After 6 Foot Track, my first long distance run (45k, 1,900m gain), I came back to training to eager, running 10k the Sunday after followed later that day by 90min of 11-a-side football (soccer). The result was serious knee pain that lasted 8 months.
During that time I searched for answers and relief going to numerous highly regarded physios and osteopaths. Most of them determined I had weak glutes and tight ITB but they offered little in the way of effective rehab other than weekly or twice weekly hands on treatment. And at $120 a go you can imagine that wasn’t exactly sustainable. I asked for advice on what to do and it was all very generic, I didn’t feel like I was getting much of a dedicated service or in the case where I did get exercises, they hurt and that clearly wasn’t a good thing! More on that below…
That all changed when I met Mike at Fix Physio. Recommended by my running buddy Andrea who after 6FT was in a similar situation, though he saw Mike earlier than me and hence at Tarawera when I was crying in pain (who can forget that sad face), he was fine, more than fine he was strong! That was all I needed to get me in to see Mike given 12 weeks out from Tarawera Andrea wasn't able to run much more than 6k pain free and there he was smashing out 50k without a slither of knee pain.
Mike did a thorough initial assessment and immediately identified that I was significantly weaker on my left side from my stomach down to my ankle. He said there was effectively a hole in my left glute where there should have been muscle! Gulp! Hence why every time I've gone to the Chiro he's had to straighten my hips with them being lower on the left. Mike also used the ultrasound to show me my muscle density around my abdomen showing a notable deficit on the left hand side and performed basic strength tests showing my left was significantly weaker than my right. He told me it was fixable but I was sceptical, until he did a simple test where we forced my glutes to activate (faking what they should do normally) and had me redo one of the simple strength tests. The result was crazy (good) and I could actually see the results I would get if I could strengthen my core muscles and get them firing!
But other than the diagnosis what sold me on Mike was the rehab program. He explained where I'd need to get to - single leg dead lifts, squats etc with weights but that I was a long way from getting there. In fact 3.5 months into the program and I've only just started these weighted single-leg exercises. This compares to one physio who had me doing these in week 2 and couldn't understand why I wasn't getting any better.
Mike and his team build you up from where your body is at the start and my left side was at a pretty low place to begin with. So we've built the program and progressed the exercises as my body has been capable to deal with the extra load. It takes dedication - I do 25-30min of strengthening every other day and have just finished a 6 week program of small group Pilates in the Fix Studio. But mostly I'm doing everything at home with some light weights and other standard small equipment (therabands, gym ball etc).
Of course it's still important to get regular hands on treatment to kneed out any tension & check for any imbalances. But this shouldn't be the bulk of your rehab it should support a comprehensive and targeted strengthening program.
The team at Fix not only understand bodies but they understand that we're not all the same. If you don't have access to a gym (like me) they'll modify the program for you and they assess your progress in the Pilates sessions and regularly adjust your program to both your body and your progress.
Finally after almost a year of issues, I’m feeling stronger and more confident about being (knee) pain free at UTA50. I’d highly recommend you check out the team at Fix Physio for any running (or non running) related pain.
I just wish I’d found out about them sooner! www.fixphysio.com.au
This is my first time closely following a training plan (supplied by a coach) as I prepare for an ultra. When I first started running it was with little knowledge and little research. I just ran a bit and increased my distance as I could – which wasn’t very much given my running fitness at the time! From there I downloaded and followed a couch to 21k program for my first half marathon. It actually went quite well. But from there I just ran with little purpose or consistency. I entered trail races as I liked and with little structure to training for them. Going into Coastal Classic (my 6FT qualifier) I ran only 40ks in the 4 weeks prior!! Really I should have been running 40ks a week for the 4 months prior! But I didn’t know then what I know now.
I remember training for 6FT and one of the runners asking me if I had a coach! I was dumbstruck to find out that people running at my kind of pace and level had coaches! What, why, how? I had so many questions. So when I was offered an intro coaching offer when I signed up for my first 50k I jumped on it. And so began my relationship with Squadrun. But injury from overtraining for 6FT had me pretty patchy on my training efforts in the lead up toTarawera 50k and I didn’t go into the race well trained. Luckily I got all of that sorted (well on track) with the help of Fix Physio – IMO the best physio in Sydney (and I’ve seen a few! I’ll do a separate post on these guys in the not too distant future). So now I’m training really well for UTA50 in May and following my Squadrun training plan pretty closely.
So what does that mean? Well today that meant doing a half marathon rhythm run before work!
