My first ultramarathon – the lowdown

On 19th September, I ran my first ever ultramarathon, a 50km, 1900m elevation gain jaunt in the Peak District, one of the UK’s National Parks. The race itself was different to any other I had done, not least because of social distancing measures put in place to ensure the competitors safety, and was superbly organised by Ultra X (the co-hosts of my other big adventure, the Tribe RFL).

I arrived in the Peaks on the Thursday afternoon, wanting to get a feel for the area and have the chance to explore a little – the issue with racing somewhere is that in the couple of days before the race you don’t want to do anything that might hinder your ability on the day, but then after the race you’re incapable of actually moving and doing anything fun. I’d always recommend arriving 3 days before a race if you want to be able to explore and get in a shakeout run!

Warmup hike around a gorgeous Mam Tor loop

We did just that – on Thursday we did a short walk, and on Friday a slightly longer one of about 12km, scouting out a small part of the course. Saturday was, of course, a total rest day (which I found myself very much needing after our walk the day before). It wasn’t a ‘carb-loading’ day per se, but the whole week previously had been filled with a slightly greater proportion of carbohydrates than usual to make sure muscle glycogen stores were as full as they could be.

On Saturday I set up camp with the runners completing the full 125km weekend, who were coming back from their first day (75km) as we set up my tent. The evening was spent eating our freeze-dried meals and snacks while listening to people recount their adventures from the day.

My tent setup!

Meals/snacks/beverages:

The next morning started with a big breakfast and some snacks at around 8am, followed by taping of my irritated tibialis posterior, a little niggle I’ve been having on and off since January. Better to preempt injuries than have to stop mid race! Coffee x2 in (I tend to save caffeine for race days), three loo breaks (nervous wees are a thing) and a little jumping around at the start line, we were off. COVID restrictions means that we set off in waves, so I started alone, but shortly caught up with a friend from the Azores Run for Love (these events are small, so you often see the same faces pop up again and again, which is part of what makes them lovely!).

Simba and I running the old Mam Tor road down to checkpoint 1. Photo by Benedict Tufnell

Race kit (where I can’t find the exact kit I’ve put their newer versions, or left blank if there isn’t one):

The first 5km of the race were done at my usual long run pace, which may have been a bit fast but we made the most of the downhills and easier terrain to warm up quickly. We made it to the first checkpoint in less than 30 minutes, after which I took off my trousers and packed them away. I also took my in first nutrition around then.

Race day nutrition:

  • Lucho Dillitos coffee and guava cubes
  • Fruit sticks (like YoYo)
  • Human Food
  • Boiled sweets
  • Phizz rehydration salts
  • Homemade ginger parkin cake
  • Coca Cola (while I usually hate coke, it is one of THE BEST things to drink mid long run. I guess it’s the combo of sugar and caffeine that does it!).

I preempted one of the colder parts of the route by keeping on my warm weather gear for the first peak, as it was still early and cold and the wind was freezing up there! But after summiting the first peak, I took off my rain jacket and stored it away in my bag. This was the order of the day – run, drink, eat, strip a layer, repeat, until I was just wearing my shorts and a t-shirt (while I love to run in just a sports bra, for longer races I try to wear a t-shirt to avoid bag chafing and sun/wind burn). And that’s how I got round the race! Food, water and one foot in front of the other.

I finished the race in 6h49mins, which was over an hour quicker than I had anticipated! It also afforded me the place of 6th woman, which is better than I could ever have expected. I hope to do more soon – it really was SUCH a fun day. I don’t think I’ll ever get bored of the outdoors, and this was the perfect way to spend as much time in it as possible (and eat as much food as possible!). Watch this space for another race 😉 I’d love to hear if you have any plans for similar races coming up? What gear do you swear by? I’m always up for getting more recommendations! Comment down below!

One of the more roady parts of the race (15km in or so)

You can see my vlog of the race below – don’t forget to like and subscribe if you enjoyed!

Huge shoutout to Simba (middle) for running back from the end to collect me 3km from the end and force me to run the whole last segment. I wouldn’t have otherwise!
Second massive shoutout to my dad and his girlfriend, Charlotte, who drove me to the Peaks, helped me set up camp and plied me with ginger parkin when necessary. I literally couldn’t have even got to the race without them!

How periods affect training

Despite working in the realm of ‘women’s health’ for many years of my life, I recently realised that this wasn’t something I’d ever written, vlogged or even talked about much on my social media. As something that affects so many of us, I thought it would be a good idea to rectify this, and hopefully shine some light on how menstrual cycles can affect training, what it means to lose your period and how we can take care of our bodies the best we can, while achieving the fitness goals we set out to achieve.

To give a little background, I worked at the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists as a press officer and social media manager for over a year after I left university. I then went on to run the social media accounts for Freda, a sustainable period products brand that helps reduce period poverty here in the UK with every purchase. So, I know a thing or two about periods and the taboos that surround them, but for some reason have never spoken about it openly. Many thanks to Renee Mcgregor, a sports dietician specialising in overtraining and athlete health, for her help talking me through the complexities of the human body. Give her a follow, and check out her ebook for more information on this topic. 

Do periods affect training?

Historically, scientific research on women has been limited, thanks in no small part to the fact that periods are considered a ‘confounding factor’ when it comes to medical trials. In addition, the difficulty of finding a large enough cohort of people whose cycles match up adds an extra layer of complexity in organising scientific trials, limiting the number that have been carried out. However, more recently there have been several studies that show that changing hormones can affect both how we feel, as well as our performance. For years, scientists and coaches have worked on the assumption that biological females are essentially the same as males, just with different reproductive organs, but when it comes to training and the effect of hormones, we see that this isn’t true. 

Anyone who has periods will know how moods, energy and motivation vary throughout their cycle, although you might not know why this is. FitrWoman, an app designed to assist training planning around the menstrual cycle, explains how training can be affected by fluctuating hormones throughout the four-phase cycle. It is important to remember that while the average length of a cycle is 28 days, for someone else it may be more or less – what is important is knowing what is normal for you. 

“Starting with periods (phase 1), this is when women can experience a high amount of symptoms (e.g. back pain, cramps, fatigue) which can impact how you are feeling and therefore may impact exercise training/performance. Anecdotally, lots of the sportswomen we come across also cite that heavy bleeding has either caused them to change the way their train or miss training altogether, so this is definitely something key that we want to address. Things like moon cups can be game changers for some, and really heavy bleeders may want to be referred to a gynaecologist.

“After menstruation, levels of the sex hormones oestrogen start to increase (in Phase 2), and this can often be a good time to progress in training and just crack on. There is a little evidence to suggest that you can actually capitalise on strength training a bit more in this phase, likely due to the effect that oestrogen has on muscle anabolism/muscle protein synthesis.

