Monthly Archives: November 2013

Spring Marathon Competition Klaxon!

UK Runners! People who run marathons or people who want to run a marathon! Attention!

I have been given the heads up about a pretty nifty looking competition for runners looking to do a spring marathon. As I’m doing the London Marathon and I’ve missed all the recent 26.2 project entries I thought it would be an idea to give it a go. After all you’ve got to be in it to win it! But as I’m an altruistic sort I thought I’d share the details with all the runners I know (plus they would really like to spread the word about the competition and when you read the prize you’ll be glad I did).

The competition is being run by a company called the Run Lounge. Run Lounge is a web site offering advice and training from coaches Nick and Phoebe from Running With Us. Have a look round the web site as there are some great resources if you’re looking for plans, tips or advice on things like strength and conditioning.

The 4 competition winners are being offered a prize of epic proportions. The prize includes:

  • Training for a spring marathon with coaches Nick and Phoebe from RunningWithUs (
  • A week-long all expenses paid training camp in Portugal in March with Nick and Phoebe and2:09 Events
  • £700 of Saucony kit including shoes and apparel
  • High5 Nutrition products
  • Entry and accommodation at the Cambridge half marathon
  • A UK training day

Warm weather training? Being decked out in Saucony kit? Nutrition? Training and entry to a race? It’s almost like being an elite athlete!

All you have to do is go to the Run Lounge Facebook page here. Like the page and then you can enter the competition, which is easy. Just tell them why you want to run a marathon and why you should be on the Mission Marathon team.

Go, go, go and good luck. I won’t hold it against you if you win.

Pregnancy, Exercise and People’s Opinions.

I was thinking today that pregnancy and training for a marathon are similar for women in some ways. You enter a challenge, your body has to endure many changes and for months everything you do is working towards one final goal, one day. Above all though I think the greatest thing that they have in common is that pregnancy and marathon training are individual experiences. You can take people’s advice, listen to other people, take recommendations, but the only one who knows what’s right for you is you.

Recently I read an interview with the woman who experienced a backlash because she carried on weight lifting up until the end of her pregnancy. I have no issues with this whatsoever. The standard advice to pregnant women is that if you were already doing something prior to pregnancy it is probably ok to continue, no doubt with a healthy dash of common sense. Fine, no problem there. The issue I had was the quote that came from this woman’s husband following the birth of their third child:

‘Pregnancy is unmerited sacrifice. Only the strongest women can do it with grace’.

I’m hoping I’ve misinterpreted him, but he comes over as judgemental and he has no idea what he’s talking about. He is yet another person judging other pregnant women and declaring how strong other woman are by his own standards. Does he mean we should all be lifting weights up until the end of our pregnancy? Are we only showing grace if we give birth at home? Does he mean women who don’t do this are not strong? I don’t know, maybe it’s out of context but who is he or anyone to judge the pregnancy experience of other woman? I am not anti exercise for pregnant women because for the majority of pregnant women it is beneficial and may even help delivery.

I started thinking about my own pregnancy experiences and how far from graceful they were. I started off my first pregnancy running but at 5 months that became too painful for me as I developed pelvic girdle pain and sciatica. I then continued exercising via yoga and swimming when fatigue and back/leg pain allowed. I was feeling fit and well coming up to my due date and I felt prepared for labour and birth.

Well, babies and my body didn’t read all the research because my labour ended up being prolonged and the birth of my baby ended up being via emergency Caesarean with my son requiring resuscitation breaths. All the exercise I did meant nothing to me at that point. My postnatal recovery wasn’t straight forward because of the section and I focussed on my baby. By the time I was pregnant for the second time, exercise was not high on my agenda and my back again was an issue. I focussed on looking after my busy toddler and trying to manage my awful sciatica with yoga and physiotherapy.

In the eyes of the man mentioned above I’m not ‘strong’ because I wasn’t able to exercise at a particular level and I struggled to give birth. Well screw him and screw all the other people who think it’s ok to tell pregnant women what they should do. If a woman is looking after herself and is being sensible while coping with all the huge changes emotionally and physically then in my view that demonstrates grace.

My friends who have given birth to premature babies and almost lost their lives have shown strength and grace.

My friends who have been hospitalised suffering with awful sickness meaning they have been unable to eat have shown strength and grace.

My friends who have struggled to conceive have shown strength and grace.

