French Bloke Runs

Shut up and run!

Tag: Stretching

Gear: the useful and the useless

After almost a year of running and quite a bit of money spent in various gear and gadgets, I now have a well formed opinion on what is useful and what is useless.

Running top

An absolute essential. Don’t run long distances with cotton t-shirts, definitely buy tops made of a technical fabric such as blends of polyester and elastane. My favourites are the ones from Tribesports (I have no commercial agreement with them, they’re just really good). If cotton is absolutely prohibited, I also recommend against running with the t-shirts given at races because they’re usually very loose. Don’t follow this advice and you’ll risk nipple chafing, you’ll be warned: Jack of all trades learned it the hard way in the Bordeaux half-marathon.

Running bottom

Arguably, it’s not as important to have good running shorts as it is to have good tops but it’s so much better to run with very light shorts and I think they’re worth the extra quid. Then again, cotton will provoke chafing inside your thighs, so avoid at all costs.

On cold winter days,  tights or leggings are really appreciated but I found that even the cheapest ones were good enough.

Socks

Don’t waste your money there. Pricy technical socks are utterly useless. I can’t see the difference between my £2 pair of low-cut Decathlon running socks and my £15 pair of double-walled, padded pair of Mizuno running socks. If you want to avoid blisters and black nails, the solution is in the shoes, not in the socks.

Accessories

I haven’t tried all the accessories yet but I think most of them are useless (ok, maybe a water bottle is a good thing to have during a long run or a trail). The one accessory I bring to all my races is a wrist sweatband to wipe off my forehead and avoid sweat dripping in my eyes.

I don’t have an opinion on compression gear yet. It might be useful, but to recover and avoid muscle pain, I think nothing beats a long session of stretching after running.

Gadgets

Then again, I’m a big fan of gadgets but I have to admit that most of them aren’t really useful. I would say that the watch is the only one that will help improve your running and at a beginner level like mine, it’s mostly about the timer and the pace: the value of a heart-rate monitor is debatable at best. But I think runners definitely don’t need a phone or an mp3 player. Some will argue that if you need music to run, it’s because you don’t like running.

Shoes

I’ll finish with the most important piece of gear: the shoes! Of course they’re useful, it is essential to have shoes that fit you and your running style – as you know I’m a strong advocate of minimalistic shoes and barefoot-style running. My piece of advice is to always buy one size above your real size, it will save you from blisters and black toenails, especially if you have a Greek foot or a Celtic foot like me.

Now, I want to make the case that shoes are actually useless, and I’m slowly making the transition to barefoot running (I’ve tested some pretty minimal stuff already). Hopefully in a few months or years, I’ll be able to race barefoot!

Tired shoes

Tired shoes or why it is important to buy new shoes before they reach 800 km

Track session

Last Friday, Lanky Pole texted me something along the lines of ‘Get your arse to Mile End Park Stadium’s  track tomorrow at 11am’. Okay it might not have been that commanding, but I felt compelled to answer by ‘Sure’! So on Saturday, there I was on a track field for the first time of my life, well at least it was the first time that I paid for it and that I went there to actually run.

Running track

Running track – Photo by Dean Hochman

We started to warm-up and I must admit that I really liked the bounciness of the ground, it’s really comfortable to run on. Also, it made easier the warm-up session that Lanky Pole had in mind: after the usual 10 minutes of easy run, we did lengths of high knees, high heels, sidesteps, shuffling, skipping and other silly styles of running. Then we did speed work, each length focusing on a different aspect of the running form and exaggerating it: knees forward, arms moving, etc…

So just after this tough warm-up, I was already knackered. Each of us went to our own training, we both had different kinds of intervals. I had 4×5 minutes intervals at 10k pace, which was quite depressing because my 10k pace is approximately his recovery pace. Also, despite the great comfort of the track, I found running in circles quite boring, which was worsened by the fact that my HR monitor didn’t detect my heart rate, constantly vibrating to tell me to run faster.

I kept my mind busy and observed the people who go to the tracks on a Saturday morning: there was a couple of people training for long jumps, a woman practising the hurdles, a dude in a wheelchair with his biceps bigger than my thighs, a small group of children practising with an instructor, and 2 or 3 guys who were running reeeeeeeally fast.

