Wednesday, 22 July 2015

Squeezing in a few short runs

We've been to Yorkshire!  Only for a couple of days while my eldest daughter took a look at York University.  We decided to camp at the Castle Howard Lakeside Campsite which turned out to be a bit posh in a basic kind of way (i.e. expensive, looked nice, few facilities).  This was through being somewhere on the Castle Howard Estate which meant there weren't many footpaths open to a runner and those that were there stopped after a while with a good measure of barbed wire and signs warning of nasty dogs on patrol.

We arrived on Monday and left Wednesday (today) meaning I could squeeze in three short runs. Each of these was about 4 or 5 miles and I absolutely loved them through being in perfect weather conditions and new terrain.

All this reminded me of why I sometimes like to run on several consecutive days, doing simply a few miles each day.  This is why:

  • Fitting in a run for 30 - 45 minutes is not too difficult
  • It builds a nice running habit
  • Much less likely to pick up a running injury, compared to longer runs
  • Each run is valid; good runs don't have to be long or fast runs - they all count
  • Burns about 500 calories each time
  • Long enough to get warmed up and feel like I'm having a decent run
  • Long enough for a Runner's High
  • Still incredibly effective in maintaining good levels of fitness (heart, circulation, joints etc)
  • A daily reminder of all the great things about being a runner
And now we're back home, I think I'll carry this on for a few days.  Oh, should have said.  It's true every single run does count, even if it's just a mile.  I am on track for 1,000 miles in a year - that's through a real mixture of lengths and I love each one of them.


Monday, 20 July 2015

Sometimes running is hard, or easy. Why?

Last Saturday evening I went for an amazing run with so many fantastic ingredients and yet it has thrown up a question: sometimes running is hard, or easy.  Why?

In brief the run I had was utterly fantastic and over a course which I have run many times before.  It was an 8.5 mile hilly run going from Dunstable to Church End, through some footpaths and across Whipsnade Common.  Then passed Dell Farm and out on to the Downs.  From there is was a fast run along the escarpment (highlight enjoying those inspirational views) and then back down into Dunstable.  My moving time was 1 hour 14 minutes and I gained about 780 feet in elevation.

With this run, the further I went the easier it seemed to go and the last 3 miles were well under an 8 minute mile.  Everything was simply coming together so well and I knew my running form was good.    I should say it was at dusk, having set out at about 8:45pm and the weather was pleasantly warm but not hot.  The air was still and an ideal summer evening.

And yet I have done this run many times before over the last 8 years of running.  Sometimes I have found it hard going.  Furthermore I have found some runs after work to be particularly hard going, even simply a 3 mile jog lasting 30 minutes.  Sometimes my legs have felt like lead and I've been stiff with little energy.  What an amazing contrast to this other evening when I felt so alive, full of energy, supple and brimming with excitement.

It could simply be a case of "that's the way it is".  Other possible factors could include how well hydrated I am, nutrition inside me, blood sugar levels etc.  And then there is the mental, thought-based side.  What are my expectations?  How eager am I?  Have I missed running over the last couple of days?  All of these possible factors can make a difference in my view and I think these all add to the variety of running.

If every run was in perfect conditions, over the same route with the same performance it would soon be boring, just like treadmill running can be.  So thankfully we are not like that at all, we should thrive on variety and take the good with the not-so-good.  Even though I am naturally optimistic and "half full" in my approach, I need to remind myself of these things sometimes!

Friday, 17 July 2015

Cycling, running and cramp

If you ever listen to the excellent Radio 4 programme Inside Health, presented by Dr Mark Porter MBE, you might know he sometimes invites listeners to get in touch with health queries.  Here's mine.....

Dear Dr Mark,

From time to time I get bouts of cramp, mainly in my legs and feet.  When I get cramp it is often at night and a muscle seems to go into a kind of stiff spasm and be very taught.  I can tell you, it can be dramatic waking up at night with an agonising pain in either my left or right leg.  It scares the living daylights out of my wife who will often wake up as well, very startled at me leaping and hopping around the bedroom.  

It seems to generally affect one muscle at a time, either in the upper or lower part of my leg.  It's the same with my feet but that's not quite so painful as I guess the muscles are smaller.

While I get cramp mostly at night, it sometimes happens when I cycle and believe me, this is a little disconcerting when you have both feet clipped into the pedals.  Like many other cyclists, I use a clipless pedal where your cycling shoes are locked to the pedal.  Releasing your feet is done by twisting the heel outwards and then the shoe springs out.