Just 3 years ago I was training for my first half marathon, the thought of actually running that far terrified me! If my training goes to plan I’ll actually end up running three half marathons this week (2 more on trail this weekend). But this didn’t happen overnight. Each week I sit down and spend at least an hour mapping out my runs for the following two weeks (based on the suggested runs in the Squadrun program – you pick your runs from a suggested list of 7 based on how often you want to / can run). I have it all mapped out in Excel (I am a data nerd!) so that I can calculate my percentage increases each week – no more than 10% is the golden rule! Also the majority of my running is at a moderate pace – a lot slower than my 5k or 10k or even half marathon and marathon pace. For me my 5k race pace is around 4:35m/k and my estimated marathon pace around 5:10m/k but 90% of my training is around the 5:35-5:45m/k pace. This means my body isn’t getting smashed on every run and I’m actively recovering from the tougher sessions in the week (speed or hills usually).
Since following the program of less is more in terms of speed (for most of your sessions) but gradually more is better in terms of distance and introducing weekly speed sessions, I’ve not only been able to keep injury free (and a lot of this is thanks to Mike at Fix Physio for his awesome strengthening plan) but I’ve knocked minutes off of my 5k, 10k and half marathon time trials and races. I’ve PB’d consistently in my trail races so far this year. So whilst I was certainly able to complete 6FT on the back of general plodding through the week and massive long runs at weekend I ultimately burnt myself out by not monitoring my overall increases (I went from 10k runs to 20k runs within a week and built rapidly from there!). This resulted in over 9 months of injury that I couldn’t get sorted.
But coaching isn’t for everyone. Either it’s not affordable (though there is a range of prices out there based on what you get – high volume / low touch is cheaper versus individual one-on-one coaching) or it’s just not something you’re keen on. And whilst it really does help IMO it can of course be done without coaching. That’s the beauty of the internet and the massive amount of information that’s out there. Just make sure you’re reading information posted by reputable runners and not just googling “running program”. Find out who knows there stuff and listen to them – but most importantly listen to yourself and your body and find out what works for you 😀
Here are my top three recent blog posts on training for an ultra or just increasing your training load:
1. I Run Far – A guide to road running for trail runners! Some great tips on why it’s important for trail runners to also find time to train on the road.
2. Running Science – Load management. Love this post from a 100k a week runner on his top tips for staying injury free (major jealousy on his shoe collection).
3. Talk Ultra – my favourite podcast and my running companion on today’s long run. The interview with Anna Frost was fantastic. She talks about balance in life and making sure running is something you do for the love of it and not because it’s become some commitment that’s expected of you. A great interview in a previous episode with ultra coach Mario Fraioli who’s top tips included running for fun and not signing up for too many races! Whilst marathon runners will usually race no more than 3 marathons a year, ultra runners seem to be racing every race available. Which is understandable with the amount of amazing races available but can lead to wiping yourself out! Check out the podcasts before.
In light of international women's day 2017 I thought I'd share my thoughts on being a female runner.
Before I started running I ate conservatively, avoiding carbs drinking green smoothies etc on the bid for the "thin" body paraded in magazines as being healthy and idyllic. But when I started running I realised two things 1. I needed a strong body not a thin body for the longer distance trail running I was doing and 2. running bloody lots means you can eat a hell of a lot more. Woohoo!
I am a firm believer that a strong runners body is primarily built from running. Long distance, hill work and short strides all build the muscles in your legs needed for running, much more so than pressing heaps of weights in the gym. Personally I also do regular body strength & light weight conditioning work in line with a plan from my physio to address imbalances in my body and I do yoga for some stretching and to strengthen my upper body (and because I enjoy it!).
So I was a little taken aback when engaged in a conversation with a lady in our changing rooms recently who was off to the gym whilst I was off for a run. She was talking about her PT session and said “Cause you know I think it’s much better to be strong than skinny” I was all ready to high five her until she added (with a look) “no offence”! I paused, a little in shock at what wasn’t actually a back handed complement but was really a body shaming comment (intended or not), and so I responded with “I completely agree. I’m training for my second ultra-marathon so need to be strong”.
The reality is we come in all shapes and sizes (particularly women), what is strong for one is not the same as another. For me I have an athletic physique, it’s from an entire lifetime of being active (I started Karate at age 5, football at age 10, hockey at age 13 and running at age 30!) and I’ve always eaten pretty well. Particularly now that I’m (almost 2 years) vegan and running consistently 50k+ each week it’s hard for me to be any bigger than I am. And to be honest I shouldn’t have to be. I shouldn’t be judged by others for the body that I have as result of my healthy and active lifestyle. This body lets me climb mountains, again and again. It lets me run for hours on end and it lets me see some of the most amazing things that mother nature has to offer. It also keeps me healthy, relatively illness free and gives me energy to get myself through a my full time job.