“Oestrogen levels rise to a peak just before ovulation, and then progesterone levels start to increase (in Phase 3). Both of these hormones travel in the circulation and therefore can affect many physiological systems, not just the reproductive system. Progesterone often causes a small increase (by about 0.3-0.5 degrees C) in core body temperature and may cause an elevated heart rate, both which may affect exercise in the heat. Phase 3 can also be when sleep disturbances occur, and so without the right strategies in place, this can affect training. 

“Towards the end of Phase 3, and in Phase 4, pre-menstrual symptoms are likely to occur, and this is where a lot of our work with our Female Athlete Programme is focused on. Whilst there is little evidence that exercise performance is affected by menstrual cycle phase, this is with a slight caveat of: ‘given that symptoms are managed’. Research has found that many active women say their menstrual cycle has negatively impacted their performance, and it is often during this phase. The sharp drop in oestrogen and progesterone concentrations could result in delayed recovery, increased cravings, increased fatigue, pain, mood swings and poor motivation through a multitude of mechanisms. However, it’s not all doom and gloom! It’s just about learning what your individual menstrual cycle means for you and being savvy about how to manage any symptoms you experience”. 

Esther Goldsmith, sports scientist at FitrWoman
How hormones fluctuate during a standard 28 day cycle

All this to say: where you are in your cycle really can affect how you feel during training, but provided it’s not too hot, and provided you are able to manage symptoms, there’s little reason why your overall performance would be affected by your cycle. Having said that, it is important to note that if you are struggling, it might be worth switching round your routine in order to capitalise on days that you feel stronger. Tracking your cycle might help explain days where effort felt higher, or days you really aced training. I generally think that if I can workout on a day where I feel very ‘meh’, I can workout any day, and it’ll feel so much easier!  It is important not to beat yourself up for a ‘bad’ training session – every session serves a purpose – and while your cycle may not be an excuse for a bad session, it may well be a reason. 

Should you exercise on your period?

We are all unique, and as with so many health-focussed topics, the answer to this depends on personal preference and how you feel, as mentioned above. For many people, exercising during their period alleviates symptoms such as cramps and low moods, meaning that training is a great way to manage these things. For others, however, training can feel impossible, or at least immensely unpleasant. Dr Vanessa Mackay, spokesperson for the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, recommends attempting light exercise during your period. 

“Women may not feel like exercising during a painful period, but keeping active can help relieve period pain and discomfort. Woman are encouraged to try low impact exercises such as swimming, walking or cycling.

“Exercise can also help to regulate menstruation. If women are stressed, their menstrual cycle can become longer or shorter, their periods may stop altogether, or they might become more painful.  Regular exercise, such as running, swimming and yoga, can help women to relax.

“If women experience severe period pain, or their normal pattern of periods change, they should speak to their GP.”

What’s important to note is that while it may assumed to be ‘normal’, being bedbound during your period is not something you should just ‘have to live with’, and if you are experiencing extreme discomfort and pain, you should visit a gynaecologist or doctor. Sadly, understanding around these issues is still pretty poor – it takes on average 7.5 years for someone to be diagnosed with endometriosis, for example – but if you feel something is wrong, please insist on seeing your doctor and getting a diagnosis. Similarly, if your normal pattern changes, e.g. you experience very heavy bleeding suddenly or lots of pain, speak to your GP, or even better a gynaecologist or endocrinologist. You should not have to suffer in silence. 

Fuelling also may need to change around your cycle, especially in endurance sports. As hormones fluctuate, the need for protein and carbohydrates varies, as well as micronutrients, such as iron. Iron is especially important during and after your period, as iron is lost when you bleed. During phase 1 and 2 (the first half of your cycle), more carbohydrates are required, as the body is burning more fat. This is especially important in endurance training, and long fasted sessions should be avoided, as they place unnecessary stress on the body. During the second half of the cycle (phases 3 and 4), progesterone levels are higher, as is the BMR (basal metabolic rate), meaning that cravings are higher, but also that the body really does need more food. Energy expenditure can increase by 2-11% during this half. Here you should consume more healthy fats and have a regular intake of protein. A general rule of thumb is to make sure you’re getting in enough carbohydrates, have a regular intake of protein and listen to your body – it may be telling you exactly what you need! 

For what it’s worth, I do not consciously change my exercise routine around my period. However, I do experience very low energy at certain times of the month (not every month – I’m still trying to figure out when, exactly) and often change around my routine to allow for extra food and rest on these days. I would never head out for a long run on a day when I feel exhausted to the point of needing a midday nap, and might instead take a walk or fit in a stretching session (both of which are useful parts of training, just less intense). Having said that, I also find a short (5-8k) run helps with PMS symptoms more than anything else, including painkillers! They’re definitely not my best runs, but for cramps and low mood, nothing beats an easy run for me.

TL;DR

  • Your hormones may affect perceived effort in training depending at the point you are in your cycle, especially in endurance training and in the heat.
  • Every woman is different: while some may feel no change, others may experience severe symptoms that affect how they are able to train each month. If you feel unable to complete normal tasks, consider visiting an endocrinologist or gynaecologist.  
  • Low intensity exercise may help reduce pre-menstrual symptoms and regular exercise is recommended to keep the body healthy. 
  • Your hormones can be capitalised upon to make the most out of your training – it’s not all bad news! Some parts of the cycle may be better for muscle growth, and training when you don’t feel your best can make other training sessions and races feel that much easier. 
  • Be kind to your body! Don’t beat yourself up about a bad training session. Ensure you are getting enough rest days and taking on enough fuel and you’ll be back on track in no time. 
  • Don’t forget that carbs are a necessary part of training, and especially required in the first half of your cycle. Make sure you have a good intake of protein and healthy fats. 
  • Periods and hormones are healthy. It is impossible to be optimal if these hormones are out of whack e.g. if you lose your period due to overtraining. More on this later!

I hope this helps you and answers some of your questions about training at different parts of the cycle. Many thanks to Fitr Women for explaining the different phases and how these may affect training. If you are not sure how your cycle affects you, it may be worth tracking it with an app or on your calendar. While it may not be an ‘excuse’, it can often be reassuring to know why a particular session felt so hard, and know the days you will be able to make the most out of your training. 

What I’ve learned from this research is that everyone is unique, and what works for one person may not work for another. However, it does seem to be the case that when everything is functioning well, the menstrual cycle can be beneficial for capitalising on training and optimising performance. It’s sad to see so many women experiencing debilitating symptoms every month and assuming this is normal. I hope this encourages more people to know what they are capable of, and others to seek help if they feel something is off. 

If you’d like to learn more about this topic, these podcasts were particularly helpful for me:

If you found this blog post useful, please do share with anyone who might find it useful. If you enjoy my posts regularly, please consider contributing so I can keep this page up and running (no pun intended).

