Thursday, 31 May 2012

Edinburgh Marathon - Team Relay

Picture the scene, the sun is splitting the sky, it's a baking hot 21 degrees and you are standing in one of the most beautiful cities in the world, ready to run 8.4 miles of a relay. Life could not be better.

The atmosphere was great and 10am could not come quick enough, I was super keen to get running. With 5 minutes to go I decided it was time to turn on my Garmin 305 and lock in to the satellites. But my watch had other plans. I was holding down the power button till my finger was sore, but no dice, my watch wanted a lie in today.

'Quick download the app Run-Keeper on your phone, its better than nothing!' was the sound advice from the lovely Charlotte. I was anxious, and could feel my world caving in. I am a creature of habit when I run, and didn't know what I would do without my pace keeping companion on my wrist.

The Run Keeper app is actually very good and I would recommend it to anybody. It played my custom made relay playlist and every 5 minutes it would interrupt and tell me my pace and distance ran. I was actually running a lot faster than target pace because I was not constantly looking at my watch.

I was hoping to run the 8.4 miles in about 1hr 10 minutes, so at mile six, when I was about 6 minutes ahead of target, I felt great. The sun did little to slow me down, and I really felt like I was flying. There was something lovely about running faster than all the marathon runners (I was kind of cheating only running a 1/3 of the way), but my pace was much quicker, meaning I spent an hour over-taking people. I felt like the fastest man alive.

When I was in Portobello, my great friends Helen and Euan were there to cheer me on, Euan took the picture below - look how happy I look!! Seeing them gave me a boost and I started running even faster. Charlotte had driven to the finish line so I knew when I saw here I could just sprint to the finish.

The relay handover was quick and painless (considering I had never met Katie, my team mate). I gave her the band and she was off like a shot, after a quick and awkward "Lovely to meet you - have a nice race!"

I had finished my leg of the race in just under an hour - 59 mins 32 secs in fact! The rest of the team ran 'relay' well and we actually finished in just over 3.5 hours. Out of 701 teams we came 57th, which we were all very chuffed with.

Chocolate milk in hand and medal round my neck I was filled with the desire to run the full Edinburgh Marathon next year. You may think it was just the adrenaline talking, but after a few nights sleep I am still hungry for 26.2 miles. Maybe I will win the whole thing?

Monday, 28 May 2012

Best Breakfasts for Runners

Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, if you read anything about nutrition and fitness this is one of the first things you will come across. Skipping it will set you up poorly for the day, and will mean that the "wall" will hit you much sooner than you'd like when out running.

I have laid out a couple of the best breakfast foods for runners here, with some simple recipes and ideas that I think will help your running.


There is a reason that a lot of people eat porridge before doing exercise. Porridge oats are complex carbs, which means that they will slowly release energy and will keep you going for longer. This in turn helps your body stabilise blood sugar levels for the day, meaning that you won't feel the need for a quick sugar fix.

My suggestion would be to have the porridge with some fresh fruit and berries. I would try to stay away from the mutant sachets of porridge though as they have tonnes of sugar and may not be the best thing you are looking for before a big run.

Banana Loaf

Line a loaf tin and preheat your oven to save you waiting around. Mash 4 ripe bananas and mix them together with 225g wholemeal flour, 100g butter, 150g caster sugar, 2 eggs and a pinch of salt. Bake it altogether and then in about 1 -1.5 hours you will have some banana loaf that will taste delightful.

This will be the effect breakfast as it has a nice mix of fast burning energy and slow release energy with the wholemeal flour, so you will feel full. Also great for cooking at the start of the week and then grabbing on your way out the door if your are in a rush.z


Muesli is awesome for runners. It's packed with whole grains, nuts and fruits which are all great sources of slow burning energy, and this will keep you fuelled throughout your run.

A great tip - go to your local health food shop and by all the dried fruits, nuts and grains you like - smack them all together in a tupperware and you have just created your own muesli. Make sure you get some bran, barley or oats in there, as they are great wholegrain carbs.

Scrambled Eggs on toast

A great recovery breakfast. Eggs are packed with protein which is what your muscles need to recover, and the whole grain carbs in your bread are need to fuel your recovery, and allow the protein from the eggs to be carried to your muscles.

Why not add some ham and cheese to the mix if your particularly hungry and looking for some extra flavour?

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Fartlek Training

Fartlek literally means 'speed play' in Swedish, and it really is just that...playing with speed. Fartlek sessions are a work-out both aerobic and anaerobic fitness levels and as a result are great for increasing endurance and overall running performance.