My wife and I are both very active, we each have a BMI of 20.9 which for our age is in the 10th percentile. But we look very different. My wife has a rock hard torso, always has, never puts on flab on her guts. I on the other hand have the pouch (you know the one I mean!) no matter how thin I get there’s always a stubborn little fat pouch under my belly button and some love handles – it’s just my body shape. I also have way bigger thighs and butt than her but thinner lower legs and a narrower back. Women carry more fat than men, we need it to maintain healthy baby making organs, it’s how we’re built. At the Mrs’s training group she had a lady say that she was targeting reducing her BMI to 20 by the end of the 6 week program having looked up pictures of what a 20 BMI looked like and wanting to achieve that look. She was in shock to discover that the Mrs was closer to 21! She thought she was at least 15! Which is crazy. She had in her mind a picture of what she thought was a body she wanted (based on a number – 20) but when faced with the reality of what that looked like (and what she looked like – at least 3 breast sizes bigger for a start!) she realised it was probably an unrealistic target and achieving 22-25 BMI was probably going to get her the aesthetical results she desired. It’s unrealistic to pick a number or a body shape that you want to target when your body just wasn’t built that way.
Think about what goal you have set yourself and ask yourself why you have set it. If it’s for someone else (so they’ll appreciate the way you look or envy your look) then I suggest you reassess and find a goal that will make you happier and will help you achieve something incredible. Maybe you’re just getting into fitness and that goal is losing some weight so that you can walk or run in your first 5k - great go for it. Or it may be like me, ensuring you keep your body strong and capable of running 50k.
Either way focus on yourself and not others – both when judging yourself and more so when judging others. There’s plenty of people judging how women look we don’t need other women doing it too!
Today as I set out to do an easy paced double day (10k in the morning + 10k in the evening) I reflected on how far I've come in my running journey.
Just looking at my comparative January stats for the past 4 Januarys is pretty eye opening...
I've always been active with football, hockey, karate, hiking all a big part of my life over the last 3 decades. But distance running was never really my thing bar a couple of cross country meets in the cold, wet, muddy Scottish fields of some local school (something I relish in now but hated at the time). I was definitely a sprint till you puke type of runner. I remember about 4-5 years ago being insanely impressed by my mate back home for running a 10k and had no idea how you even train for that. She was doing 7-8k training runs and I thought she was a rock star! (I still think she is) I was probably the more active one at school so now seeing her smashing out a number of 10k races I was in awe. And I guess it probably got me thinking, well if she can train for it why can’t I…
Maybe then a seed was planted and 3 years ago I started to train for my first 10k run. It was tough. I had to break my much tried and tested running style of balls to the wall for a few hundred metres before collapsing on my hands and knees. I had to reign it in so that I could build up my distance without blowing up – that my friends is a lot harder than you give it credit for as I’m sure some of you are aware. Today I look at other new runners who are smashing out 5k at a decent pace but then have to walk the last 2k of our planned route. It’s particularly evident in guys who are less keen on being chicked but yet continue to take the approach of give it everything until you have nothing. Of course that’s fine if you’ve got the stamina to actually get to the end of the race!
But back to me now… It took me months to build up to that 10k distance. In those early days I could only run 2k without stopping but slowly it increased. I remember not wanting to run with other people as I was worried I would hold them back and I also was really tentative about running outside especially in front of “real runners”. I thought I’d be laughed at as the fraud that I was. Looking good for 1k before slowing turning redder and redder and sounding like a steam train about to derail. And even now as one of those “real runners” I observe other runners and still catch myself chastising myself for not going as fast as them. But then I remind myself that maybe they’re at the start of their journey and about to blow up. Or they’re out doing tempo work which I now frequently do myself. Or maybe they’re just a bloody good runner. But most importantly I remind myself that it doesn’t matter what they are out there doing. They’re not me, I’m not them. We’re not in a race. We’re not competing against each other. We’re just runners out there having a run…
So when it came to race day in my first 10k, was I the fastest – No! Did I look the best – No! But did I give it my all I had and was I proud of what I’d achieved – hell Yes! And at the end of every race, or even every epic training run, I can look at where I’ve come from and be proud of what I’ve achieved. In that first 10k, something I once deemed impossible was suddenly an accomplishment of mine. Now that 10k is a 50k race and my training runs are in the 30k region at times or I’m doing two 10k training runs in one day. But I still look at each one of them as a blessing (to be able to push my body and mind to new limits) and as an achievement. Every run hurts for some part of it, even the casual 10ks today were tough for sections – a tough incline, a niggling knee pain, dehydration…Sometimes I have a bad shorter run that feels horrid from start to finish but that's ok because not that long ago I thought 10k would kill me and it didn’t and neither did the thousands of kilometres I’ve ran since.