If you are able to exercise while pregnant then that is quite frankly brilliant and as long as you are safe and feel ok then you should continue. If you aren’t up to what you were doing pre-pregnancy then you shouldn’t beat yourself up. Pregnancy is not an illness but you are growing and nurturing another human being and the way it effects one woman is completely different to another. No one should make you feel bad for not running, swimming or lifting weights because you know what is right for your body and your baby. Pregnancy and marathon training open us up to the strong opinions of so many other people but you are showing strength and grace by focussing on what is right for you and your body. Don’t feel you have to live up to the ridiculous standards of others.


How We’re Made.

The whole heel striking thing is still bugging me. I read a blog post by a runner who prefers to run in Vibrams and she stated that ‘normal’ running shoes encourage you to heel strike. And I just thought ‘arggggggggh’. Here we go again with this rubbish. If you heel strike you will heel strike, if you strike your mid foot then that’s what you’ll do. I have always run in ‘standard’ neutral running shoes and I have never struck with my heel first.

You only have to watch an elite track race to see that there is no standard way to run. There is no standard height for a runner, no one way to swing your arms and as Priscah Jeptoo shows no one way to move your legs. Paula’s head bob anyone? Our genotypes and phenotypes contribute powerfully to how we run and I get cross when this myth about shoes continues to be perpetuated.

Watching my children always reveals to me that we all have different ways of moving. When my eldest, who is five, runs he pulls his arms into his sides and pumps them like he’s a little running super hero. When my three year old runs he flails his arms out to the sides and moves across the park like he’s trying to fly after his big brother. Two little boys who may or may not be sporty, runners or any type of athlete demonstrating that we are all built to move in different ways.

I get really annoyed with many bloggers and commentators prescribing how people should run. I have been told that I should try bare foot running, that it is better and more efficient. The short answer to this is no. I don’t want to. I enjoy running the way I run now and I don’t think it’s wrong just because some new shoe has come out and been touted as the latest thing.

This post was going to make so much more sense as I wrote little parts of it during my ‘jog’ this morning. We are not all built for speed, for distance, for rugby, for pole vault or the pommel horse. Genotype and phenotype are strong influences but on the flip side we should also do what we enjoy and if running as you were born to do is what does it for you then go for it.

Priscah, Pamela and Pointless Comparisons.

picture from virgin media

So how many times has Priscah Jeptoo ever run down a California beach in a sassy red swim suit while pretending to be a life guard? Ummm, I’m guessing none. How many times has Priscah Jeptoo pretended to be Barb Wire? Again I’m guessing on never. Why on earth would I compare two so dramatically different people in such a way? Just so ridiculous, right?

Well that’s what some bright spark decided to do with the stats from the New York Marathon. A graph was released showing the split times for the elite athlete and the former Baywatch star. Someone even tweeted this with the comment ‘guess they had different tactics’.

Oh fanarr fanarr fannarr. Pamela Anerson finished the New York Marathon in 5 hours and 41 minutes. I’m assuming her tactic was to finish, like so many hundreds of other people that crossed the line around the same time. But the stats of those other people weren’t brought up in this smug, snide manner. No just Pamela Anderson’s. Nobody has compared the stats of the winner of the men’s race Geoffrey Mutai with any of the male celebrities that completed the marathon on Sunday.

I just don’t understand what is to gain from this pointless comparison. There is no doubt that Jeptoo is an amazing athlete so why compare her to a woman who has a completely different life style and does a completely different job. They were there running for entirely different reasons: Jeptoo was running for her livelihood, running marathons is her job. Anderson was running and raising money for the J/P Haitian Relief Foundation, a humanitarian group, which interestingly was helping Hatian distance athletes in being able to compete in New York. So this is where I feel the snide comparison is even more uncalled for.

But as Laura and James pointed out in a Twitter conversation, in the UK Katherine Jenkins and Katie Price have both taken flak in the media for running marathons. Katherine apparently because she dared to still look attractive while she was doing it and Katie, well I’m actually not sure why she got flak, she still completed a marathon!

I did the Brighton Half Marathon last year and when I told someone, all they wanted to know was if I had beaten Katie Price. I was slightly gobsmacked because I actually wasn’t that bothered but this person seemed to be really bothered, most likely so they could ‘bring a celebrity down a peg or two’ in their own mind. I feel that there were similar reasons for the Anerson/Jeptoo comparison, because *sarcasm ready* who does Pam Anderson think she is you trying to run a marathon? I don’t know if I was just grumpy when I saw it being retweeted but from my running twitter pals I knew it didn’t just get my goat. The running snobbery was in full force on this one. Amusingly some of the retweeters were the same people I’d seen calling Jeptoo’s style of running ugly, knock kneed and weird. See if you can work that one out.

