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!

Common Running Nutrition Mistakes

This is a guest blog post by Renee McGregor, a dietitian who I look up to for evidence-based information, especially in regards to running and nutrition. 

Renee is a leading Sports and Eating disorder specialist dietitian with 20 years of experience working in clinical and performance nutrition. She’s worked with athletes across the globe including supporting Olympic (London, 2012), Paralympic (Rio, 2016) and Commonwealth (Queensland, 2018) teams. She is regularly asked to work directly with high performing and professional athletes that have developed a dysfunctional relationship with food that is impacting their performance, health and career. On top of this Renee is the founder of Enspire clinic, a centre specialising in supporting individuals and athletes of all levels and ages, coaches and sports science teams to provide nutritional strategies to enhance sports performance and manage eating disorders. This is reflected in her work on social media too, priding herself on proving an educational hub for both the professional and everyday athlete. When not inspiring others with her incredible work, Renee can be found running the mountains and chasing the trails, most likely training for a crazy ultra-marathon!

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Everyone has an opinion about nutrition – why shouldn’t they? After all, we all need food to survive. However, there is a difference between anecdotal nutrition advice and actual nutritional science. On social media we are exposed to the former a lot more than the latter. What works for one person in a sample of n=1, may not work for another. Just the other day I was on a group chat where someone very boldly stated that their new vegan regime was the cause of their newly found energy and improved recovery. However, this was based on subjective information, which they had collected over a few weeks. Is this science? No – this is one individual’s personal experience with no information of what her diet had been like previously or even if any other aspect of her life had also changed which may have resulted in how she was feeling. Presently there is no evidence in the literature to suggest that a plant-based diet can improve an individual’s performance – such anecdotal evidence could cause more harm than good.

Nutritional science, and particularly sports specific nutrition, is actually quite complex. While many simply look at the impact of one particular nutrient or process on performance, this completely ignores the fact that the human body is run on an intricate system of endocrine, biochemical, immunological, physiological and psychological pathways that all work collectively.

Let’s take the keto diet as an example. This was a huge trend a few years ago and many still promote it with the idea that if we remove carbohydrate from our diet, then our body will use more fat for fuel and improve our performance but also our body composition. While on the surface this may seem to have some gravitas – take out carbohydrate and the body will have to find another fuel source to provide the body with energy – what has been completely ignored is the importance of carbohydrate intake on the hypothalamic pituitary axis, which is necessary to get adaptation from a training response. In addition, carbohydrate has a critical role in optimising immune function in those who are physically very active.

So, with this all in mind, here are some of the common mistakes often made…

 

Carbohydrates

Numerous studies have demonstrated that carbohydrate is the preferred fuel used by the body and is definitely the key to optimal performance. That said, many runners still have little understanding of how much they actually need in order to meet their requirements with many under fuelling.

As stated above, carbohydrate availability is particularly key for the hormonal cascade needed in order to see adaptation and thus progression. This means ensuring sufficient carbohydrate before, during if your runs are over 90 minutes and within 30 minutes of completing your session. While everyone’s physiology is slightly different, as a rule of thumb the requirements set are 5g/Kg BW of carbohydrate if you are running for 60 minutes a day, with this figure increasing for longer or multiple training sessions. In general, I do not encourage fasted sessions and the recommendations state that if you are going to include these, you should not do more than 2 a week and they should be no longer thank 60 minutes, at an effort of no more than 6/10. More than this and at higher efforts, potentially can result in chromic stress on your body leading to a depressed immune system, higher risk of injury and down regulation of your hormones, particularly your thyroid gland, oestrogen and testosterone, leading to further negative health consequences.

In practise, if you are training regularly, it is unlikely that you will ever have full glycogen stores and so it is essential to ensure that you consume carbohydrate at meals and snacks throughout the day. Aim to include nutrient dense carbohydrates such as oats, potatoes, whole grains, fruit and yoghurts at 3 meals (about a 1/3 of your plate) as well as including 2-3 smaller carbohydrate based snacks such as bananas, cereal bars, 2 slices malt loaf or 2-3 oatcakes with peanut butter.

One common observation I have seen is that many people view vegetables as carbohydrate, often displacing these for pasta, grains, bread and potatoes. While vegetables play a role within our diet and should be included, they are predominantly fibre which means they add bulk to the diet but not essential carbohydrate fuel.

 

Protein

There is a lot of hype around protein in the recovery phase, with many runners stressing about not getting enough to enhance recovery. Protein does play a role in the response to training and should be included in addition to carbohydrate, particularly immediately after. The general recommendations are that a recovery meal/snack/choice should provide 1.2g/Kg BW carbohydrate and 0.4g/Kg BW protein. So for someone who is 55Kg this would be 66g of carbohydrate and 22g protein and looks like a medium size baked potato with a small tin of tuna.

