Thursday 20 December 2012

Marathon des Sables training: Strength work

If there's ever a time to invest in specific strength training as a runner, it's when you are preparing for the Marathon des Sables. It's not just cardio work that you need to do.

You are on your feet for longer so you need strong(er) legs and core to keep you going for that extra distance.

Strength training improves running economy - how efficiently your body uses oxygen. If your body is using oxygen better, it means you can also run faster and for longer too.

It will help keep running injuries at bay, particularly knee and ITB issues - which can become a problem with all that extra mileage you will be doing.

MDS has plenty of hills and dunes to scale up and down and strong legs will help prevent you becoming a sobbing heap of wretchedness at the bottom of the umpteenth one.

Exercises don't have to be complicated or tedious either. I just introduced these easy leg routines into my gym sessions. 20 minutes. Done!

1) Single leg squats.
2) Lunges.
3) Step-ups.
4) Single-legged jumps.
5) The clam and side lying hip abduction.

I started off with 2 sets of 10 and built up to 3 sets of 15. Once I could do this comfortably, I added the harder element to each exercise by either adding weight or resistance from a theraband or freeweight, or doing the exercise onto an uneven surface.

I definitely noticed the difference, and I enjoyed doing the routine, as it was a bit of a welcome break from running all the time!

Don't forget hill training sessions also count as strengthening workouts too. More on that next week.

Friday 14 December 2012

Marathon des Sables training: Mileage - how much, how far, how fast?

How many miles a week you should be running pre MDS is the big question everyone asks.

A google round other people's past MDS blogs shows huge variation. Some are extremely laid back about the whole process and do just that bit extra to their normal regime. Others go hell for leather mounting up multiple 12+ hour days out, fully kitted and booted up.

In my humble opinion I think less is slightly more. Marathon des Sables tests two main things out on you:

1) Being able to run (i.e shuffle) day after day with no rest
2) Being able to run long distances, by this I mean between 20-50 miles

With that in mind I slowly built in elements of these key things into my running foundation.

I built up back to back runs, from daily jogs to and from work, to 15 miles x3, to 25 miles x3. By January I was doing 15 miles back to back okay. There are many multiday races out there pre MDS to help you do this if you want it to be a bit more enjoyable.

I built up my distance. You need to be able to run a marathon fairly comfortably now and if you haven't attempted an ultra, you should aim to get one in at least. In my training I managed 2x 30 miles 1x 38 miles and 1x 45 mile race. By January I had done all this.

Running long miles takes it out of your body, and it took me far longer than I thought it would to recover from each race. In hindsight I would have liked to have done one more ultra race, just to give me the confidence more than anything, as they are pretty painful!

My weekly mileage tally shows I averaged around 40 miles a week after Christmas - not many miles really. Should I have done more? Yes I probably could have done with fitting in more solid back to back runs with a long run each weekend, but I managed to get round ok in the end. It was the shin splints rather than fitness which ended up as my problem out there. But that's the key - it's more about what type of running you are doing rather than endlessly tallying up the weekly mileage. Quality, not quantity. Your training should be specific to what the MDS is going to test you in.

Finally, pace! Well I ran at an average of 12 minute mile pace for my training runs. MDS will challenge your body like nothing else. It's the heat that means you can't run as you'd like to. If you are going out there with the aim of enjoying it and finishing it, stick with the snail pace as your body will become used to it during training (even 12 min mile pace is pushing it, much of MDS is unfortunately spent walking). If you are going for a top 250 place, you should probably find someone else's blog to read!

Seriously, if you are concerned with placing I would advise you to learn how to keep a steady pace and maintain it, bear in mind that 12 min mile pace is pretty rapid out there, learn how to run in sand and up hills, learn how to look after your feet and keep your pack lighter than 7kg. You can make up heaps of time as well by getting yourself to the start of day 4 feeling in a good way with your feet in good nick and getting it done with no sleep, as many competitors decide to sleep for a few hours before setting off again or are completely broken by this point so are ridiculously slow!

If I've got my maths right the winners run at 8 min mile pace and the slowest run at
22 min mile pace which gives you an idea of realistic pace.

Wednesday 12 December 2012

Marathon des Sables countdown: the hard training months

The end is just over that next dune...or perhaps it's the next really, it must be the next one

While I kick back in my armchair laden with pipe and slippers, all you Marathon des Sablers out there will be shuffling away mile and mile, hill after hill, into the depths of the heavy training period.

You lucky people.

I still get asked various questions about MDS so over the next few weeks I'm going to write a few handy hints posts to help you through those heavy miles. I'm no expert so I don't have all the answers but I hopefully will help ease any worries you may have, having shuffled round in 2012.

My posts will be as follows:
Week 1: Mileage - how much, how far, how fast?
Week 2: Strength work
Week 3: Hill training
Week 4: Heat and sand - how to prepare
Week 5: Key equipment
Week 6: Getting used to your MDS kit
Week 7: Core work
Week 8: Speed work
Week 9: Hydration
Week 10: Nutrition
Week 11: Footcare
Week 12: Mental preparation
Week 13: What to expect the week before
Week 14: Camp life
Week 15: Recovery and good luck!

I'd love to hear your experiences so far of training and what you hope to get out of the race.

Remember, you have probably done far more than what you think you have already. If you are sensible and believe in yourself you will finish the race.

The 16 week countdown begins. Good luck!

