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 - 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 - but these might be! -

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

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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.