Tuesday, 23 April 2013

So the marathon is over....

Firstly massive congratulations to you all there were some great performances on Sunday in tough conditions. For those of you that didn't finish it’s important to look back at how far you progressed in your training and remember the journey of the marathon, not just the race itself.

I just wanted to note down some thoughts about the next couple of weeks;

* Delayed Onset Post exercise Muscle Soreness (DOMS) - Stiffness and muscle soreness are inevitable over the next couple of days. The soreness is not caused by lactic acid accumulation as many people think but by microscopic muscle damage....so....;

      - Eat and drink well - Eat what you fancy this week! You deserve to treat yourself this week BUT keep it in moderation and do ensure a good intake of protein and carbohydrate to help the muscles heal and then re-load. Focus on a really well balanced diet with red meat, white meat or fish (or nuts, tofu and pulses for veggies). Lots of good fruit and vegetables, with a broad spectrum of colours. It is often the micro nutrients you will be deficient in - so top them up with loads of good veg. Plenty of water as well - try to keep up with your minimum of 1L a day. Don't rely on processed sugars to help you lift yourself out of physical or mental fatigue - it will likely do the opposite and leave you feeling lethargic. Focus on good slow release carbohydrates; wholegrain and organic. PLEASE do not start a diet or calorie cutting regime this week - your body needs to heal, give it the macro and micro nutrients it needs to do this. Your immune system will also be low so get plenty of Vitamin C in. Please let me know if you need any ideas for meals, or if you want to know more….

      - Weight Gain - Please note its likely your weight will increase this week as your body retains fuel and fluid as it repairs - this is temporary.  

      - Massage - If you can book in for a sports massage this week and focus on breaking down the scar tissue created through the course of your marathon you should. If you can’t get a sports massage in use a foam roller or even self-massage to find those knots and trigger points - if you are not sure on this give me a call!

      - Get active! - Rest is good but inactivity isn't. Whilst it is not necessary to run this week (see below) you might find it really helpful to include some light activity - walking, swimming or easy cycling. 30 minutes or so 3-4 times this week will help to work some of the stiffness out of your muscles - stretch after as well focusing on quads, calf, hamstrings and gluteal muscles. Email me if you want instructions or videos, but most of you will know these.

* Post marathon low - The 'post marathon blues' are a common affliction. The media coverage, the expo, the hype, the training all results in a really big build up. The marathon almost becomes your friend and a key focus for your life. However you performed to see it go so quickly leaves many of us with a feeling of being at a loss, anti-climactic and without focus. Here a few things to note;

      - Sleep - Part of this feeling is exhaustion. Treat this week like you are in taper week - get to bed early and sleep as much as you can.

      - New goals - Arrange to meet up with me and we can chat through what next. It might not be a marathon, or even running, but getting yourself a new goal can really help overcome a lack of endorphins and lack of focus. If you are going to set yourself running goals perhaps have a think about a few options - another marathon? - maybe you'll aim to run it faster, or over a hilly course, or run abroad? Perhaps join a running club, change up your routes or run some off road or trail races? Perhaps challenge yourself over different distances - what about a summer track race, or nail those 5km and 10km PBs? Maybe it’s time to focus on your strength and conditioning so you can not only run faster, but stronger too?

      - Congratulate yourself - Completing a marathon is an incredible achievement, training for a marathon is even more an incredible achievement. Look back over your training and remind yourself how far you have come, what you have learnt about yourself, how much you have risen for charity. It's easy to forget to take time to reflect and congratulate yourself.

      - Give yourself time - If you don’t feel like you want to get back into running straight away then give yourself time and space. We run because we enjoy it – if you force yourself to return to structured training before you want to you will eat away at that love for just running. Be patient with yourself.

* Getting back to running - As a general rule it will take 1 day for each mile of the marathon before your body is back performing and before you can expect to feel strong in sessions or longer runs. Here are a few tips on building back into running;

      - Take a week off - I would take a week off running totally, but keep active - walk, swim or cycle but keep your effort light and conversational. This is not the week to be hitting heavy gym sessions!  

      - Week 2 you can start to build back into your running but make it a week of light, easy runs; 2-3 during the week at a conversational pace. The runs should be roughly 30-45 minutes in length, 60 maximum and up to 2 minutes a mile slower than marathon pace.

      - The weekend of week 2 is when you might start to include some faster work again. I would recommend a tempo run of about 40 minutes – 10 minutes easy to warm up, 15-20 minutes at half marathon pace or a controlled discomfort, and the remainder of the time to ease down into a conversational pace again followed by 15-20 minutes of stretching.

