you are lucky enough to live in a wintry environment, use this time as a great opportunity to cross train. Go snow shoe running once in a while or try your hand at cross country skiing. I know having done a fair bit of this myself this year that I’ve actually benefited from it – great cardio workout and works many of the same or similar muscles, but still gives the body a rest from all the impact!

Apart from anything else, who wants to miss the beauty that’s outside anyway?

There may be plenty of cross country skiing or snow shoe races close by. Like competition and the buzz it brings, try something different instead. Winter needn’t bring everything to a halt, unless you want it to!

Running Training and the Importance of Body Maintenance

Looks like it may well turn out to be a busy year for me after all. I still have concerns over the ‘fat pad’ impingement that is effecting me, although this has subdued sufficiently to allow me to train in earnest. I’m still scheduled to have an ultrasound scan in a few weeks time and possible guided cortisone shot if this is still deemed the best way to aid a quicker recovery and reduce the swollen ‘pad’ in question.

However, I am successfully logging the miles again and speedwork has been thrown down over the last few weeks. Fortunately the Zurich marathon is 3 months away and as long as there is no further breakdown from my body and the commitment to train in the cold, rain and ice where I live, then hopefully, I’ll be able to shoot with some confidence at my elusive sub 2 hr 40 marathon time.

So now it looks as if I may have finally been accepted into another of the ‘glamour’ races in New York and now the trick becomes careful planning of my schedules to not over race this year in between the two marathons (roughly six months apart), train smart and allow sufficient recovery, both during training and after each race.

Every good runners manual will recommend slowly increasing your mileage each week by no more than @ 10 percent. This is to ensure that we’re not suddenly placing increased stress on our bodies that it’s not ready to handle and breaks down, maybe a hamstring is pulled or your IT Band becomes aggravated or achilles tendon becomes inflamed amongst other complaints. All of which will slow you down, probably enforce a period of prolonged rest in the middle of your important training and leave you feeling very frustrated. Sure, you maybe feel good enough on your weekly long run to chuck in a couple of miles and may decide to keep running until you finally feel tired or sore. Yes, you may still feel great after this new long distance you’ve achieved. Trouble is, the potential damage of too great a training increase may not show itself until several days down the line when little ‘niggles’ begin to show themselves – often a cumulative effect.

It is also painfully important to get sufficient rest. The body improves physically by becoming more powerful and stronger and efficient not just from the actual training, but from the adaptions it takes from the training sessions. This means your body improves during the rest. Now, obviously, this is not the ‘green light’ to take days and days off from training to keep resting, but rest should be considered as part of your training.

You may be able to physically cope with a long run one day, perhaps a couple of other tempo run sessions and some speed and hill work each week. However, these are all considered hard sessions and depending on your running background (how many years you’ve been running, how many miles you’ve logged over time to build that endurance base – Consider many of the East Africans who often run several miles a day to and from school from a very young age!), your age and how fit you – these considerations are factors in how well you recover from these sessions and there will typically always be the need for two or three easier sessions per week or perhaps a 10 day training cycle. For most, a hard days training session such as a 20 miler or a long tempo run, which both take a toll on the body, will be sandwiched by easy running days before and after to allow recovery and be ready to train hard again.

There are of course some other great ways to assist the body and not ‘overtraining’, which can lead to injuries, becoming run down and ill, constantly tired and lethargic, etc. If you can, consider having a regular massage to relax the muscles and tissue and help flush out the toxins by speeding up the blood flow. Sleep is also very important. Once the mileage you log each week begins to increase, your body will demand that extra rest and you should aim to get a good eight hours shut eye whenever possible.

Other training methods can help just as much to maintain fitness, cardio-vascular capacity and lessen the tax on already tight and worked muscles. Consider cross training by biking or swimming, perhaps using an elliptical machine in the gym or even cross country ski if you’re in a wintry environment. These won’t substitute actually running, but for anyone with little niggling injuries or perhaps just need to take a few days off from training but still feel the need to keep up some body maintenance training, cross training should be considered.

We can also all benefit from some strength training. There will be great benefits to be had from working on your ‘core’ muscles to maintain good running form and posture. Consider one or two days a week of some light weight work and don’t merely focus on those legs.  If you’re aware of any body mechanical imbalances where you’ve been susceptible to injury, look for some advice on how to strengthen those area, focus on training those glutes and hips, etc.

