Thursday, December 31, 2009

Sleep Deprivation in Overnight Events

I was recently asked by my friend Ron about how to deal with the problems of 24 hour (or longer) events. While I now deal with sleep deprivation much better than I once did, I do not have a clear reason for my improvement. I've given some background and some suggestions at, and as always, I welcome input or suggestions.

(This entry is posted to, and to Facebook)

2009 Statistics

With my running over for 2009, I thought I'd look back over the year by pulling up some statistics - Overall, 2009 has been a very successful and enjoyable year for me. My primary goal for my 2010 training is to continue with the pattern I've established. I would like to do a run of 26 miles or more for 50 of the 52 weeks, something I started doing in the last few months of 2009. I plan to increase the level of interval training, and possibly include a few high mileage weeks (150-200 miles).

(This entry is posted to, and to Facebook)

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Tangent - Back Surgery

I was recently asked about the back surgery that I had in 2004. As I am a believer in "constructive laziness" ( I spent some time going over my training logs and wrote up my reply for the running tips site. As always, if anyone has any questions, just let me know.

(This entry is posted to, and to Facebook)

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Toughening Feet

For many years I've been looking at ways to toughen the skin on my feet. I've put together a short entry describing the things I've tried, and how well they worked for me.

(This entry is posted to, and to Facebook)

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness

Do you find yourself sore after a marathon or long training run? You are probably suffering from Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS). It's useful to know the difference between DOMS and other muscle damage, and how to limit or prevent DOMS in the future.

(This entry is posted to, and to Facebook)

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Tangent - Thoughts on pacing a marathon

Having just paced the Charlotte Thunder Road marathon, I thought I'd make some notes for myself and others about how best to act as a pacer. I polled the other pacers from Thunder Road and got some great extra tips; if you have any suggestions, please let me know. (BTW, I am always looking for feedback, suggestions, or disagreements - just let me know.)

(This entry is posted to, and to Facebook)

The Golden Rule of Tapering

I wanted to distill down my advice on tapering to a single, easy to remember 'golden rule'. I intentionally left this until after this weekend's marathons, as I wanted to give people time to muse on this before their next race.

[Reposted due to errors. Twice!]

(This entry is posted to, and to Facebook)

Friday, December 11, 2009

Pre-Race Meals

I saw a question on Facebook by Th�oden Janes ( asking 'Pasta again' and it prompted me to post this note on pre-race meals. I assumed for years, that pasta was the only thing to eat before a race, but I have found that there are much better options - But remember

(This entry is posted to, and to Facebook)

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Cryotherapy - Ice for Healing

This is a post I have been working on for months now. I wanted to write an article on using ice for healing that was based on the available science. Sadly, I found remarkably little science that covers this subject. This quote from a scientific journal looking at the studies that have been performed (a meta-study) sums things up: "Currently, no authors have assessed the efficacy of ice in the treatment of muscle contusions or strains. Considering that most injuries are muscle strains and contusions, this is a large void in the literature."

What I have written is based on the little research that is available, but also reflects my experience with using ice for healing. Personally, I have found amazing healing through ice; going from unable to walk properly one day to running normally the next. It's not always that easy, but I find that most muscular problems can be resolved with ice.

(This entry is posted to, and to Facebook)

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

MSM and Migraines

If you are a runner who suffers from migraines, be aware that the joint supplement MSM can make them worse -

(This entry is posted to, and to Facebook)

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

How to eat a Gel

It sounds so simple, but eating a Gel in a race is important to get right, and that little bit of carbohydrate can be the difference between a good race and bonking -

(This entry is posted to, and to Facebook)

Monday, December 7, 2009


I was asked recently about how I avoid procrastination, which is really a question of motivation. This is my first pass at an answer, though it's a subject I will have to return to for further updates. Please forgive the roughness of this; normally I spend many days (sometimes weeks) revisiting draft entries to wordsmith them, but I wanted to get this answer out.

(This entry is posted to, and to Facebook)

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Documentation is Evil

As a writer, I like writing. It's easy to get caught up with the prose, and write more than is needed. I try to work on the basis that 'documentation is evil' - If I use too many words, please remind me of these words ;}-

(This entry is posted to, and to Facebook)

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Don't pause your watch

I wrote this tip in response to both my own experience when training for marathons, and what I see other runners doing. A 20 mile run with significant breaks does not prepare you for a marathon in the way that a continuous run does. Short breaks allow the body to bounce back remarkably quickly, but they have to be accounted for.

(This entry is posted to, and to Facebook)

Derby 50K Race Report

Theoden asked me to do a race report for the Derby 50K, which he kindly posted on his blog. If you are not a regular reader of his blog, the article is at Theoden's blog is well worth reading on a regular basis, and his Facebook questions (and the debate they spark) are wonderful.

(This entry is posted to, and to Facebook)

Friday, December 4, 2009

Blister Prevention

My friend Kelly asked me for some advice about blister prevention, so I wrote up my answer as a running tip, in case there were others who were interested. Having non-HS RDEB, I have rather more experience with blisters than I would like. However, if I can avoid blisters, you should be able to!

Thursday, December 3, 2009

The blog is back...

This blog is back online after a three week outage. The problem was caused by Google automatic detection of ‘spam blogs’. I understand the issue of spam, and that the nature of automatic detection is error prone. However, a three week delay in restoring access is rather excessive. If you use the Google blogging service, you might want to consider migrating to a different provider. At the very least, take an export of your blog so you can move it or access the data while blocked.

I am going to repurpose this blog as a result of the outage. Instead of posting running tips to this blog directly, I will post them to I will post a link to the new articles into this blog, as well as and to Facebook.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Running Tip #31 - Modified Nike Free

Note - This article is now hosted at

As you may know from my previous post on primal running shoes, I modify my Nike Free shoes. The Nike Free is an ideal starting point for modification. Instead of a separate cushioning midsole and a hard rubber outsole, the Free combines the two into a single layer. This cushioning is much tougher than a conventional shoe, so it withstands the abrasion without an outer sole. Modifying a conventional shoe requires removing the outsole, cutting away at the midsole, then reattaching the outsole. With the Free, you just remove what you don’t want. (Note that I use the Nike Free 3.0.2 as the starting point.)

Stage One - The Sole

Here is an image of the underside of the unmodified shoe, which is my starting point. Notice the deep groves in the shoe and the lack of outsole (other than the small patches that are black).

As you can see here,the unmodified shoe has a much higher heel than forefoot.

The first stage is to mark where the sole needs cutting. Do this approximately and conservatively first. It is best to remove slightly less than you need to, then try them out and remove some more if required. I find you need to remove material from not just the heel, but the arch support and right up to just behind the all of the foot.

I've tried quite an array of tools for modifying these shoes, and my preferred tool tool is a cheap sheath knife. The knife is a Clipper and is a remarkable knife for the price - I've abused mine horribly and it's still in great condition.

Cutting away at the sole is harder than you might expect. The way the sole is in sections makes it a little easier, but only a little.

Here you can see how much of the sole was removed.

From the side, you get an idea of how far it has been cut down. Note how rough the cutting is - this seems to work fine.

Stage Two - the toe box

See how the toes overlap the sides of the shoe and the shoe is a different shape? I've never understood why shoes are not the shape of your feet. I did not have a problem with the toe box of the Free until I started wearing Vibram FiveFingers. Once my toes had become used to freedom, they were very unhappy with a toe box.

Putting the shoe on, I can feel where the toes touch the side of the shoe. I mark the contact points on the shoe. Notice that there is a reasonable area where the shoe is away from the toes. I'll leave that intact and it will keep the shoe together.

Once the toe box has been cut away, my toes are free. When I first did this as an experiment, I thought my toes would push out too far and cause a problem, but in practice this is fine. I've run up to 30 miles in this type of modified shoe without any problems.

Stage Three - Traction?