      - By week 3 your training can start to include some structure again; building a slightly longer weekend run 75-80 minutes entirely at a conversational pace. You can start to look at interval work again but initially focus on threshold intervals through nice simple blocks – 5 x 5 minutes, 3 x 8 minutes etc. at 4 word answer pace. Towards the end of this week and into week 4 speed work and VO2 max interval sessions can start to build. The nature of these session will depend on your running goals going forward, but it is good, when your body has recovered, to get in a phase of Vo2 max training and intervals that focus on leg speed development, building towards 5km and 10km in the late Spring and early Summer.

      - Whilst your training volume is lower concentrate on building up a good routine of core strength and flexibility that you can maintain as your training volume increases again. Core (chest, abdominal, lower back and glute) strength can be included easily into your post marathon running training – if you need advice on the right exercises drop me an email or give me a call and we can arrange a session to guide your training.

Well done again everyone, onwards and upwards!


Taper rambles...

I thought I would share an email I sent to my runners in this week's London Marathon as there might be thoughts in here useful to others. Its a bit of a ramble, but stick with it!

Hi All,

So now we are in our last week and half before the big day.

Your running has been cut back but most of you will notice the frequency of your running might not be massively reduced - but the volume of running, and the number of reps during intense sessions is reduced. The taper is the time it progressively recovery and focus on the race. This email is designed to give a few tips, many are obvious, some less so as you build towards race day….

* What happens during your taper? During your taper your body rebuilds glycogen stores and repairs the micro-damage that training inflicts – particularly from the really intense last 4-5 weeks. As you’ll know by now it is rest that results in repairing that damage which is when the body gets stronger and super-compensation takes place, allowing us to run longer, stronger and faster.

Plan now - getting to the start early. Work out how you are going to get to the start. many of you are will be coming from North London - it's quite a trek down and if you are relying on public transport remember the rail companies do not always help you out with their time tabling. The marathon website provides this information which you may find useful - http://www.virginlondonmarathon.com/marathon-centre/virgin-london-marathon-information/runners-information/ If you get stuck please let me know and I will see how I can help with anyone who requires a lift. Plan this now. Please note that the start is a little walk from Snow Hill or Cutty Sark, and straight up a big hill – allow enough time to walk this slow – I don’t want you running!!

Expo and picking up your number. The expo is open Wednesday-Saturday. Wednesday and Thursday are by far the quietest days so if you can go then – do so. I will likely be there most days so do give me a call in case I am. The Expo is great and London is the best organised major race I have been too – so don’t worry if yo have to pick up you number of Saturday – its fine, will just be a little busier. There are loads of interesting and nerve jangling exhibitions at the expo. Have a quick look around, suck in the atmosphere, feel the buzz, get excited, grab me if you see me at Saucony, then leave. Even if you are there on Wednesday I really don’t want you all spending hours on your feet this week.

Carb load/Taper – Over the years the way top coaches think about carb loading has changed. It’s no longer the case that we play around with bizarre approaches such as starving yourself for the first half of the week, and stuffing yourself full of pasta for the second half of the week. Anyone who recommends this either in person or in a magazine or article is working off unproven science from 20 years ago. I have spoken to many of your about needing to increase your food intake generally in training – you should all be well used to snacking on high quality carbs by now. The carb load doesn’t really require you to increase your food intake significantly as if you keep eating as you have been doing, but reduce your training your body will naturally replenish glycogen stores. HOWEVER if you haven’t listen to me and you haven’t increased your food intake through your high training weeks you will need to increase your % of carbohydrate intake during your last week – particularly from Thursday onwards. You might notice your weight increasingly slightly through the taper – this is totally normal – please continue to eat!!

* Final week nutrition – do’s and don’ts – So having talked generally about carb loading what specifically should you be doing? Other than a few points of advice I would say eat as you normally would (bearing in mind the above). This is not the week to be trying loads of different food or taking loads of supplements you have not tried before just because the guy or girl at the expo was attractive or looked particularly convincing. Having said that you might find a couple of bits of advice useful. At least 1-1.5L of water a day please, perhaps including electrolyte tablets (http://www.wiggle.co.uk/high5-zero-electrolyte-drink-20-tabs/). Thursday, Friday and Saturday its worth watching your fibre intake a little, for once thing white wheat rather than whole wheat and bran, avoid too many vegetables, especially on the Saturday…..for obvious reasons. Many people, myself included, like to cut down a little on protein on the Friday and Saturday as well. Protein is a very poor energy source and will just sit in your digestive system, adding weight but no fuel. Alcohol has no direct performance benefits and many of you may be horrified at the thought of drinking the night before a marathon….and that’s fair enough. I will, admit to having a glass of wine or two the night before a race though, it works for me, relaxes me and sends me to sleep. Obviously limit yourself, and generally beer will just leave you bloated and sluggish. My personal night-before-a-marathon meal is nice and simple Aglio et Olio. Don’t feel the need to stuff yourself – the taper as given you the carb load – just a normal meal otherwise you might well feel bloated come race day.

