Conversation with an NHS podiatrist

I had this conversation with NHS podiatrist Robyna King, answering your most asked foot questions! This blog post is in support of the We are the NHS campaign. If you enjoy it, please do share on Instagram! If you have any further questions, please visit NHS Live Well.

Robyna King graduated from the University of Plymouth in 2012 with a first class honours degree in Podiatry and currently works in the Solent NHS Trust. Since qualifying as a Podiatrist, Robyna has experience of working in a variety of NHS Podiatry roles, with both clinical and management responsibilities. She particularly enjoys the opportunity to make a real difference for people; either providing direct patient care, supporting staff or service development. Robyna is looking forward to supporting staff through a Podiatry Apprenticeship Degree later this year and is excited by the personal development this will also provide.

  1. Any advice for preventing blisters? What should you do once you have them?

Blisters for runners are very common as well as for many people when they start wearing a new pair of shoes for example.

There can be some ways to prevent blisters when running and exercising such as:

  • Wearing 2 pairs of socks or there are some double layer socks you can purchase. These can help reduce the friction on areas of the foot prone to blistering for example under the ball of the foot, heels, and toes by putting the stresses on the sock rather than the skin.
  • Using Surgical Spirit, applying to vulnerable skin with a cotton pad 2-3 times a week, which helps strengthen skin. This can also be used between the toes to prevent them become sore and too soggy when they get hot and sweaty in your trainers. Follow the guidance on the bottle and do not use on broken skin.
  • Ensuring your trainer and shoes fit you correctly. We advise footwear with a fastening such as laces to ensure they are tied and tightened to support the foot and prevent the foot from moving in the shoe causing friction of the tendons and joints from having to overwork to keep your shoe in place. Having the footwear wide enough at the toes and ball of the foot is very important so that they don’t get too much pressure in the wrong places. If you are struggling with getting footwear to fit it can be worth finding shoe or sport shops that help fit shoes.

When treating blisters, you should try to avoid bursting or popping them, instead allow the blister fluid to be reabsorbed into the skin and heal naturally.

If, however, they have already burst and the skin is open, it is very important to clean the area carefully and apply a sterile plaster or dressing while the area heals. This will not only prevent further friction on the skin but also reduce the risk of an infection by keeping it clean and dry.  If you have a large intact (not burst) or open blister, then it is worth having a rest from running or exercising where you are weightbearing (on your feet) to give the skin chance to heal.

If the skin or blister area becomes red, hot, swollen, has increased discharge or smell then it may be a sign you have an infection. If you notice these signs or the blister is taking a long time to heal, it is important you contact your GP surgery for guidance and likely will need some antibiotics. 

2. If you have a collapsed or weak arches, how do you strengthen them?

It is important to know that many people naturally have lower arches or flat feet. Most people inherit this from their family and are born with this foot shape, some with no pain and do not need treatment such as insoles. 

However, if they become painful or your feet have started to become flatter over a period of time then it is worth contacting a podiatrist for an assessment to see what individual treatment you may need and what may be causing the pain. 

If you have painful arches it is best to avoid any strenuous exercises such as running as is high impact on your feet and joint and could make it worse or more painful.

Some people find intrinsic foot muscle strengthening can help to strengthen the muscles in the feet to support the arches. There are many strengthening exercises available including videos online including ‘the big toe stretch’. If you decide to try these start them gradually and only do a small amount at a time. Its best to try get do them regularly and get the into your routine but remember if you start getting any increased pain or side effects stop. 

3. Many runners lose toenails in training or races – is this harmful? How can you stop it?

It is very common for runners to lose toenails, which to the person can cause some worry and pain. Losing the toenail itself does not always cause any harm, however if the skin on the nail bed is broken which would need a sterile dressing or plaster applied and follow similar advice to above when discussing looking after blisters that burst (Q1).

Over time if you damage a nail through regular trauma, where the nail is repeatedly knocked or the nail falls off, it can damage the nail cells (where the nail grows from) meaning the nail will grow back thicker or a different shape. This can make the individual feel the nail is unsightly or can be painful. If the nail is thicker you can help by filing over the surface of the nail to carefully thin the nail slightly as they can be difficult to cut.

