Back to it With a 10k Trail Run

Back To Running

So from mid February until the end of March I used every piece of floundering will power I have to adhere to my five-days-a-week training motto. Through rain, wind, freezing cold temperatures and under dark starlit skies I ran through all in a push towards my championship 10k race on March 3oth. I did ok in the race but ignored the fact that I was feeling under the weather…

That was two and a half weeks ago now and I believe I’ve now had two separate colds since then, one after the other! This second one is still hanging around like an uninvited guest, but last night was club night with Purbeck Runners so after getting in from work I forced myself into my running gear and jumped into the car, before my mind had time to make up excuses why not to run!

A Lovely Evening Run

Was it worth it? Too right! Swanage is a town nestled in a valley, with rolling hills to the north and south and the sea and beach to the south-east. At 7:15pm our group set off, the sky a dying blue and the low sun casting long shadows, towards a particularly large hill to the north called Nine Barrow Down. A 2km jog took us to the foot of the hill where we began a steep climb up a rocky path to the top. Rounding the corner at the top, the sun blazed in to view and even the most dedicated, focused runner would have joined us to take in the view across the valley.

The View From Nine Barrow Down

The View From Nine Barrow Down

The remainder of the run took us along the hilltop for about 2km before the lovely long downhill, through farmyards and winding country lanes back to our start and finish point. Possibly a tougher workout than those hoping for a gentle, post-London Marathon recovery run but just what the doctor ordered for me. Feel much better this morning and ready for another easy 10k tonight as I ease back to running five times/30 miles a week.

Entering Race Season

May-Sep is race season in these parts – my favourite time of the year and why I need to get back to the increased training load – a pleasure on bright summer evenings. Good riddance winter!

Next Training

Gentle 10k this evening.

A Week Off Running!

A Week of Not Running

Quelle horreur! A whole five days of not running, not swimming… not even really walking anywhere due to my sedentary, desk bound job. After the intense training (well intense for me!) I put in over the last couple of months to try and up my game and the onset of a cough/cold/virusy thing last week, I made a conscious decision to take a complete break until I was feeling better. I often talk about how hard it is to get out of the door for a run sometimes but when you shouldn’t run, it’s hard NOT to head out. I even had my gear on ready for running club on Wednesday evening, before my wife talked me out of it!

Back To It At Parkrun

So after the 10k race last Sunday I’ve done nothing for five days. I know from my previous blog post that five days off won’t make much difference to my fitness levels, so I intend on jumping straight back to it at Parkrun tomorrow. I will let you know my time, disastrous or otherwise!

Rob out.

Investigation: Does Drinking Red Bull Make You Run Faster?

Running Elixir?

A couple of people have recommended drinking a can of Red Bull before a race for a bit of an extra kick. The trick apparently is to pour it out in to a bottle and shake vigorously, releasing all the bubbles to give you a belch free run! I didn’t think much of it as one hears so many of these ‘tips’, but at the weekend I happened to have a can in the fridge before a 10k race so I downed the lot. Psychosomatic or not, I definitely felt a little more energetic than normal… so I thought I’d look in to Red Bull may actually have a positive effect on your running performance.

Firstly the ingredients of Red Bull; Caffeine, B-group vitamins, sucrose and glucose (sugar), taurine and Alpine spring water (who knew!).



This is the most instantly recognisable as a performance enhancer, there is around the same amount of caffine in a can of Red Bull as in one cup of coffee (around 80mg). As Red Bull state on their website:

“One of caffeine’s primary sites of action in the human body is  its stimulating effect on cognitive functions. Caffeine helps to improve concentration and increase alertness.”

So this may help you remain focused on your run, your time and the finish line.

Runner’s World tested the effects of caffine and found:

  • Runners who have caffeine sprint faster than those who don’t have caffeine. Researchers think the stimulant enhances reaction time and running speed.
  • Helps with recovery – Researchers found that having a drink with caffeine rebuilds glycogen stores 66 percent more than a carb-only drink.
  • Cyclists who have caffeine ride farther and think faster on cognitive tests


Vitamins, B1, B2, B3 and B6 help variously with energy and endurance, longevity, joint support and muscle gain and recovery. all good for runners! This is cited by a brand that makes supplements for runners so take as you will…

Red Bull themselves (again they have a slight sales agenda) say

“B-group vitamins contribute to normal energy-yielding metabolism, such as the build-up and break-down of carbohydrates and proteins and contribute to normal mental performance (pantothenic acid) and the reduction of tiredness and fatigue (niacin, pantothenic acid, B6, B12).”