* Sleep - When you sleep your body gets the chance to heal the micro damage cause by your training. Prioritise sleep and nutrition above everything else this week. Aim for 8 hours + from Tuesday onwards....

Water -  I have mentioned it above but don’t leave hydrating yourself properly until the day before the race. Be conscious of drink at least 1L of water a day from Tuesday onwards. Don’t worry about sports drinks, but do add an electrolyte tablet or two if you can get hold of some (don’t worry if you can’t – your body will sort out most of the electrolyte balance).

Weather – hot, cold, windy, calm, rainy or dry you cannot do anything about the weather. Please don’t obsessive check the forcast every day this week or next expecting that through the power of Michael Fish you’ll be able to guarantee 12 degrees, dry with no wind. The weather will not take away from all the training you have done. Stay positive, stay focused. If it is freezing take layers to shed, if its boiling hot and bright sun wear water proof sun cream, sunglasses or a hat, if it’s raining take a jacket to wear at least until the race start and a change of shoes and socks – changing into race shoes just before you give you bag in to keep them as dry as possible. Other than that remember this – you have all trained through some of the most appalling conditions I have seen in a London build up – you are hardened, you are ready.

Kit – If you don’t know what you will be wearing on race day now is the time to think about it and practice with it a couple of times before the big day. My advice would be to wear relatively minimal, lightweight clothing. The race WILL be warmer than you have been used to training in, even if the morning itself feels cold. If you are going to wear warmer clothes do so in layers that you can easily remove. Regardless TAKE OLD CLOTHES TO THE START and discard them as you approach the line to start running. I do not want any of you doing warm up drills or lots of running before the start – it’s a waste of that precious energy – keep your muscles warm with that horrible knitted jumper you have been meaning to get rid of for years :o) Pin your number to your vest and attach you chip to your shoes the night before. 

* The day and night before - Keep up with your nutrition plan, good breakfast and lunch, normal to light evening meal. Charge your watch if you are using one, ipod too if you are using one. I would suggest going for a really easy 15-20 minute run with 10-20 minute post run stretch - release both the mental and physical tension. Stay off your feet for the rest of the day - no shopping, no visiting tourist attractions, let the kids run after you for once! Get into bed nice and early, even if you can't sleep - the rest is important....

* Breakfast on race day. Keep it simple guys. You should not be doing anything you haven’t done before here. Nice, simple, carbohydrate based meal – quinoa porridge for example is perfect. Water, coffee or tea is fine. The big thing for those of your running London is the gap between breakfast and race start. Normally I would advise eating breakfast about 90 minutes-2hours before the start, however most of you will need to be gobbling down your pre-race fuel well before then. YOU MUST ensure that you take something with you to eat on the way or when you get to the baggage drop – flapjack or something similar is perfect and again water with electrolyte tablets. I cannot stress the importance of this enough guys, especially if you have not run a marathon before. Without over simplifying all the hard training you have done it can be distilled into the following statement – ‘PRESERVING YOUR ENERGY FOR AS LONG AS POSSIBLE’ in the race. All those threshold sessions, long runs, race pace running – its all about keeping those precious glycogen stores going as long as possible. If you leave your house at 6am and don’t race until 10:30, spending the intervening time walking about yu will be undoing all that good taper. Keep your energy up and take on board a couple of snacks in those hours after breakfast and before the race.

* Toilet paper!! – Take your own to the start….

Vaseline/Bodyglide – In the marathon you get blisters in odd places. I am not going ot break this down for you but put Vaseline, or ideally Bodyglide (wiggle.co.uk/bodyglide - not as sticky and doesn’t ruin clothes) everywhere that might rub. On your legs, nipples, between toes (yes!!), armpits. Trust me if you don’t there is a chance you’ll really wish you had.

* Pre-race - Plan to get to the baggage dorp at least 45 minutes before the start - you'll likely have to queue to use the toilet so allow extra time - an hour is better - workl everything back from this. This might mean getting up early - 6am perhaps or even before (so get to bed early the night before). Shower, stay calm. Once you get to the start stay off your feet. Do not spend time warming up jogging and doing drills - preserve your energy. Eat the snack you have about an hour before the start. 