It is important to appreciate that the body will struggle to utilise more than 0.4g/Kg BW post training for muscle protein synthesis and adaptation. Any additional protein consumed will be used as fuel or stored as excess. Therefore, it is actually really important to spread your protein requirements out throughout the day. Aim for palm size portion of protein at 3 meals and then half this amount for snacks. This will ensure that your body always has an amino acid pool to draw from in order to repair and rebuild muscles, throughout the day, as well as preventing blood sugar fluctuations.

 

Sugar

With so much negativity around sugar, it is hardly surprising that many runners are equally concerned about their intake. While I would never advocate a high sugar diet, there are definitely times during training and competing, where sugar is the only option. During endurance events, such as a half or full marathon, the body will need an easily digestible source of carbohydrate to keep stores topped up so that running pace can be maintained beyond 60-90 minutes. Gels, jelly babies, sports drinks are all suitable options and they all contain sugar. So in this case, sugar actually enables and potentially enhances your performance.

 

5 Nutrition Staples:

  • Don’t be drawn to the latest fad – many runners will try almost anything to improve their performance. Focus on training and getting the building blocks of your diet correct first – this is going to have more impact than whether you are gluten free or not.
  • After a very hard training session and especially when you will be training again within 12 hours, taking on something like flavoured milk is an ideal choice to start recovery as quickly as possible. The combination of added sugar to the natural milk sugar causes insulin to increase in the blood. Contrary to what you might think, this is actually really important. Only when our insulin levels are raised, can we draw carbohydrates and protein into the muscles to start the recovery process.
  • Always practise your race day nutrition – the worst mistake you can make is to use what is available on race day without previously having tried it –this could have real negative effects on your performance.
  • Work out what is right for you – just because your training partner swears by a bowl of porridge every morning, this does not necessarily mean this is the right fuel choice for you.
  • You don’t have to eat less on your rest day – for most this will fall between two training days so it is the perfect opportunity to recover and then refuel. By being consistent with your nutrition, you will also allow for consistency with your training which allows for progression.

 

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If you enjoyed this blog post, go and check out Renee on Instagram and share this post!

The benefits of interval training

In the lead up to my postponed half marathon and 10k races this year, my coach put me on a training plan that involved something I’d never done before off the track – interval training. In fact, two of my three planned running sessions a week were interval sessions, which baffled me at the time. Surely to get better at running longer distances I should be doing just that? But, trusting my coach, I went out and did the sessions (clocking less mileage than I thought I ‘should’ be doing) and the results spoke for themselves. At around the time I was supposed to run my races, I manage to get half marathon and 10k pbs in solo time trials. So it turns out intervals do work.

 

What is interval training?

An interval training workout or run involves periods of high intensity work alternated with periods of low intensity work, the recovery.

 

What are the benefits?

According to the NHS, the benefits gained from interval training are similar to those gained from longer, more moderate runs. These are numerous, and not limited to performance benefits – interval training could be better for your health, too.

  1. Intervals can improve your VO2 max (the amount of oxygen able to be utilised by your body, i.e. aerobic capacity) significantly, improving your efficiency as a runner. This will also mean your body is better at clearing lactic acid buildup – useful in your next race!
  2. Interval training can provide health benefits similar to doing up to twice as much more moderate training. These include lowering the risk of heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and some cancers.
  3. Variety builds strength. If you’re used to plodding around your same route at the same pace, incorporating intervals can quickly make you a better runner. It will challenge your cardiovascular system and muscles in new ways, triggering adaptations and improvements.
  4. When you learn how to run fast for extended periods of time through interval training, more moderately paced runs suddenly feel much slower. You’ll likely end up feeling more comfortable at a faster pace, and all your runs will end up faster.
  5. Although interval training is tough on the body, switching out a long run or two for interval training can reduce the risk of injury. Increasing mileage too quickly can lead to a greater risk of injury, so incorporating intervals sessions means you can gain the same benefits of long runs, but doing less overall mileage, thus reducing risk of injury.
  6. Enjoyment! There are several studies that suggest that runners, especially those just starting out, enjoy intervals sessions more than steady state running. If this means you’re more likely to get out and get a session done, this can also lead to greater performance benefits. Win win!
  7. Fat loss. Interval training of any kind can induce the ‘after-burn effect’, or EPOC (excess post-exercise oxygen consumption). This increases the amount of calories burned by your body after a session, even at rest. This can promote fat loss over time.
  8. Less stress. Long runs can actually increase your cortisol (stress hormone) levels for days afterwards, lowering the immune system temporarily. Interval sessions reduce cortisol levels, reducing the overall load and stress on the body each week. This, coupled with the endorphin hit of a good workout means you’ll likely leave each session smiling!
  9. Mental discipline. Running closer to your maximum pace is tough, both physically and mentally. However, if you’re looking to run faster overall, this mental strength will be needed in races. Training closer to threshold can prepare you for your races mentally as well as physically.
  10. For the benefits you get, interval training can take considerably less time than a steady run. Sure, the whole thing is more painful, but when you only have to endure it for 20 or 30 minutes, how bad can it be? This leaves more time for other things you want to do.