Fartlek sessions are different to interval sprints in that they are continuous. Intervals require stopping and starting whereas is fartlek sessions you vary your pace between jogging and running faster segments, but you will always be moving. In interval sprints you have a set distance that you stick to and set recovery period. However in this type of training the slow-fast intervals are determined by how the athlete feels (yes you are an athlete).

To incorporate fartlek training into your runs, every so often throughout a longer run you should pick up the pace to faster than you would run on race day, and maintain this for a minute or so, then drop back down to slower than your normal running pace until you catch your breath. Once ready start running at normal pace again, then after a while repeat the process. Again this is not based on a set distance, so just respond to how your body is feeling. You will have to push it in the faster intervals, but if you need longer to recover that's completely fine.

Fartleks will put extra strain on your system and will raise both aerobic fitness and anaerobic threshold as mentioned above. Plus its a fun word to say. This is also a great way to lose weight, so if that is a concern, smack a few fartlek training sessions into your schedule and watch the weight drop off.

Friday, 18 May 2012

New running shoes - review

My new shoes (I got two though!)

I would argue that a decent pair of running shoes are the only essential piece of kit for a runner. I know there a people out there who couldn't live without their fancy water bottle or compression tights, but all you actually NEED is a nice pair of trainers.

As my current running shoes were almost dead, it was therefore essential for me to buy a new pair this week (at least that's what I told myself). However I am getting married this year ( in 6 months in fact) and I just simply couldn't afford a pair that cost £100.

I had about £50 I could happily spend, and had a rough idea what I wanted. Something light. Something that looked nice. Something that was discounted. I found a pair that ticked all the boxes.

The Adidas Flyby trainer is a lightweight shoe for the natural runner. I am a normal pronator when I run so I don't really need a specialist shoe. I also wanted a trainer that was not too heavy, something really light that I could just lace up and forget about, not feel like they were weighing me down.

The trainers feature a synthetic mesh upper section which means that your feet remain incredibly cool throughout your run, which is nice and comforting.

There is also a continuous zig-zag tred on the sole, which supposedly reduces and naturalises impact on your legs (sounds like a gimmick to me, I just liked the look of them).

Zig and Zag

I have now ran two reasonably long runs in my new shoes and the verdict is...they are great! My feel are cool, they are super light so I don't feel I am carrying any extra weight, and they look really nice. If you are looking for a pair of running shoes on a budget I would look no further than these.

What shoes do you have? What would be the minimum you would spend? Am I a cheapskate? All feedback welcome!



Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Hill sprints

This is the hill I do my sprints on

If you are determined to become a faster runner (like me), no matter what distance you are training for, I would recommend working hill sprints in to your training schedule.

What do I mean by hill sprints? I mean finding a nice stretch of uphill and sprinting up it as fast as you can. The stretch I use is around 60-70 meters, but just run whatever feels comfortable to you.

This is very similar to normal interval sprints, but with the addition of hills you will find yourself getting fitter, faster, stronger, and leaner - all good things for a runner. Hill sprints are also great at boosting HGH (Human Growth Hormone) which is essential for allowing your muscles to build and repair, which will result in you becoming a faster stronger runner.

Another way hill reps will make you quicker, is that it will increase your stride length. Uphill running helps us increase our knee lift. You will really work your quads and hip flexors by lifting your knee higher which will translate to a longer stride when running on flat. If you can maintain a longer stride, you will run the distance faster! Great News!

Yet another plus side, is that if you regularly train on hills, you will not dread hills when they come up on race day. So there are psychological  benefits to hill running too, which is great because as we know, all runners are mental.

How to structure your hill Sprints

I would recommend starting with 5 reps and adding another rep each week till you get to 10. I would also suggest that you do hill reps twice a week, then just watch your times come flying down. A lot of runners will feel cheated out of a long run if they are only on their feet for 20 mins, but If you are doing it right, you should be a breathless, sweating mess.

Let me know if you do hill sprints and if you have any tips? Do you prefer flat sprints? Have you noticed a difference by incorporating hill sprints in to your training?

Saturday, 12 May 2012

Chocolate Milk after a run

What a wonderful world. Chocolate Milk, a deliciously creamy and sweet drink that has universal appeal (find me someone that doesn't enjoy it) is actually good for you!

There has been a lot of discussion in the running community about the benefits of drinking chocolate milk after running. In the International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, a study was published which concluded that the silky smooth beverage that we all know and love is an effective recovery aid after exhausting exercise.