* Race - I'll talk to you all individually but some generic points for MOST, but not all of you. Do not rely on your Garmin GPS to give accurate paces. By all means use it, but I would recommend switching off any auto lap function you have and pressing the lap button each time you go past a mile marker to give you an accurate idea of pace. Do not weave to get past people in the early stages - you are wasting energy and adding on extra distance. Don't worry if you have a few slow splits - your pace will settle. Expect your pace to drop a little in the last 6 miles. My aim is that most of you run as close to even splits as possible and you CAN do this, but it is normal to expect the second half a minute or more slower than the first half - I will talk to you all about pacing to allow for this. Use the first 2-3 miles to settle and find a rhythm - CALM YOUR BREATHING! shake your arms, keep your shoulders loose, relax. Watch miles 2-5 part of which goes downhill - pace might increase a little but don't get carried away. Drink as often s you feel you need to but don't go overboard, small sips, forget the lucozade. If you are using gels I'd recommend roughly 4 - at 5 miles, 10, 15 and 20. Mostly importantly take the time to smile and enjoy what is a truly amazing experience you will never forget. Let the crowd roar rush over you through Deptford, over Tower Bridge and along Embankment. In terms of effort I want the pace to feel comfortable for the first half or more, the last 6 miles is eyes out time - give it everything you have got. I have had runners that have run the last 10km as the fastest of their race - believe in yourself and don't let the occasional demon get on top of you. The last 5km should be considered a race - thry to pull in as many vests in front of you as you can. There will be times when it feels tough, relax, keep your leg speed high, and you'll work through these sticky spells.

* Finish - Let family and friends come to you - it's your day - arrange where you will meet and don't bank on seeing each other out on the course - ideally you will see your cheering squad but don't stop or worry about seeing each other....getting to the fishing line as quickly as possible is the sole focus! 

* Affirm yourself, and your training, surround yourself with positivity. Pick 2 or 3 runs or training sessions that went really well - think back to these. Don't talk to anyone at the start who is pessimistic, or negative. I have no time for this. At least 40% of the race and your success is in your head. If you believe you are ready and you will perform, you will...

I'll chat to you all individually anyway, enjoy the next week and a half....


Friday, 12 October 2012

Running in a world of frauds....

Recently my good friend Simon Freeman wrote a great blog post about Paul Ryan's rather large extension of the truth (or should I shrinking of the truth) in relation to his own marathon prowess - http://simonfreeman.co.uk/2012/09/the-truth-is-out-there-always/

A great read and one that made me smile. Paul Ryan, however, suddenly seemed a model of honesty and fair play in sport when I recently read about Kip Litton, a US runner, in the New Yorker (via Athletics Weekly). As the article itself runs to 10 pages - presumably the journalist had run in one of the races Kip allegedly completed so felt some vendetta here is a brief summary...

Kip Litton, a Dentist based in Michigan, took on the challenge of running a sub 3 hour marathon (a marker in the athletics world of pretty quick amateur runner) in all 50 American States. This goal was made more impressive when you find out that Litton was 48 when attempting this feat. Litton took on the challenge and made wide publicity from his successful completion of many marathons breaking the 3 hour barrier. Incredible….The sudden rise from overweight obscurity to one of the best ‘masters’ distance runners in the US. As you read further and further though you see a trail of incomplete races, short cuts and

Take the time to read the article – it is a pretty amazing story of eccentricity mixed with blind vanity and the lengths people will go to to avoid putting in a bit of hard work….either that or he is truly an inspirational runner – I’ll leave it to you to decide;

Friday, 28 September 2012

Don't get blown off course...

If this persistent cold clears up I am running in Bristol Half Marathon this weekend. In the week or two building up to a key race I am often to be found scouring the Met Office, BBC Weather etc in order to worry myself about the potential effects of running in 14mph winds instead of 13mph and trying to assess the impact that a 40% chance of rain and medium pollen rating will have on my months of hard training. It is tragic when you get to the stage when you play weather websites off against each other. I have always considered the Met Office to have an overly pessimistic outlook and I am pretty convinced that the website and its meteorologists are out to spite me so I always take great satisfaction in heading on to www.metcheck.com - drawing heart, confidence and satisfaction from their 2 mph less wind and 5% less chance of rain.
However if you don’t have my same obsession with stats and comparison then what do can you do? The truth is you can’t control the weather but you can do things to control your response to it. Relying on a weather forecast a week out is not ideal – especially when it comes to wind ratings and exact chance of rain. You will though get a decent idea enough to get you thinking about steps to take/mitigate the effects of poor weather;

·         Prepare - let’s face it racing in the UK leaves you with a fair chance of running inclement weather - hide from it in training and you'll hide come race day. Practice running in the wind and rain - not just easy runs but your sessions too. This way you'll become accustomed to the changes in effort level you can expect – anything between 5%-15% increased energy cost in a head wind depending on its strength. There is some evidence to show that repeatedly exposing your body to colder temperatures in training can help to increase blood flow.
Top tip – try a fartlek session in training in poor weather giving you the chance to work through a range of paces to test yourself when things get tough.
·         Stay warm – A cold body temperature can result in finished cardiac output – your heart is not pumping as much blood to your muscles. In more extreme cold temperatures it also becomes harder for your muscles to extract oxygen as the bind between oxygen and haemoglobin becomes tighter. Think sensibly about clothing choices. Yes you are likely to warm up during a race – look to clothing that you can easily adapt or discard.
Top tip – whilst perhaps looking stupid arms warmers are a great option during a change in the season. They will keep you warm during the early part of a race but are not so heavy or warm that they will cause you problems later in the race – and if you need to cool off – just roll them down! These might not be the look you are after - http://www.amazon.co.uk/Fishnet-Gauntlet-Warmers-Available-Assorted/dp/B001RUMNFC/ref=sr_1_18?ie=UTF8&qid=1348662879&sr=8-18 but these might be! - http://www.wiggle.co.uk/sockguy-seamless-arm-warmers/