The next stage may well be to add some extra traction for running trails or on ice.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Tangent - 2008 Grand Canyon Double Crossing

I was recently asked about the double crossing of the Grand Canyon I did in 2008 and I promised to post a link to the report on my blog. Instead of the typical 'race report', I did a pictorial report of 17 annotated images. You can find this on Smugmug.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Running Tip #30 - Running in the rain

Running in the rain can be great fun, with a wonderful sense of freedom. However, it does offer some interesting challenges.

The rain can cool you off. In the summer this could be pleasant, but in cooler conditions, it can be a serious problem. Even a light rain can soak you through and cool you off dramatically. A heavy rain in cool conditions can rapidly cause Hypothermia. If you stop running, you can become chilled very quickly. Shivering is a key indicator of your core temperature - see the notes on Hypothermia on the previous blog entry on running in the cold.

  • A thin rain jacket can provide important protection and comfort. It is unlikely to keep you dry - you will probably sweat under the jacket, but it will prevent a lot of the evaporative cooling as well as the cooling effect of heavy rain.
  • Rain is a real pain if you wear glasses. Wearing a baseball cap can help protect glasses from the rain and keep the rain out of your eyes and face. A wide brimmed hat can make running in the rain much easier, especially if you are running for a protracted time. I have used the Outdoor Research Seattle Sombrero and found it worked well, though it looks rather strange.
  • If you are running in the rain for a protracted period, it will cause problems with your skin. The skin will absorb the water and become softer (maceration). This can cause blisters and chafing. The use of compression clothing can minimize chafing and should be the first line of defense.
  • There are various creams that can help protect your skin in the rain. I have used Hyrdropel and found it very effective, especially on my feet.
  • It is also important to protect any electronics you carry when you run. Most sports watches, heart rate monitors and GPS devices are water resistant. Cell phones and MP3 players are generally not. For good protection, a dedicated case, like Otter Box works very well, but I have found a simple Ziploc bag, sealed and folded over works remarkably well.
  • In heavy rain or fog at night, having your light source on your head can just blind you. Using a light that attaches to your belt, such as works better.
  • Wear clothes that do not absorb much water. Cotton should be avoided in any weather, but some synthetic materials absorb more water than others.
  • Use common sense and caution for thunder storms. A lightning strike can kill, so it is best to avoid running in thunder storms.
  • I have tried various waterproof styles of running shoes, and would not recommend them. For running through puddles they may help, but in any serious rain it is hard to stop the water from running down your legs and into the shoes, or going over the top of the shoe. Once a waterproof shoe is soaked, it stays wet. I find it much better to wear a shoe that drains well than one that is waterproof.

Running Tip #28 - Learn the lessons

There are many lessons that we learn in running. Races are particularly intense learning experiences; I have had very few races where I have not learned at least one important lesson. It is important that we actually learn from these lessons; if we don’t the lessons will be repeated, and they are often unpleasant.

I have a checklist I use for each race. After each race, I go back over the checklist and update it with the lessons I learned. This checklist has become my treasure trove of knowledge and tips.

On my last race, pacing a marathon, the weather at the start was mid 60s and drizzle. The weather forecast was for 50% chance of light rain and a slight drop in temperature. I chose not to carry a waterproof, believing the forecast. This proved to be a mistake when the temperatures dropped to the mid 50s with heavy rain. As a pacer, I could not pick up the pace, so I became quite chilled. I was not hypothermic, but I could have been. So my race checklist now has the line ‘if there is a possibility of cool rain, carry a waterproof’.

Lesson learned.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Tangent - Jennifer's Questions

I was asked a few questions, and I thought I'd share them, and the answers, with you.

Jennifer: Does anyone write your running plan or has anyone ever written it, if not, then how do you know what to run?

Jonathan: I have used a number of marathon training plans when I was racing marathons. My favorite was Jack Daniel’s Running Formula, which I still think is one of the best out there. When I changed to running ultras, there are no established plans available, so I found a few guidelines and made up my own plans. Since then I’ve looked at other runner’s programs, studied some sports science and come up with my own approach. I believe in taking far more days off, so that my easy days are actually complete rest, and my hard days are hard. That means I do a lot of quality work.

Jennifer: Do you worry about what you eat before races?

Yes, what you eat before the race is critical on a number of levels. If you get it wrong, you can be depleted of energy, or worse, have an upset stomach. It’s not just the morning of the race that impacts you, but at least the day before as well. I have found that eating a high fat meal the night before a race works much better for me than a high carbohydrate meal. The morning of the race I make sure I am up early to hydrate, eaten and taken care of the other end of digestion, so to speak. Before a race is the one time I do eat junk food - something easily digested, like Pop Tarts, seems to work well.

Jennifer: What are your thoughts on all the products out there on the market, gels, endurance drinks, and candy? Also if you use these items, do you have a schedule you follow while you train and race?

When I’m on training runs I generally take little in the way of gels, drinks or candy. I am prone to weight gain, and I also think I benefit from forcing my body to burn fat. So for runs up to 4 hours, I generally rely on water with added salt. On some longer training runs (4+ hours) I may use Gatorade with extra salt, sometimes gels or M&Ms.

For shorter races (50K or less), I think Gels are great. They are very quickly digested and easily carried. It’s important to ‘sip’ Gels, mixing them with saliva. Simply swallowing them fast can cause problems. My favorite is Gu, and my least favorite is Clif.

On a race I eat whatever appeals at the time. I don’t plan what to eat on a race at all; I believe that the appetite is the result of the body’s analysis of its needs. Sometimes I’ll come into an aid station and want salty cheezeits, sometimes cookies; it all depends on what appeals. I also let my hunger direct my intake. When I’m not actually running, I avoid sports drinks, gels and candy, even candy marketed as ‘protein bars’.

Jennifer: Why running, I know why you started to exercise, but why running?

It was not what I expected. I started off doing aerobics with my next door neighbor and had a blast. I was intending to add in some cycling, as I’d always thought of myself as a cyclist, not a runner. However, I started doing a little bit of running (a mile), and even though it was tough, I just found myself hooked.

Jennifer: Do you ever want to throw in the towel and what motivates you to keep pushing if you feel yourself start to drag?

Jonathan: I’ve never seriously considered giving up. I’ve been at the “I’m never doing this again” stage, and the “why do I do this” stage many times. I’ve decided that I’m not cut out for ultra running a few times, but always licked my wounds and come back for more. Motivation is a very tough question; I don’t think I am self aware enough to know the answer, but if pushed I would say it’s because it’s who I am. I am a runner.
On a more day to day basis, having a race to train for keeps me focused. I know that if I don’t get out the door, I will suffer that much worse on the race. Generally, I don’t have a problem with motivation to run, though actually getting out of the door can be tough.

Jennifer: What is your favorite, I cannot leave the house, running product? I.e. brand of sock, gear, Garmin etc.

I’ve blogged on a number of products that I like, but the one thing that has been my constant companion is my Polar Heart Rate Monitor. I don’t think I’ve run without it in well over 10 years. I don’t always look at on my runs, but I rely on it to create a training log on the PC. It allows me to look back at races in previous years and see what training I did, and how the race went. It also tells me how I’m training now compared with last month, or last year.

Jennifer: Where would your perfect place to run be?

Jonathan: The English Lake District without a doubt. There are few trees in the Lake District, so you can see for miles. It is a beautiful part of the world, and the landscape changes as you travel. A lot of the south east is ‘the long green tunnel’ – you’re in the woods the whole time.

Jennifer: Do you do any other sports?

Jonathan: No. If I had the time, I would like to do a little Yoga. Not for the flexibility, but for the mediation and peace it brings.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Running Tip #29 - Cold

This post includes a few simple tips for running in moderately cold temperatures, down to around 15 degrees Fahrenheit. Running in extreme cold is outside of my experience.