How heat affects your training

As summer kicks into full force here in the UK, I see more and more comments about how heat is affecting training – both from others and myself! Running in the heat is hard, as is doing any form of exercise that raises your temperature. Our bodies work hard to maintain a stable internal environment and when that’s put under pressure, it has to work even harder to keep everything steady. If you learned about homeostasis at school you’ll know all about this!

The ideal temperature for endurance running is 9.5 – 11 degrees C (50F, with women preferring the upper end of this). For sprints, however, the optimum temperature is around 22 degrees C (72F), showing that the best temperature for training depends on what you’re doing, as well as personal preference. However, there are numerous benefits to training in the heat, not to mention it’s fun to get out on a sunny day! So long as certain precautions are taken, there’s no reason hot days shouldn’t be enjoyed just like any other.

Make sure you plan long, hot runs and are kitted out appropriately! Check out this vlog for an introduction to trail running.

What happens to your body when you train in the heat?

To compensate for the warming temperates created from exercise, your body sends more blood to the skin, allow heat to be lost via convection, radiation and evaporation. The warmer and more humid the external environment, the harder it is for heat to dissipate quickly, meaning you’ll cool down more slowly.

There are many physiological changes that occur to keep you cool, but after a point they may not be able to keep up. If your body gets too hot, it starts to rebel, telling you to slow down, drink, maybe even have a sit down. The first symptoms of heat exhaustion are dizziness, nausea, headache, extreme fatigue, cramps and mild confusion. Pushing through exhaustion can lead eventually to heat stroke, with the result being damage to vital organs as the body’s internal thermostat goes out of whack. It’s advisable to slow down long before this point, and planning your nutrition and hydration can stave off heat exhaustion for a long time.

Humid weather reduces the speed at which your body can cool down, meaning that even relatively cool temperatures can become exhausting.

How to train in the heat

It takes our bodies one to two weeks to adapt to training in the heat, which is why training can be especially hard at the start of summer – as soon as you get used to running at one temperature, it gets hotter again! In addition, beginner runners and people new to exercise will be less optimised to cool down quickly – the more you exercise, the more efficiently your body learns to cool. Hence very fit people may sweat more, and less fit people may need to take it easier on hot days! There are, however, certain things you can do to still make the most of hot days, and make sure you’re keeping safe when you train.

  • Avoid training in the hottest part of the day. Aim for early morning for the best temperatures (there’s also nothing nicer than a run at the start of a glorious summer’s day!).
  • Replace lost electrolytes (salts) with dietary salt or an electrolyte drink/rehydration salts.
  • Make sure you are hydrated well before heading out on a run or to the gym. This doesn’t necessarily mean glugging 2L of water before heading out, but make sure you’re hydrated the night before and morning of a big run or training session. If you’re working out for a long time, take water with you.
  • Wear sunglasses, a cap and light clothing to reduce the effect of the sun when outside. Always wear sweat-proof suncream.
  • Take it easy. As you acclimatise, your training sessions will get easier, but while you’re adapting, train by effort, not data. This means you may be running slower, shorter and lifting lighter with fewer reps, but that’s ok! The effort you expend is the same, and it’ll leave you a better athlete.
  • Avoid training on the hottest days if you’re concerned. It is possible to plan training days around the weather – I often do this to avoid rainy or extremely hot days, and train either side of those days.

The more you train in the heat, the more tolerant you will be to it. Stick it out, knowing that your runs/workouts may be compromised in the meantime, and within a week or two you’ll be amazed how normal it feels. Think of it as training adaptation – in the same way that training stresses out the body to make it more adapted, heat does the same. So long as you’re being sensible with hydration and your goals, there’s no reason not to train on hotter days. It’s just up to personal preference!

If you enjoyed this post, please consider contributing so I can create more. Feel free to suggest more topics while you’re at it!

Should you workout twice a day?

A recent UK announcement clarified that people would be allowed to workout an ‘unlimited amount’ outdoors as part of the gradual easing process of lockdown. Whether you agree or not that this should be allowed or encouraged, it’s led to a spike in articles preaching the benefits of working out twice a day.

For the vast majority of the population, however, working out two times a week would be more than their usual. Is promoting double-days sensible, and is it a tactic that could work for many? Here are some of the pros and cons of working out twice a day.

Pros

  • Double workouts can allow you to fit in more ‘accessory’ workouts, strength and conditioning and physio sessions, reducing imbalances and weaknesses. Some people feel they don’t have time for these if they’re aiming to train 5 days a week and fit in sufficient rest days. Doubling up means you can do an intense session in the morning and a low intensity stretching or physio session in the afternoon.
  • Doubling up but doing the same number of workouts per week can mean that you allow yourself more rest days. Rather than working out 5h a week over 5 days, you can do 2 double days and a single day in just 3 days, thereby allowing yourself 4 rest days a week. You will need them!
  • Splitting a session in two and doing half in the morning and half in the afternoon means you’re able to do each part of the session with more intensity, as you’re better rested for the second half.
  • Splitting a session in two can also allow you to fit it in on a busy day. 30 minutes in the morning and 30 minutes after work in the afternoon is sometimes easier than an hour all at once.
  • Working out twice a day reduces your sedentary time. We know that sitting for long periods of the day can be incredibly detrimental to our health, so even fitting in a short workout morning and evening can mean moving more overall.

Cons

  • Even splitting the same workout in two can lead to injury or overtraining, as you’re working already fatigued muscles. If you’re not used to training a lot, working out twice a day will take its toll.
  • Overtraining compromises your immunity, leaving you more vulnerable to even small illnesses. 72 hours after a long run, your immunity is reduced. For obvious reasons, this is especially problematic now. Doubling up leads to a greater likelihood of overtraining, if not done correctly.
  • Workouts lead to micro tears in our muscles. Doubling up workouts can mean that these tears are not given sufficient time to repair, potentially leading to injury.
  • Running has such a high injury rate that all runners are advised to increase mileage and intensity slowly. Doubling up can mean that it is possible to do more mileage, quicker, leading to common injuries such as shin splints, ITBS, plantar fasciitis and tendonitis.
  • It can be hard enough to convince yourself to get out once a day. By trying to force yourself to head out twice a day you can take all the fun out of exercise.
  • Doubling up is unsustainable for many. Overdo it and you may need to take off significant amounts of time, reducing any benefits you get from your double days.

 

In my opinion, there are more downsides to working out twice a day than there are positives, for the vast majority of people. I have been receiving a record number of messages about people picking up injuries from suddenly increasing the amount they are running, or starting new training programmes without a strong baseline of fitness.