 

How do I do intervals?

There are more types of intervals than I could possibly include in a blog post, and calculating what works best for you will be dependent on your goals, strengths and weaknesses. As someone who isn’t a coach, I am reluctant to give specific advice, but some good advice I found is shared below. You can read the rest of the article here, which discusses how to build your own interval training sessions.

While there’s no across-the-board pace prescription, there are some rough guidelines that can help get you started. For instance, if you’re running 1-mile intervals, try to complete them at your goal 10K pace. For shorter intervals, like 800m, execute those at 5K pace, and 400m intervals should be slightly faster than that. This is where a coach can come in handy, but there are also online resources, such as Rickerman’s calculator, that can help you figure out a pace range.

 

I hope this encourages some of you to try interval training sessions! The benefits are numerous, but for me what I love is that it doesn’t take all day. I love my long runs, but convincing myself to get out for several hours multiple times a week is never going to happen. My interval sessions usually last 30 minutes maximum, rest periods included, so there’s really no excuse not to get out. They’re also super fun and always leave me feeling positive, which after all, is what running’s all about!

Let me know if you give interval training a go, and come and find me on Instagram to share your experience!

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Images by Tamsin Louise

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.

 

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 things to do when you start running

With today’s announcement of the imminent closure of the UK’s gyms, many people will flock to other forms of exercise, from home workouts to yoga, to running. It might not be for everyone, but with limited alternative options, there’s a strong likelihood more people will be giving it a go.

First off: Do it! In terms of stress-busting ability, a good cardio session is unbeatable. Running is hard, and certainly not always pleasant, but the feeling of achievement afterwards is incredible, and while we’re putting our whole lives on hold, a sense of achievement can be hard to come by. So far, it’s still being allowed (and even recommended) by the government, so long as certain precautions are made.

However, there are some things to think about before getting started, not least because if you injure yourself, seeing a doctor or physio may be harder than usual, and there aren’t many alternative exercises you’ll be able to try instead!

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Running doesn’t have to involve seeing anyone or touching anything, so now is the perfect time to begin (if your government allows!)

  1. Start with a programme

If you’re new to running, don’t jump straight in there. In a moment of extreme motivation (or madness, or stress), it can be tempting to lace up your shoes and try to run 10km. Some people may be able to, but most won’t. Trying a couch to 5k, or if you have some experience already, a 5k to 10k, will ensure you progress at a pace that is less likely to put too much strain on your joints and muscles. It’ll also ensure you get out regularly, which is important for mental health.

2. Wear the right shoes

If you only have metcons because you’re a cross fitter, or converses, please don’t run in these! Your chance of injury will be greatly increased  – Emma Kirk Odunubi has some great information on this, so if you’re not sure, ask her! Usually I would recommend getting a gait analysis to find the right shoes for you, but this is unlikely to be possible right now. Since the postal service is still up and running, buy yourself a pair of running shoes that you think will work (I like Asics, Adidas, Nike and Hoka) and run in those. They might not be perfect, but they’re likely to be better than your lifting shoes!

3. Take rest days

If you’re doing a couch to 5k or similar plan, this will be built into your schedule, but if you’re just taking yourself for runs, make sure to allow yourself time to recover! No matter how fit you are, running places strain on the muscles, ligaments and joints, as well as your body’s energy systems. Allowing at least 2 rest days a week if important for recovery.

4. Don’t always go long

Long distance running is one of the only sports that can temporarily weaken the immune system. While exercise of 30-45 minutes a day is beneficial to your immune system, the energy systems required for long runs, and the amount of cortisol (stress hormone produced) can temporarily reduce your immune defence. Pair this with cold weather and a global pandemic, and long runs might not be in your best interest. Of course, the definition of what a ‘long run’ is varies from person to person, but bear in mind that shorter and faster may be better, at least for now.

