Archive for January, 2009

Why Am I Gaining Weight?

During Christmas 2008 I stuffed myself. I’d been up North for the festive season and just before I returned to London for the new year I weighed myself. 13 stone; the most I’ve ever weighed. I was gobbling down roast dinners like they were canapés and even after I’d had my fill and the gravy was seeping through my pores, I’d still find the room to stuff down a tube of Pringles.

Knowing full well that come January I’d be on the highway to health, I assumed that a little overindulgence would do me no harm. My first week of training alone would cover 4 hours and 5 minutes of running time so I felt confident that, if I stuck to the plan, the pounds would fall off. During the second week of training I dusted off my IKEA scales in the bathroom and had a peek at the oscillating numbers in front of me.

13-stone, 3 pounds

Not to worry. My clothes and the change in my pocket could account for that. Plus, these scales were different to the ones I’d used back home. But, this morning (week 4) I weighed myself on the scales again (this time, straight from the shower)…


I’ve gained half a stone in one month. What the hell?! I was supposed to be losing weight, not putting on the equivalent of a new born baby! After turning to the net for comfort (no, not like that) I soon calmed down. Apparently there are two reasons to account for this:

  1. Muscle mass is denser than fat
    Hopefully, during marathon training your legs accumulate muscle mass. Muscle tissue will weigh 18% more than the same volume of fat. I wonder if Rick Waller used that excuse with his agent, just before he left Celebrity Fit Club. “I haven’t been eating more, I’ve just been working out too much!”
  2. You’re eating more
    Running is one of the fastest way to burn calories. But, by running your energy levels will deplete and hunger will set in, hard. Before long, breakfast alone isn’t going to get you through until lunch and you start to snack.

I think both of those apply to me. My legs look and feel more toned but I do have a bit of a pot belly. Although my metabolism is normally high I have been getting hungry by 11:30am (hungry is an understatement. I’d eat the pencil shavings on my desk if I could). Snacking can’t be avoided so see this page for tips on healthy snacks for runners. Just to clarify, I am not personally recommending peanut butter spread on apple slices.

For me, weight loss is not the reason I am running the London Marathon (you’d know this full well if you’ve ever spotted me inhaling a big bag of Kettle Chips) but for those of you who are taking up running to utilise a few more belt loops then you can follow these steps to avoid hunger.

Well done to for featuring 3 times in this post. I should get paid for these plugs. I accept cash, cheques or chips…

Fundraising for the London Marathon:

Even before the hotly contested 15,000 ballot places for the London Marathon have been allocated, the Golden Bond places have already been sold. These places are sold to the thousands of charities that recognise the marathon as the single biggest fundraising event of the British calendar (the London Marathon raises a whopping £45 million annually). Individual fundraising targets are competitive and are normally around the £1500 – £2000 mark.

This week I began fundraising for the MS Society with a target of £2000. I’d set up my Justgiving page last year in preparation (it took me that long to photoshop this picture for the page)…

...not bad for a Microsoft paint job...

I know what you’re thinking, nice bulge? Seriously though, that’s not me. But my head is that big. By the by, if you’re currently fundraising for the marathon and you haven’t heard of Justgiving then throw away your abacus and sponsorship sheet you old fart and get with it. Not only does it mean that you can grab sponsorship from all of your acquaintances from across the globe but you can claim the tax back as an additional bit of wedge for your charity. God bless the Inland Revenue.

Now, if you’re reading this blog or have written one yourself then you’re probably aware of how powerful social media is as a tool. I started a Facebook group containing links to my sponsorship page and invited every one of my friends to join. This has kick-started things quite nicely. Facebook is probably one of the strongest methods of drawing people to your sponsorship page but there are techniques you can use to maximise the effects of your Facebook campaign. See the Justgiving blog for some fantastic tips but here are a few to get you started:

  • Keep everything up to date
    A boring, old news group will lose its hit count quickly unless you keep it up to date. Keep your news wall up to speed with training targets you’ve met and sponsorship updates. Use your status updates enough to keep people in the loop but try not to do it too often as it might start to irritate your friends.
  • Use video
    I haven’t done this yet but I think it’s a great idea. If it’s funny it’ll generate more traffic for your sponsorship page. I might do one of me dressed up in my black hat and hoody running up some stairs and dub it with the Rocky theme tune. I’m so original.
  • Say thanks, publicly
    When someone sponsors you, take to the time to thank them on their Facebook wall (even if you’ve already thanked them personally). It’ll raise awareness to your page and remind others to do the same.