Of course, there will be people who thrive off doubling up workout sessions, especially those who do so with the help of a coach, or who are already experienced in their sport. With proper planning, double days can allow for longer periods of rest between workouts, aiding recovery. They may also help people fit in enough strength and conditioning sessions that they could not otherwise, whilst also fitting in rest days.

The best way to be able to gain all the benefits of working out, even getting fitter during lockdown is to work on one thing at once. If you’ve taken up running, don’t increase intensity and distance in the same week. Your mileage should increase by no more than 10% week on week to avoid injury, but if you do your longest run one week, don’t also start adding in sprints or intervals sessions in the same week, or even the week after. Most of the sessions we do should be at moderate intensity – we do not always need to be pushing the boundaries of our ability. Be kind to yourself – this is a tough time for all and putting your body under extra physical pressure may cause you to reach breaking point.

Perhaps you want to start taking advantage of double days because you’re lacking time or want more rest days. That’s absolutely fine – maybe just try one double day a week (thereby taking one extra rest day too) and see how you get on. Take it easy and remember that recovery (and food) is as important as the session itself!

TL;DR

  • While exercise can improve mood, fitness and your immune response, too much exercise can have exactly the opposite effect.
  • If you are not a professional athlete or highly experienced with a well thought-out training plan, double days are probably going to increase your risk of fatigue, injury and may dampen your immune system.
  • Provided you are not doing more workouts per week, double days can be effective when linking together a S&C session/physio session and a short run.
  • As ever, stick to the 10% rule. If you’re a runner, increase your weekly mileage by no more than 10% per week. Any more than this increases your risk of injury, even (or especially) when taking on double days.
  • Overtraining often takes several weeks to take its toll, so watch out for signs of it, and read this blog post to know when you may have pushed it too far.
  • Listen to your body! If your workout doesn’t perk you up and you feel constantly fatigued, take an extra rest day. Yes, we have a lot of time at the moment and exercising can feel like a welcome break, but the consequences of overdoing it can be serious and long-lasting. Be sensible!

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Shin Splints – what are they?

With so many people taking up running since lockdown, the number of physio-related questions I receive over on my Instagram has increased exponentially. One of the most common questions I’m asked (at least once a day at the moment) is how to cope with shin splints, an issue common with runners, especially those increasing the amount of running they are doing too quickly.

As someone who isn’t a physio, I never feel comfortable answering these questions (aside from giving personal advice and opinions on injuries I’ve personally experienced), so instead have asked my physio Zoe from Physio Motion to write something to help you all out. I understand that not everyone can afford/has access to a physio, so I hope this helps! That being said, if you continue to struggle with injury even after rest and rehab, I would really recommend getting in touch with a physio to ensure you’re treating the right issue, and that the problem isn’t something bigger.

Without further ado, onto Zoe! If you enjoyed this post, please do share and tag @physiomotionlimited and @foodfitnessflora so we can see 🙂

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Zoe and me on a run in Hyde park

What are shin splints?

Shin splints is a generic term that describes any disorder that causes shin pain.  This historically would be called medial tibial stress syndrome.

It is typically found as pain along the shin bone (anterior tibia), which will settle with rest but will reappear when you start running again and at worse when walking.

With all of these conditions that cause shin pain, it is typically due to repetitive strain injury that is common in runners when they are starting to run or suddenly increase their amount of running.

The characteristics of shin splints can also be an identification of different conditions.

 

What other conditions can have shin splint characteristics?

It is important to know that it could also be due to tibial stress fracture (break within the bone that doesn’t move) or compartment syndrome (high pressure within the muscle caused by swelling).

 

How can I distinguish between these conditions?

If it is true shin splints, the pain will subside with rest and slowly build up again if not managed adequately. Also, people that have just started running will notice that the pain improves over time as your legs get used to the new loads being put upon them.

With stress fractures and compartment syndrome, however, the pain is persistent or can get progressively worse.  If your pain does get progressively worse, it is a good idea to seek medical advice and investigations in order to rule out a stress fracture or compartment syndrome.

 

Why have I got shin splints?

The main cause for shin pain is the load that you are putting through the lower half of your leg when running, and that you do not have the capacity to manage these loads.  This could be due to increasing your training too quickly; increasing the running speed; or inadequate rest periods between your runs and other training.

There is no evidence that a certain type of running footwear will stop you getting shin splints, but if you have been using the same trainers for many years and they are hanging off your feet it might be an idea to treat yourself to a new pair.

 

Do I need to stop running?

For most people you can continue running, but you need to return to running a distance, speed and frequency that previously did not cause you problems. 

If you are new to running then it might be better to start with slow interval running (run walk, or run stop run) and build up the duration that you are running in each interval before continuously running. 

If you are still getting pain then it maybe necessary to stop running for a short period and swim or cycle instead for this period in order to maintain cardiovascular capacity. 

 

What can I do to help with my shin splints?

As shin pain is due to overloading the legs, you need to make sure that the legs are strong enough to absorb running forces.  Therefore, you need to have a strengthening regime to ensure adequate strength in your calf complex, but it is also important to increase the strength in your gluteals and thigh muscles.

We would recommend exercises such as calf raises, slow step ups and bridges, athough we always assess our patients for areas of weakness in the lower limb and tailor a programme to their needs.

Due to the shin pain you can get a secondary response of tightness in the calf.  You can stretch this out, but it will only provide you with temporary short term relief until you start walking and/or running again.  It is more important that you make sure you find out what is causing your shin pain in the first place. Failure to do so could result in a stress fracture or compartment syndrome.

 

What can I do to prevent reoccurrence of shin splints?

When the pain has completely disappeared at the running mileage that is comfortable or after a period of rest, you need to think about how you progress your running programme. Typically coaches recommend 10% increases, but something to remember is that this doesn’t have to be every week and also every run doesn’t have to be to your maximal capacity.

It is also important to have strength and conditioning days, and recovery days in your training regime.

As shin splints are now categorised as a bone stress response, it maybe worthwhile looking at whether your vitamin D and calcium intake is adequate for bone recovery, especially when you start running during the winter or at the start of the spring, when it is shown that vitamin D especially is low for us Brits!

 

How long will it take me to recover from shin splints?

It can take between 6 weeks and 6 months to make a full recovery from shin splints depending on the severity of the condition.  So it is important to be patient and consistent with your treatment and advice given.

 

If you’re currently experiencing injuries, you may find this Q&A vlog with Zoe interesting, as well as this chat with my coach, where we cover running injuries and the importance of recovery, especially in such a stressful time. 

 

References:

 1. Heiderscheit, B. C.; Chumanov, E. S.; Michalski, M. P.; Wille, C. M.; Ryan, M. B., Effects of Step Rate Manipulation on Joint Mechanics during Running. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise 2011, 43 (2), 296-302.

