One of my priorities when running is to remain injury-free. It’s only been a year since I’ve been running seriously, but so far I’ve managed to increase my weekly mileage without hurting my good self. It came to my knowledge that if I wanted to carry on like that I had to strengthen my core muscles, it helps keeping a good posture and gives you control and strength. By the way, when I run hills with the Serpentine, the coach always insists on focusing on the core muscles, so this confirms that.
Because I hate going to the gym even more than I used to hate running, I decided to hire a Personal Trainer for 5 sessions. Since I’m a complete novice, the idea was to be given a few tips on what to do, which machines to use and how to use them, but also to get some motivation and maybe to start liking going to the gym (the same way I started enjoying running after I’ve been given a few tips). Spoiler alert: I still don’t like going to the gym, even though I don’t hate it anymore now that I start knowing what I’m doing.
The first thing I learned with my PT was that I had to warm-up at the gym too. I used to to warm up for 10 minutes on the treadmill, but now I do that on the rowing machine, it’s as boring as the treadmill but it involves more muscles, including legs, arms and core. The other important thing I learned was to alternate the muscle groups you work out, so the first group can rest while you do a series of reps on another muscle group. For example, I’d alternate the pull-ups machine with oblique crunches. That’s a real time saver and it also prevents boredom.
I also learned a lot of different ways to make my abdominal muscles suffer and that’s pretty cool because it avoids monotony and it makes me exercise the long fibres as well as the short fibres in the same muscles. I’m also trying to work on my glutes (the butt muscles), not only will this help attracting members of the desired gender by showing off a cute and firm butt, it also gives more power to the legs, thus improving speed.
So all in all, even though I still don’t like going to the gym, I now understand this world a little bit better. For example, I understand that mirrors are not only here to fulfil the narcissistic needs of gym rats but also to check proper form of your exercise. Another proof that I don’t hate the gym anymore? After 4 months, I still find the motivation to get up early in the morning to go there on the days I’m supposed to rest from running (that’s only twice a week though). And I find this motivation even if I can’t really see the results (still no 6-pack).
There we are, I gave in to Lanky Pole‘s pressure and I finally joined the Serpentine Running Club. It is a big club, with almost 2,000 members. It’s a bit expensive to join on the first year, but I’ve heard it’s worth it. I have to admit, after the first week as a member, I’m already convinced. First, there’s the club t-shirt, which gives you a sense of belonging to a team, then there are the events organised by the club (mostly races), finally there’s plenty of training sessions every week, and I still have a lot to discover about the club…
Speaking of training sessions, I discovered that the Serpies (that’s how we call the members of the club) have a weekly hills training session in Greenwich, so I decided to sign up for this one. This session is coached and I though it would be a good thing to finally run these hills properly. I arrived a bit late, but the coach was very friendly and she told me to catch-up with the group of 10 who was already warming up in the park. After a little bit of jogging, we gathered around the coach to do some proper warm-ups, which reminded me a bit of my sessions with Lanky Pole: walking on the heels, on the toes, plenty of warm-up movements, lunges, high knees, etc…
After that, the coach gave us advice on running form in the hills: work with the core muscles, have the arms at a 90 degrees angle, keep the shoulders and the face relaxed, and I’m sure i’m forgetting some. We then went to the nitty gritty and did 2 series of 12 minutes of hills running. Unlike my previous personal hills sessions, this one gave very little time for recovery: it was going up and straight down and up again. Also, we ran on the turf (or rather on the high grass) which made it even harder. After the first 12 minutes I was already knackered, but off we went for the second round! At the end of the second round I was the slowest of the group, even though on paper I was not supposed to be. Oh well, this gives me plenty room for improvement.
We finished by a relay in teams of three, up and down hills of course, and thanks to me my team finished last, but at least I gave all I had on the finish line. Lack of training aside, I think one of the reasons I was so slow was probably because I was dehydrated: the session lasted for 2 hours, which is much longer than I ever ran in the past and it was really hot on that day. But I made it all and I was quite happy anyway: I had learned more in these 2 hours than I could ever learn by myself. After the relay, we cooled down together and did a bit of stretching. I had to leave the group, but they all went to the café to enjoy some well-deserved coffee and cakes.
I came back really happy from this session: training with a coach and with a group brings so much! Even though I was dead-beat, I already wanted to sign up for the following week! Next time, I’ll come with a water bottle and I’ll make sure I have nothing planned afterwards, so I can enjoy the coffee and the cake with the others, and each time I’ll be better and better.
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.
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.
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!
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!
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!
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.
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.
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!
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)
My next race
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I'm on a break for the winter. See you soon!