The Elle Running blog: a few thoughts from a runner/physio.

This week on Twitter the lovely running blogger Laura retweeted a link to the Elle Running blog which had a feature entitled Claire Danes is running wrong. The author, Amy Lawrenson, looks at people’s feet while they run and she has decided that because Clare Danes is a heel strike runner, she is doing it wrong. According to Amy, heel striking is the worst possible way to run. She goes on to say that when you are heel striking you are putting immense pressure through the joints of the lower limb which could lead to problems. She says that we ‘should’ be running on our mid or fore foot.

Amy’s blog caused a bit of an uproar among some of the running bloggers I know, the main reason being that it could put off potential lady runners from trying to run or that runners could become embarrassed. Amy subsequently updated her feature:

‘We had some feedback on Twitter about this post. I was told by a physio that my heel striking was contributing to some pain I was getting in my knee and hip. A midfoot or forefoot strike was deemed to be preferable. Never feel embarrassed about how you run or scared to get out there! The best advice would be that if you want to take up running regularly then go for a gait analysis and speak with an expert who will assess your running style and discuss any tweaks you may want to make. I do believe that heel striking isn’t great for you but others feel the opposite, the best thing is to find what works, and is safe, for you’.

For me as a runner and a Physiotherapist who treats runners, I just wanted to raise some other points that had been niggling me:

My problem with it is that the author is applying the advice given by her physio for her individual case to the general running population. Someone looking for advice about running could read this and try and apply it to themselves, which would most likely result in an injury. You can’t just change from heel strike running to fore foot or mid foot strike. It needs time and work to transition. I had a chat with a guy from Salomon who told me that their athletes take up to three years to fully transition from mid foot to fore foot/barefoot running style.

I also need to mention the runners that I’ve seen in clinic who have read about fore foot and barefoot running and tried it.These are runners who probably had no real issues with the way they were running before but they’ve read about the latest running trend and naturally assumed they should be doing it. This is what has made me sad about running lately. There is so much advice out there but running is an individual activity performed by people of all genotypes and phenotypes: you simply cannot generalise what is right for one person to another. The research has not yet proven that fore foot striking or barefoot running is superior to heel or mid foot strike. Adharanand Finn trained with some of the best runners in the world when he wrote ‘Running with the Kenyans’ but even he discovered great variability in running style among the athletes he ran with.

I would also love for an agreement on what defines a ‘gait analysis’. Do we mean being asked to run on a treadmill in the shop while the shop assistant watches us try different trainers? Or do we mean a biomechanics lab where an individual is stripped down to their shorts, key points marked on their body and then filmed running on a treadmill while being picked to pieces from the trunk downwards or the feet up? (for me I love seeing what happens at the hips and work down, it’s not just about the feet people!). And if it is the latter then what about the potential stress that a ‘bad’ gait analysis could cause? Does the person giving the analysis give advice and exercises? If it ain’t broke do we need to fix it? Anecdotally I have seen people who have been given orthotics for flat feet and they’ve ended up with a world of other problems. This type of gait analysis isn’t that simple and I really don’t think everyone needs it.

I tweeted that I didn’t think everyone needs a gait analyis to run and it triggered a great debate among the runners I follow. One person felt that gait analysis by a physio helped to identify that the wrong trainers had been causing their knee pain. Another said that having gait analysis had enabled them to adjust their running style to help them avoid buying necessary trainers. Many other people felt that speaking to the people in the running shops had helped them buy the trainers that were right for them. But none of these people were instructed to run in a dramatically different manner.

I have had niggles and injuries of late and I am a mid foot runner. But as someone else said on twitter the answer is not always round the foot or issues with foot wear. It can be about so much more (usually inducing a back injury from lifting a toddler over here). I think the Elle Running blog may have had the best of intentions in sharing a running experience but picking on the way another runner is running is just the wrong way to go about it. I would like to know how Claire Danes herself feels about her running. If she’s not injured and she’s enjoying running then I’d say she’s probably running about right.

What do you think? Should everyone try and transition to fore foot running? Does everyone need a biomechanical analysis before running?

Jeptoo, Deba and an NYC Women’s Race Recap.