Finally look to your diet. Just as important to any rest and training. A long or very hard session can lead to great body adaptions and therefore improvement. However, recovery can be greatly aided be replenishing lost nutrients within an all important window that lasts only around 30 minutes or so after you’ve finished your session. You should aim to take on a mix of both carbs and proteins (typically a suggested ratio of 4:1) during this window immediately after you finish training. Often a drink containing these ingredients will be easier to digest and will be absorbed into the body much quicker than solids, but both are important. This should then be followed by a more substantial meal, nothing excessive  in size, within the next 1-2 hours. You should also ensure that you are well hydrated at all times. Often after a long run of over an hour or more, you will become dehydrated to some degree and it is important to replenish as soon as possible and keep drinking throughout the day until your urine  becomes clear or at least only a pale yellow discolouration.

Overall it is important to eat healthily, get a good balance of foods, avoid too much bad fats (especially saturated fats) and if you are logging big miles each week, keep your carb diet to around 60% or so of your diet – try and keep to the ‘good’ carbs, those which are slow release such as nuts, pulses, beans, wholemeal grains, etc.

If, like me, you may well be attempting more than one long race per year ( a couple of marathons, possibly some half marathons and maybe even an ultramarathon), it’s also important to not jump straight back into training in the first few days straight after your last long race. Your muscles may actually feel good, but after having just ran a marathon, your tendons and even bones will be very susceptible to more damage as the muscles have just taken a beating and are grossly taxed, meaning something else has to take the strain. Gradually ease yourself back into some easy, slow, short running over the following week or so. The desire may be too much to handle in not running for a while, but consider some of the great names and athletes, such as Paula Radcliffe and Karen Goucher for example, who may take as much as a whole month off before resuming training again, depending on their schedules of course.

All in all, recovery is a very personal thing and is dependant on a multitude of factors, such as how well trained you are, how much you taxed yourself during the race ( a marathon will take much longer to recover from properly than say a 10k race), did you give it everything you had, did you ‘bonk (where your body has depleted its energy levels from it’s nutrient stores) and how quickly you get nutrients back into your body.

So, train hard, train smart and work for your goals.

Use of Traditional Chinese Medicine & Acupuncture for Injuries

 

For many an athlete or simply those wishing to enjoy sports, they have often tried many of the ‘normal’ or ‘traditional’ treatment methods normally considered, such as the old ice pack (or frozen bag of peas, beans, vegetables, etc), rest, elevation, etc, etc. Many will also have exhausted the route of the physios and possibly even a trip to their doctors. For those who may be unfortunate enough to find that none of these routes have proved entirely successful and are perhaps now looking a tad frustrated, have you considered the long revered and centuries old methods of Chinese medicines? You haven’t, well why not?

This is an interesting abstract found on some recent studies:

Traditional Chinese medicine, and especially acupuncture, is becoming a routine in the treatment of sports injuries. For the practising  acupuncturist, being able to make a western medical diagnosis can be  invaluable, as can learning specific needling techniques and point  selections. This article offers an overview of the treatment of sportsinjuries by the acupuncturist, and illustrates the application of  diagnostic and different treatment methods.

Introduction

Pete Sampras, Seve Ballesteros and Bolton Wanderers football club  are among the many professional sports players and organisations turning  to traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) and acupuncture to treat their  sports injuries. It was found that in 1999, 54% of premiership  football clubs in the UK were using acupuncture to treat sportsinjuries.

Treating sport injuries with TCM and acupuncture, instead of  conventional treatments such as ultrasound and  interferential/electrotherapy, is now routine.

This relatively recent growth in the popularity of acupuncture for  the treatment of sports injuries may seem surprising, but it has its  roots firmly in the traditions of TCM.

History tells us that using TCM for injuries, whether derived from  sports or everyday activities, has for thousands of years been the  practice of Shaolin monks. This form of treatment was called “Dit  Dar Jow”, translated as “fall and break medicine“, and  martial artists were traditionally taught the treatment and management  of injuries sustained in training or combat. Today this art is not so  well known and tends to be guarded secretively within the different  martial arts schools and only passed down from masters to senior  students. Dit Dar Jow, for example, mainly uses herbs and patent external remedies  such as balms and poultices.

I strongly recommend that practitioners who intend to treat sports injuries learn some of the basic tests such as the anterior draw test  for anterior cruciate ligaments and the posterior draw test for  posterior cruciate ligaments. Experience has shown the importance of  using these Western medical joint, muscle and ligament tests to diagnose  an injury and ascertain its severity, not least because severe cases of  bone fractures or ligament/menisci tears require surgery or bone setting  to enable a full recovery. If a patient has not been seen by their  medical doctor, they should be referred to do so in cases where a  practitioner is in doubt about the diagnosis.

In the treatment of sports injuries with TCM, whatever the injury  may be, there will necessarily be some form of qi and blood stagnation  (pain, bruising), possibly complicated by dampness (manifesting as fluid  retention) in a local area and in the affected channels and collaterals.  The understanding of these fundamentals gives TCM practitioners an  “extra” treatment principle in their arsenal, compared to  conventional practitioners.