If this does not manage it, I would advise they contact a podiatrist for advice on treatment whether that be how to prevent the trauma to the nail, cutting/filing the nail in a way to manage it or have the nail removed permanently to prevent it growing back.

Ways to prevent it include ensuring your running trainers fit correctly, avoiding running downhill or on rough terrain as this often puts increased pressure on the nails and cutting your toenail carefully straight across so they are not too long and pressing on ends of the trainer.

4. Should we all be moving towards zero-drop/barefoot shoes? What are the benefits, if any?

For some people this can be the right option but for many it is not. There is little research to say moving toward zero/low drop or barefoot shoes can help with performance or for any other practical reasons. Therefore, unless you have been advised to for other reasons and you are used to running in this way then I would not advise to just start this without getting further individual guidance.

5. How can runners deal with bunions? Are they always problematic?

Similar to low arches and flat feet, one reason we can get bunions is because we inherit them as part of our foot shape. They are not always problematic even if they are quite prominent or not aesthetically pleasing. 

Depending on the cause of the bunion it can change how a podiatrist would advise you manage them. Pain from a bunion could be from the joints or tendons being inflamed, or it could just be that because skin on top of the bunion gets rubbed and sore and could cause blisters.

Some find bunion supports or protectors to help with the bunion and skin getting sore.

Others may find insoles/orthotics can help to reduce pressure and workload on the bunion area and encourage the rest of the foot to do more. The main thing to help to reduce pain or you getting a problem is to follow guidance on footwear, including wider fitting shoes with a fastening and a stretchy material upper of the shoes that sits around the bunion to avoid pressure.

If you would like further advice on individual management of your bunions or joints in the feet then contact a podiatrist for an assessment to see what other options may be available including insoles and surgery options.

6. How did you get into podiatry?

I always wanted to do something in the health field to help make people better. I was lucky enough to do some work experience when I was 16 in a private Podiatry clinic and an NHS physiotherapy department.

I loved both but my choice was Podiatry as I felt it was a bit unusual and that there were so many opportunities for different roles in the future in the  NHS. I completed my A levels at sixth form including Biology and Psychology and then applied to university to complete a Podiatry BSc(Hons) Degree. It is a 3-year course and included both theory and practical skills which I really enjoyed, as I went on placements to different NHS Podiatry Services to learn on the job experience with NHS Podiatrists. When I qualified as a Podiatrist, I then applied using the NHS Jobs website to find roles in my local area and a couple of years later ended up in the Solent NHS Trust which is where I am now. I have loved being able to develop my skills and continue to learn things every day, which most importantly helps patients and support them with their foot conditions making a real difference for them!

As a podiatrist I have great opportunities to use all different skills including wound care, nail surgery and MSK (musculoskeletal) care. We can work in patient’s homes, hospital and health centres, meeting a variety of people along the way. 

So, I would say if you are interested in health care and do not mind looking at feet all day this is the job for you! If anyone is interested in podiatry as a career or any health profession look on https://www.healthcareers.nhs.uk/ which shows all the amazing careers out there and what to do to have a health career including going to university or even apprenticeship courses which are available for some professions.

7. Should runners be doing anything specific to look after their feet? Creams? Massage?

You will see a lot of this has already been answered in some of the other questions for example how to prevent blisters, prevent painful arches and bunions. 

Here are my top tips to look after your feet if you are a runner:

  • Wear good fitting trainers that are wide enough, have a fastening and good cushioning sole for shock absorption. 
  • Air out your trainers and footwear after wearing them and rotate the use of your shoes (so you are not always wearing the same pair) to ensure they have chance to breath and dry, which prevents bacteria and fungal spores growing.
  • Don’t save your new trainers to wear for a race or long training session. It can be best to wear them in gradually over a few shorter sessions preventing blisters and allowing your foot to get use to that style/shape of footwear.
  • Wear good quality socks to protect your skin and prevent friction.
  • Wash your feet and change your socks daily and after exercising, this can prevent fungal infections on the skin or nails and will keep the skin condition healthy and clean. 
  • If you think you have a fungal infection also known as ‘athletes foot’ speak to your pharmacist about treatments available over the counter. If not improving, then consider discussing with a podiatrist or your GP.
  • Dry feet well all over and between toes after washing them. This again prevents fungal infections and the spaces between your toes from getting too soggy and sore. Using surgical spirit as advised in question 1 can help too.
  • Using a urea base foot cream can help hydrate the skin on the feet, preventing hard skin and calluses. It is best to use daily all over your feet but not between toes after you have washed them. 