2. Bennell, K. L.; Malcolm, S. S.; Thomas, S. A.; Reid, S. J.; Brukner, P.; Ebeling, P. R.; Wark, J. D., Risk factors for stress fracture in track and field athletes: a twelve-month prospective study. American Journal of Sports Medicine24 1996, 6 (810-818).

3. Madeley, L. T.; Munteanu, S. E.; Bonanno, D. R., Endurance of the ankle joint plantar flexor muscles in athletes with medial tibial stress syndrome: A case-control study. Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport 2007, 10 (6), 356-362.

4.. Lappe, J.; Cullen, D.; Haynatzki, G.; Recker, R.; Ahlf, R.; Thompson, K., Calcium and vitamin d supplementation decreases incidence of stress fractures in female navy recruits. Journal of Bone and Mineral Research 2008, 23 (5), 741-749.

 

Eco friendly workout mats

As all of us are working out at home more and more, home equipment has become a bit of a hot commodity, with shops selling out of all their weights, resistance bands, treadmills etc. Whether you’re doing more HIIT, yoga or simple stretches after a run, a yoga mat is key for making the whole experience more comfortable. Standard PVC mats are practical and cheap, but often not great quality, and use non-renewable resources to make. When they break, there is no way of disposing of them in an eco-friendly way, with the vast majority making their way to landfill, or being incinerated instead, releasing dangerous toxins when they are.

Thankfully, many brands are taking more care to use natural materials that can decompose, or are made of recycled materials, reducing the need for virgin plastics. Here are some of my favourite!

At the time of writing, all of these are in stock!! 

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Liforme – £95

A well known brand, Liforme offers really grippy mats, etched with lined to help you align your poses in yoga, or know where you are on the mat. The brand supports numerous charities too, including Friends of the Earth (environmental conservation), the RSPCA (animal welfare) and Yoga Gives Back (fighting poverty in India). Currently they are also raising money for the COVID 19 Solidarity Response Fund. Their mats are fully biodegradable and have recyclable plastic-free packaging. Their travel mat is more affordable and transportable than their full-sizes mats.

Form – £79/£50

This UK based, carbon-negative brand produces a plethora of beautiful mats made from recycled tree rubber and recycled plastic bottles. At the end of their life, the mats are fully biodegradable, except parts of some of the mats, which are recyclable. Their circular mats are extremely popular, and you can preorder these for the 18th May. However, their Marble travel mat is both in stock, and gives back – £10 from every sale goes to The Ocean Cleanup

Cork Yogi – £85

This rubber mat topped with cork is both incredibly padded and good for the environment. The cork is sustainably sourced, and its natural properties mean it is anti-microbial and becomes grippier with sweat, perfect for intense workouts and hot yoga. A portion of the profits of CorkYogis goes back to Destiny Reflection Foundation allowing them to train and give work to survivors of human trafficking and slavery. You can buy their Premium Yogi mat here.

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Yoga with kids! It is safe to let your toddler roll around on the mat, because cork mats are antimicrobial and all natural. And after they have done their rolling around the cork is a perfect material for yoga as it increases the grip when moist. Thank you for the image @rebecca_thelonemark Bring your practice to the next level with a cork mat today, the link for ordering in the bio. . . . . #cork #corkyogamat #sustainable #naturelover #girlpower #womensrights #yogaeverydamnday #yogamats #yoga #nature #yogalondon #yogauk #motivation #yogalover #yogadaily #yogaeverywhere #namaste #goodmorning #corkyogislondon #natural #sustainablebusiness #iloveyoga #yogini #strongwomen #yogawithkids #teachthemyoung

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Yogi Bare – £68

Yogi Bare produced sustainable rubber mats that are 100% vegan and cruelty free, with 100% recyclable packaging. Although they are created in Hong Kong, they freight by ship rather than air, reducing emissions. You can buy their extreme grip mat here.

 

Manduka – €75

Manduka is a well known brand in the yoga community, but works well for workouts too. Their eKO mats use sustainably sourced rubber and only non-toxic chemicals in the manufacturing process. They have multiple thicknesses, but their 4mm Lite mat gets the best of all worlds. They also have an Almost Perfect collection of reduced mats that were produced with slight imperfections.

EcoYoga – £45

This ecofriedly mat is made of jute and natural rubber, making is biodegradable, compostable and grippy. They’re also designed and handmade in the UK, so you won’t be getting any air-miles if you order this. They’re out of stock in many places but I found one here.

 

Planet Warrior – £50

This natural rubber yoga mat is perfect if you’re looking for a pattered addition to your yoga flow or workout. It’s beautifully painted with water based inks and perfectly grippy thanks to the rubber base. The top is lined with microfibre to make it as soft as possible. When delivered, it comes in recycled and recyclable cardboard and paper, with no plastic tags. You can buy it here.

Daway – £47.90

PVC and made using only non-toxic methods, this mat is perfect if you’re looking for a bargain. Some of the reviews however say that it gets a little slippery in hot weather, and you can expect some curling at the end if left rolled for extended periods of time. However, if you’re looking for a less-expensive thick mat, this one comes in at 6mm, far thicker than the standard 3-4mm you would usually get. You can buy it here.

Good luck with your training or practice, I hope it brings you a lot of happiness in this strange time!

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Struggling with your runs? Here’s why you shouldn’t worry

One of the most common questions I get asked on social media nowadays is ‘does it get easier?!’ – usually in reference to running. Running is difficult for the vast majority of people. It requires not only physical strength, but also huge amounts of mental strength, never more so than when you’re just starting out.

Evidence suggests that self control and self motivation may be limited resources, and that forcing yourself to do something – whether that’s doing the washing up, sitting at your desk all day or sending yourself out on a run – takes energy (i.e. ego depletion). This is one of the reasons why forming a new habit, such as running, can be so difficult. Not only is the running itself hard, but doing something that takes some level of self control everyday can take its toll energetically.

However, we are currently uniquely placed to start forming new habits. Fitting in ‘extra exercise’ around your usual workload, home and social lives can be extremely difficult. Currently, though, without the need for commuting, socialising, workplace politics or much else, our pot of energy is only being used on work, home life and exercise. This isn’t to say that everything is fine and dandy at the moment, simply that forming a new habit when there aren’t all the usual distractions and displacement activities may be easier. If you’re thinking of starting running now, don’t forget to give this article a read.

Just remember – not every run is going to feel great, even if the general trend is up. As with everything, some days are good days and other days aren’t – we don’t always feel happy, so why should it be any different for running? I frequently go weeks without feeling like I’ve had a good run, where every step feels like my legs are made from lead and I wonder why I do it. In these times, however, I always think of myself building mental resilience. I may not be at my fastest, but getting out when you feel like you really don’t want to means that getting out on the good days is a hell of a lot easier. I think of it as the running equivalent of ‘character building’.