5. Intervals

I get asked a lot why, when training for a marathon or half marathon, I include fast paced, short intervals. Intervals may make you a better runner, quicker, but also have the power to make your longer runs feel easier. It’s also just a variant of your normal long runs. Having a varied training schedule means you’re likely to work muscles (and your brain) slightly differently each time, building strength and keeping yourself interested.

6. Cross-train

OK, so the gyms are shut and the average person doesn’t have tonnes of equipment at home, but that doesn’t mean you can’t fit in other forms of training. More running doesn’t no necessarily make you a better runner, and fitting in cross training twice a week, with 3 runs a week is a great way to build strength and stave off injury. Try bodyweight exercises and physio exercises (prevention is better than cure!). Here are some great people to follow for online workouts. I also did a vlog with my physio where she talks about ways to avoid injury that’s worth a watch!

7. Eat well

This should go without saying, and most people don’t find it too hard once they start running! However, it’s easy to forget that new exercises (even if you exercised before) can be extremely energetically demanding for the body, and you need to eat to replace lost calories. Ensure your plate has plenty of colour (I don’t mean smarties) and dietary fibre, focussing on vegetables and wholegrains, and don’t forget your healthy fats (olive oil is a staple of my diet)! I don’t frequently take protein powder, but if you feel like you’re really struggling to fit in enough calories, this may be good to look into.

8. Sleep

With the start of any new exercise regime, the body can feel tired and sluggish, thanks to  a combination of having to learn a new skill and using up lots of physical energy. Getting adequate rest is vital for performance, but also your long-term health. You may need to sleep more if you are not used to exercising, so try to get to bed earlier and reduce caffeine intake if possible. Not being able to sleep is a symptom of overtraining, so if you’re feeling exhausted but unable to sleep after throwing yourself headfirst into a new running regime, maybe take a step back for a couple of weeks.

9. Keep away from people

It’s within the governmental guidelines (within the UK at least) that running while avoiding people is absolutely fine – recommended even! The benefits are notable, and will be a great thing to keep most people mentally sound. However, as mentioned above, you’re most vulnerable to getting sick for up to 72 hours after a long, hard run due to elevated cortisol levels. Combined with the inevitable bodily fluids from running, especially in the cold (spittle, sweat, snot – you name it, you’ll have it), it’s a really sensible idea to stay away from people as much as possible on your runs, for your own safety and theirs.

10. Enjoy it! 

Running is a love it or hate it sport, but if you’re in the latter camp, it doesn’t have to be that way forever. I used to HATE running, but I forced myself to do it because it was my alone time (and because I wanted to lose weight). Now, however, I am quite obsessed. I’m not even that good, but the sense of achievement and satisfaction I get after each run is unparalleled. I like to share my runs to Strava (a run tracking app) to get a sense of community spirit, even when I’m not running with others. Even in quarantine, we’re in this together!

 

I hope you found these tips useful! If you’d like to share them, please tag my Instagram and encourage everyone you know to take this up! Who knows, we could all come out of this epidemic in far better shape (mentally and physically) than when we went in.  

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

 

Come and find me on Instagram for more

The mental health benefits of sport

Exercise has lots of known benefits – improved cardiovascular health, lower blood pressure, increased bone density etc., but the mental health benefits are, if not ignored, rarely celebrated as much as the physical – there’s no ‘before and after’ transformation photo, little obvious outwardly change… and yet for me, the mental health benefits of exercise are SO much more important than anything else. Better still than simply exercising, SPORTS can have an even larger positive effect. Initiatives such as England Athletics’ #runandtalk and Sport England’s ‘Get Set to Go‘ have started to open up the conversation about mental health, as well as make social sports more accessible to all.

Countless studies have linked physical activity to lower levels of anxiety, depression and stress, even improving conditions such as ADHD and PTSD – and there’s a particular class of exercise that does it better than any other. Sports – the kind of exercise where there’s a particular goal – has helped me and countless others both physically and mentally.

Throughout my life I have gone through various sports, training consistently, motivated by the daily mental improvements it helped me feel. When I was 15 I got into squash in a big way – it was the antidote to all negative emotions I had been feeling for many years. Constantly exhausted, depressed and feeling powerless, with low self-esteem to boot, I disliked school and struggled everyday, sadly assuming that that was just how I was meant to feel. As a teenager at a top school, I felt pressure to perform in academics whilst excelling in my social life, physical health, looks and home life – an impossible task that left me always feeling like I was running in a hamster wheel just to stay in the same place.