Simon Freeman demonstrating the benefits of arms warmers at a miserably wet Florence Marathon - on his way to a PB.

·         Lean and fall – Look to keep your body as aerodynamic as possible, limit unnecessary movement and let gravity help you out. Top Tip – Make sure you have a good hip extension – use your glutes and engage your core to hip a nice high hip position. Now focus on a gentle lean forwards from your ankles – this, combined with ensuring a fast, light foot lift will help ensure gravity helps pull you forward and help promote a more aerodynamic posture.
·         Use arm arms – Your arms are critical - providing your motor and power when running, as well as providing rhythm and tempo to your legs.
Top Tip – Imagine you have wires attached to your elbows pulling your elbows backward with your arms bent at 90 degrees. This move straight back in the same plane of movement as your run will help minimise upper body rotation and provide necessary power to get you through tough patches of headwind.
·         Adapt your stride – Running into a headwind is a bit like running up hill. If you over stride and force too much you will lose efficiency.
Top Tip – Cut your stride down a couple of inches and slightly increase the turnover (cadence) of your legs, stay light on your feet and ticking over at a good tempo. Count out your right leg strides, if you are heading into a strong wind get as close 90 right foot strikes in a minute you’ll be working to a nice efficient leg speed. Think of it like changing down gears in a car or on a bike.  
·           Safety in numbers – ‘Drafting’ is not banned in running as it is in other sports. Other runners can provide a good wind break and help alleviate some of the impact of a strong headwind

Top Tip – Try to find a good pack of runners working around your pace. Sit in the middle but do your turns at the front too. Overall, just as your see in cycling, running as a part of a group can be far more efficient in tough conditions.
·         RELAX – If you fight the elements you are going to lose. Think if the wind like an oncoming wave in surfing. You don’t fight it and let it hit you muscles tensed – you duckdive under it, staying loose and relaxed.
Top tip – relax your upper body, face and neck muscles, rely on rhythm and tempo not on force and power. Heading into a strong headwind the more your force, the less return you’ll get

Friday, 20 July 2012

Run of the Week - Hampstead Half!

As more and more people are taking on the challenge of the full marathon distance I thought I would put together a regular run of the week covering varying lengths and sessions. This week it is a long run of about the right distance for this time of year for those Autumn marathoners.

Bit of a sting in the tail with this one though - namely hills! Starting and finishing at Gospel Oak car park where you'll find a train station, a cafe selling suitably greasy post run fare and toilets not far into the route on the Heath.

So here it is - Hampstead Half - a scenic, challenging 13 mile long run... 

Heading out on the Heath following the path up to the right hand side of the playing fields you are running along the first 100m of the National Cross Country Championship route, regularly held at Parliament Hill. Imagine nearly 2000 of the country's best runners heading out for 12km of pain and feel safe in the knowledge that you'll be out for nearly twice that distance today.

When you intersect with the next metaled path, turn right and then left at the water fountain. Follow the path into the Heath passing three lakes on your right hand side, turning right up a sharp climb after Highgate Pond. It is said that swimmers often hear footsteps of unseen walkers at the ponds, said to be the ghosts of the many suicide victims of the Victorian Era - pick up the pace guys.

At the top of the hill turn left and follow the track until it climbs with Kenwood House on your left. Eventually following the linked map you will double back on yourself following a metaled path back down the hill looking for a hidden turning up a trail path on your right.

This is where the fun kicks in - half a mile of genuine trail running that feels more like running in the Adirondacks than London. Follow the path until it drops through a car park and down the hill looking, again, for a hidden path heading 'off road' on your right hand side. Climbing steeply uphill stay light on your feel as your dodge roots, branches and badgers eventually looking for a right turn to cross the main road into Sandy Heath. Now it is time to let loose running down hill gently and on through a playing field before reaching the far corner of the heath and find the path which turns West towards Golders Green. 