Careful though, the Institute of Medicine warns that more than 100 milligrams of B-6 each day – what you’d get from 2 1/2 bottles of 5-Hour Energy – may damage nerves in the arms and legs.

Sucrose & Glucose

I won’t go in to this too much. Basically sugars, one type that the brain particularly likes (glucose) and one the muscles like (sucrose), that give you energy.


The magic ingredient?
Again, here’s what Red Bull say:

“Taurine is an amino acid, naturally occurring in the human body and present in the daily diet. It is involved in a wide range of biological processes.

Taurine is found in high concentrations in muscle, brain, heart and blood. A person weighing 70 kg has approximately 70 g of taurine distributed throughout their body. Put another way, a 70 kg person naturally already has in his body 70 times the amount of taurine contained in one can of Red Bull Energy Drink.”

A study named ‘The effect of acute taurine ingestion on 3-km running performance in trained middle-distance runners’ by Balshaw TG, Bampouras TM, Barry TJ, & Sparks SA in 2012, tested the effects of taurine on runners and found that seven out of the eight tested runners performed better with taurine. Their results concluded that there is a 99.3% chance that taurine was beneficial to performance.

All mixed together with Alpine spring water!


So in conclusion, Red Bull does have a lot of ingredients that have in some ways been proven to have a positive effect on running. However, a lot of those ingredients are present in our daily diets anyway, so the act of drinking something that contains more may have little to no effect if you’re already at 100% RDA.

I’ll have a can before my proper 10k race on Sunday and give an anecdotal report!

Running Gear: The Emperor’s New Compression Socks?

Do running compression socks work?

Do running compression socks work?

When I first started running a few years ago I didn’t even consider what socks to wear, or that this might make an actual difference to my performance. After a while, to avoid blisters, I started using specialist ankle running socks which felt fine but in real terms I probably could have kept on with my regular ‘sports’ socks and nothing would have been any different…

Then I noticed people at races wearing these really high socks… They went up to their knees! At first I thought perhaps this was a fashion thing that I really wasn’t getting but then I heard someone call them ‘compression socks’. Hmmm, I thought… that sounds scientific, maybe people are wearing these things for a reason!

I bought a pair and wore them for a few training runs before trying them out in a half marathon. I noticed no difference apart from blisters in places i’d never got them before. This is my investigation into whether compression socks for running actually work…

Possible benefits of compression socks:

A quick look at the description for some compression socks on sale promotes the benefits as:

  • More energy, greater endurance and enhanced performance thanks to improved blood circulation
  • Activates the flow of blood in the muscles
  • Muscle and joint stabilization for reduced risk of injury
  • Increased coordination by activating the muscles for a sense of stability and security when running

But surely they’re biased?!

During a Run – Maybe, Maybe Not!

Blood can pool in your legs. They’re low down so gravity tries to keep more blood than is necessary there. Your heart then has to work extra hard to get the blood up through your leg veins to be diffused with oxygen again and get rid of the lactic acid build up. It is suggested that wearing compression socks might increase venous blood flow, so flushing out these by -products of muscle exertion and warding off fatigue.

THERE IS NO CONSISTENCY in the results of the various studies done on this field. Ali et al. (2007) found that no performance or changes in physiological parameters occurred during or after a 10k run. In a more recent study,  Spurlich et al (2011) also found that compression “revealed no effects whatsoever”. On the other hand, Kremmier et al. (2009) found improved performance when wearing compression socks while running. The problem is that over all the various studies there were a lot of variables, from the type and length of socks, to the abilities and physiology of the studied athletes.

After a Run (Help the Recovery) – Probably!

There’s a theory that suggests that the vibrations created with every foot strike contributes to post-run muscle soreness. The aforementioned study by Ali et al. (2007)  “did find a reduction in muscle soreness, pointing to the muscle vibration and recovery aspects of socks.” Additionally, a study using full lower body graduated compression tights only after exercise showed improvements in muscle soreness (Byrne & Easton, 2010). so it would seem that compression socks CAN help your muscles recover quicker after a taxing run. As Steve Magness says though, it’s the process of damaging your muscle fibres and rebuilding them better adapted to running that helps improve fitness

Graduated Socks

Graduated compression socks

Graduated compression socks

Apparently the best types of compression socks to get are those that compress more down near the ankle, with compression force decreasing towards the knee. Buy them here (just for your info, I get no commission!)