For those of you who aren’t Facebook friendly then there are some other tips you can try out. The idea is to be as creative as you can. You’re doing a wonderful thing by giving up three months of your life to raise money for a worthy cause so make sure people know it. The girl in this video spelt out the link to her Justgiving page by using a watch with GPS functionality and a website called GPS Visualiser. I wish I’d thought of that (cracking moment when she slips over at the end but well done Jenny). Another chap used eBay to promote his page.

Some people will send the details of their sponsorship to their local paper (Justgiving have a draft press release you can use). Now, I work at gorkana (who provide a  media database to the PR industry) and have the newsdesk email addresses of all papers across the country at my disposal (little plug there – the CEO can thank me later). Do you think my little page could make it in to the Daily Mail? I know enough about the PR industry to know that blanket-emailing the national papers doesn’t work unless your story is an exclusive or really captivating. Maybe if I offer to run it naked? You’ve all seen the picture above…

So far I’ve raised £367. That’s from having my sponsorship page in my email signature at work, emailing the link directly to EVERYONE at my company and having the Facebook group up and running for 3 days. There’s still a long way to go but I’m hopeful. They haven’t seen my Rocky video yet…

Treadmill Running:

'Checking it's real' at the Finsbury Cancer Research 10K 2008We’ve just had one of the coldest weather spikes in British history. For the first weeks of January 2009 the weather was so cold that worried pensioners up and down the country were given an extra £25 per week to help with their fuel bills.

Now, technically I’m a northerner. When I was a wee bairn I’d be fetching logs in for the fire in a pair of flip-flops and a tank top. But, one of the things they don’t tell you about moving to London is how hot the city can get and you quickly become acclimatised to it. So this cold spike hit ‘us’ southerners quite hard. I have a pair of jogging bottoms but they’re heavy and I haven’t quite plucked up enough courage to sport these ninja tights I keep seeing people wearing (I still look like a pigeon). So, to keep warm (and for convenience sake), I took up treadmill running at my local gym.

There are several advantages and disadvantages of running on a treadmill. But before we get on to these we first have to follow some rules:

  1. 20 minutes only at peak-time.
    From the hours of 5 – 7pm (in most gyms) you may run for a maximum of 20 minutes to allow others to have a turn. This rule is not displayed anywhere in the gym but is widely known (by everyone except yourself and will unwillingly be instructed to you by some know-it-all). I got thrown off the treadmill half way through a 40 minute stint the other day by a guy who then ran for 15 minutes at just above walking pace and did nothing but check out the local talent. Seething. My view is, if you can’t get to the gym fast enough to get a free treadmill then run faster.
  2. No comparing.
    You must never look at the runner next to you to compare their speed setting to yours. If you do you will instigate a level war. This is where you nonchalantly increase the speed of your treadmill to one setting above that of your neighbour. Your neighbour will respond but only when you’re looking the other way. This will continue until one party can take no more and hits the dreaded ‘Cool Down’ button.
  3. Look straight ahead.
    Look behind you or turn your head to the side at your peril. Your body will follow the direction of your head and before you know it you’ll be on the edge of the belt or falling off of the back.
  4. Let go of the hand-rails
    This is fine while walking, but if you hold on while running (some treadmills have heart-rate monitors that require you to hold on to two metal sections of the hand-rail) you’ll end up looking like either Frankenstein or the Lone Ranger.

If you follow these steps you’ll be able to reap the advantages of running indoors. You’ll be avoiding frostbite (in all seriousness), wind chill and, in wet weather, chafing. For advice on Winter running see this article from In the case of marathon runners, your training will take place in the Winter months. Then, come April and race day, the sun decides to shine like it did in the London Marathon 2007. All of a sudden you’re out of your comfort zone. You’re not used to the dry and hot conditions and you become dehydrated. Running indoors will acclimatise you to that heat.

The treadmill will also be softer on the joints than running on tarmac and can help you keep up the training while trying to relax those jarred bones. However, some experts tell us that it can be too soft on you. It’s all in the physics. When running on the ground, your legs are working hard to drive your centre of mass forward. You accelerate as you push off (when your leg is behind you) and decelerate as your front leg meets the ground. On a treadmill your centre of mass is static and your legs are positioned to keep your centre of mass stable. In essence, the ground is moving your legs, dramatically decreasing the work load. Where a treadmill is good for overall fitness, it may not be as beneficial to the competitive runner.

I’ll be sticking with it until the sun decides to shine after work. If it’s not your thing then I suggest you go out and buy eight treadmills and make yourself a kick-ass music video

When Do I Stop Drinking?