Indiana University Bloomington physiologist Joel Stager supports this by going as far as to say that Chocolate milk is THE BEST thing athletes can drink after exercise. 

Once you are back from a long run your body is screaming out for lost carbs, calories, sodium and some protein to help with muscle recovery. Low fat chocolate milk has a great ratio of all of the above, and in much better quantities than commercial recovery/sports drinks. You will also find that Chocolate Milk is a lot cheaper. 

The nay-sayers believe that water is the best thing after a run and putting Chocolate Milk into your body will upset your stomach. But I think as long as you stay hydrated, and if you don't chug down 2 pints of Chocolate Milk immediately after a run, you will be fine. Have some water and a glass of the good chocolatey stuff and you will feel your body recovering and at the same time your taste buds will be screaming their appreciation. 

Your turn: What do you drink after a run? Have you tried chocolate milk and felt sick? Is there anyone who does not like chocolate milk?

Thursday, 10 May 2012

2 mile race

Speed training is an important part of becoming a faster runner. Training at your threshold will allow you to increase your aerobic capacity and will in turn allow you to become a stronger faster runner. Sounds great eh? 

I was due for a run home from work last night, so I was prepared for a run home. I was feeling particularly "pumped" after a long weekend biking and was really looking forward to a run.

This led to me looking around for some races that I could really test my fitness on. I know for a fact I am not at optimum levels of fitness but I am working up to it, and races are always a nice indicator of how well you are progressing.

Much to my surprise, I found that there was actually a 2 mile race in the meadows taking place that night and it was only £2 to enter! I had my kit and the meadows is 10 mins from my work, it was as if the universe was conspiring to get me racing.


The race is part of a series of races that take part throughout the summer months, some 1 and 2 mile races as well as the occasional 5k. This is exactly what I need and I will definitely be going back.

The race went really well for me. I had never raced this distance before and was excited to see how it felt. The course was a flat 1 mile loop that we ran twice. I really loved the distance and will look for more 2 mile races. It was long enough to get myself into a zone, but short enough to really inject some pace.

I ran the first loop in 6min 11sec and the second in 6min 18sec, which is not bad pacing considering I forgot to bring my Garmin forerunner which is usually my pace setter. Finishing in 12min 29sec I was very happy and felt I gave a good account of myself. I like to set my sights on a couple of targets when I am racing, I find people who are running at a slightly quicker pace and tell myself I am going to overtake them. I managed to overtake both my targets, and they were both affiliated with racing clubs, so I feel pretty good (this can be read as smug as you like, I don't mind).

I would really love to get this time down to the 11min mark, and the races run until September, so I think this is possible.

If you are in Edinburgh you should definitely check the events out, they are well organised and good fun, and it's a great way to work in some speed training into your week, no matter what you are training for.


Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Cross Training

Cross training is an important part of any training schedule, and can do a lot to help you achieve your fitness goals, whatever they may be. With the right approach to cross training you will find that there are several advantages that will make your running even better. I thought it would be helpful to write about some of the benefits as well as some tips specific to running.

One of the main advantages of cross training is that it work muscles in your body that you would not be able to work by just running. Swimming and cycling are great sports for runner to use as cross training, and both will provide a different workout for your body that you would not get from running. I love to mountain bike, and just spent all weekend in Dumfries cycling on the various 7 stanes routes down there. This provided a great workout for my quads (the front leg muscles) that I would not get if I was just running. Mountain biking also provides a great core workout which will help with balance for your running. The other amazing thing about biking (of which there are many) is that it is low impact. So you are not going to be hammering your knee joints in the way you do while running.

Me and Euan at biking in Dalbeatie
Cross training also provides a welcome rest from running. I know myself that sometimes I can get a bit bored running 3-4 times a week. By adding another sport to the mix, I find that I become excited about getting back to running. Absence makes the heart grow fonder. You will also notice the difference in fitness and feel that your running is improving, thus providing motivation to keep going.

Cross training will also help with your overall cardiovascular fitness. Cross training on rest days is great because as I mentioned before with biking or swimming, there is little to no impact. But both sports are great for improving cardio fitness and will allow you to run for longer. Cross training is also fantastic for active recovery, so if you have been out for a massive run, and are looking for a warm down, why not hop on the bike. It will increase your stamina, and by allowing your body to recover while active, you will speed up recovery more so than if you were to just rest outright.

I recommend cross training to everyone who is seriously interested in running and improving their fitness.

Your turn: let me know what you do to cross train. Do you not enjoy cross training at all? Would you rather spend all your time running?
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