  • The 20 degree rule. A good approximation is to dress for temperatures that are 20 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than the actual temperature. So if it's 20 degrees out, dress for walking in 40 degrees.
  • Dress in layers. Layers will keep you warmer than a single layer, and allow for flexibility of removing some of your insulation.
  • Shed after warm-up. If practical, you can overdress for the first mile or so, until you warm up. This requires you having somewhere to discard the extra clothes, or a way of carrying them.
  • If your hands are cold, wear a hat. This is an old boy scout saying, but it works. If you core temperature starts to drop, your body will protect your vital functions by sacrificing your extremities, such as hands and feet.
  • Don't sweat through. If you wear too many clothes and sweat too much, you will sweat through your clothes. Once your clothes are soaked, you will become suddenly chilled. This means you will probably have to dress to be slightly cold, rather than toasty warm.
  • Windproof layers are a mixed blessing. A windproof layer will boost the insulation value of the underlying layers, which can really help keep you warm. Unfortunately a windproof layer also stops sweat evaporating, which regulates your temperature. This makes it much more likely that you will sweat though and become cold. I use a windproof layer, but open it up as soon as I warm up, then try to stay slightly cool. A windproof layer is very useful as an extra layer, as it can be wrapped around your waist easily. I will wear it until I warm up, then carry it in case I need some extra warmth later in the run.
  • Hydrate. Just because it's cold doesn't mean you don't need to drink. Use your thirst as a guide - for more on hydration see and
  • Try to stay dry. Rain can chill you very quickly, so in cooler conditions, you need some rain protection. More on this in the next post.
  • Your lungs are fine. Your lungs will not freeze, not even at -40 degrees. Your lungs may get irritated by the low humidity, but they will get used to that. It is possible to get exercised induced asthma, which is a narrowing of the airways when exercising. If you suspect you have this condition, seek medical advice.
  • No cotton. This is true for any conditions, but worth restating here. Wear clothes made from synthetic, wicking fibers, such as CoolMax.
  • Watch for frostbite. Your extremities may go numb early in your run, but they should warm up. Anything that stays numb needs to be checked.
  • Watch for ice. Slipping on ice can pull muscles or cause falls. You can get traction aids to attach to your shoes if ice is a significant problem – look for Yaktrax or similar.
  • Hat and gloves. These are important to keep you warm, but they can also be taken off and tucked in a waist band easily. This allows you to adjust your insulation for the conditions. I like gloves that convert into mittens (more on these in a future blog)
  • Vaseline. If you are still having problems with your hands and feet, spreading Vaseline over them before putting on your socks or gloves will dramatically improve the insulation. It’s a bit strange the first time you do it, but it works very well.

Hypothermia is often thought about in connection with very cold temperatures, but mild temperatures (50s) and rain are common causes of hypothermia.

If you are shivering, but can stop if you make an effort, you are suffering from mild hypothermia (core 96-98f). This will reduce your coordination, which could be a problem on technical trails. The biggest problem is that mild hypothermia will make you mildly stupid, and less lightly to make good decisions. It is important at this stage to correct the problem as soon as possible.

If you are shivering and cannot stop even if you try, you have moderate hypothermia (core 91 - 95). This is a dangerous condition; You need to get warm and dry urgently.

“The first casualty of hypothermia is good judgment.” If you are hypothermic your decision making is likely to be impaired. If in doubt, seek shelter, get warm and dry. If you are with someone who appears to be hypothermic, you may have to look after them more than normal.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Running Tip #25 - Gear Review - SunUp Dawn Simulator

I prefer to run in the morning, but I struggle getting out of bed. The best aid I have found to waking up is the SunUp light controller. This device acts as a programmable light dimmer; It will bring up the lights slowly at a given time. I find that the light tends to disturb me at a point in my sleep cycle when I am sleeping most lightly. Occasionally I will come around with the light full on, but this is rare.

The SunUp does not have a built in light, but is a controller for ordinary lights. You can configure how long the light takes to go from 'off' to 'full on'. You can also use the SunUp controller to go down, acting as a dusk simulator, which helps me go to sleep.

The SunUP is not cheap at $160, but it is well worth it to me.

Running Tip #27 - Portable Pharmacy

I carry a portable pharmacy when I run. This consists of a small plastic film canister filled with a few important pills. I generally use an APS film canister, but 35mm will work well. You can get these from most places that process film. I put a little packing foam in the bottom, and then use another 'plug' of packing foam at the top. This foam prevents the pills rattling and breaking apart. In the film pot I have:

  • Electrolyte capsule. I don't use these very often, but they are useful if there are no other electrolytes available.
  • Antacid tablets. Some foods can acidify the stomach, especially coke.
  • Gas-x. Any gas can cause real pain when running, and it's hard to predict what will cause it.
  • Ibuprofen. This is the strongest and the most dangerous of the pills I carry. I will post an entry specifically on Ibuprofen.
  • Caffeine. The world's favorite recreational drug and the best plant neurotoxin! More seriously, I will write a post on this drug as well.
  • Katadyn MicroPUR MP1. Having water purification tablets can be handy at times, especially on long trail runs. These are the smallest and most reliable on the market.

From left to right: Foam plug, MicroPUR (foil), Antacid (green), Gas-X (pink), ibuprofen (red), electrolyte capsules, caffeine (yellow)

Running Tip #26 - Gear Review - Race Ready Shorts & Tights

I have been wearing Race Ready shorts and tights for many years; they are now the only ones I wear. The unique feature of Race Ready is the mesh pockets around the back, just below the waistband. These pockets allow you to carry a number of small items in comfort. If you use the compression version of the shorts & tights (and you should), there is no bounce from items in these pockets. I have found some discomfort from my phone after long periods, but it is fine for up to about 8-12 hours of running. The longest run (in time terms) was 34 hours, and they remained comfortable. Even without the pockets, the shorts and tights are some of the best I have found. The tights actually long enough to fit someone with a runners build (skinny with long legs), which is unusual in my experience. You can see slight wear in images below, which is from sitting on asphalt to change shoes. This shorts shown below have been worn for several thousand miles with no other signs of wear. I think that being able to carry a cell phone comfortably is an important safety aid.

I often run with my Race Ready shorts loaded up with:

  • Olympus voice recorder
  • Cell phone (blackberry) in ZipLoc snack bag
  • Occasionally I will add Credit Card, Drivers License and cash if I think I may need to buy something on the run. I add in my medical insurance card if I think that might be important! These all fit in with the cell phone without a problem.
  • iPod nano, also in ZipLoc snack bag
  • Gu (not normally used, but there for emergencies)
  • Pepper Spray. I often come across loose dogs on the greenway
  • Portable pharmacy (film canister with pills - more in a later blog)

Men's Shorts -
Men's Tights -
Women's Shorts -
Women's Tights -
Woman's Carpis -

Here they are fully loaded...

The right side with portable pharmacy, Gu and iPod...

The left side with voice recorder, pepper spray and phone...

And the contents...

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Running Tip #24 - The Journey to Primal Running

Humans are designed to run barefoot, so the ideal training is easy; you're born, learn to crawl, learn to walk, learn to run. What could be easier? The problem comes when you've been wearing traditional shoes for years. The shoes act like a cast on a broken limb, supporting the limb, but also causing it to become weak and vulnerable. Running in traditional running shoes also trains us to run in an unnatural way, which has to be unlearned.

The primal running movement is a recent phenomenon in developed countries. This means that there is relatively little experience in moving from traditional shoes to primal or barefoot running. We do not have a well defined body of lore to call upon, or scientific studies to refer to. This post gives some general guidelines and advice based on the current body of knowledge.

Initially, I expect that many runners will move to primal running because they are forced to by injury. As the benefits of primal running become better understood and publicized, I expect this will spread. I am going to give suggestions for two types of people; those that are not currently running, and those that are running. I'll then add in some general suggestions, but remember that these suggestions should be taken as a starting point for your journey to primal running, not as rigid rules.

Primal Running for the non-runner

You may not be a runner at all, or you may be a runner who has been forced to stop running by injury. In either case, you should start primal running as a new runner. Running tip #6 goes into more depth on this subject, but I'll include a short summary here.

Start off by walking in your chosen primal footwear (or barefoot) for 30 minutes. This is a critical step to build up foot strength and get used to moving without cushioned shoes. Once you are happy doing 2 miles in 30 minutes, start introducing a little running. Do two one-minute runs in the 30 minutes - run 1, walk 14, run 1, walk 14 (2x1R:14W). Then gradually build up, doing 2x2R:13W, 2x3R:12W etc, until you are running the full 30 minutes.