Follow the path and road for about a mile, looking for Hampstead Way on the right. After about 1/4 mile you'll cross a main road into West Heath, avoiding ice cream temptations but perhaps stopping to use the toilets and water fountain at the cafe. Continuing to follow the main path in Westerly direction as it drops gently downhill you'll loop around the back of some tennis courts before heading to trees and trails again. Follow the path taking the obvious right turns until you see West Heath Road. Staying on the Heath itself push on up hill with the road on your right and just as your legs start to burn and you start to curse ever reading this blog you'll reach the pond and junction at Whitestone Walk.  Follow the main road to the right and then first left and start to enjoy running again as you head down hill on the pavement for about a mile, eventually passing Hampstead Heath Station on your left.

Don't be distracted by the temptations of beer or pastry items as you head through town turning right up Pond Street to lock in for more hill technique training, eventually heading over Haverstock Hill and on to Fitzjohns Avenue where you'll turn left and follow the main road past Swiss Cottage and on to Regents Park.

Following the Outer Circle to the right before entering the park and following the path that heads towards 'The Hub' - the building that looks like a UFO that failed to take off. Turn right at the first path intersection and then first left and follow this path as it winds its way around the park, eventually turning left on 'The Broadwalk' and first right after the 'Honest Sausage Cafe' - not one for runners I don't think. Continue on a small loop as you double back on yourself returning towards the haven of processed meat before veering off to the right and following the path that runs behind London Zoo, all the time thinking how odd it is to be running alongside giraffes and with monkey calls whilst in the middle of the biggest city in Europe.

Turn first right out of the park and on into Primrose Hill. By this point you will be missing hills so head up to the top of Primrose Hill, stopping to take in the view. Drop down out of the park and follow the main road through Primrose Hill itself, dodging big cars and celebrities and crossing the railway line and on down towards Chalk Farm Station, straight over Camden High Street on to Prince of Wales Road where you will turn right and first left on to Malden Road. Follow Malden Road up to the main set of traffic lights turning right and first left through a residential street and on at the end over the railway line and back onto Parliament Hill.

By now you'll be a hardened fell runner so instead of taking the short cut to the finish turn left and follow the path around then right up one last lung busting climb, and one last stunning view of London before turning right and following the steep downhill path back to the start.

Well done guys!

Get your Economics up to speed...

How focusing on speed, power and technique can super-charge your running...

Hello all,

It's been a really busy few months with PBs tumbling at races all over the country and peeps achieving their fat loss and flexibility goals.

Many of you are now getting stuck into plans for Autumn running and late season triathlon races so this first mailout is unashamedly running focused and in these austere times is topically focused on economy.

Whilst I am sure we could talk for hours about the best value running, cycling and gym gear, for now that is not what I am getting at, no instead this is 'running economy'. There is a fair bit of detail below, I make no apologies for this – I am putting together these emails to help you with your training and to give you a deeper understanding of you body – embrace the detail guys, alternatively there are thousands of other blogs out there repeating the basic eat more protein, lift weights as well as run mantra that most of you know already….

In this article I explain what I am referring to when I talk about ‘running economy’, offer you a few things to think about in order for you to improve yours and leave you with a plyometric routine to help develop speed and power in your running. Feel free to check out my website and contact me directly to find out how to incorpate this into your training - www.tomcraggs.com

So, running economy – I’ve never heard of it…how can it help me?

Running economy basically refers to how efficiently you use oxygen at a giving running speed (or for that matter cycling, swimming or other endurance sport) and is still one of the least understood and poorly recognised aspects of the sport but is in fact crucial to your ultimate performance.

So in developing our running economy we are looking to ensure than we are running at our optimum speed with as small an energy expenditure as possible. Tucker et al (2009) draw an analogy to cruising efficiency in a car - think of it as you trying to develop an ‘eco-engine’ burning as little fuel as possible at the speeds you race at the most….simple!

Aren’t you just talking about VO2 Max? Or Lactate Threshold?

Well no not really, although they are linked. VO2 max refers to the maximum about of oxygen you take up and use whilst training at maximum effort and whilst this can be developed it is largely governed by genetics. VO2 max is widely considered to be a key predictor of your potential performance in sport and physical activity, though increasingly this assumption is being called into question (a debate for another mailout I think).

Lactate Threshold or Anaerobic Threshold is different again in that it refers to the point at which during intense activity the level of lactate in your blood is building up faster than it can be absorbed and thus inhibits muscle performance. This can be trained and developed significantly.

Running economy is different in that it relates to oxygen consumption at submaximal speed and I am going to argue here is as important as lactate threshold development and probably even more important than your VO2 max in your training.

Are you going to tell me what I need to do about it?