London Marathon - when do I stop drinking? You’ve managed to grab an elusive marathon place, you’ve bought your trainers, you’ve found a suitable training plan. If you’ve come this far then you have to ask yourself the question, “Just how seriously am I going to take this?”.

Most training plans (especially those for a first-time marathon runner) will suggest that you should build yourself up to the 26.2 miles gradually. Every Sunday (the long run), my training schedule indicates a slight increase in time, roughly 15 minutes or so each week. For the first time since beginning my training, last night (Saturday) I was presented with an opportunity to have a few drinks. Knowing full well that tomorrow I’d have to go for a run for 90 minutes I decided to turn them down.

There are a ton of reasons why you could have entered into a marathon; a bet with a friend, for personal fitness, raising money for charity, for a sense of accomplishment or for weight loss. It’s those reasons that will define how seriously you are going to take this. But there are limits and one of mine is drink. Now that’s not to say I’m an alcoholic (I had my first drink in 2 weeks on Friday night – 2 cans of lager) but I am a very social drinker. Would turning down alcohol every Saturday night mean the end of my social life?

Drinking those cans I had on Friday night was one of those “Once it hits your lips…” moments. I’d forgotten how good beer was! But, I’d just come from the gym and I had a rest day the next day and I think that’s the key. You can still have a social life and the odd tipple as long as you interleave it with your training plan. Plan your nights out, rearrange your training session, keep your friends and get fitter! But, for those unmissable nights out or for those birthday parties you forgot about until the last minute, their are a few things that an endurance athlete (see the effects of drinking on an endurance athlete) can do to nullify the effects of a hangover:

  1. Top up on potassium.
    Alcohol, as a diuretic, reduces your sodium and potassium (electrolyte) levels so eat a banana and drink some orange juice in the morning. Drink sports drinks like Gatorade to top up your electrolytes.
  2. Drink water.
    Another pleasant product of diuretics is dehydration. Drink more water than you think you need, take drinks with you on your runs and drink a pint of water before you go to bed the night before!
  3. Don’t drink as much.
    It sounds simple but the less you drink, the less time it takes for your body to recover from the effects of drinking. Going for a run on a hangover over will increase blood flow and flush out those toxins even faster.

Unfortunately, it can take as much as 3 days to completely rid yourself of a hangover and you can unknowingly impeed your training for that time. But, if you’re used to running (away) the next morning then do your worst. I might suggest, however, if you have to exercise the morning after, go for a bike ride. It’s a bit softer on the stomach…

Recovering From Injury:

Unfortunately I think I’ve purchased my trainers and special double-layered socks a week too late. As a result of continued running with bad blisters (and adjusting my stride pattern to compensate) I think I’ve picked up a mild knee injury. It doesn’t feel that bad at all when I’m running (in fact the there is strangely hardly any pain at all). I only seem to feel it when I’m walking down hill or down steps. It one of life’s little ironies that I live at the top of a hill.

Greenwich Park

Injuries are a marathon trainer’s worst nightmare. I’ve been sticking to the training schedule like glue (see the useful sites page) and don’t want to be playing catch up in a few weeks time after I’ve recovered. It’s been hard enough getting used to the schedule and it’s only the 2nd week.

Runner’s World have a great section on dealing with injury and from it I’ve taken two key points:

  1. No complaining.
    Stay positive. Injury at some point is pretty much inevitable to those who are undertaking a marathon. The average marathon runner will complete over 500 miles of training runs in that 3-4 month build up to that big Sunday (over 800 for an advanced runner). That’s an average of 1,000,000 individual steps to avoid slipping on some grass, dodging a puddle or hopping over an uncontrollable Jack Russel on a long leash. The law of averages has to catch up with you. Complaining about it is only going to piss off those around you. Keep your cool, get better and carry on.
  2. No slacking.
    Unless you’ve broken your back the chances are that you can still exercise and keep yourself active enough to stay in shape. If you have bad sores or blisters then use the stepping machine. If your upper body is injured then get on the bikes. Lift weights, walk, stretch or row, just maintain your basic level of fitness so that when you do recover you haven’t lost any ground. If your training plan says a 30 minute run then do something else for 30 minutes and don’t eat any differently to how you normally would.

I’m not sure if this knee ailment is going to cause a problem or not. I’ll keep a support on it but I think I’ve diagnosed it. I swear, all you need these days to be a doctor is a blackberry and google in your bookmarks. Google search ‘my knee hurts when running downhill’ and the second search result is this. Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome. Easy. Use this link at work when your colleague asks you a silly question. It’ll go down a treat I promise.