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The many stages of running a half marathon personal best –> swipe for more fun 😅 . After my LLHM race was cancelled, I was pretty upset. I know I can run the distance, but it would have been the first time running it in a race, and I felt as prepared as I ever have for a race (not saying much, I always feel unprepared 🙈). But, I thought why stop training now, only 3 weeks out from the run? Why 'waste' a time trial effort at peak fitness? 🤷🏼‍♀️ So I kept training and today I "raced" my 21km. . I was bloody delighted (and a little bit surprised) to get a time of 1.43.11 – with my goal time of 1h50 and ultimate goal of 1h45, I never expected to dip below this, but shows what taking the pressure off and resting up can do! 🤗 Huge shoutout to @thewellbeingceo for coaching me and @fms.fossils for filming the run for YouTube! #halfmarathon #marathontraining #llhm2020 #locallandmarks #raceday

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So here are my top experiences of how it really does get easier:

  1. You start to form a habit.

Making the decision to get out everyday takes energy, but the more you do it, the less of a ‘mental battle’ you have to have each time. Yes, the initial 2 weeks or month or 2 months can be difficult. Hell, I still struggle to get myself out the door sometimes, but exercise is not a question for me – it’s a habit, so whether I go to the gym (obviously not now), get out for a run or simply a long walk, the question is not whether I get out, it’s when. If you’re new to running, form a habit by getting a running plan and do your best to stick to it. Don’t want to go out? Tell yourself that you can stop whenever you like, as long as you get out the door and to the end of the road. Chances are, once you’re up and out, you’ll be fine to keep going.

2. You get fitter

This sounds so obvious, but I think it’s easy to overlook your progress when you have a goal in mind that you haven’t hit yet. Try tracking your progress loosely, so that when you get the feeling you’re not progressing at all, you can look back and see how far you’ve come. Don’t forget – every time you go out for a run, you’re making mental and physical improvements, even if you can’t see them yet. One day they’ll all come together and you’ll feel on top of the world.

3. Running becomes more natural

When I take a few weeks off running for whatever reason, or forget to do speed sessions, my runs sometimes feel like my legs have forgotten what they’re supposed to do! The more you run (up to a point), the more natural running will become to you. It would be useful if we could all work with running coaches to get cadence and form right, but even without this, your body will naturally move towards a more efficient way of running. You probably won’t notice this all at once, but over time you’ll feel it happening!

4. A sense of achievement will motivate you

As you start to improve, especially if you’re following a plan, you’ll be motivated by the improvement itself. Being able to run a distance or time you couldn’t have run 2 or 3 weeks ago feels pretty great, and will motivate you to get out the door again and again. Just don’t expect constant improvements – limit your expectations and try to enjoy the process, not just the outcome.

5. Find your ‘why’

Without spring or summer races to motivate you, it can be hard to think of reasons to keep up with all the running. Why should you, when there’s no official PB time or medal at the end? Well, although it may be tough, this time is perfect to remember why you started running in the first place. Write down your reasons and think on them. Have they changed? What drives you? Remembering this can help you get out the door, and make future training sessions that extra bit enjoyable.

6. You can switch off

One of the positives of not having races to aim for at the moment is that training sessions don’t have to be so rigid. Instead of X minute miles or weekly fartlek sessions, you can run for the sheer joy of it. Remember point number 5, take off your GPS watch and just get out there. Our level of effort is almost always measured against what we feel we ‘should’ be doing. That’s why runs on days we’re really not feeling it can seem so hard – we’re expecting a certain level of effort to be expended to get a certain pace, and if we don’t hit that, it’s easy to feel down. By taking off your watch and abandoning all perceptions of ‘should’, it’s possible to have some of the best runs of your life.

 

This time is difficult for all of us for numerous reasons, but don’t make running one of them. Running is an escape and can lead to a sense of achievement nothing else can right now. There is no ‘should’ when it comes to training at the moment. Do what feels right, what feels good and what will make you happy in the long run. Running gets easier the more you do it, but it also makes other things easier, so get out there if you can and enjoy it!

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20km in the bag! I had planned to 'race's my half (originally LLHM) next weekend, but since there is not a meter of flat ground anywhere near where I'm staying, I've decided that instead, it'll just be a 'time trial' style run, not a pb attempt. That means that today, I was allowed to have fun! 😍 We didnt mean to do 20km tbf, but we headed inland rather than to the coast to avoid flocks of people (and saw no one) and obviously got a little lost, but discovered some cool paths along the way 🤗 The run left me feeling positive and ready to sit down for a very long time 🤣 Did you manage to get out today or move your body at home? #longrun #sundayrunday #dorset #marathontraining #halfmarathon

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10 Amazing Adventure Documentaries

With many countries around the world going into near-total lockdown, it’s fair to say that there are millions of people needing an adventure fix, who will be unable to get one for the foreseeable future. The day I decided to quarantine myself (6 days before the government officially recommended it), I was due to go to Banff Mountain Film Festival, showcasing some of the best documentaries about all things adventure. I’m obsessed with watching films like this – it’s easy to convince yourself you’re nearing the limit of your abilities, but watching what other people have achieved over the years really breaks down any concept of ‘I can’t’.

Not being able to get into the great outdoors all the time doesn’t dampen my desire to experience it, so I thought I’d compile a list of some of my favourites adventure (especially running) documentaries to keep you in the zone until we’re allowed on our adventures again. Don’t forget – just because you can’t leave the house, it doesn’t mean you have to lose all inspiration.

 

Unbreakable: The Western States 100 Feature Film
Unbreakable: The Western States 100 follows the four lead men on their journey through the Western States 100, one of the hardest ultramarathons in the world. It’s an old ‘un but a good ‘un. This film is now available for free on YouTube, so make the most of it!

 

Free Solo
This documentary was released in 2018, and profiles American rock climber Alex Honnold as he attempts to scale El Capitan without any ropes. It is no frills, for the love of it sport at its best. Would thoroughly recommend.

 

Icarus
Less about adventure, and more about what happens when you put money and national pride above the pure nature of sport, this Oscar-winning documentary delves into Russia’s doping scandal entirely by accident. It’s a thrilling watch, although makes you question all professional sport a little.

 

Tom Evans: Zero to 100
Uploaded a mere 2 weeks ago, this documentary follows British ultra runner Tom Evans as he prepares for and runs his first Western States 100. Tom only started competing in running seriously 2 years ago, making all of his running feats quite extraordinary. This is only a short documentary, which you can watch for free on YouTube, but I have no doubt we’ll be seeing plenty more of Tom in films to come.