8. Plantar Fasciitis. What is it and how can it be helped? Are there any injuries assumed to be PF that are actually something else?

Plantar Fasciitis (PF) is a painful condition where there is inflammation of the plantar fascia, which is a structure that supports the foot from the heel to the toes. It can affect both feet or just one foot and the pain is normally felt around the heel and can sometimes be felt into the arch or into the calf. It is a very common condition and can affect both those that do and do not exercise regularly.

Check out the NHS website for further guidance but here are some simple ways that can help if you believe you have or have been diagnosed with PF.

  • As tight calf muscles can exacerbate and potentially cause PF therefore stretching your calf muscles (the gastrocnemius and soleus muscles into your Achilles tendon) may help. You can find safe, gentle stretches for these muscles and the Achilles Tendon online. It is important to start any exercises or stretches slowly and gradually build up. If you start getting more pain or any side effects, then it is important to stop. 
  • Footwear being changed to more supportive shoe as advised in previous answers
  • Choose more non weightbearing exercises such as swimming and cycling, whilst the foot is inflamed and painful
  • Ice to reduce any inflammation that may be present. 20minutes daily recommended either in form of frozen peas or similar wrapped in damp cloth or foot rolling over a chilled bottle or can. This can really help discomfort especially after a day on your feet.

Often with these treatments and over a couple of weeks it can resolve and reduce in pain. But if these treatments do not help it may be that you do not have PF and could instead have another issue or need more individual advice or care. It is important to contact your GP for further advice or contact a local podiatrist. The podiatrist would be able to do an assessment to look at the lower limb and foot structures, review your gait (the way you walk) and much more to help to diagnose PF, another condition and give more treatment options including insoles/orthotics and specific exercises.

9. What’s the most common issue you deal with as an NHS podiatrist?

At the moment in my local NHS Podiatry clinics, we are prioritising the most poorly feet in the service during the COVID-19 pandemic, therefore, the main conditions we manage are foot ulcerations using our wound care skills and knowledge. This is often for patients with medical conditions that cause reduction in circulation to the foot and/or loss of sensation due to nerve damage. Our main goal the podiatry treatments we provide is to aid with wound healing and reduce, where possible, infection and amputations from occurring. 

The second condition we see a lot of are ingrowing and painful toenails conditions. We complete a lot of nail surgery clinics where we carry out a minor surgery under local anaesthetic to remove a painful toenail. Those are only two areas of specialisms we deal with in podiatry and we do so much more with supporting the management of foot and lower limb conditions including pain management and mobility support.

10. What’s your favourite foot fact?!

My favourite foot fact is your feet can continue to ‘grow’ even into older age. Meaning there is always an excuse to go shoe shopping and buy new shoes! The reason behind this change in size despite normally finishing their growth stage by age of 20, is that feet can either swell or your tendons and ligaments loosen in the feet causing the feet to spread, making the foot wider and longer. This can happen with age, certain medical conditions or even pregnancy! 

Many thanks to Robyna for answering these questions!

Robyna is supporting NHS England’s ‘We Are The NHS’ campaign. To find out more about a career in the NHS, please search NHS Careers’ or visit We Are The NHS to find available roles and training support on offer.

March 5k time trial challenge

Hi everyone! Over the next eight weeks, I will be training for my first ever official 5k time trial. Other 5k efforts have all been as part of park runs (which I’ve dearly missed over lockdown), and after a year of steadily getting slower and slower (thanks to focussing on running further), I thought it about time to pick up the pace and get in a 5k PB. And I want you to join me!!

How can I join?

Whatever your ability, experience or goal, I’d love if you could join in both training for and racing this 5k. All you need to do is sign up to Strava (an app that records your runs) and join our virtual run club, March 5k timetrial.

Once you’ve joined, all your runs on Strava will upload automatically, you’ll be able to keep up with the other runners taking part. On 27th – 31st March, you’ll have the opportunity to race the 5k virtually alongside all the other runners.