We all start somewhere so if you're new to running or thinking about giving it a go, just get out there and get it done.
Forget what people think. Focus on your run – Your pace. Your distance. Your goals. Your run.
But if you struggle to turn off the negative voices (and most of us struggles at times) then remember that the runners you pass when you’re running may just be thinking “wow look at them go” and the ones that see you walking probably think you’re just out for a walk! Regardless, unless you’re out running circles on a track then most of the runners will soon be out of sight and you can guarantee that once you’re out of sight you’re out of mind.
One of the things I’ve struggled with most if finding appropriate training in the city (where I pretty much live) when I’m racing in the mountains. Ideally I’d like to hit the trails 2-3 times a week to both improve my technical running skills and also to get that much needed vertical gain which urban Sydney is largely lacking. And with Sydney traffic being horrific it’s hard to get to the trails when you don’t have half a day to spare. So, how do you train for a race with 2,000m of vert when your local running area is lucky to clock up 100m??
First you’ve got to identify what race it is your running and train for it. Um, duh, tell us something useful Jen! What I mean by that is, what’s the defining feature of your run? Is it stairs, technical, fire-trail, long never-ending hills? Review the course, read up what you can about the terrain and think about how you can simulate as best you can in training. Ideally you’re doing all your long runs out on trails, if the trails that you can get to don’t have a lot of what you need to practice (technical or big hills) look for ways you can do repeats on the most hilly or most technical sections that you can find.
Create your own Strava sections for them and run them over and over seeing if you can get faster and stronger over time.
When you can’t get to the trails or when you have but are looking for a little bit extra in the week, look for areas locally that you can simulate hills and stairs. There are countless sets of stairs in the Sydney CBD and in most suburbs, find them and smash out a few reps on them. If you know there’s 1,000 steps at the end of UTA for instance then find somewhere where you can do 1,000 steps to get a feel for what that’s like. Granted you’ll be going up and down and getting a rest on the down, but as I can attest post Hounslow Classic 2016, going down stairs will also bugger your legs (in an awesome way obviously)!
During the week I like to run with some folk at work but recently have found that I’m struggling to make them really useful sessions for my current training (nobody wants to do 2k speed work with me!) so instead of doing an easy 7k run with them I’m focussing on getting out to the local city park where there’s lots of stairs and small hills where we can do repeat circuits.
When training for trail “stairs” you can do repeats of normal steps, double steps, pigeon toe / duck toe steps, alternating between all of the above in random patterns. Do whatever you can to simulate the fact that trail stairs are seriously fucked up and rarely are worthy of being called stairs! But hey that’s why we do it cause nature’s staircase is paved with happy feelings and giddiness when you slip and almost stack it, just missing out on taking down a dozen other runners! Yee-haw!
For hills I try to focus on up or down at a time when the hills are short and lacking in abundance. I push on the uphill and then rest (walking) on the downhill. But it’s important if you’re going to be running downhill in the race to focus on smashing out the downhills in training too so that your quads get used to it. On those days I focus on a fast paced hike up hill (remember unless you’re in the elites you’ll be doing a lot of walking up hills in ultras so it pays to practice this too!) and then smashing the downhills (ideally find grass if you can and keep your stride really short and light).
Whilst it’s likely you won’t be able to fully replicate the conditions you’ll face on race day, with a little creativity and planning you can focus on preparing your body and mind for what’s ahead.
Hopefully most of you are aware of cadence (how fast your feet turn over-the-counter usually measured per minute) if not Google running cadence and gorge on the masses of information on the science and studies.
I've done no studies and I'm no scientist so I'm not going to regurgitate stuff I've found online (much). The optimal cadence for runners is 180+ steps a minute. Sounds like a lot, it is a lot! Well for us average runners it is. If you're running sub 4min ks it's a hell of a lot easier to turn your legs over. For us mere mortals though it can feel like jogging on the spot and looking like a dick whilst doing so.