 

Losing Sight of Shore
Rather than beating records, when these four women set out to row across the Pacific, they will be the first to ever set the record of the 8500 mile, 9 month journey. I’ve not yet watched this, but it has been recommended multiple times, so I’ve added it to the Netflix watch list!

 

Found on the 49
If you can’t get enough of the Western States 100 (I’m pretty sure I know each aid station and the rough course by now!), give this 49 minute documentary a watch. This film follows the story of Jim Walmsley’s first 100 miler at the 2016 Western States 100 mile endurance run. The filmmakers follow Jim a few weeks out from race day through his historic day ahead of course record splits and the dramatic conclusion of being lost on highway 49.

 

Paul Tierney: Running the Wainwrights
Another great British athlete on another great adventure. This film is so perfect because of how humble and down to earth Paul is. This documentary came out late February this year and has already made a mark. It is tough racing in races such as the WS 100, but aiming to beat a record without having others to race against requires a huge amount of mental strength. Give it a watch and add the Lake District to your running holiday list post-quarantine!

 

Finding Traction
I’ve not actually watched this one, but after watching the trailer I’ve added it to my list! Women and men are equally matched at ultra endurance races, and yet so many films seem to be about the men that take part. This documentary, however, follows ultrarunner Nikki Kimball as she attempts to beat the men’s record for the 243 mile Long Trail record in the US. Watch for free on YouTube.

 

Touching the Void
One to make you want to stay inside forever, Touching the Void tells the story of Simon Yates and Joe Simpson’s 1985 descent of Peru’s 21,00ft Siula Grande. I watched this at school in 2003 and it has stuck with me since – I have re-added it to my list. You can watch on YouTube for free in bad quality, or buy from Amazon Prime and other services. 

 

Where Dreams go to Die – Gary Robbins
I was going to put ‘The Barkley Marathons: The Race That Eats Its Young‘ documentary on here, but it’s been taken off Netflix, and I figured most of you would have seen it anyway. I did a panel talk last year with Eoin Keith, who broke his collarbone during his Barkley Marathon attempt, and decided that anyone who even thinks of partaking is officially mad. This documentary tracks Gary Robbins’ training and Barkley Marathon ‘attempts’ over 2 years – and is free to watch on YouTube!

 

I would love to hear of some of your favourite adventure films! We’re all in need of a bit of inspiration right now, so comment below or share with me on Instagram.

Compulsory race tees – time to get shirty?

One of the highlight of signing up to many races around the world is the free branded race t-shirt that you get as part of your entry. It’s a memory, something to be proud of, and really makes you feel like you’re getting the most out of your (often pretty expensive) race fee.

 

However, people are increasingly questioning the necessity of race tees at every single event. While for many it may be their first race, or a special occasion they want to remember, for so many others it is just another t-shirt that will never be worn, adding to the pile of other t-shirts from other races.

In terms of sustainability, having compulsory race tees is a big no-no. Often made from synthetic materials originating from non-renewable resources, each wash releases microfibres into our waterways, and the energy, manual labour and chemicals used to create each and every t-shirt contributes significantly to many of the challenges we face in reducing our environmental footprint. One polyester t-shirt emits 5.5kg carbon, and although cotton t-shirts are better in terms of emissions (2.1kg), they also require much more land and water, both precious commodities in the regions cotton is grown. If the fashion industry was a country, its emissions would rank almost as highly as the entirety of Europe – it is clear that we need to change the way in which we consume clothes.

So what can we do? Here are some options for what to do with when faced with an unwanted race t-shirt (or any other sports kit for that matter!).

Image above: some shocking statistics about our athleisure, taken from ReRun

 

Opt out of tshirts

Some races now have an option to opt out of t-shirts and other race peripherals. Think twice about whether you need another race t-shirt, or if a medal might be memory enough. Some people live for race tees, and if you know you’ll love and wear it, go for it! But if you don’t feel strongly about it either way, it might be best to opt out.

Trees not Tees

Some race entry forms do not allow you to sign up without choosing what sized t-shirt you want (whether you actually want it or not). Thankfully, a company called ‘Trees not Tees‘ works with race organisers to start providing the option “I don’t need another T-shirt – please plant a tree for me instead”.

Rather than the race spending money on a t-shirt that will never be used, the money instead goes towards planting a tree on a patch of land in Scotland, contributing to rewilding the area with native vegetation. If your race entry didn’t allow you to opt out of t-shirts, why not email hello@treesnottees.com to let them know. If you have an email contact for the race you’re signing up to, send that over too – the following year you could have contributed to the planting of thousands of trees!

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Trees not Tees are doing amazing things in the name of sustainability

ReRun

ReRun is a Community Interest Company dedicated to up-cycling and rebranding old (or even new) sportswear, selling them for a fraction of their original cost. Their goal is to raise awareness of the waste generated by buying new clothes, and to extend the life of all the clothes we have. Even just a few months of extra wear can reduce the waste footprint of each item. Clothes can be taken to specific drop-off locations around the UK before being sent where they are needed.

Even the most worn-out clothes are put to good use – un-sellable clothes are donated to refugee/homeless projects and the profits from all sales go back into the running community.

Too Many T-shirts 

If you would like to keep all your t-shirts (‘for the memz’), but know that you’re unlikely to wear them all, ingenious company ‘Too Many T-shirts‘ offers a service that sews them into a throw/blanket/duvet for you. This way, you have a functioning addition to your home (perfect for wrapping up in after a long run) and are able utilise and enjoy up to 40 t-shirts at once.

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Image courtesy of Too Many T-shirts

Wear before you race

In colder races, it is commonplace to wear and then discard items of clothing at the start line. This saves carrying around extra weight you don’t want, or arriving at the start line completely freezing (this brings back memories of Tokyo marathon, and it’s no fun). Thankfully, many races are now collecting discarded items and donating them to charities. If you like to do this, why not wear an unwanted race t-shirt to the start line before donating it – just double check they are donated rather than discarded at your particular race!

The Swap Box

This community project based in Cornwall aims to extend the life of pre-loved (or even unused) sportswear, allowing runners to donate their own clothes, and/or swap items with other local runners. Sadly this is only available in Cornwall (currently) – the shop pops up Penrose Parkrun every 3 Saturdays, and can be found at numerous other local events.

Runners Renew Programme

This isn’t strictly for t-shirts, but I thought I’d add it here as I get asked a lot what to do with old trainers. The Runner’s Renew Programme collects secondhand trainers (and other bits of kit) and donates them to women. This initiative also breaks down barriers for many women looking to get into running. Shoes and other sportswear can be expensive, so donations such as these can be invaluable to those in need. DM them on Instagram to get involved!

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Runner’s Renew providing some much needed trainers!