That’s what you want to know I guess? How can I become the most economical runner I can? Well there are quite a few aspects to this. Some of these I’ll just touch on below, some I’ll cover in more depth;

 Improve your Ground Contact Time and Rhythm 
Why is it some runners seem to float over the ground, barely touching – running like a deer I call it, whereas some runners appear to ‘plod’ (sometimes very fast!)? Much of this is down to running technique and whilst I could write many articles on running technique, for the purposes of today's post on economy we are going to focus on ground contact time. Whilst only a matter of milliseconds, every moment your foot sits on the ground you are losing a little momentum. Trying to increase the speed at which your foot strikes and returns from the ground is crucial to increasing running economy. As Chapman points out ‘at any common speed, elite runners spend less time in contact with the ground and take longer strides compared to average runners or untrained individuals.’

Next time you head out for a run consider the following;

·   Tread lightly – consciously try to limit the sound of your foot strike on the ground

·   Imagine the road or trail as super heated, anything longer than a fraction of a second and your foot is going to burn!

·   Take care on cadence (that is to say your stride rate). Count how many times your left foot strikes the ground in a minute. Work towards an optimum of 90 but be aware this does not necessarily require you to take shorter strides as many coaches will suggest, it is quickness of transition that counts, unless of course you know you over-stride. A low stride rate can lead to increase vertical movement in your running action (believe it or not those runners you see bouncing high off the ground are not running efficiently).

·   Check your rhythm – Try to consciously coordinate your breathing with your stride pattern. Karp (2006) highlights that oxygen isn’t just used by the muscles in your legs and arms as you run but also by your diaphragm and intercostal muscles as you breath – coordinating the two has been shown to improve running economy.

Train at Race Pace - Runners tend to be more economical at speeds at which they train the most. If you are racing 5km regularly I am not suggesting you go out and run the majority of your week at this pace, clearly, but you must ensure that you are including race pace running in your weekly plan. It is also important you do so when your legs are starting to get fatigued (towards the end of a run for example). Talk to me about this if you are unsure. If you have a key race coming up, whilst there is a big role of play in running interval sessions faster than your goal pace, do not neglect the importance of getting your body adapted and economical at the pace you intend on running. Think about that as you run your 5km-paced session at 3km pace.

Bio-mechanics and Technique - Running bio-mechanics centres on a concept called the ‘stretch-shortening’ cycle whereby the muscles and tendons act like a spring – your foot strikes the ground and your muscles lengthen, as you transition off into your next stride, your muscles contract. I could write for hours on good running technique but for the purposes of running economy focus on the following basics;

·       Core Engagement and Hip Position – Create a strong and stable base for economic movement by thinking about bringing your sit bones together, bring them in and up. Activating your deeper core muscles such as the Transverse Abdominus. If you are not sure what I mean here have a look at some pilates classes – they will really help. Your nice strong, high hip position creates a block like a railway sleeper of strength – your arms and legs simply move off this base
·       Ankle Lean – A gentle lean forwards from your ankles, with your weight on the balls of your feet will automatically create momentum in your running. Note this is a lean from your ankles, NOT your hips
·       Foot Strike and Position – practice some of the drills below to encourage a foot strike below your hips and centre of gravity with each stride – not landing in front of you breaking your momentum
·       Keep everything moving forward! – Check your arms which should be moving freely and smoothly from the shoulder in a straight line backwards and forwards – NOT rotating across your body

 (Nicholas Romanov - The guy who devised the POSE method of running, demonstrating ankle lean)

The key to understanding how to further enhance your technique is to realise that your running ‘foot strike’ actually occurs before your foot hits the ground – when neurons fire muscle groups to pre-emptively prepare your body for the impact of the for strike. So speed is also about your brain – a neuromuscular process – check out the plyometric drills below…

Strength and Power Training
Yes the words that put the fear of god into most endurance athletes. I firmly believe though that they have a crucial role to play in your training whether you are a runner, cyclist, triathlete or distance swimmer. This is not about getting ripped and adding masses of unnecessary muscle. Strength and power training in the RIGHT way will increase the muscle fibres you recruit (you have many that sit latent when you run, even in your legs) – think of it like someone swapping in a new pair of legs for the last 6 miles of your marathon! It is also about the SPEED at which these muscles contract and exact force in your running.

There are many benefits to weight training and depending on the approach your take, weights you use and numbers of repetitions you do you will achieve different results. For the purposes of running economy though as a distance runner or triathlete you might need to break your comfort zone as Karp (2006) suggests heavy weights (85% of your 1 rep max), with 5-6 repetitions only over 3-4 sets of each exercise at a fast speed, controlled, explosive movements with good technique.

PLEASE though look to an experienced conditioning expert to help you with these types of exercises – they are not the conventional approach of lower weight, higher repetitions used by most endurance athletes (where they do strength training at all!) and require good technique. Please be aware that they are as tough for your body as a very tough track session and therefore need to be kept clear within your running schedule.