Me, my health
I am in my mid fifties and have no health issues.  I'm pretty active and fit with running (I average over 20 miles each week) and cycling.  My BMI is 22.5 and I'm in pretty good shape.  I'm tee total, don't smoke and I'm a vegetarian.  I reckon my diet is pretty good generally; I especially eat lots of fruit (as many different kinds as I can over the course of a week).

My own Doctor
Every year I make sure I get a health check covering the usual things such as blood pressure, cholesterol, liver and kidney function etc.  These are all fine and my Doctor says "well done, keep it up".

I did mention the issue of cramp to my Doctor.  She said that she wasn't very knowledgeable about it and flicked through my notes and said there was no obvious reason.  She felt behind my knees and then held my feet in her hands and commented they were colder than she expected, although it was a chilly day.  Other than that there was nothing to say or do apart from "I could suggest you give up running any cycling but I doubt if you'd think that was a good idea!".

Some people suggest sports drinks to be a solution and yet there are many different types around.  I have tried taking some electrolyte drinks which might help but I cannot be sure, there's no regular pattern.

Any suggestions?  
Goes without saying I'm hoping you can cover this on Inside Health, I'm happy to be interviewed or provide some further information if that would be helpful.

Radio 4 Inside Health
Electrolyte drinks - do we need them?

Friday, 10 July 2015

Only another runner would understand

Recently I got into a conversation with a colleague at work.  He's not a runner, you can tell that.  But he used to be a runner and, in fact, competed in County championships as a schoolboy.  In more recent times he has been in and out of gyms and has been an active runner from time to time.

He asked me what I get out of running and so I explained a huge range of reasons.  These included staying slim, keeping my bones, joints, lungs and heart healthy.  I also went onto say about running being helpful in dealing with the stresses and strains of life; at that point he started to nod and smile.

I went onto to say it goes further in terms running being so helpful in really thinking things through, having deeper thoughts, beyond seeing things at face value and working through things in my mind.  I said one last thing "when I'm deep in thought, sometimes the miles can drift by almost unnoticed". At that point he looked at me in a knowing way, I thought I could almost see his eyes welling up as we smiled at each other: he understood.  He understood what being a runner is all about as he has experienced this himself.

We paused, as I say, smiling at each other.  We concluded these things could only be truly understood by another runner, as simple as that.

Crash diets - yet more reasons to gradually lose weight

No, this isn't me and further more, I don't really need to lose weight.  Plus I should reassure you I have only ever been to prison in my professional capacity.  This is a story about a man who did need to lose some of his weight, although not for the best reasons.  I spotted this slightly amusing but tragic story through a work related site called No Offence!

The story goes that this man, Matt, was held at the Clinton Correctional Facility in New York.  He and an accomplice hatched a plan to escape which involved getting through a pipe.  In a dry practice run he found he was too fat to get through the pipe and this led to him going on a crash diet.

After a while he was slim enough for the escape and the pair were actually successful in escaping.  They remained at large for a few weeks before both being shot by the Police.  One died and the other, injured, was returned to prison.  Everyone knows no good can ever come of this kind of thing - escaping from prison or even a crash diet.

The trouble with crash diets
While a crash diet can help someone lose weight quickly, it isn't exactly an enjoyable or a wise approach.  Sure, a heavy person is wise to cut down on junk food and empty calories; i.e. processed rubbish which is fattening and has no real nutritional value.  Such a person will gradually use their fat to provide the energy they need in their daily fuel and become thinner and lighter.  This perhaps might be handy if you're wanting to escape from a prison but it is not the healthiest thing to do as we all know our health can deteriorate if we miss out on daily Vitamins and other nutrients.  It can lead to short term problems with lowered immunity and store up some longer term health risks.

Another reason why crash diets are a bad idea is simply because they are unlikely to be sustained.  It is all too easy for someone who has lost weight rapidly to find that they have regained that weight soon after.  They simply don't work for most people.

The better solution
A more healthy approach is to lose weight gradually, slowly and consistently.  You will stay healthy, establish a life changing habit that is more likely to be sustained and that is the key for healthy living.

For Matt and his accomplice (sadly RIP) escaping from prison and being shot by Police is not good for their health either.