So once again, consider this tried and tested medical practice of the ancient Chinese. It’s been practised for hundreds of years to treat patients, long before the now ‘modern’ therapy’s were around. So if you’ve tried everything else, why not search out a local Chinese medicine and acupuncture specialist to add to your armour!

 

‘Fat Pad’ Impingement (Hoffa’s Syndrome)

I write this piece from a personal viewpoint as unfortunately around where  live, it has come to my attention that there is simply not enough knowledge of this recognized problem.

My problems started a few months ago after completing the Berlin marathon. My IT Band went around the 19 mile mark and I only truly realised the full impact of this on my body some weeks later. Don’t get me wrong, as the pain and discomfort was obvious during the final miles of the race as I missed my goals, but it was only as I tried to step back into my training once again a couple of weeks later that I felt the need to see a physio for knee discomfort that was more than just delayed muscle onset.

I was diagnosed with IT Band syndrome and although my problems had stemmed from mechanical issues (typically weak glute not firing properly, pronating too much, weak hip, etc), the pain was very much in the knee. The IT Band had, over time, become inflamed, thickened, laid down scar tissue and continued to rub over the many bony points and bursars around my knee. This problem was perpetual as every time I tried to run, the scar tissue and tight IT Band around the knee would become thicker, laying down more scarring each time.

The physio and I threw everything at it, some serious downtime, regular ART to breakdown the scarring, dry needling to loosen the IT Band, regular massages, specific exercises to strengthen my root causes around glutes and hip. Everything, but still a nagging discomfort remained, which, in fact worsened around the ‘fat pad’ area just under and to the outside of the patella. We worked it to death with all the treatment and carefully considered everything for the inflammation (Ice, Ibruprofen, needles, rest, taping to lift the patella – usually received with good success, etc, etc), but still no real success.

Basically this ‘fat pad’ area becomes inflamed and thickened it can get ‘pinched’ between the end of the thighbone and the kneecap and is often a longstanding condition. http://bit.ly/gWYUq. Having thrown everything at it for weeks, it was decided by a few physio’s who had been heavily involved in studies in Australia that the best accepted and recognized step now would be to have a cortisone shot. It had been shown to work on many, many occasions with virtually no real risk at all (all injections / needles come with the inherent risk of infection being introduced to a site). In fact, had i been a professional athlete, this would probably have been given to me weeks and weeks ago!

Finally I went to see a doctor to try and obtain a cortisone shot to the ‘fat pad’. I was scorned away and told all about my mechanical imbalances and what was causing the knee discomfort and told to address these – I had been vigorously of course over the last several weeks and still am! I was, however sent for an X-ray which eventually showed up some small signs of the onset of arthritis, which is very normal in a gentleman of my age who has been very active over the last 10-15 years with my running, biking, soccer and skiing, etc. Still the Dr refused to give me this shot and advised me to consider another sport!

Time to look for a second opinion from a recognized sports medic in town. A little more sympathetic, but still wanted me to have an ultrasound first to better guage what was going on – although she did go on to say that she thought it may well be ‘fat pad’ impingement and when pressed, suggested that the treatment may well be a cortisone shot!!! Aaargh! Will no-one give me this shot! No, I have to wait several weeks for ultrasound before even getting there!! – Missing the Zurich marathon in April is becoming an increasing concern.

To be fair, medics are rightly concerned with cortisone shots that there is also a minimal risk that it could weaken any surrounding tendon, possibly leading to a tear or rupture, if injected into the wrong spot. However, the ‘fat pad’ area is directly under the skin and is fairly large, next to a thick tendon that is also fairly obvious – In other words ‘X’ really does mark the spot and it would be difficult for anyone to miss, with a needle or even a mallet!

It is so hard to have this malfunction diagnosed and of course, everyone has their own school of thoughts on how best to treat or tackle physical problems. However, from my experience, too many ‘experts’ are simply not skilled enough in specific knee disorders amongst athletes – bear in mind that general practitioners will have to cover an extremely wide range of medical complaints and problems and it is perhaps a little unfair to expect them to know everything, right?!

I guess time will tell if my problem has been accurately diagnosed by myself and my physio and if indeed, I can actually manage to get anyone to give me this shot. Perhaps it won’t prove to be the miracle cure I’m after, but in my case, it seems like it should at least be considered as the worst case scenario appears to be that nothing will improve.

As for our understanding and treatment of this ‘fat pad or Hoffa’s syndrome, well, it appears that some parts of the world are more dialled in and aggressive in their treatments than others.

Any feedback on this condition would be most welcome

Runners Nutrition Basics

Good basic nutrition needn’t be too complicated? These 10 simple commandments are guaranteed to make you healthier, fitter and faster

1. Plan your diet

Devise a sensible eating plan that you can stick to, which will suit your lifestyle. Don’t set yourself unreasonable targets for food consumption. Unless you’re seriously overweight, it’s unlikely that your diet will need to undergo drastic restructuring.