Yesterday I was probably the most anti-social person in my family as I sat fixed for most of the afternoon by the kitchen table trying to find an alternative stream to ABC’s coverage of the 2013 ING New York City Marathon. The reporters were enthusiastic and bouncy but it didn’t stop me cringing at their occasional errors:

’82 countries represented here, including Miami...’ that was from the weather reporter.

‘Runners took part in a 3.1 mile race during the Staten Island Half Marathon’ Yeah sometimes we wish it was only 3.1.

But you know maybe it was the excitement of the big event. ABC had a good go at doing some wrestling type comparison stats, turning it into a running SMACK DOWN between the athletes who were topping the World Marathon Majors leader board. I was half hoping for someone to come out and shout ‘LET’S GET READY TO RUMBLE!’.

It was a big year for the New York Marathon after Hurricane Sandy had caused so much devastation and the tragedy of the Boston Marathon bombing. You could tell that Mary Wittenburg the CEO of the New York Road Runners was emotional and I started to get the chin wobbles myself. I can’t help it, I’ve said it before, running and athletics make me cry.

Anyhow, the build up started so well but it all seemed to go to pot at ABC when the actual races started. If you blinked then it’s highly likely that you would have missed the start of the women’s race on the ABC stream and been greeted by more adverts or coverage of a kids choir. Lovely choir but, you know, I wanna’ see the running.

The women’s race began with a complete surprise. New York based Ethiopian Buzunesh Deba went flying out at an early fast pace with her compatriot Tigist Tufa Dimisse just behind her. The chasing pack made no attempt to close them down and at one point the gap stood at 3 minutes. Now one can only guess at what as behind Deba’s tactics: was it the thrill of running in the city that has been her home since she was 18? Was she trying to out run the best in the world by putting enough distance between her and them? Or had she made a huge error? Typically there were noises from the commentators about how she and Dimisse had gone off too soon and would soon be over taken. I remember hearing the same said about Mizuki Noguchi  during the Athens Olympics, although she waited until the 16 mile mark to pull away. The commentators said then that Noguchi would blow up but she went on to take Olympic gold. I was seriously hoping that Deba was going to be rewarded for her gutsy tactics.

It wasn’t all quiet at the back though. Priscah Jeptoo started to pull away from the chasing pack and ended up running about 40 minutes of the race on her own, trying to claw Deba and Dimisse back to her. The mental and physical strength it must have taken to leave the comfort of a group of runners to battle on regardless just shows what a great athlete she is. The ABC commentary was heard to make jibes about her running style: ‘like a chariot with blades sticking out of the sides’. The editor of an athletics magazine even called her style ‘ugly knock-kneed’ and ‘ungainly’. If she knows what people say about her running style, she clearly does not give a hoot because as mile 21 approached Jeptoo had Deba in her sights.

Up ahead Deba had thrown up and you could tell she was starting to suffer for her efforts. Dimisse was already a long way back and now it looked like Deba was starting to sense the inevitable as Jeptoo closed behind her. She looked over her shoulder not once but a few times to see how close Jeptoo was. And as she turned her head for the umpteenth time, Jeptoo swept by without even glancing at Deba.

Jeptoo looked relaxed and comfortable and did not give a hint of the effort it must have taken to close such a huge gap during the race. People continued to comment on her running style on social media and I find this rather amusing because there is probably only one athlete with ‘perfect’ style and that’s David Rudisha. But I doubt even he could continue to run like the machine he is over 26.2 miles. Jeptoo obviously hasn’t tried to correct her style to suit coaches or biomechanists and she clearly isn’t injured as her season proves. She is running to her own beat and to the path of least resistance. She doesn’t fight it, she goes with it and as a result she flies. If you look at her upper body, her torso is always strong so her power comes from places other than her legs.

Once Jeptoo had over taken Deba the rest of the race was straight forward. A powerful looking Jeptoo swept on to win with Deba in a more than deserved second place. The next three places were taken by Latvia, France and Italy showing that there is depth among European athletes over this distance.

As Jeptoo and Deba crossed the line I sat in my kitchen and clapped my hands at how awesome both these women were. Individually they both showed guts and determination. Deba could have dropped out when she started to be sick. Jeptoo could have just let Deba run away with it but instead she fought back. The last 6-8 miles of this marathon were a joy to watch and again I found myself with the chin wobbles accompanied by an over whelming wish to go to New York and run the roads the same roads as Jeptoo and Deba.

Priscah Jeptoo crosses the finish line of the 2013 ING New York Marathon. Pic from NY daily news web site.