Freecycle/local charity shops

You’ve received your race tee and race pack at home, and want to ensure it doesn’t end up in your drawers, unused, but many people struggle to find the time to send off to the above initiatives. As a last option (and one that is significantly better than chucking your clothes, or having them sit unused), try putting up clean t-shirts on freecycle, a website that offers free items to anyone who is willing to collect them. This means that someone who is in need of a sports t-shirt can come and relieve you of your burden, and you are doing good in the process. An alternative to this is donating to your local charity shop.

 

I would love to know whether you opt in or out of race tees, and what you do with all the ones you have been given! I’m sure there are loads of other great initiatives out there, and if we all called for more responsibility from race organisers, the difference we could make to the sustainability of our sport would be immense.

 

Looking for more information on sustainability in the running community

Exhausted – The effect of air pollution on running

What is green energy and can it save the planet?

8 environmental influencers you should follow

 

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Exhausted – The effect of air pollution on running

It might be just me, but it seems that air pollution has risen on the agenda of Things To Worry About in the last few months. Plastic pollution was one of the key phrases within eco-conscious circles in 2019, with laws coming into place this year in a bid to control the problem. The term pollution, however, refers not only to plastic, but also the introduction of any contaminant into the environment which may cause harm. This can take the form of noise, light, chemicals or even heat – most of which we cannot see.

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Pollution is an issue in cities (and even many rural areas) around the world

Air pollution has a devastating impact on those living in the cities. While the pollution usually cannot be seen, the impacts are felt by all, with it shortening lives and contributing to a number of health problems. In the UK, pollution is a bigger killer than smoking, and costs the UK economy over £20bn per year. The biggest culprits are Nitrogen dioxide, emitted mainly by diesel vehicles, and PM2.5, fine particulate matter linked to adverse health effects. In the EU the toxic air is causing more than 1000 premature deaths each day from PM2.5– a figure which is 10 times higher than the number of deaths from traffic accidents.

Because of this invisible nature, it has been easy for people (and thus governments) to ignore the issue, focussing instead on highly visible, highly publicised issues and ‘buzzwords’, such as banning straws (good, but of limited benefit to the plastic pollution problem). However, in October 2019, it was announced that the UK would introduce an Environment Bill to “help ensure that we maintain and improve our environmental protections as we leave the EU”, including focussing on air quality and PM2.5 in particular.

For runners and cyclists, an immediate concern, however, is how we can actively work to improve our health (and continue doing what we love) without inadvertently harming ourselves.

Unfortunately, running in heavily polluted air has been linked to inflamed lungs, increased risk of asthma (I experienced this firsthand at the age of 18, when I moved to Paris), and instances of heart attack, stroke, cancer and death. Needless to say, these risk factors are enough to put people off, and encourage them to run on a treadmill (boring), or worse still, avoid exercising outdoors entirely. But is this entirely justified?

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Live pollution meter of London (18/02/2020 10am)

Even the scientists admit the problem is complex. Andrew Grieve, Senior Air Quality Analyst at King’s College London, says “when you’re running, you’re breathing a lot more than you are just walking along the street and your inhalation rate is massive so you’re bringing in more pollution.” In fact, someone running a marathon will inhale the same amount of oxygen as a normal person would sitting down over two days. Most people also tend to breathe through their mouths, bypassing the nasal filters, which can work to reduce pollution intake. The carbon monoxide alone can inhibit the body’s ability to transport oxygen around the body, thus making running that little bit harder too.

On the plus side, running is really good for you. Although I couldn’t find any studies looking directly at the effect of running in polluted areas (other than this, for elite athletes over marathon distance), a study on people walking in polluted areas up to 16h a day or cycling up to 3.5h per day suggested that the benefits of activity outweighed any harm from pollution in all but the most extreme of cases.

Conclusions

The benefits from active travel generally outweigh health risks from air pollution and therefore should be further encouraged. When weighing long-term health benefits from PA (physical activity) against possible risks from increased exposure to air pollution, our calculations show that promoting cycling and walking is justified in the vast majority of settings, and only in a small number of cities with the highest PM2.5concentration in the world cycling could lead to increase in risk. (Tainio, Marko, et al. “Can air pollution negate the health benefits of cycling and walking?.” Preventive medicine 87 (2016): 233-236.)

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Photo by James Purvis

However, there are things we could be doing to both decrease our risk of being negatively affected by air pollution, and also improve the air quality where we live.

  1. Choose lesser polluted routes when walking, running or cycling around cities. Choosing to walk or cycle on a quiet road instead of a busy one can sharply reduce the amount of pollution you take in. Even using a parallel road one block over from a traffic-clogged one can reduce your exposure by 50%. If you’re looking to run or cycle around London, consider downloading Clean Air Run Club on your phone to score routes by air quality.
  2. Run in the morning. Pollution increases throughout the day, especially in summer.
  3. Aim to find green spaces, or roads lined with trees – these are havens from pollution, and even a small amount of greenery between you and the traffic can dramatically reduce pollution levels!
  4. Take note of particularly bad air days using a live air quality monitor. These will often be on hot and humid days. If you can, avoid running/cycling outside on these days, perhaps getting in some cross training indoors, or a run on the treadmill.
  5. Take public transport. Although particulate pollution in tube lines is up to 30 times higher than roadside, Prof Frank Kelly, chair of Committee on the Medical Effects of Air Pollutants (COMEAP), said people should continue to use the tube given the relatively short time spent underground and lack of evidence of harmful effects. Using public transport also reduces fumes expelled by cars, cleaning the air above ground that we breathe for the rest of the day.
  6. Eliminate wood burners and fireplace usage. Wood fires are sold as ‘eco’ or ‘clean’ alternatives to electric heaters or gas fires, but are far from it, and are a big contributor to wintertime pollution across Britain. Reducing wood burning reduces deaths and pollution-related ill-health.
  7. Switch to clean energy sources and aim to conserve energy at home and work. By switching to a renewable energy that is generated by natural sources such as solar, water and wind, you can help to fight harmful levels of air pollution.
  8. Lobby governments. For real change to be seen, governments need to prioritise pollution and other environmental issues (which go hand in hand), and now is the time to pressure them.
  9. Stop driving (especially around urban areas) unless absolutely necessary. Although you may believe driving a car protects you from the worst of the fumes, pollution levels inside cars are usually significantly higher than directly outside the car on the street, due to exhaust fumes being circulated around the enclosed space.

The good news is that we know the impact of pollution and we know what we can do to reduce it. We also know that even small improvements have substantial and immediate benefits for us all. What is needed now is for global governments to step up and reassess funding priorities. Pollution is the biggest environmental health risk in Europe, and it’s time something was done about it.

 

This article was adapted from a piece I wrote for EcoAge. For more of a deep dive into the issue of pollution, head on over. 

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