But fear not a cadence of 180 is possible and I promise you don't look as ridiculous as you feel...
First things first buy a metronome (music shops or I got mine from a horse riding shop) or if you run with your phone you can download a metronome app. I don't run with my phone and when I do it's only for the sole purpose of taking selfies!!
Now with a metronome there are a number of options available (depending on the type you buy). I bought the Seiko DM51 which has a few different settings on the type of beep it makes (lots of musical half note / quarter note stuff that I have no idea about!). But all you really need is to be able to change a) the speed of the beeping and b) the volume (unless you like to let the people two blocks away know that you're coming!).
Setting the speed
This is personal preference. Of course you can set it to 180 beats per minute and each foot that lands should aim to land at the same time as a beep. I find that the beeping is way to close together for my brain to tell me if my foot is hitting at the same time or not. Instead I set the beep to be 90 and focus on hitting the beep with every second step e.g. always with my right foot. This make it easier to tell if you're on beat and as you go for longer runs if you suddenly notice you're landing on the left foot then you know you're deviated from the cadence pattern.
Adjusting the speed
If you find that you're often switching between feet then you're consistently running off of the planned speed. Now to figure out if you're going to fast or two slow you can off course really concentrate on which foot is striking when but it's a lot of effort and focus. What I found works best is to also have your running watch set to show the cadence. You can then cross check between the watch and the metronome.
For me I noticed I was actually running more consistently at 92 beats per minute and hence I was running faster than the metronome. So I unclipped the metronome from my shorts and upped it from 90 to 92. That got me back on beat for most of my run. When I was pushing the pace in sections I went as high as 93 beats and when my legs were fatiguing I allowed it to fall to 91 beats. I could have set it at 90 but I didn't want to teach my body bad habits for when it's tired. If I'm capable of 93 beats comfortably then I figure I should try to maintain that where possible. Again I’m not a scientist or a running coach so there's no evidence that I know of to back this theory, this is just my feel for things.
Feeling like a tool
Yep that first time you're running at a notably increased cadence you're going to feel silly. I was running at around 176 and just moving up to 180-182 I felt like I was running on the spot. But give it some time to settle and try it for a few weeks and hopefully your stride will become more natural at the faster cadence and you won't feel so ridiculous. But as with everything in life it's not a one shoe fit and you need to adapt your training and your style according to your body type and your running. But I note that I have easily been able to increase my cadence and now feel very comfortable at this increased turnover and I've seen videos of me running and I look awesome, no tool in sight ;o)
What about hills - surely I lower my cadence then?
Well no. Really you should aim to keep your cadence high at all times. On the downhill taking short small steps reduces the potential for injury on overextended hamstrings and smashing of legs in general (again Google this sh!t) and on the uphill (assuming you're not walking) you can really charge up them by taking small, fast, mountain goat steps. This is how the pros do it.
And as I've read in a number of place when on the trail if there's the option to take more steps then take them! This means that, as much fun as it is, you shouldn't take massive leaps between rocks or off of tree trunks as all you're doing (other than looking mean as in your Instagram photos) is increasing the potential for injury and giving your body a hammering it doesn't need.
As always seek feedback from your body and find your own rhythm and flow
For my first two years of running, I just ran. Set myself a rough distance based on some online plan I'd downloaded (for a road race) and just sensibly increased my distance each run / week whilst trundling along at around 6-6:30 m/ks. As I started to get more into Strava I saw people posting runs with weird names like 800s with WDs and CDs and had no idea what they were talking about.
As part of my sign up to the Tarawera 50k (my first 50) I got two weeks of training with Squadrun added in. They're an online distance based coaching program at awesome value (NZ$10 a week type awesome!) headed by successful ultra-runner Kerry Suter and his partner Ali Pottering, also an avid trail runner. So pretty much these guys know what they're talking about hey.
The program consists of 7 prioritised runs a week of which you do what you're capable / able / wanting to do. It requires a fair amount of self-discipline and planning to get your allocated runs in around life and (eek dare I say) non-running activities. The runs range from long trail runs to short speed work and strength work (I smell hills!) with regular 5k and 10k time trials to check in with your progress and update your training paces.
Since joining them I've found new discipline in my running and most importantly my running has notably improved. My 10k time is sub 50min for the first time ever and I'm running regularly at about one minute faster per k.
Kerry & Ali are super supportive on email and Facebook. But most importantly they have created an amazing running family mostly active in NZ and Australia who cheer each other on during races.
Check them out - http://squadrun.co.nz/