Look to develop a programme including the following exercises in addition to regular core strengthening routines;

Front and Back Sqauts
Lunges both forward and backward
Plyometric and Scapular Pushups
Single leg deadlifts

Plyometric exercises involve maximum application of force in the minimum possible time. They develop speed and power and are crucial to developing and improving running economy and include a range of hopping, bounding and jumping movements designed to improve your muscles ‘energy storage and return’ capacity – think back to the spring we mentioned earlier.

If you are serious about your training and unsure about what to do to take your next big step forward, introducing plyometric exercises could be a great solution. To emphasise this further, in training for her world record marathon performance of 2003 Paula Radcliffe included a range of plyometric training, increasing her vertical jump from 26cm in 1996 to 38cm in 2006 (Hartmann, G) which many have seen as vital to her subsequent performance – still nearly 3 minutes faster than any other woman has run.

OK give me something to focus on….

OK so in addition to general advice I want to leave you with a few things to try. I specifically haven’t gone into detail on strength training – make contact with me or another conditioning expert to look at this before you start. Instead I will outline some of the key plyometric exercises that will get you zipping over the ground with quick feet in no time.

Please be aware that plyometric exercises are by their nature intense and require good technique to remain effective and reduce any likelihood of injury – again get in touch with me or another sports conditioning expert to explore how they can be incorporated effective for you.

If you have any questions at all drop me an email – tom@tomcraggs.com. Keep an eye on my blog where I will post more information, training advice and tips!

Key General Rules
·       Plyometric training should be about quality not quantity – even experienced athletes will only complete a total of 150 jumping movements in a session, a beginner or less experienced athlete far fewer (40-60).
·       Use a softer surface such as a track or grass
·       Every plyometric workout should only be undertaken after a good warm up, as you would do for a track session, and should only be carried out once a week.
·       Speed is the key – spend as little time in contact with the ground has possible – quick, powerful movements are required

Below I have summarized an 8 week plan for a beginner/intermediate, based on one session a week.

High Knees
Squat Jumps
Tuck Jumps
Single Leg Hops
Box Jumps
Jumping Split Lunge
Hill Sprints
3 x 20m
2 x 10
1 x 10

2 x 20m
2 x 10
2 x 10

2 x 20m
2 x 12
2 x 10
4 x 10

3 x 80m

1 x 15
2 x 10
2 x 10
2 x 10
2 x 20m


2 x 12
2 x 10
3 x 10
2 x 20m
1 x 12


2 x 10
2 x 12
2 x 12
2 x 20m
1 x 14


2 x 10
2 x 14
2 x 14
2 x 20m
1 x 16


2 x 14
2 x 25m
2 x 10
6 x 80m


Squat Jumps - In a squat position pop your hands on your hips or behind your head; jump straight up as high as you can. Upon landing, lower back into a squat position in one smooth motion, and immediately jump up again. Crucial to this will landing softly – anticipate the ground contact and cushion with your knees - 

High Knees – Good old high knees. Over the course of about 20m run forward driving your knees up as fast as you feel you can, ensuring your upper body is not leaning backward – focus on the speed of your legs not how faster you are moving forward –

Hill Sprints – Many of you will have done these with me before. Covering about 70-100m find a hill with a gradient of about 7-10%, drive up the hill with light springy movements, driving your knees high in front of you, walk down for recovery and complete 5-8 repetitions. As you’ll know this also doubles as a running session.

Tuck Jumps – Similar to a squat jump but this time you are going to jump and pick your knees up in front of you, really focusing here on speed more than height. I certainly wouldn’t expect you to jump as high as the guy in this video!

More Experienced

Single Leg Hops – Over 20m hop forward on one leg, driving your knee up has you hop forward, balancing yourself with your arms aiming to be as light and fast as you can be. Repeat twice on each leg.

Box Jumps – Find a box or a step between 40 and 60cm high, squat down and jump up landing with your full foot on the box with very soft knees, creating a soft landing. The key is to move as quickly as you can from the squat into the jump. Complete 10-15 repetitions twice with 2 minutes recovery;

Bounding – Again over 20-25m run forward with big strides, driving your knees high with very light and quick feet – remember it is running economy and ‘quickness’ we are developing here. Powerful movements are important complete this exercise. Repeat 4 times in total.

Jumping Split Lunge – This is a great exercise for developing fast, explosive power in your legs and developing your neuromuscular system. Come into a lunge position and jump up, switching legs in the air to come down into a lunge of your opposite leg and keep repeating. Complete 12-16 repetitions in total and repeat twice.


Chapman, R. Measurement of Ground Contact Time in Elite Distance Runners, Human Performance Laboratory, University of Indiana
Karp, J. 2006, The 3 Players of Distance Running, Track Coach Article
Tucker et al. 2009, The Runners Body, Rodale

About Me

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As an althetics coach, personal trainer and sports conditioning expert my job is to help everyone achieve their goals. This is a collection of my thoughts on training and the world of sport and health and fitness.