Primal Running for the runner

It would be prudent to start off by doing some walking in your chosen primal footwear. Walking a few miles for a few days will give you a sense of how strong your feet are. If you have problems doing the walking, then you will need to be more cautious in your move to primal running.

After the walking stage, I would suggest that you add a little primal running to the end of each of your normal runs. For the first few times, just run a quarter of a mile, then walk for a bit and depending on how you feel, repeat once or twice. If, after a few days of this, you are comfortable with the quarter miles and have no problems, move on to primal running for the last mile or two of your normal runs.

From there, gradually move from traditional running to primal running by increasing the primal portion. I would avoid doing speed work or hill work in the primal section at this stage. When I got to 50/50 I then swapped to only primal running, but did not do any speed work or hill training for a week or so.

General Advice
  • Learn to run again. This means starting with short distances, with walking breaks and building up.
  • Doing too much too fast is counterproductive. Some people naturally go to extremes; if you are one of these people, expect some pain. If you don’t listen to the pain, the pain will get worse. You have been warned.
  • Listen to your feet. A loud slapping sound is a bad sign.
  • Find your own style. Most peoples' biomechanics are naturally much better with primal running than running in traditional shoes. When primal running, you can't land on your heel without it hurting. However, don't force yourself up on your toes. Let your body and mind try different things to find out what works for you. Some folks seem to run on their forefoot, but many land on their midfoot.
  • People who have a forefoot style for primal running will often find their calves become sore. It will take time for these muscles to build up.
  • Keep your cadence high. A short, rapid stride is the natural way of running. You'll probably do this naturally, so don't fight it.
  • Lean forward. One approach is to stand upright, then lean forward until you have to start running to prevent yourself landing on your face. A slight forward lean seems to work well.
  • Your feet may have grown weak in shoes. You may have to take time to regain the strength they need. Consider wearing minimal or no shoes as much as possible, not just when running. If you wear shoes that fully 'support' your arch, you may need to take time to rebuild your foot strength and wean yourself off this type of shoe.
  • Some 'foot soreness' seems very common. Icing the bottom of the foot can help alleviate this, but this soreness is a sign to back down the intensity a little.
  • Consider ChiRunning or the POSE method, which are running styles that are intended to be more natural. You will probably move towards this style of running naturally with primal running, but understanding these styles may help.

Further Reading
Chi Running ( and the Pose Method ( are natural styles of running that work well with barefoot running.

How to run barefoot -

Google group for barefoot/minimal running -

Barefoot Running has three plans for transitioning

Running Tip #23 - Primal Running Shoes

What is Primal running?

Primal running is running in a shoe that has no cushioning, a very thin flexible sole, the same height at the front and back. It is similar to barefoot running, but with a little extra protection from abrasion.

Options for Primal footwear

Vibram FiveFingers (VFF)
The VFF range of shoes is very popular for Primal Running. They are a thin sole combined with just enough material to hold them to your foot. Each toe has a separate pocket, hence the name FiveFingers.

VFFs were created for boating, not running, but they have become hugely popular for many sports. In fact, it can be hard to get some of the VFF shoes as demand outstrips supply. I would recommend either the KSO (Keep Stuff Out) or the KSO Treks. The Trek version has a leather upper and a thicker sole, with a tread pattern.

It's been known for a long time that running barefoot is more efficient than running with shoes. It's been assumed that this is because of the weight of the shoes, but a recent study has shown running in FiveFingers is more efficient than traditional running shoes [1].


I have not used Feelmax shoes, but they have a very good reputation in primal runners. Feelmax shoes have a very thin (1mm, 0.04 inch) sole made of a Kevlar composite. This sole is very flexible and provides great feel. It also provides very good puncture resistance, which protects the foot. The shoes are also very light at about 4 oz.

Huarache Racing Sandals

I have no experience of these, but Barefoot Ted sells running sandals inspired by the Tarahumara Indians


Some people have been running in moccasins, especially in colder weather.

Options for near-Primal footwear (minimalistic)

Nike Free

The Nike Free are running shoes that are light weight, with very flexible soles. The sole is not thin, but is made flexible by deep groves in the sole. The Nike Free is a great minimalist running shoe and a half way house to Primal running. There is no outer sole (the hard rubber that meets the road), just a robust midsole (the cushioning part). The deep groves cut into the midsole allow the shoe to flex more than is possible with a traditional shoe. There are lots of different models of Nike Free, each with a number that indicates how flexible they are. The scale of the number is based on 10.0 as a traditional shoe and a 1.0 a barefoot. I would recommend using the Free 3.0, which is not as close to barefoot as the number suggest. A more realistic rating might be 6 or 7. I have been running in Nike Free for about 5 years and I believe they have helped me stay injury free in that time.

The biggest downside of the Nike Free from a Primal running standpoint is that it has a heel that is higher than forefoot. (Most shoes have 12mm high forefoot and 22mm high heel.) I take a knife and cut the heel down so it is roughly level with the forefoot. The Nike Free is ideal for this as it does not have a separate outsole. The midsole (the cushioning bit) is designed to be tough enough to withstand contact with the ground. It is relatively easy to cut the heel of the Nike Free away to produce a flat shoe. I find this is much closer to primal than the unmodified Free.

Racing Flats

Some racing flats are popular as minimalist shoes. I have used the Nike Mayfly and I know that the Mizuno Universe is also recommended by the POSE method. I think the Nike Free offers better value for money, but these shoes are worth considering.

Modify your old shoes

Another cheap option is to take an old pair of running shoes and modify them. To do this, you would need to cut off the heel of the shoe to be level with the forefoot. This may work if your existing shoes are reasonably lightweight and flexible anyway, but not all shoes are suitable.

Canvas Sneakers

Some people have got on well with Converse style canvas sneakers, which are cheap and easy to find. Note: this is not the same as cheap running shoes. These canvas sneakers have very little sole.

Run Barefoot

Running barefoot is different to Primal running, but both fit under the general concept of 'natural running'. There are advantages and disadvantages to barefoot running. The biggest advantage is that it is cheap and easy. It is a great way of finding out what it's like to run without traditional shoes. Even if you don’t intend to do much in the way of barefoot or primal running, this is an easy thing to test out the idea without having to spend any money. Just try running for a short distance on a treadmill or on a grassy area. This should give you a sense of how different this style of running is.

A shoe to avoid - The Newton

Newton shoes focus on forefoot running by adding extra height to the forefoot of the shoe. I purchased a pair thinking they would move me closer to barefoot running. The result of the high forefoot is an unstable shoe. What I found was the Newton takes a bad idea (the traditional running shoe) and makes it worse. I hated running in the Newton shoes, but I think they are a valuable lesson. Natural running requires a minimalist shoe, not a more complex one. You can get a better alternative to the Newton just by hacking the sole off an old pair of running shoes. I would advise you to avoid these shoes.

[1] FiveFingers footwear is more efficient for runners than conventional running shoes

Monday, October 12, 2009

Running Tip #22 - Are your running shoes injuring you?

Runners know the importance of getting the correct running shoe. After all, the right shoe will correct your biomechanical problems and prevent injury, right? Maybe not.

There is no evidence that running shoes reduce or prevent injuries [1]. In fact, all of the evidence is that running shoes and injuries go together [2]. Also, more expensive running shoes are linked to more injuries than cheaper ones, even after allowing for mileage and injury history [4, 8].

This is all counterintuitive, because running shoes reduce the impact of running, don't they? Wrong again. It has been shown that running shoes do not reduce the impact [5, 6]. It seems that the cushioning from shoes messes with the body's natural way of running [7]. One study went as far as describing running shoes as "safety hazards" [3]. One study showed that when stepping down to a cushioned surface the more cushioning, the more impact [11].

But we need arch support, right? Nope. An arch is a self supporting structure. If you push up under an arch, you dramatically weaken it.