How is it treated? Ice-pack, ibuprofen and a knee support.
I’m such a wuss…

Choosing the right trainers:

Running in the Bupa London 10K 2008

Pronator or Supinator?

I’m into my 2nd week of training now and the repetitive strain injuries are kicking in. My feet are so bloody soft. I blame living in a household that forced me to wear shoes day in, day out (I used to live in a pub and my Mam was always warning of broken glass). The extra running has given me two whacking great blisters, one on each foot, in exactly the same place, exactly the same size.

The socks I wear cost me £8 and don’t seem to be helping. I won’t go into too much detail about the formation of blisters but allowing excess space and moisture inside the sock has meant that the epidermis and the dermis (layers of the skin) have separated and fluid has formed between the space. Interesting stuff. What’s more interesting is that Compeed, the blister patches designed for women going dancing in their high heels, is what I use to soothe those tender little areas and keep me kicking asphalt!

So today I upgraded my socks and trainers. Paul Radcliffe’s advice is a good pair of trainers is essential and with this in mind I visited Runner’s Need in Holborn, London during my lunch break. I was plonked on a treadmill wearing my suit and a pair of their test trainers. I had to roll up my trousers so the analyst could see the shape of my ankle as it rolled from heel to toe (which made me look like Mr. Bean) while their video cameras filmed my feet. Not pretty. I have one foot that turns out as it hits the ground and both feet roll from the outside of my heel across to the big toe. I’m a pronator (supinator is the opposite) and I look like Phoebe Buffay in that episode of Friends when she’s running in the park.

I went with some Asics Gel 1140’s (£69.99) and some special double layered socks (the extra layer moves so that your top layer of skin doesn’t). 25 minutes easy jog tomorrow so I can ease them in.

If you’re interested, Compeed can also be used to prevent joggers nipple. Just get a pair of scissors and cut a small circle… I’ve said too much.

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Marathon training begins:

…as it seems to have done for a lot of others!

Last week marked week 1 of a 16-week training programme for the intermediate runner. As an intermediate runner I should be comfortable with ‘4-5 hours a week and have previously completed a marathon or 10k race’. Last year I ran in my first race, the BUPA London 10k, and ran a fairly respectable time of 55 minutes.

Before Monday I hadn’t run until before the Christmas break so I’m feeling a little soggy around the mid-section. I’d normally combat this by ‘sucking in’ but trying to do that while running for 1 hour+ is a joke. To be fair, it’s not like I’ll be grabbing any phone numbers as I whisk by (crawl by).

I’d managed to secure a place in the London Marathon 2009 back in November. I applied through the open ballot registration immediately after the 2008 marathon but apparently you either have to be Gordon Ramsey or have run in a marathon a few times before to even dream of getting a place this way. The 10k I ran was for Diabetes UK (I’m a type 1 diabetes sufferer) and I raised just under £600 for them but that didn’t count at all and I couldn’t secure one of their 80 places. I then managed to secure a place running for the MS Society (my sister-in-law suffers from MS), but not before I was denied a place at first and had to be put on their ‘reserve’ list. I thought the hard part was supposed to be the marathon itself!

This week I’ve done 4 hours training. 2 of those were on the treadmills in my local gym. I love running on the treadmill, especially when someone glides up next to me all confident, runs for 20 minutes and walks off bright red in the face, breathing so hard that his personal trainer can hear him while he’s creeping off to the changing room for a cigarette (I would have used the word ‘fag’ but my gym is gay friendly). I look over all smug out of the corner of my eye and mouth ‘pah’.

But the 2 hours of outdoor running leave me feeling pretty pathetic. My attire consists of a grey hoodie, jogging bottoms and a black hat (I look like Rocky) but in the area where I live (Blackheath – the starting place of the London Marathon) there are some supreme athletes. They must be on the same training schedule as me because the number of joggers I’ve seen this week has tripled, and their pace is twice that of mine. I see one of these joggers every morning on my way to work, he passes me at the same point on the pavement. He’s always bounding past and it’s gotten to the point where we exchange the slightest of nods as if to say,

“Morning Ronald McRunner. Legging it again today I see?”
“Yes, I’m awesome.”

I either need a jogging partner (to keep pace with) or I’ll have to start following one of these supreme joggers around as they run. If I’m not in prison for stalking this week I’ll let you know how I’m getting on.

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