What route should I race?

As a virtual event, there’ll be no official route you need to do the time trial on, although I would recommend you find a flat, relatively empty route for your effort. If that doesn’t exist (Dorset I’m looking at you), a hilly route will do just fine and be all the more impressive – good luck!

Is there a training programme?

If you’re looking for a training programme and not sure where to start, these are two that are great – one for those looking to get sub-20, and one for those looking to simply speed up their general running times.

Home training & faster 5k plan: https://www.rushbynature.com/shop/home-training-amp-a-faster-5-10k

Sub 20 5k plan: https://www.rushbynature.com/shop/strength-amp-a-sub-20-minute-parkrun

Is there a way of joining in if I don’t have Strava?

You’re more than welcome to join if you don’t have Strava, but there won’t be an official ‘page’ for your participation. However, I will be recording my training on my Instagram and YouTube, so you can follow and subscribe to keep up with everything! If you tag me in your training runs on Instagram I’ll be sharing them on my stories so we can all keep each other motivated. 🙂

Happy training!

What to do with your old trainers

As a runner, I have a permanent underlying guilt about the fact that I literally wear through my shoes in a relatively short amount of time. I run some tough trails, meaning that any trainers I own (trail shoes especially) undergo a fair amount of wear and tear, and usually break to the point of being unusable by 18 months in. At this point they are relegated to walking and gardening shoes, or thrown out.

My favourite Columbia trail shoes, which have been relegated to gardening and walking shoes after just a year

Of the 24 billion pairs of shoes produced each year, 90% are likely to end up in landfill. This is both due to the over-production of (often poorly-made) shoes, and the lack of widespread recycling systems. However, once your shoes make it to landfill, they will likely take hundreds or thousands of years to break down due to their plastic composition (PVC or EPA makes up 35% of shoes globally), all the while releasing toxic chemicals into the surrounding area. In landfill, due to the anoxic conditions, they’re likely to never properly break down at all.

Across the globe, we each buy approximately 2.5 pairs of shoes a year, with most of those sales happening in just 10 major markets. The average American buys over 7 pairs a year. The vast majority (almost all) companies selling shoes do not offer end of life solutions for their products, instead relying on landfill and pushing up demand for further consumption. However, 52% of shoppers in the UK said they’d be more likely to buy from a company if it offers an end of life solution, e.g. recycling or fixing, with 60% being willing to pay more for shoes that had this option.

With trainers the problem is further exacerbated, with experts suggesting that trainers get replaced every 500 to 750km (300-500 miles), which equates to 4 to 6 months for someone who runs 20 miles a week. Even if you eke out every last step from your shoes, they are not designed to last beyond their useful life so may tear or break within the year, and it can be dangerous to run on totally worn-out shoes, increasing the risk of injury.

So what can we do with our old trainers, once worn out or no longer wanted?

Donate

The best option is to donate unwanted shoes that are still usable. If you forget cosmetics, the majority of shoes we throw out are still perfectly functional in their job to protect feet. Better quality shoes can be sold via Depop, and others donated to charity shops. For running shoes, The Running Charity donates activewear to young people who would otherwise be unable to afford them. You can send your unwanted clothes and shoes in to them to be given a new life. Similarly, ReRun Clothing is another organisation that accepts unwanted running clothes, which are sold. All the profits go back into the running community. You can also buy secondhand and up-cycled products here! Find your nearest donation point.

Repair

Repairing shoes should be far more common than it is, with cobblers fixing all sorts of damage and wear on shoes. However, this is little harder on trainers, due to the complex support required. Speak to your local cobbler to see what they can offer. Very few brands offer reconditioning services, but Vivo Barefoot has just launched ReVivo, a service that repairs and re-sells old and unwanted Vivo shoes, providing lower priced options with a significantly reduced environmental impact. The shoes are often as good as new, proving that reconditioning and repairing trainers is not as hard as previously assumed, setting a precedent for the rest of the industry. This small family-run brand is showing that if they can provide end of life solutions for shoes, large brands should undoubtedly be able to too.