There is indirect evidence from the human body; we are designed to run long distances. Regardless of your belief around the mechanism for that design (divine or evolution), our bodies have only had running shoes for a few decades, but we have been running for millennia. Currently, 24-65% of runners are injured each year [10]; it's hard to imagine humanity surviving if such rates are typical of the species. Many features of the human body are believed to be adaptations to running [12, 13].

There is also a growing body of anecdotal evidence that moving from traditional running shoes to minimalist shoes or barefoot cures chronic problems [9]. My experience is part of that anecdotal evidence. I used to find that I would suffer various nagging injuries, mostly around the knee, hip or ankle until I swapped to a more minimalist shoe.

Running shoes; an analogy

Here is an analogy. Imagine you are running through the woods blindfolded. This is painful, because you keep running into trees. To ease the pain, you get a bigger, more padded blindfold. This helps a bit, as it cushions the pain of hitting the trees, but does not solve the problem. If you take off the blindfold, you will actually see the trees. Running in traditional running shoes is like running blindfolded. Your feet are very sensitive so that they can detect and adapt to the surface. To see this adaptation, check out this video -

Are running shoes always evil?

So, are all running shoes evil? There is ample evidence that for most people, shoes are a significant evil, causing a variety of injuries. For a few, they are able to run correctly in traditional running shoes. But even for those people, they are probably slower and less efficient due to the extra weight.

Barefoot Running and Primal Running

The alternative to running in traditional running shoes is barefoot running and primal running. Barefoot running is pretty obvious; it's running without shoes. Primal running is inspired by the Tarahumara Indians in Mexico, made famous by the book 'Born to Run'. The Tarahumara run vast distances in sandals made of deerskin or sections of car tires. Primal running is to run in shoes that are very minimal, with no cushioning. Both barefoot and primal running create a running style that is natural and efficient. The body then absorbs the running motion in the way that it has for millennia. This barefoot/primal running style is very similar to Chi Running or the POSE method. The Chi/POSE methods teach the conscious mind a new way of running, which you then practice. The barefoot/primal running approach seems to bypass the conscious mind and taps into the instinctive ability to run correctly.

What does this mean to you?

  • If you are a runner and had any running injuries, I would strongly recommend that you try either barefoot or primal running.
  • If you are a runner who has never been injured, I would suggest you try either barefoot or primal running. You may find that it improves your speed, efficiency and more importantly, your love of running.
  • If you are not a runner, but would like to get fit, lose weight or live longer, running is a great way of achieving these goals. Just remember that barefoot and primal is a better way.

What's next?

I will be writing more on this in the next blog entries on 'Primal Footwear' and 'the journey to Primal Running'.


[1]Is your prescription of distance running shoes evidence based?

[2]Robbins SE, Hanna AM (1987). Running-related injury prevention through barefoot adaptations. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise 19, 148-156

[3]Robbins SE, Gouw GJ (1991). Athletic footwear: unsafe due to perceptual illusions. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise 23, 217-224

[4]Robbins S, Waked E (1997). Hazards of deceptive advertising of athletic footwear. British Journal of Sports Medicine 31, 299-303

[5]Robbins SE, Gouw GJ (1990). Athletic footwear and chronic overloading: a brief review. Sports Medicine 9, 76-85

[6]Mechanical comparison of barefoot and shod running

[7]Running-related injury prevention through barefoot adaptations

[8]MARTI, B. “Relationships Between Running Injuries and Running Shoes – Results of a Study of 5,000 Participants of a 16-km Run – The May 1984 Berne ‘Grand Prix’”

[9]Minimalist Footwear

[10]Factors related to the incidence of running injuries. A review.

[11]Balance and vertical impact in sports: Role of shoe sole materials

[12]Running paced human evolution

[13]Running Extra Mile Sets the Human Apart

Further reading,0,5107405,full.column

Friday, October 2, 2009

Running Tip #21 - Why compression clothes

Most athletic clothes that are called 'compression' really provide very little pressure. Mostly these are really 'form fitting', flexible clothing that touch the skin rather than being lose. There are a number of advantages of compression clothing over lose...

When you are cold, and therefore not sweating, compression clothing will trap the air next to the skin and keep you warmer than lose clothing.

When you are hot, and therefore sweating, compression clothing will spread out the sweat to that it evaporates more efficiently. The evaporation cools the compression clothes, which being next to the skin, helps keep you cool. Very thin compression clothing will keep you cooler than bare skin. With bare skin, the sweat will drip off your body with little cooling effect.

Compression clothing moves far less than lose clothing, reducing chafing. On longer runs, chafing can be a significant source of pain. While lubricants like body glide can help prevent chafing, I believe it is better to have a longer term solution in the form of non-chafing clothing.

The only downside of compression clothing is that it reveals the underlying body shape. For some, this is psychologically uncomfortable. Lose clothing can be worn over the compression layer. While this may be less effective than just the compression layer in warm conditions, it may be better than just the lose layer.

There are clothes that claim greater benefits from compression, such as CW-X. I have used their running tights and not noticed any difference.

Compression socks/calf sleeves generally have much higher levels of compression and are a separate topic.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Product Review - Teeter Inversion Table

While this is not a running product directly, back problems are prevalent, so I thought I would include this in my blog.

Having read lots of reviews, I decided it was worth getting a 'quality' product, rather than getting the cheapest available. If I am going to be suspended by my ankles, I figured I wanted to be confident in the quality of my support. The most highly recommended make is Teeter, so I ordered the EP-550 from for $299. (

The inversion table is heavy. If you have a back problem, you will need lots of help getting the table into the house and assembling it. The box is marked as needing two people to lift it, and they are not joking. Assembly is not difficult, but the instructions and pictures are not as clear as I would like. They provide a DVD with great instructions, but of course, I only looked at that after I was all done. RTFM.

The build quality is something I would expect to find in a gym rather than home equipment. The table is very solidly made, and everything moves smoothly and with precision.

The table needs to be setup for your height, so that you can control the inversion easily. The idea is that you raise your arms to change the balance point so that the table gradually inverts. If this is setup correctly, you can finely control your exact position. It took me a while to get this setup correctly. Being a runner with the 'T-Rex" build (big legs, tiny arms), my arms do not provide the same relative weight, but I still ended up with great control.

I was concerned that the ankle grip would hurt my skin, but so far I've not had a problem. Given the delicacy of my skin, I am tempted to try using the table with ski boots, but for most people, this should not be an issue.

It takes a while to get used to be inverted, as the blood rushes to the head. If you have high blood pressure, or other medical conditions, you should consult a physician. I find that I need to move to the inverted position slowly. I am expecting that my tolerance for being inverted will improve over time.

Being inverted helps my back significantly. I can massage the back muscles when fully inverted much better than in any other position. I have no problems with nerve compression, just muscular spasms, so I can't comment on how it would help that problem. I like the inversion table and I think it is well worth the money. It complements my massage chair (Panasonic EP3202) rather than replaces it. The massage chair is also an order of magnitude more expensive!

A recommended product.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Tangent - A momentous run?

Occasionally you go out for a run and come back different. No, not occasionally; a tiny handful of times. I remember the first time I went running, just a mile, and getting home, collapsing on the floor, panting like an overheated dog, thinking I would die, but wanting to do it again. Or the first time I ran for an hour and felt like a god that could run forever, loving the sense of freedom. Then there was the time that, having discovered faster cadence, I ‘got it’. I no longer felt I was running with my shoes tied together! My first real trail run, heading down hill with reckless abandonment, feeling like I was flying, and falling in love with the sensation. Each time I can remember where I was, and how I felt different, a metamorphosis into something new.

Today might have been another to add to the list. I’ve been running in the Vibram FiveFingers (VFF) shoes for a few months now. Each time I run in them, it’s like the ground has been transformed into a raw, brutal force. Each footfall is sensitive and exposed, and it’s like I’m naked in a winter storm; way too vulnerable. But through the discomfort, there is a sense of ‘righteousness’. Like the increase in cadence, there is this sense that while it’s uncomfortably different, it’s also ‘correct’ at a fundamental level.