We did a few more laps to cool down and went on the grass to stretch. Man, after a tough session like this, that felt really good! And Lanky Pole always finds new ways of stretching muscles you didn’t even know you had. In any case, it’s really nice to train with someone when you’re used to run alone, it keeps you motivated.

After that, a conversation started between us and one of the reeeeeeeally fast guys. It turns out this guy was training to qualify for the Olympics on the 800m. We originally thought he was Canadian but it turns out that he was Namibian and I found out later that despite his humility, if he manages to qualify for the Olympics, it means that he will have broken his country’s record! The qualifying time is 1 minute and 46 seconds and the current Namibian record is 1:46:62. I have to admit I was impressed. OK, Namibia isn’t a big country in running (except for Frankie Frederiks 20 years ago) but still! He’s originally a 400m runner with a PB in the low 46 seconds, which isn’t too far from his country’s record (46:14). Impressed again.

Even more impressive was his training: that morning he had to run 10 times 400m under 58 seconds and then 10 times 150m under 20 seconds. That’s just insane, but he said he had prepared himself mentally for the whole week. He also said he doesn’t eat meat, which is apparently bad for recovery (Christopher McDougall draws the same conclusion in his last book ‘Natural Born Heroes‘, next on my reading list). This guy clearly has to right mindset to go to Rio this summer and I hope he makes it. Just qualifying to get there is an immense dream and I wish him all the best. Of course, after meeting him, Lanky Pole and I could only speak of this inspiring guy.

The top 5 unglamorous things about running and how to cope with them

In this blog, I always talk about running like this perfect sport with daily unicorn encounters and rainbows and pots of gold. It’s true that running is a great feeling and has great benefits, but I had a conversation with Mad Cook the other day, and it made me realise that I sometimes hide to myself some pretty ugly things about running. We made a list, and be prepared: it’s getting uglier and uglier!
Disclaimer: some links are not for the faint-hearted, and some of them are even NSFW, so be prepared. But the video is perfectly fine, it’s actually a must-see!

Unglamorous runners

Unglamorous runners – Photo by Shiny Things

1. Sore legs

Problem: Well, this is the most obvious, running long distances can make the next day a bit hard to handle and walking can become a big challenge.

Solution: Warm-up before a race or a hard run and stretch (a lot) after the run. After a hard run, massage your legs with a muscle pain relief cream or gel. Also, train more and be patient! If you run a marathon but you’ve only ran 10 km per week for 4 weeks, you’re setting yourself up for a very hard week after the marathon, if you ever finish it. Think for the long term, begin with less ambitious races (5K & 10K are great distances to start with) and find yourself a good training plan for these distances. They’re all over the Web. Then slowly build up your weekly mileage and find training plans for the longer races.

↓ ↓ ↓ ↓ Watch this video, it’s super funny ↓ ↓ ↓ ↓

↑ ↑ ↑ ↑ Watch this video, it’s super funny ↑ ↑ ↑ ↑

 2. Nipple chafing

Problem: Running long distances can lead to a lot of chafing, and it can get pretty ugly and bloody in places where the skin is fragile like between the thighs or around the nipples. Don’t search Google Images for that: it hurts.

Solution: To avoid chafing between the thighs and blisters on the feet, I recommend a good anti-chafing cream, the best one is probably Akileïne Sports NOK.
To avoid nipple chafing: don’t run with cotton t-shirts! Run with good running tops: the Tribesports running gear is my favourite. If you know you’re running for a long distance, you may as well go directly for nipple guards. No it’s not a joke! If you need convincing, search for it on Google Images (Ouch!), but don’t tell me I didn’t warn you!

Nipple Convalescent Home

Nipple Convalescent Home – Photo by Gerry Dincher

3. Toenails falling off

Problem: Yes, this too is a real thing! It even has a scientific name: it’s called onychoptosis and it happened to me. It can be caused by repeated toe-banging inside the shoe. Don’t worry, the nail eventually grows back. Click here for the gross picture (not my foot).

Solution: You can go for the extreme solution like Marshall Ulrich in Born to run who had all his toenails surgically removed (apparently it’s a common thing with ultra runners). You can also run barefoot. Otherwise, you should buy well-fitted shoes that give your toes plenty of room. Make sure to try them and check that your toes are not banging inside the shoe at each stride. Shoes that have a wide toe box (like the Altra One 2) come highly recommended. Oh, and trim your toenails!