Vivo Barefoot are providing innovative options for unwanted or old vivo products

Recycle

The next best option for completely worn-out shoes is to recycle. Nike’s Reuse-A-Shoe scheme has processed 33 million pairs of shoes since 1993 when it launched. These shoes get recycled into surfaces for playgrounds, running tracks and other clothes. See where you can drop of your shoes. The company I:CO provides recycling services for brands in the US, partnering with brands such as Asics and Columbia to collect unwanted shoes and clothing in return for vouchers. In the UK shoe recycling can sometimes be found near supermarket superstores and specialised recycling centres. Many specialist running shops around the UK also have their own shoe recycling programmes – pop into your local one and see if this is something they offer. Runner’s Need is providing recycling bins as part of their Recycle My Run scheme in stores up to the 31st Dec 2020, giving a £20 voucher in return for a pair of old trainers. Don’t forget to tie your shoes together to prevent pairs getting separated!

Many specialist running stores provide options for recycling your old trainers

Although the above options are great, it’s worth remembering that it is impossible to be fully sustainable while simultaneously consuming at the rate we currently consume. Recycling and donating are great, but not if your’e only doing so in order to validate buying new shoes/clothes. As runners, we should be aware of the world around us, and the impact we have on it. Although running is a self-propelled sport, you can lessen or increase your impact based on the purchasing decisions you make.

However, the blame does not fall entirely on the consumer. There is a real dearth of beneficial end of life options for shoes globally, and brands have no real incentive to fix this. For an industry worth more than $200 billion in 2020, requesting further research into, and better options for a shoe’s end of life should not be too much to ask. While brands product ‘eco-friendly’ shoe ranges or styles here and there (e.g. Nike’s Space Hippie shoe, Adidas’ Ultraboost DNA Loop), the quantity is nowhere near enough to make even a dent on the non-sustainable plastic shoes created each year. If sustainable shoes and end of life options are available, why are we not insisting on them? It’s time to ask brands to do better.

What do you do with your old shoes once you’re done with them? Do you know of any brands changing the game when it comes to recycling trainers? If you enjoyed this article, please consider making a small contribution to the running of my blog.

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!

How to get back to running after injury

We’ve all been there. With 65% – 80% of runners experiencing an injury each year, the chances are, you’ve spent some time injured in the time that you’ve been running. Getting back to training after time off can be daunting and confusing – what level of pain is acceptable to push through? How far should you run? What cross training should you do, if any?

Disclaimer: before we start I’d like to point out that I’m no expert, I’ve simply experienced my fair share of injuries , physiotherapy treatment and coaching. In 2016 I developed IT band syndrome, a common runner’s injury, which I proceeded to push through, after being told it ‘won’t cause any permanent damage’. Still now I am experiencing the effects of this recurring injury, although I have since developed many techniques to reduce the amount of flare ups I have, and haven’t felt pain since last year!

With so many people taking up running during lockdown, it’s no surprise that injury rates have gone through the roof, and with access to physios and doctors seemingly limited, people are more and more turing to the internet for help and advice. So, here are my top tips for returning to running following an injury. Remember though – if the pain doesn’t go away, or is recurring, please do visit a specialist, as they will be able to help far more than anyone on the internet.

  1. Prevention is better than cure

The best way to recover from an injury is not to get it in the first place. ‘Oh great’ you’re thinking, a bit too late for that. Well, yes and no. If you are injured at the moment, think about why you ended up in this place. Injuries are often a sign that you are trying too much, too soon. Most coaches recommend the ‘10% rule’, increasing weekly mileage by no more than 10% per week. More than this puts your body at greater risk of injury, meaning that you have to take more time off. Consider sticking to this rule to avoid future injuries. Another piece of advice would be to avoid trying too many new things at once. Want to try longer runs? Don’t do extra speedwork that same week. Giving hill sprints a go? Go easy on your longer run. Having a diversity of training is good, but don’t add everything at once. Are you doing strength and conditioning and mobility work? Is your footwear wrong? Working through all the possible causes of injury can reduce your risk of having the same issue in the future. Almost everyone gets injured, it’s just a part of running, but reducing triggers means that you can spend more of your time doing what you love, and less time rehabbing.