Today, for the first time, I swapped from my Nike Frees to VFF and it felt good. The ground felt more cushioned with the VFF than the Nikes, my feet where happier, my body more connected. There is a sense of being so much more aware of the ground. Our feet are very sensitive and it takes time for the mind to adjust to processing the new feelings and adapting to use the information correctly. But when it happens, it is so, so sweet.

I don’t know if today was a one off event. With my skin condition, running barefoot is likely to be impossible, and even the VFFs may not work for long. But either way, I will remember today, because I am changed.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Running Tip #20 - Tapering

Tapering is the reduction in training before a competition. Tapering can produce significant gains in performance, and is part of most training plans. However, there are various approaches that can be taken based on the variables on intensity, volume and frequency.

The Experiment of One

The studies of tapering indicate a high level of individual variability [2]. This variation is as wide as 8.9% improvement to 2.3% reduction in measured performance. This may be variation from individual to individual, but it seems to me that it may also depend on the specifics of the overall training plan. Consider two marathon runners; one is building up their weekly long run as 14, 16, 18, 20, while the other has been doing 20 miles runs for several months. It seems reasonable that the two runners would require different tapers. The runner who has been quickly building up their long run distance is likely to have more muscle damage as the body will have had little time to adjust to the distance. What does this mean to you? It means you may have to experiment with differing tapers, or at least consider different approaches.

General Observations on Tapering

There is some debate over how much of the benefit of tapering is a short term boost due to the extra rest, and how much is a result of a better approach to training. It has been suggested that the ideal taper might also be an ideal training plan.

Tapering is a balance between recovery and detraining. Too much stress on the body will reduce race performance, but too little stress will result in detraining. Detraining can occur in the time period of many tapers, therefore it is critical that training stress is correctly applied.

Psychological effects of tapering

Tapering has some strange and unexpected effects. You would think that lowering your training would leave you feeling great, with boundless energy and enthusiasm. For most people, the opposite is true. We feel sluggish, lethargic and slow. New aches and pains suddenly appear and we can feel like a simple walk is hard work. This can lead to fear that our fitness has disappeared, or that we have a strange new illness. In reality, I suspect this is just the fact that our bodies are used to a higher level of training stress and the lower levels feel strange. It may also be higher levels of glycogen in the muscles which make our legs feel heavy. Whatever the explanation, for most of us tapering is not the nirvana we would like.

Short Race Tapers

For a short race (5K) it seems that drastically reducing training volume, while keeping intensity high can produce great gains. Based on [1], a 7 day taper that reduces mileage by 85% and has a decreasing number of hard intervals (7 the first day, 6 the next, etc) produces good results. However, this type of taper tends to cause muscle soreness, which makes it less than ideal for longer races.

General Tapering

The consensus of 27 studies for tapering is listed below [2]. These guidelines are not specific to a given distance and I found no studies looking at marathon distance or greater.

  • Do not decrease training intensity (intensity seems to be key).
  • Reduce mileage by 20-60.
  • Taper for 8-14 days. Some athletes will do well on other durations, but some will do worse than no taper.
  • Reduce mileage exponentiall.
  • Keep training frequency the same may be better than reducing frequency.

Fellrnr's Personal Approach to Marathon Taper

The following is my personal advice based on anecdotal and personal experience. This approach works well for a marathon where you are focusing significant resources into an optimal performance. Obviously, running the marathon distance (or greater) does not require a taper, but performance is optimized by doing one.

  • Taper for two weeks.
  • Cut out any easy paced/recovery/junk runs (if you are doing any).
  • Have the last long run at the beginning of the taper. No run past this point should have the purpose of improving endurance.
  • Avoid hard downhill running in the taper.
  • Do medium length runs at marathon pace (Running at marathon pace improves your sense of pace and become comfortable at this speed).
  • Do 'easy intervals' - for instance, mile repeats at tempo pace with full recovery. The idea is to be fast enough to keep prevent detraining, but easy enough to avoid any muscle soreness. You could do harder intervals if you are confident they will not cause soreness.

Fellrnr's Personal Ultra Tapering

Like many ultrarunners, I do far more races in a year than typical marathon runners. This race load means that a longer taper is impractical. Therefore, for a short ultra (up to 50 miles), I take the day before the race off completely and convert that week's hill training to a flat run. For longer races, I'll reduce my Monday and Wednesday runs to one hour rather than three, avoid hills and take Friday off. (I normally only run Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday.)

Other thoughts on tapering

  • Don't be stupid. Correct tapering can help you recover from your hard training and do your best. It is not an alternative to hard training, and any attempt to compensate for poor preparation in the taper period will only make matters worse.
  • Avoid injury. Don't do hard intervals or start doing an alternative workout to 'make up' for the reduction in tapering. Be careful to avoid injury through 'accidental exercise', such as chasing the dog, lifting furniture, etc.
  • Stay off your feet as much as possible the week before the race. This can be tough if you are travelling for a race and want to sightsee.
  • Reduce caffeine intake if you are a regular user. This is true if you are intending to use caffeine in the race or not. Reduced caffeine will make you tired and cranky, but it's worth it. (I find reduced caffeine also makes me hungry - YMMV)
  • Limit stress as much as possible. The taper period tends to involve a lot of stress due to the change in training pattern and because of the looming race. Stress is catabolic (breaks down the body), and needs to be avoided as much as possible.
  • Ensure you get plenty of sleep, especially the week before the race. The night before the race is not critical, but the few nights before that are important.
  • Avoid infection by washing your hands and being careful around sick people.
  • Spend time visualizing the race. Visualize your preparation, race start, the mid miles, the late miles, how to use aid stations, how the finish will feel, etc.
  • Make lists of things you need to take with you or you need to do on the night before the race and on race day. This will make sure you are prepared and help deal with the stress. Use the same list for every race, building and changing it based on experience.
  • Reduce your calorie intake to balance the reduced training load. Tapering is not the time to gain weight.
  • For the bulk of the taper period, reduce carbohydrate intake and favor protein and fat. Protein and fat are critical for healing and repair. Protein should be taken several times a day; protein drinks and skimmed milk are good choices. Fats must be low in saturated fats and high in essential fatty acids. Fish oil, fatty fish, nuts, flax or flax oil are good choices.
  • For the last few days, favor carbohydrate and/or fat depending on what you learned from your long runs. (You did learn this, didn't you!) I find that fat is better for me than carbohydrate for ultras.
  • Store 'creative energy'. Any race should involve suffering, and that suffering requires fortitude. Spending time in visualization, meditation, prayer, yoga, or similar activities will help create the needed mental strength.
  • Use 'the stick' to massage muscles and verify that there are no sore spots or problems. A massage can also help. The massage should be more gentle as the taper progresses.
  • Be very careful with stretching. Stretching may help, but it can also cause damage.
  • If you feel crappy in the taper period, you're not alone. Most runners hate the taper period, often feeling guilty, lethargic, stiff and generally out of sorts. This is normal; just accept that you'll be okay on the day.

[1]The effects of taper on performance in distance runners

[2]Effects of Tapering on Performance: A Meta-Analysis

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Race Report - Hinson Lake 24 hour

Hinson Lake 24 hour (HL24) race is unusual in that it is how far you can go in the time, rather than how long it takes you to go a distance. This fact means that for different people, HL24 is a different race. Not just a different character, in the way most races are for the leaders and back-of-the-packer runners, but a completely different race. Some of the different races I saw run at HL24 include…

Marathon preparation race
For some, HL24 is the perfect marathon tune up race. You can set whatever distance you like, but 18-24 miles would be typical. HL24 provides the real race feel, which is hard to replicate in training, combined with outstanding aid. The course has a near perfect trail for the distance, being soft, wide dirt with a few boardwalks, and almost flat. While this might be one of the few places you hear “I’m only doing 20 today”, no one think any less of someone doing that distance. The loop course makes it easy to bail early if things go badly, which is sometimes a possibility with a marathon preparation race. To add sugar, the low entry fee also makes HL24 a very cost effective marathon preparation race.