Thursday, 9 July 2015

Life without caffeine

It is now about five weeks since I decided to try life without caffeine and its been an interesting experience.  At first I was a little apprehensive and wondered how I would get on.  To be completely honest, in the first few days it was noticeable something was missing but happily things have settled down now.
I remember feeling a little different, a kind of light headiness perhaps.  I also thought my sense of balance had been affected.  Also I remember really missing a nice cuppa at different times in the day when ordinarily I would enjoy a cup of tea or a coffee.  With this in mind Rachel suggested decaf and went rummaging in the kitchen before finding a box of seldom used decaf teabags.  I tried a cup and it wasn’t bad but of course it wasn’t quite the same as the tea I was used to.  I have progressed on to having some decaf coffee too.  Mind you, I still can’t stand the thought of ‘instant’ coffee.
The strange thing about life without caffeine nowadays is people’s surprise when I decline a drink unless it’s decaf. This has occurred mostly at work as a few of us have a good system going on to ensure we’re all supplied with regular cups of tea or coffee.  There have, however, been a few times when I’ve not had decaf and the results have been interesting; this is right from the diuretic effect happening with a made dash to the toilet through to absolutely no effect at all.
I do miss a decent cup of tea or coffee but there are no real worries.  I miss how I used to enjoy it and think I can gradually have some more soon.  What either concerns, or amuses me, is thinking of how many years ago I gave up smoking and drinking.  Several years ago I gave up eating meat by becoming a vegetarian and knocking caffeine out seems a radical step, possibly a step too far to be completely caffeine free?

Monday, 6 July 2015

Running in hot weather

Running in the summer is a real delight but there are some things to take into account.  Before I head into my Top Tips I'd like to say the subject of pushing ourselves too hard in hot weather can have serious consequences, so read on and take it easy.  It has been said that the moment you feel thirsty that is a sign of already being dehydrated and this can lead to drastic underperformance.

1 Hydration
Yes we all know hydration is important and yet we can easily get this wrong.  I think it's best to drink little and often well before a hot run i.e. several hours beforehand.  Believe me here - it is possible to drink too much and sometimes this can be extremely serious - so just be sensible.  Besides, running with too much food or water sloshing around is probably close to feeling pregnant while running.

In terms of what to drink, yes plain water is generally what the body needs.  However do take into account the loss of minerals and electrolytes when you're sweating or working hard.  This leads to an imbalance in the body which in turn can lead to muscle cramps either right there and then or anytime until you have taken some more electrolytes on board.  I use High 5 generally and these work pretty well; alternatively a sports drink should do the trick (a time when paying the rip-off price is worth it).

2  Check your pee
Check the colour of your pee; might sound distasteful for some but it needs to be done.  Again, we all know about this but how often to we do this?  Ideally it needs to be a very pale yellow.  Progressively darker colours indicate increasingly dehydration.

3  Time of day
If you are determined to run in hot weather, why not try running at the cooler part of the day?  This means aiming of the morning as the coolest part of the day.  Besides, running early in the morning has so many advantages, least of all it has been said you're more likely to get into a long-lasting running habit.

4 Go for shade, not open sunlight
If you can, aim for running in shady parts such as woodland areas, the shady side of the street etc.  Staying out of the direct sunlight is an obvious one but also an urban environment will probably be even warmer as concrete, buildings, tarmac etc tends to retain and radiate heat.

5 Clothing
Yes, you could run half naked as I did in the above photo.  That was in Spain and while we were on holiday a few years ago.  Seriously, that's okay for running along a holiday beach in Spain but it's important to remember there's a time and place for doing this.

Ordinarily in warm weather I will wear a short sleeve top, close fitting and, as always, a technical material.  This means it is synthetic and draws perspiration away from the body and allows it to evaporate (unlike cotton which absorbs and remains soggy - ugh!).

Don't forget to wear shorts and not the very common three quarter length black tights which seem all-the-rage nowadays.  I'm not sure if runners prefer these as a reasonable compromise between modesty and functionality?  A good pair of running shorts is inexpensive, they will last for years and years and not chaff or rub in anyway.  I favour Ron Hill running shorts (they do different types) and something these are essential in a runner's wardrobe.

6  Other things
Sunblock, hats, sunglasses etc - use as appropriate.

7  Urgent medical problems
Things can go wrong for people and I remember running a marathon a couple of years back when the temperature was, in my view, pleasantly warm throughout and yet a number of other runners were fainting and needing urgent help.  Do be aware of this, either for yourself or if you come across anyone else who might be suffering from heat exhaustion or other problems

Collective signs are confusion, dizziness, maybe a loss of coordination, headache, rise in body temperature and feeling clammy.  Generally the solution is sitting in the shade and cooling down.  Some cases may require urgent medical attention and so do bear this in mind, either for someone else or yourself.

8  Above all, running in warm sunny conditions is lovely
It lifts my mood and feeling the warmth of the sun on my face is a welcome sensation.  Although there are some practical things to consider, if you're sensible there's no reason to not enjoy maintaining your weekly mileage even in hot conditions by changing the time of day and where you run.

Take good care, choose well and enjoy it!