2. Slow and steady wins the race

There are many different kinds of injury, but for the most part, rushing recovery won’t help the situation. The temptation once most of the pain has gone, is to jump right back in where you left off, but this is inadvisable. Since most running injuries are caused by doing too much, too soon, the same logic applies for coming back after an injury. It might feel like your first few weeks back are boring, slow and monotonous, but these are your ‘testing’ weeks. You should be keeping in tune with your body, listening out for small niggles and trying to maintain good form throughout. This is hard to do if you’re going for killer miles or sprints, so just take it easy. A slow return to running will likely mean that you remain un-injured for longer, and get help quicker if you do get injured again. Slow and steady wins the race.

3. Don’t run through the pain

Generally, pain is there for a reason. Ignoring it ‘because you know better’ can backfire horribly, and unlike ITBS, many injuries can leave you with permanent damage if ignored. As you progress and become more experienced, it may be possible to tell what pain is OK to run through, and what pain is most definitely not, but for beginners, running through a new pain is ill-advised before getting it checked out. Recovery from common injuries such as shin splints can be further hindered by even walking on them, let alone running. Always ask your physio if you’re not sure what level of pain is acceptable.

4. Physiotherapy and strength & conditioning

The chances are, if you know what injury you have, you’ll have some sort of mobility/S&C/physio plan to strengthen the area and get yourself back on track. As stupid as it sounds, simply thinking about the physio session are not going to lead to the same improvements as actually doing them. Yes, they might be boring, and yes, they’re probably not why you started running, but they’re also the thing that will keep you healthy, balanced and less injury prone long into the future. If you do them. I would also recommend keeping up elements of your physio long past the point that your injury has healed, even incorporating them into your weekly strength sessions. If your injury was due to a weakness or imbalance, this will help rectify that, reducing risk of the injury recurring.

5. Cross train

Cross training (i.e. incorporating training sessions that aren’t running, e.g. weight lifting, cycling, yoga) has a plethora of benefits, from reducing boredom to making you a stronger runner. This is perfect if you’ve taken some time off running, as it will reduce the weekly load on your muscles and joints, while still increasing strength and endurance. Find something you enjoy so you can remain consistent. My cross-training days are at least as important as my run days!

6. Join a running group

Finding motivation and friends to chat to following some time off running, whether due to an injury or simply just taking some time away, can be difficult. Joining a run club means more people to chat to about training, niggles etc etc, and also means you’re likely to have some qualified advice regarding your return to training. Always let them know if you have a history of injuries, or a particular injury you’re coming back from.

7. Invest in the right kit

If you’re injured, there’s a chance it could be because the shoes you wear don’t complement your running style. Most people pronate one way or another (I overpronate, because for some reason I run like I’m on a catwalk – I blame the narrow Dorset trails!). Up to 4 in 5 runners run in shoes that don’t suit their running style, potentially increasing the risk of injury. Having a gait analysis, or investing in some gait analysing insoles, such as NURVV, means you can find the right shoes to correct your gait, and work on improving form to reduce exacerbating existing injuries, and reduce risk of getting more in future.

8. Stay positive!

After injuring yourself, it can be easy to feel let down by your body. After spending months or years looking after it by exercising, eating right, resting etc., it’s easy to feel despondent when you get injured. I got to the point a year after my injury where I felt like I was never going to be able to run more than 2km again, as every time I did, I couldn’t walk for days afterwards. However, it’s important to remember that the vast majority of the time, it won’t always be like this, and you have the rest of your life to hit PBs and get back into running. This year doesn’t have to be the year. Maybe this is the year you learn to love running again, or the year you hit your first 1km without pain, or the year when you find a running community. Your experience of running doesn’t have to be dictated by PBs, races and intense training sessions. Stay positive, focus on your recovery and you’ll be back in no time! After all, if you’re not having fun, what’s the point? Running should be enjoyable, not hell!

I hope these tips help you, whether you’re injured at the moment, or want to take stock for future potential injuries. I would also say that most of these tips are suitable at all times, not just when you’re struggling with an injury. Generally, injury recovery techniques work well as injury prevention techniques and vice versa. Unfortunately, running is a high-risk sport when it comes to injuries, but I think we can all say it’s worth it!

I’d love to hear your tips for getting back to training post-injury. Please comment down below and share on Instagram!

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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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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