Fixed distance
For another group of runners, HL24 represents the chance to cover a specific distance without any time limits cutting in, and under easier conditions than most races. Common distances I heard people doing were standard marathon (26.2 miles), 50 miles and 100K (62 miles). Some were aiming for 100 miles, but at that distance, the time limit does become a factor. I saw one couple push on through the night to make 100K, visibly battling exhaustion together; I thought it was very romantic.

How far can you go?
If you want to know “how far can I go?” HL24 is an ideal place to find out. Eventually the reasons to stop become greater than the reasons to keep going, and movement ceases. Different people will stop for different reasons, but they can all push the boundaries of their mental and physical capabilities. ("Mental fortitude is more important than physical endurance”, but that’s another blog entry!) Some people will go until they can’t go any more and stop. Others will take breaks to increase their distance, some for a few minutes, some lying down to sleep for a few hours. This makes HL24 a great place for a first time ultra runner. There is no fixed distance that has to be conquered, no possibility of ‘failure’. My friend Vince did his first ultra at HL24 this year and covered an outstanding 100K. In his own words “This was a fun race, kind of the gateway drug to Ultras. There were people of all ages (7 to 72) and abilities, each with different goals. Everyone was encouraging and friendly and there was no pressure.”

Fun with friends
The loop nature of HL24 means that you get so see nearly everyone at some point. The front runners and the slowest all share the trail as they go around the loop. This makes HL24 a supremely sociable race. In other ultras you can be on your own for hours at a time, but not HL24. Seeing other runners, checking on their progress, giving and receiving encouragement is a great part of the race. For some, the social side is an important aspect. Friends you make in the middle of the night while you are both suffering through an endurance event are not like other friends; the bond is different, and I won’t even attempt to explain further ;}

Racing 24 hours
For a few, there is the prospect of pushing the boundaries of the 24 hour limit and cranking out lots of miles. This was my approach to HL24, and I went in with a goal of doing 111 miles. I felt that this was a rather ambitious goal, but I wanted to shoot high. On the ride to the start of the race with Vince, I joked about 131 miles being 5 marathons back to back. That joke came back to haunt me in the small hours of Sunday morning.

I started off too fast and running each lap with no walking breaks, but that was intentional. I know that I need to burn off some of the initial enthusiasm before settling into a routine. After these first few laps of youthful exuberance, I used the pattern of walking from the aid station to the end of the dam, which takes about ~2 minutes. That gave me opportunity to eat and drink on each lap, while giving my legs a chance to bounce back. I managed to hold that pattern for most of the rest of the race and it worked well.

The day passed uneventfully, cranking away steady miles, listening to some tunes and trying to stay relaxed. I had one blister form on my heel, which got bad, then burst of its own accord, so I ignored it. My feet did swell up, which caused pressure on the top of the foot, even though I kept loosening my shoe laces. There was a lot of pain from the top of my feet, which I convinced myself was ‘just’ crushed tendons and not stress fractures (turns out I was right). I’d modified my shoes a few weeks before the race, cutting off the heel so it is the same height as the forefoot. This modification worked well in my training runs, but I’d not gone this kind of distance in these ‘new’ shoes before. It all worked well, but made the pain in the feet a little more worrying.

I hit the 100 mile mark at about 2 am, which was a milestone for me, as this was the furthest I’d run. The frightening thing for me at this point is that I’d done 100 miles, but I have a lot of the race left. The idea of keeping up the pace for 6 more hours was between daunting and overwhelming, especially in the dark.

Everything was going as well as you would expect (think ‘horror movie’) until 5:30 am when I hit mile 115 and I was informed that I could possibly break the course record of 127 miles. In my weakened state, madness set in and I asked the timers to work out what pace I’d need to hit the 131 miles. Remember Vince and me joking about that earlier? On the next lap the timers told me that 10 min/mile pace would get me to 131 miles. How hard can it be? I just need to pick up the pace for another 2.5 hours having just done 115 miles! I was able to speed things up a little just by skipping the walking break. That meant no food or fluids, but hey, it’s just another 15 miles or so, right? Skipping the walking break was not quite enough and I also had to speed up the running somewhat. The faster pace triggered some nausea, which forced me to slow up slightly and take some fluids. I was then running at the boundary of nausea; just fast enough to feel bad, but not so fast that food moved in the wrong direction.

At about mile 125 I misread the timer and became confused, thinking I’d nearly run out of time and would not make the course record without speeding things up further. I found the “don’t care if I die” pace for another lap before I realized that I actually had more time than expected. To my great surprise, I had not died, and nothing vital had fallen off the body or broken, so I hung onto the speed. I completed the lap that gave me the 131 miles at about 8:30 pace. I knew I only had a few minutes left on the clock, and I was given a banana to drop on the trail to mark the part of the final lap I completed, so I picked up the pace as hard as I could. Those few minutes lasted far longer than I expected. In the end I managed to complete the last lap at sub 8 min/mile pace, which made it my fastest lap of the day. I finished the race with a new course record of 132.24 miles.

Random Musings
One of the songs I was recommended before the race by my running buddy Theoden was “Remember the Name”, with the lyrics:

This is ten percent luck, twenty percent skill
Fifteen percent concentrated power of will
Five percent pleasure, fifty percent pain

This echoed in my mind during the race. The ratio described seemed to sum up the race; even the 5% pleasure, 50% pain was about the right ratio ;}

Timed races are different. You have a given amount of time to go as whatever distance you can. That means that going faster means going further. 10% more speed means 10% more distance as well; it gets exponentially harder. With a distance race, there is a sense that that if you can run faster, the pain will be over sooner, but not with a timed race.

For those with an interest in the statistics, my marathon split times were 4:08, 4:30, 5:00, 5:40, 4:47.

I can highly recommend HL24 to any endurance runner. Ultra runners will find a very sociable, well run race. Any marathon runner will find a new challenge and opportunity. For an entry fee of $24, how can you not do it?

Monday, September 21, 2009

Running Tip #19 - Fixing iPod remote headphones

Like many others, I enjoy listening to music, podcasts and books while I run. When I saw Apple had produced iPods with a remote control on the headphones, it seemed like a good idea. Having tried it them out, the remote control is awesome when it’s working. Being able to pause, change volume, skip songs, play the same song endlessly, change playlists without fiddling with the player is really nice. The problem is that it's nice “when it’s working”. If the remote control gets a drop of sweat or rain on it, it goes mad, randomly changing volume and song.

I hope that Apple will bring out some new headphones with a waterproof remote, but until then, I’ve come up with a cheap fix. This will not make them completely waterproof, but it makes them usable in most conditions.

The fix is just to wrap the remote section of the headphones is plastic wrap (saran wrap or similar), then tie it off with cable ties. Take a look at the pictures below to see how this works.

I have not tried this fix with the more expensive remote+headphones that are sold by Apple. Those headphones use a system that requires a good seal with the ear to produce the bass tones, and I find that they do not work when running. All you hear is your footsteps!

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Running Tip #18 - Injury prevention using 'The Stick'

The stick is a simple device for massaging muscles; just a stick with rollers to reduce friction and two handles. I use the stick for three reasons:

1 - After each workout, using the stick over all the muscles in the legs seems to help improve recovery.
2 - If I have overdone things, the stick will help with healing. It can be used on a muscle knot to help relax the area and improve healing.
3 -The best thing about the stick is as a diagnostic tool. I use the stick to check for tender areas and knots in the muscles. This can help detect problems well before they become apparent. Don't wait for problems to become obvious while you are running. Early detection can prevent a minor issue becoming a major one.

It's important to have the muscle you are working on relaxed. Make sure that the muscle is 'floppy', almost like dead meat.

- For the calf, make sure the heel is supported (bed, sofa, etc) and the foot completely relaxed with the knee bent.
- For the front of the lower leg (Tibialis anterior), support the ball of the foot so the calf is under tension
- For the quad, support the heel of the foot and keep the leg straight.
- For the hamstring, bend your knee and put the top of your foot on a support, facing away from the support.