Start by analysing what you are eating now. Sit down with a pen and paper and ask yourself some questions about your dietary habits. Do you have breakfast? Do you feel tired and hungry by the time you run in the evening? If your diet is repetitive and boring you may not be getting the variety of foods necessary for adequate nutrient intake.

2. Eat little and often

Frequent snacking throughout the day is a sure way to avoid low blood sugar levels and tiredness by the time you get home for your run. Research shows that eating little and often is best for runners… as long as you’re eating the right things!

Make a point of taking high-carbohydrate snacks to work with you so that you aren’t caught out. Avoid high-fat snacks such as crisps and chocolate, opting instead for high-carbohydrate and low-fat snacks, which make the best fuel. Dry breakfast cereal, plain popcorn, bagels, low-fat crispbreads, bananas and other fruit are all excellent choices.

3. Don’t ignore the main meals

Regular sensible snacking is important, but proper meals are where carbo-loading really counts. Pasta is deservedly the runner’s favourite, but there are plenty of other excellent high-carbohydrate foods, such as rice, baked potatoes, lentils, muesli and even baked beans. Still, beware! Some high-carbohydrate foods are also high in fat. Lasagne, thin-crust pizza, croissants and granola are some of the worst culprits.

4. Supplement those supplements

Instead of spending a small fortune on pills and potions to supplement your diet, try to ensure that you get the vitamins and minerals you need from the food you eat.

It’s a big mistake to think that a supplement will completely satisfy your nutritional needs. Taking a pill might give you the recommended daily amount of a particular vitamin, but you also need protein, minerals, fibre and energy in the form of calories, which no pill will provide. Much nutritional goodness can be found only in the vast array of natural food ingredients and is hard to replicate to a pill + food leaves us feeling good when we choose wisely.

6. Drink more water

Water is the body’s most important nutrient. It makes up between 50 and 60 per cent of your bodyweight and provides the medium in which most of the body processes occur. Aim to drink throughout the day, with a pint of water (or a sports drink) an hour before you run, and half a pint for every 30 minutes of running. On days when you run you should aim to consume five litres during the day, twice as much as is necessary on rest days.

8. Don’t forget your pre-race meal

You’re well-versed in the idea of carbo-loading, but there are still a few tricks of the trade that can help you to race at your best. Firstly, don’t overeat late the night before as this will make sleep harder to come by. Secondly, don’t think of that final plate of pasta on the eve of the race as your last meal. Your body will use up some of that food energy overnight, so make sure you have breakfast. European 5000 and 10,000m champion Sonia O’Sullivan chooses bread or cereal, coffee, perhaps a banana and lots of water, but the carbohydrate combination you opt for is up to you. Just cut right down on fat and protein, which take a long time to digest. Coffee is fine if it’s part of your normal routine – just be sure to drink plenty of water along with it.

9. Learn to drink on the run

Lengthy races – 10Ks and longer – often have drinks stations to replace lost fluids, and if you are running a marathon they will help you to scale the dreaded ‘wall’. Drinking on the run is an import element of technique and one you will need to practice prior to your race. Before you start the race, find out whether the drinks stations are providing water, or carbohydrate drinks as well. If you plan to use a carbo drink, be sure that you’ve tested it in practice runs. As you approach the station look right; most runners prefer to veer left to collect their drink, so the other side is often less crowded. Grab the cup with one hand and instantly cover the cup with the other if you plan to drink it as you run. Don’t be afraid to stop and walk; a few seconds spent drinking properly will easily pay off in terms of performance.

10. Carbo-load for recovery

Immediately after a race or a hard training run it is important to refuel your body with high-carbohydrate food or drink. The 30 minutes or so are absolutely the best time to consume carbohydrates and protein as the body’s muscles and tissues are highly receptive and primed to absorb their vital nourishment needed to repair itself. After this, the first four hours after strenuous exercise is a crucial time for taking on new glycogen to replace what you’ve lost lost while working hard. Aim to keep stocking up every 15 minutes or so rather than gorging on one meal, because this maintains higher blood glucose and insulin concentrations, which in turn makes greater absorption into the muscles possible. Recent research suggests that including around 25 per cent protein in your recovery food will optimise the recovery of your muscles.

All in all, enjoy your food, but avoid too much ‘fatty’ food, especially the ‘wrong’ fats. Try to eat a balanced diet with fresh fruits, veg, fish and lean meats. Portion control is hard to learn, but great for your body’s digestion and absorption. Keep well hydrated and recognise that as you begin to clock up the miles each week, your body will crave the extra nourishment, but don’t abuse it!