You can read about this in a far better post by Steve Magness on his ‘Science of Running page (also a great book)

How a Break in Running Training Affects Your Fitness

Not running for two weeks

Not running for two weeks!

As you may have noticed from my recent posts, I haven’t been running much over the last couple of weeks due to blisters sustained in a half

marathon. No training and no races, with just a couple of swimming sessions to keep things ticking over.

With my next championship race upcoming this Sunday, I began to panic about if and how my lack of running may have affected my fitness. My last ten mile race was in November 2013 where I got a PB of 66 minutes, so this time I was hoping to go sub 65 (one of my targets for this year).

So off I went to find out how not running for two weeks affects your running fitness!

Cardio / Breathing

Geoff Gaudette on Runners Connect says that when it comes to your breathing (measured using VO2 Max):

“There is little reduction in VO2max for the first 10 days following inactivity in well-trained athletes. It is prudent here to mention that all of these guidelines assume you are a decently trained runner, having trained consistently for a 4-6 month period. Beginner runners will lose fitness at a slightly faster rate since they have a smaller base of fitness.

After two weeks of not running, studies show that VO2 max decreases by 6%. After 9 weeks VO2 max drops by 19%. After 11 weeks of no running, Studies demonstrate that VO2 max falls by 25.7% from peak physical fitness.

So according to Geoff I’ll be running my 10 miles 6% slower – so should finish in about 70 minutes.

Mental State

There’s also evidence to suggest that having a two week break in your running can lead to increased symptoms of depression such as anxiety or insomnia, although I can’t say I’ve noticed this in general. Only the depressing thought that my times will be getting slower the longer I don’t train for!

Two Weeks Off Running is Fine (yey!)

Matt Johnson at Runners Academy says:

“You won’t lose your aerobic capacity or muscle power as long as your time away from running is less than two weeks.”

He even goes on to say:

“There are times when a week or two away from running is actually beneficial, such as after a strenuous marathon performance.”

Well my Blackmore Vale Half Marathon run was probably the toughest run I’ve ever done, mentally and physically so perhaps a little break has been of benefit. My dodgy ankle niggle that I couldn’t seem to lose has certainly disappeared!

Basically it’s largely about confidence. Think you’re going to run a bad, slow race and you probably will. Go in to it thinking “I’ve had a nice break and now my muscles are full of fuel and energy!” and all should be ok.

Next Training

Blisters feeling better so will attempt a leisurely 5 miler this evening. Need to do something before 10 miles on Sunday!

Warning: Do Not Run on Blisters!

Got Blisters

Just over a week ago I ran the Blackmore Vale Half Marathon. I did so wearing a pair of very cheap compression socks by More Mile, which, by mile 1 had slipped down my calfs and by mile 7 had created some terrible blisters. Not one to ever give up on a race, I carried on the the end with gritted teeth and was pleased I did, I beat my half marathon PB by over four minutes, but to the detriment of my feet which were now covered in blisters from the loose and rubbing socks.

Kept Running with Blisters

Three days later, blisters not feeling too bad (but still visible) I ended up having to walk a long way in my work shoes across London due to the tube strikes (followed by a quick run around the capital). Blisters reappeared – ouch.

Another three days later on Saturday I thought, “screw this, I need to go for a run!” and off I went for what I thought was going to be a quick 8k… Well I can tell you, I have never stopped on any run, training or race but after 6k and still 2k from home I had to stop running. My feet hurt too much!

The moral of the story?

Never run with blisters, you’ll stop them healing and will put yourself out of action for longer. Also – spend a bit extra on decent running socks! I now have my next race, the Lytchett 10 mile coming up this Sunday, I can’t run and I still have blisters : (

So yesterday I went swimming instead… read about that here

Learning I was a Neutral Runner – Not an Over Pronator!

One thing i’ve learned over the last few years of running, is that what people wear on their feet is very important. When I used to run infrequently, I’d just chuck on a pair of my dad’s old trainers and make do in those. The trainers you run in can have both physiological and psychological effects. The physical can range from putting more spring in your step with something like an Adidas Boost, or correcting a gait deficiency such as over-pronation or flat-footedness. The benefits are in the mind too. If you’ve just spent £100 on some Nike Flyknit Racers then you may believe you have a slight edge to the guy in front of you in that 5k.