Some winter running inspiration

The nights are drawing in. It's cold out there. You haven't invested in that new pair of thermal leggings yet. Sometimes a little mantra can help get you out there and keep you going. Chrissie Wellington has the words of "If" by Rudyard Kipling on her water bottle. So here's some lighthearted inspiration for you to motivate your legs to get out the door.

Tuesday 11 December 2012

Running apps: useful or useless?

Running apps are a common occurrence now. But are they really that useful or should we save our pennies and stick with the good old tried and tested methods of training?

The top five that people use are:

One of the most popular apps, Runkeeper tracks each run so you can keep tally of how far and fast you run over a period of time, as well as tracking your route run and elevation gained. It allows you to set goals and to log personal records to help keep motivation levels high. Runkeeper also has set training plans or workouts that you can follow. Not content with all that, Runkeeper now has an auto-pause function that magically stops the stopclock when you come up to a traffic light for example. Plus it now supports targeted heart rate training and will alert users when the heart rate is heading above or below the targeted rate. It has detailed health graphs which help users to track their overall health and fitness. Finally it gives you the added functionality of audio cues to tell you how well you have done over set periods.

Verdict? A good all rounder
Price? Free

Map My Run
Map My Run does what it says on the tin. It allows runners to map out their run. I personally use map my run before I set off to work out what route I need to take to run a set distance of miles. Map My Run also has a very useful sharing function where you can search other routes run in your area if you are just not feeling inspired. This is also great if you want a trial pre race run on a popular course route. Map My Run can be a bit fiddly to get used to, particularly if running offroad as you need to switch to "manual" to plot your route. Plus some of Map My Run's tools often do not work quite as you would like them too. It's also filled with annoying adverts that get in the way on the desktop version.

Verdict? Better pre run on the desktop computer
Price? Free

Nike+ Runner
Nike+ Running is a little like Runkeeper. It tracks all your running routes, along with your pace. One of the benefits of Nike+ is that you can double check and amend the accuracy if the GPS signal is a little off kilter. Nike+ will then re-evaluate your stats for you. You can also use Nike+ on the treadmill so those gym sessions can also be number crunched. The other edge Nike+ has over Runkeeper is the ability to be able to alter your music choice easily while on the run.

Verdict? Great for music loving gym bunnies
Price? Free

Endomondo is possibly a more social running app by a margin. It allows you to see what your friend's pbs are over different distances so you can try to beat them. It also allows you to compete against someone on the same route you run. It's a nice clean app (though a few too many ads) and easy to use but it has no easy link to controlling your music, so you'll just have to concentrate on beating your friend.

Verdict? Good for social sparring with friends
Price? Free / Pro costs £3.99

Zombies! Run
Bored of the same, same but different running app? Zombies,Run! aims to scare you into running faster. Possibly not the best app for hardcore stats fanatics or those who are serious about chasing pbs, but a good fun app for those more interested in turning a boring jog into a fun workout. That said Zombies!, Run also does provide structured training plans for those who want to be scared into training for a race.

Verdict? A little gimmicky
Price? £5.49

Overall verdict?
I think running apps are great for a couple of things - tracking and keeping track of your training sessions. So by doing this they can help motivate and provide feedback while on runs and also after runs, by storing all your training and logging all the incremental improvements (hopefully!) over time.

That said, I don't think they can or should take over good old intuition and/or old fashioned coaching. There is nothing better than listening to your own body while training. I try not to run so much with a Garmin for example as I think it teaches you to be able to pace yourself accurately (so vital in races) by knowing your own body and what pace you are running at. I also think running with a club or friends who can help develop your training and provide feedback is far more valuable than a robot voice in your ear.

But, as a tool used in conjunction with other training methods, I can see the real value in running apps so I'll be adding one to my iphone. I just have to decide which one.

Friday 7 December 2012

Christmas gift ideas for runners

Ah nothing like a bit of retail therapy. Even more so when it involves brightly coloured lycra. Here's my top Christmas gift ideas for runners:

For ultra runners

Injinji compression socks
These socks tick two boxes - blister prevention and muscle compression - both key areas for successful (and less painful) ultra running.

For fashionistas

Stella McCartney for Adidas shorts
Both stylish and effective, these shorts are both lightweight and windproof and will definitely attract some attention.

For the safety conscious

Ronhill high vis winter tights
These tights offer enough visibility to be safe during the winter months but also are not over the top, so can be used in the warmer seasons too.

For gadget lovers

Garmin forerunner
Garmin's lightest GPS watch is also stylish too. Also comes in black and red.

For gym fiends

Resistance bands
Much more versitile than heavy weights, and also easier to store away, these resistance bands will complement any runner's cardio training programme with strength training too.

For winter runners

North Face etip gloves
These gloves are a genius invention as they allow you to use your touchphone without having to take off your gloves first. Great for winter training runs with music.

Don't like anything here? Then try the best online shops (IMO) for runners to find your own personal favourites.

Good for triathalon - Wiggle
Good for extreme running - Likeys
Good for bargains - Sweatshop
Good for female runners - Sweaty Betty

Tuesday 4 December 2012

You thought your run was tough?

Check these ladies out.

Wendy Ingraham and Sian Welch give the crowds a nail-bitingly painful finish at the 1997 Ironman World Championships.

While Julie Moss puts new meaning into NOT.GIVING.UP.

Finally Paula Newby Frazier comes across the biggest wall of her life.

That 10km after work run doesn't seem so bad now does it?!
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