Note: The stick will not help with DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness). It's hard to explain the difference between DOMS and other muscle issues. If a muscle is tender and painful to any pressure across most of the muscle equally, it maybe DOMS. I'll blog on DOMS in the future, but it's an involved subject.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Running Tip #17 - Individuality & the experiment of one

"Everyone is different." This statement has implications for running, as each person may differ in their response to training, diet or other factors. The advice I give in this blog, as well as much of the other advice, is generic and assumes that people are the same. However, you are an experiment of one, a unique individual and you need to remember this. It means that you may need to train, eat, sleep, race differently to others. For instance, I find that a high fat meal the night before a race works much better for me than a high carbohydrate meal (pasta).

What does this mean to you? Be prepared to experiment and to go against established advice.

[1]Individual differences in response to regular physical activity

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Running Tip #16 - The Golden Rule of Racing

The golden rule is very simple; "never do something in a race you have not practiced in training".

This advice is so simple, it is easy to miss.

  1. Train in the shoes you will race in. Don't race in new shoes.
  2. Practice drinking like you will in a race. If you are getting paper cups that you are going to drink on the run, practice on a long run. It is tough to drink and run!
  3. If you are intending to eat on the race, this requires practice at race pace. Even getting a gel out of a pocket and open at race pace can be difficult. With gels, practice if you are going to take with fluid, swallow fast, or take a bit at a time while mixing with saliva (my approach).
  4. For races that are in the dark, practice running with a light
  5. If you will be running overnight, practice running overnight.
  6. Use your long runs to perfect your pre-race routine. You need to know how you body will react to different types of breakfast or fluids.
  7. Include the night before in your long run in your training. What you eat the night before can have a big impact on your run the following morning. The general advice is to eat pasta or similar, but I find that a high fat meal the night before is far better for me. Try different meals in training, not racing.
  8. Terrain - train for hilly races on hilly courses. Train for trail runs on trails.

Some things are hard to practice:

  1. Hanging around before the race starts in the cold. Think about what to wear to keep warm at the start that you can discard.
  2. Spring races where it may be warmer than your training. Overdressing to build heat adaptation can help a little.
  3. Altitude can be replicated via technology, but it is very expensive. Trying to get to the race location a few days early can help, but is often impractical
  4. Tapering is one of the hardest things to practice. Your only choice is to learn from each race.
  5. Don't be stupid. Sadly, this is often only apparent in hindsight. Make a note of your mistakes in your pre-race checklist, so hopefully you don't make them twice.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Running Tip #15 -Hydration 101


The advice given to runners on hydration has changed over time and looks set to continue to change. There are competing forces at work - sports drink manufacturers, event organizers (often sponsored by the manufacturers) and scientists (some also sponsored by the manufacturers). One thing is clear about hydration - it is important. Incorrect hydration can lead to impaired performance, and in extreme cases, death.

A condition related to dehydration is Hyponatremia, which is where the sodium (salt) level in the blood becomes too dilute. This is a dangerous condition that has killed a number of runners. More on this later.

This blog entry is a follow on to 'Practical Hydration' which should be read first.

Effects of dehydration

Everyone knows that dehydration is bad. But how bad? Current research indicates that some level of dehydration (up to 3%) does not impact performance, or impacts performance much less than expected [7]. (Dehydration of 5% does impact performance [11].) This may be due to the fact that carbohydrate (glycogen) is stored with water, in the ratio of about 1g glycogen to 2.5g water [8]. This means that 2000 calories of glycogen depletion that are likely to occur in marathon distance runs would result in about 4lb weight loss with no reduction in hydration (2000Kcal/4=500g glycogen + 1250g water = 1750g). In practice moving from a high carbohydrate to high fat diet can see 6lb weight loss, believed to be glycogen + water depletion [8].

Salt loss through sweat

The amount of salt that is lost through sweating varies a lot. It varies from individual to individual, and for an individual it will vary depending on fitness and heat acclimation [9]. This means that you may have to experiment with your salt intake, both during and after exercise. Anecdotal tip: If your skin is crusty with salt after a run, you are probably someone who sweats out a lot of salt.

More on Hyponatremia

Hyponatremia is where the sodium (salt) levels becomes too dilute. Initial symptoms tend to be a gain in weight and a general swelling and 'puffiness', most noticeable in the hands. More severe symptoms are caused by a swelling of the brain (cerebral edema) including nausea, vomiting, headache and malaise [10].

The cause of Hyponatremia is poorly understood, but believed to be related to excessive water intake [1]. (I believe that this is excessive fluid intake in the absence of sufficient electrolytes.) Hyponatremia can be common in endurance athletes. In a 1997 Ironman triathlon, almost 4% of competitors received attention for Hyponatremia [4]. In a study of the 2002 Boston Marathon, 13% of finishers had some level of Hyponatremia, and 0.6% had critical Hyponatremia [2]. The study revealed that the risk factors for Hyponatremia include a slow finish time (>4 hour) and consumption of >6 pints (3 liters) of water during the race; BAA suggests a 'slight build' is also a risk factor[12]. Healthy kidneys can excrete about 2 pints (1 liter) of fluid per hour, but this may be reduced by exertion or illness [3]. So drinking >6 pints in 4 hours could easily exceed the kidneys capacity to cope.

The recent rise in Hyponatremia may be due to earlier advice to athletes to "drink as much as possible" [13], combined with a general concern about salt intake.

HypERnatremia - the opposite of HypOnatremia

Generally, Hypernatremia (too much sodium in the blood) seems to be a result of dehydration rather than excessive salt intake [17]. It should be noted that taking electrolyte capsules bypasses the body's taste. This sense of taste seems to reflect our body's internal sensors; our desire for salty foods reflects our salt requirements.

Salt and High Blood Pressure

If you have high blood pressure, you may need to be careful with your salt intake. There is evidence that increased salt intake can increase blood pressure [4]. If you have high blood pressure, discuss these issues with your doctor. If your doctor is not an athlete, I would highly recommend changing to one that is. If you don't know what your blood pressure is, get it checked. (As an aside, if you have low blood pressure, which I do, increasing your salt intake can really help.)

Caffeine and Alcohol

The scientific evidence shows that caffeine is generally not a diuretic [5, 14, 15]. Previous studies have shown that if you don't normally take caffeine and then get a large dose, there is some diuretic effect. However normal intakes of caffeine by non-users and use by regular users is not a diuretic [16]. (If you urinate more because you drink a 20oz Latte, it is because of the 20oz of fluid, not the caffeine.)

Alcohol is another story; drinking anything stronger than 2% will cause dehydration. Because alcohol takes 36 hours to clear the body, it should be avoided for 48 hours before you wish to avoid impaired performance [5].

Muscle Cramps

The common wisdom that muscle cramps are caused by lack of electrolytes or dehydration does not appear to be supported by science [6].

Blisters and black toe nails

Dehydration reduces body weight, which can reduce the size of your feet. This in turn changes the fit of your shoes, causing blisters. Hyponatremia can cause swelling, which increases the size of your feet and can cause blisters. Both conditions can also increase the chance of black toe nails.

[1]Exercise-Associated Hyponatremia

[2]Hyponatremia among Runners in the Boston Marathon

[3]Water Intoxication

[4]Micronutrient Information Center - Sodium

[5]Caffeine dehydration : Caffeine and alcohol - just how dehydrating are they?

[6]Muscle Cramps : No link between hydration and cramps

[7]Hydration - fluid intake advice and tips

[8]The Relation Of Glycogen To Water Storage In The Liver

[9]Cracking the Code on Hydration


[11]Dehydration reduces cardiac output and increases systemic and cutaneous vascular resistance during exercise,%20J%20Appl%20Physiol%2079,%201487-96,%201995.pdf


[13]USATF Announces Major Changes in Hydration Guidelines for Long Distance Runners

[14]Metabolic and exercise endurance effects of coffee and caffeine ingestion

[15]Effects of caffeine ingestion on body fluid balance and thermoregulation during exercise

[16]Caffeine ingestion and fluid balance: a review.;jsessionid=KNhWhGQSZnXhY11p2f7qnnmn1Q7z376shvhsK7hTWDLVGQhWpGGJ!811725889!181195628!8091!-1

[17]Sodium Status of Collapsed Marathon Runners

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