Getting up and doing things wasn’t always on the front of my mind during the time I was depressed. Although I was at boarding school and had little choice in the matter, I would sometimes zombie my way through the days, and sports was initially a real struggle – I hated it until I was 15 because I was bad at everything I had tried. However, school did teach me the discipline of getting up and out even when I didn’t want to. Especially when I didn’t want to. Being semi forced to play a sport 3 times a week was so tough at first, but once I paid attention to how it made me feel, I would start to look forward to the times I could leave the classroom and head to the court, ready to set aside the day’s worries and fall into the rhythm of training. For anyone struggling with depression and/or anxiety, one quick piece of advice is to get out into nature. Walking is good, running is better. Just keep moving forwards – it does wonders for your mind.

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Vitamin D deficiency is common in the UK and can worsen depression – get outside!

Through daily squash training I was able to see myself improving, getting stronger, fitter and faster whilst spending time with a community that was entirely focussed on enjoyment and improvement. There’s nothing better for your self-esteem than working hard to reach a goal and your hard work paying off. If it’s possible to get addicted to exercise I did, training up to 7h a week on top of other sports. The intensity at which I worked meant that over the following 2 years I became good enough to compete in the national schools championships as the number 1 player for my school. But it wasn’t the winning I cared about – the best thing about it was the way it made me feel. It was that high that I was chasing. When you feel totally out of control with your life, having that one thing that you can control is a godsend.

I also started horse riding in a serious way at this point. The unique thing with horse riding is that horses are terrifyingly good at mirroring emotions. It is impossible to feel stressed or distracted whilst jumping around a ring if you actually want to get very far. So every time I headed to the stables I learned to leave my fears and worries at the stable door and spend an hour without focussing on anything but me and the 17hh (huge) muscle machine beneath me.

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Nothing beats the feeling of horse riding

After I left school I wasn’t able to play squash or ride so much – frequent travel before heading to university meant that it was impossible to find a routine, but the discipline training taught me translated well into other areas of my life. I still revelled in playing squash when I got the chance and picked it up any time I had the opportunity. Being good isn’t the point – it’s all the other benefits that are there regardless of your standard. My year away from the stresses of education tempered my obsession with exercising, allowing me to enjoy it for what it was every time I played. I learned balance and the importance of working on all aspects of health and happiness, including taking care of my body, resting and fuelling it properly. No more 10h training weeks and hello rest days.

Once I arrived at university I picked up running and whilst I loved it, it didn’t hold the same mind-clearing properties that squash and riding had before. I spent university mixing up weights in the gym and running, but I was missing that little extra something you get when you really ‘click’ with a sport. Leaving university led me to boxing, which I now practise weekly. I’m not the first person to talk about the benefits of boxing for mental health – Prince Harry alerted the nation of the power of boxing for coping with mental stress back in April. Multiple professional boxers have done the same, despite the history of corruption in some areas of the sport. Ellie Goulding, too, voiced almost exactly my sentiments about the sport:

“It wasn’t about any change in my outward appearance; it was about seeing and feeling myself get better and stronger. It carried over into other areas of my life, and now I truly feel that exercise – however you like to work out – is good for the soul,”

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The university athletics club kept me busy and fit

What all of the above sports have in common, I have now realised, is that they don’t allow any space or time for outside emotions and negativity to join. Focussing your attention on your goal – the next shot, the perfect line into a jump, the rhythm of your punches – leads to a sense of power and achievement at the end of a session that isn’t found anywhere else. It’s a kind of enforced mindfulness not found in all forms of exercise, banishing dark thoughts whilst simultaneously releasing endorphins and shifting your focus from the future in the outside world to the now in your personal world.

Above are three sports that have helped me more than I can tell you. The combination of the physical, mental and emotional benefits beat any pill or any diet, and now that I feel I have achieved the perfect balance of exercise, nutrition and rest, I have never been so happy.

Everyone’s go-to sport for relaxation will be different – some will find this with weights, others with running (runners high is a real thing) and still others walking round a park. The trick is to find what does it for you and do that.

I really hope you have found this article useful – I feel so lucky to have been able to find so many sports that I love throughout my life, and now want to spend time spreading the word about the benefits of sport and exercise. You don’t have to be depressed or have a diagnosed conditions to feel the benefits. They’re there for all of us. What does exercise do for you?

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Further reading:

If you struggle with depression this is pretty helpful (it’s the little steps that make all the difference!)

This goes into some depth about benefits for sufferers of OCD

See infographic below for some more benefits for everyone!

“Studies conducted on mice have shown that exercising on a running wheel helps them sprout new connections between neurons in their brains. Exercise may cause the release of “growth factors,” which trigger neurons to make new connections. These new connections may help to reduce symptoms of OCD. Exercise also promotes the release of endorphins, “feel good” neurochemicals, boosting mood and fending off stress.”

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