As I’ve begun running consistently 25-30 miles, this has meant that i’ve needed to replace my trainers more often (every 6 months). With my birthday being in August (21st anyone who’d like to send a cheque!), I basically get trainers for every birthday and Christmas!

Gait Analysis

When I started taking my running more seriously I noticed a twinge in my left ankle, so promptly went to the running shop to have my gait analysed in order to get the best shoes for my foot. They noted that I over-pronated on my left ankle and prescribed a pair of Saucony’s (I forget the model). Over the next few training runs and races, I noticed my ankle becoming extremely painful and at one point had to stop and limp up a hill. Ever the experimenter, I went back to my dad’s old Nike Air Pegasus’ and hey presto – my ankle went back to only hurting a little bit.

over pronating runner

An over pronating runner

At around the same time I read that actually, your foot is MEANT to over-pronate slightly! It’s a bio-mechanic designed to provide a natural buffer to the impact of your foot hitting the ground. The slight flexing of the ankle over the inside of the foot acts as a sort of shock absorber to your ankle and leg. Then I also read about Nike’s Lunarlon foam material and it’s cushioning effects and thought i’d give those a shot… this was where I discovered (through trial and error) that I needed neutral trainers…

A neutral runner

A neutral runner

Theres a great page on types of running style on the Asics website

Read my Nike LunarGlide+5 review

If You Could Only Bottle That Feeling…

It’s a cold winter’s day. The sky is so grey that it’s as dark as dusk and the rain slides from the heavens in vertical sheets. After parking, you’ve been sitting in the car for 5 minutes doing everything possible to delay the start of your run; checking the Garmin settings, separating the car key from the house keys, doing strange and awkward stretches that involve putting legs over the passenger sheet. As the drum of the rain on the car roof becomes a roar, you take a deep breath and step out…

Why do you/I/runners do it? What makes me leave my warm and cosy house in the dead of winter, drive to a remote and empty car park and head off in to the country lanes.

I realised what it is two weeks ago, at approximately 12:30pm, 5 miles in to a 10 mile training run.

Ok so it’s hard to get out of the house, in to the car, out of the car and get going. It takes a couple of miles for my body to get into ‘run’ mode, to expend enough energy that I feel warm and my heart to get pumping with enthusiasm rather than stumbling with reluctance. But at that point, 5 miles in it was like what a Buddhist might call Nirvana. My mind and body were totally connected in a perfect rhythm of movement and I felt like I could run a marathon (until I reached the hill at mile 9!) but those few miles of optimum running, that feeling of truly knowing my own body was fantastic.

So that’s why I do it over and over and if people ask me “How do you force yourself to go running in this horrible winter weather?” – I shall just direct them to this blog and suggest they try it themselves.

Next Training:

No running yesterday and working all day today, followed by a party this evening I have a 10k race on Sunday so having an internal debate on whether to just do Parkrun on Saturday to keep the old legs ticking over, or whether to rest fully before Sunday?


How To Make Your Own Isotonic Drink

When running, it’s very important to keep hydrated. As I learned the hard way on Sunday – I ran 14 miles with no gels, food or drink and had a pretty terrible migraine the moment I stopped running. I also spent the next 2 days with dry lips, headaches and was constantly thirsty – a very real demonstration to me of the importance of keeping your fluids up.

It also helps to actually IMPROVE your performance:

Researchers at Loughborough University found that when runners drank a sports drink (5.5g carbohydrate/100ml), they improved their running time by 3.9 minutes over 42km compared with drinking water. (Runner’s World)

There are three types of drink:

1. Hypotonic – is more dilute than your body’s fluids and will be absorbed quickly.

2. Isotonic – The most well known – contains the same balance of sugars/electrolytes as your blood and is the best way to rehydrate during or after a run. Lucozade Sport is the most prominent brand that springs to mind!

3. Hypertonic – these drinks have more sugar than your blood’s natural level (e.g. Coke or lemonade) and so will be absorbed slowly. These are better to drink after a run.

How To Make Your Own Isotonic Drink

Isotonic drinks can be expensive. Particularly if you’re in training for a marathon, it costs a lot to use a new bottle of Lucozade Sport for every single training run, so here’s how to make your own up before you head out:

Mix together:
-50-70g sugar
-One litre of warm water
-Pinch of salt
-200ml of sugar free squash

Mix, cool and drink


Drink two: Fruity

-200ml ordinary fruit squash
-800ml water
-A pinch of salt