Barefoot runner

A barefoot runner, happy because he’s got all his toenails – Photo by Chris Hunkeler

4. Troubled digestion

Problem: Puking happens. Yes it does. Because your body simply cannot produce the effort required for running and digesting at the same time, you see many runner’s stomachs giving back generously what they’ve been fed for breakfast or at the food/drink stations during the race. No pictures here. No, don’t ask, I said no. OK, there you go.

Solution: Have a light breakfast before the race: don’t drink milk because it is very hard to digest, you can replace it by oat milk or any kind of vegan milk you like best (except soy milk, soy milk is disgusting). Yes, you should carb-load before the race, but give it at least several hours for digesting properly: some runners get up in the middle of the night before the race to eat a big plate of spaghetti and then go back to bed. During the race, you can also have some energy gels. They’re less hard to swallow and to digest than anything you usually find at the food stations such as bananas or energy bars. It doesn’t mean they’re super easy to ingest either: if your stomach still can’t manage them, just try and swallow little by little, over the course of several minutes.

Spaghetti

Carb loading on spaghetti is good – photo by Luca Nebuloni

5. Uncontrolled bodily fluids

Problem: Runners pissing and shitting themselves are not a rare sight in long distances races and especially during marathons and ultra-marathons. For some disgusting pictures, just follow the link, you’re welcome!
Less extreme than that, it is very frequent for average runners like you and me to have to stop during races (even short races like 10K) to piss while everyone around is looking, which can be even more embarrassing for women.

Solution: Part of your pre-race routine should always include a stop at the loo to empty stomach and bladder, even if you feel you don’t need to. Also, it’s important to hydrate yourself, but try not to drink too much before a race either, and sip slowly during the race. If despite this, you still need to pee during the race, I recommend all the women reading this blog to buy a Shewee, that should avoid you the embarrassment of having to show your pretty buttocks to the general public.

Loo in the meadow

I hope you’re properly disgusted by now and you’re welcome for that. If you’re not, just go visit 4chan or something, you sicko!

A week-end of running

My current training plan includes intervals or hills on Saturday and a long run on Sunday. I have to admit that I don’t really like intervals, or hills or fartleks. So I usually do the bare minimum: 10 minutes warm-up, then I run my intervals and plan to finish them as close to home as possible. But I love my long runs. I don’t have to run fast or to suffer, I don’t have to think too much about my pace or my technique, I just clear my head and enjoy the running.

Last Saturday however, Lanky Pole and I had planned to train together. So I warmed up for the usual 10 minutes, running to the rendez-vous point in Greenwich Park. Then he told me: “So, you don’t have a set routine before races or training? 10 minutes warm-up is the bare minimum. I’ll show you some stretchings and shit.”. Boy that wasn’t easy: side steps, high knees, skipping like a bloody deer, dancing the Macarena or some shit, dynamic stretching (i.e. stretching while running, how mad is that?). Then a series of short sprints and off you go run your intervals while I do my hard stuff, I’ll see you in 30 minutes, thank you very much.

Well, that was hard but I could handle it. Kinell, I still have my intervals to run. Let’s do that on Blackheath, at least it’s flat. Oh, it’s actually not that flat! And with all that mud and the wind, it’s even harder! At least it’ll be finished in 30 minutes.

Nope. Lanky Pole had another cunning plan in mind. Let’s do actual stretchings now! And the arms, and the neck, and the legs Ouch! That hurts, I can feel it’s good for my legs but that hurts. Adductors, calves, thighs in all direction… And it’s not over: more silly movements with the arms and that should do it. I can guarantee that after that you really feel all your body. Now I have another great idea, let’s cool-down for another 10 minutes of easy run. Alrighty!

Well, that was a whole new level of training for me, but that wasn’t all! Lanky Pole, Draculito and I joined the Pencil With and Grumpy Grampy for a ceilidh in the evening. An night of traditional Scottish dancing to prepare for the wedding (Pencil Witch is Scottish and she’d getting married to Grumpy Grampy) means another bunch of hours running and jumping on the music of a fiddle.

On Sunday, the beginning of my beloved long run wasn’t too easy and I was feeling my body more than usually. I think the intense training of the previous day affected my pace. Eventually, I was still happy with it, I managed to run 19K in just above 1H45. My longest distance ever! (so far)

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