Wednesday, 30 December 2015

Runner Nutter courses - Go the distance in Belfast Northern Ireland !

Running in Belfast, or anywhere in Northern Ireland is the most accessible form of fitness available to most people, Runner Nutter courses (BeginnerTo10k and Half Marathon)  are specifically designed to deliver you a solid foundation and enhanced framework to run optimally via  improved nutrition, increased energy, improved technique and greater self confidence via progressive milestones.

The end result is that you're better equipped to run further, faster and for longer in much greater comfort, plus all the positive knock on effects which come from that.

There's a wealth of advice out there when it comes to optimising your running performance, the advice can change from person to person based on unique nuances, if you're already taking running training and you've been given advice which contradicts what i've written below then don't worry, you're personalised advice on the ground will be specific to you and will consider your posture, gait, lifestyle, style of running, current habits and many other factors.

What I've written for you are a range techniques and advisories that I've used on a diverse range of clients for over a decade, with highly significant and demonstrable results. 

During the courses you'll have a lot of information to absorb, from breathing to footwear to which of your energy systems to use, when and where, diet, optimum repair, preperation, stretch, warm-ups and so on... But as these are taught on a practical level they are quickly grasped, put into practice and the benefits felt almost immediately, as a consequence you make tremendous improvements extremely quickly.

Foot placement
The way we plant our feet changes as we increase speed, the shoes we wear, our natural posture and even energy levels...
So here, we'll cover off the foot placement through speed.

To make foot placement really easy to grasp in the real world (as opposed to a text book world), we can associate parts of the feet as speed zones or gears...

1. The Heel - First Gear
Used for walking
Inbuilt braking mechanism in each step via heel striking.
Maximum stability

2. The ball of the foot - Middle Gear
Used when jogging
Aerobic up to and including anaerobic threshold
Foot placement plays a critical role - many people continue heel striking thus braking.
Slightly less stable

3. Front of the foot - Top gear
Used when sprinting
Using the front of the foot provides spring into forward momentum
Least stable
As you may have noticed, there is a direct correlation between ground contact and stability, the more ground contact the higher the resistance, but less contact leads to less stability... what this tells us is that to run efficiently you need less ground contact, but that's just the beginning.

You will notice that foot placement also has a close relationship with your breathing patterns, overall posture, speed over the ground and your energy system in use, all these are demonstrated and practiced during Runner Nutter courses.

Warming up
Do not stretch before running !
This is because stretching starts to lengthen and fatigue the very muscles which you're about to use, thus increasing the chances of injury (or exasperating pre-existing injury)..
If you find  yourself having to frantically stretch prior to runs to stave off cramping etc, you should go back to basics and build up again. Do look at the footwear pointers below, hydration and technique.

Anyway.. moving on....

Your warm up has to be running specific and done a way that when you come to the actualy run, it feels very easy ! 

You must warm up your shoulders and your core... its not all on the legs you know, just a few twisty sit-ups as a switch-on stimulus will do, a few press-ups and shoulder rotations, that's fine...
Then the leg bit... this is easy and generally good fun..

Start off walking, going forwards, backwards, twisting, turning, hopping, skipping and then repeating that at a slow jog...

This tricks the body into a state over preparedness, it stimulates the joint stabilisation, gets the muscle sensors fired up and starts the adrenaline cycle too.

After that, running forwards in a comparatively straight line is easy ! 

But not just any type of breathing... you must be able to breath in synchronicity with the demands you're placing on your body, or rather your cardiovascular / aerobic system.
It can take several minutes for your CV system to 'catch on' with what you want your body to do, so setting off at the correct pace is one of the most important aspects of medium to longer distance running..

To optimise, you must be able to time your breathing to match the energy specific demands of your body...
At a comfortable rate of running you are in an aerobic state that you could probably maintain for as long as you chose to... at your comfortable pace the demands placed on your body are barely more than walking at a quick pace... the real trick comes with the desire to run faster.
As the pace becomes more demanding, challenging the aerobic system at a higher rate over a sustained period of time you need to breath differently to meet the demands.
One method I use is the foot timing method... that being (up to a point) you time your breathing cycles with the number of strides you take...

A breathing cycle (BC) is inhalation - pause - expiration... keeping it as comfortable as possible...

How this works in practice for you is a matter of fine tuning.

For example,  4 strides per breathing cycle...

See how this effects at higher speeds
The thing is, there  really isn't a magic formula, it is however something that needs practice and working on in order to exploit your potential. Breathing cycles can change rapidly depending on your [measured] body fat levels, overall body composition, your posture, flexibility (stride length) and so on...

Mouth or nasal ?
This is an area where you get the most conflicting information... there is no hard and fast rule as everyone breathes differently, but one thing to consider is this, if you need more oxygen intake can you widen your nostrils enough?
The mouth is a huge air inlet, as your demand increases you need to use it...
As and when you are better able to regulate your breathing so at a fast run you feel 'comfortable' then you will automatically default back to nasal breathing, and so the cycle can continue... (running faster again!)

For a whole variety of reasons, when you're starting out, nasal breathing is rarely the positive way ahead [including your Vo2) but you'll often get magazine articles harping on about it being the only way...

If your Vo2 max isn't what it could be (the gaseous exchange in the capillaries and lungs -ie, the ability of your body to efficiently feed oxygen from the lungs [via the heart] to the extremities) then nasal breathing can enhance that efficiency, as can tools such as the power-breathe or other brands of restrictive breathing devices.... For beginners, devices such as power breath can be so uncomfortable that it feels like an asthma attack (short breath and feeling there's no 'air' going in) , hardly conducive to running longevity, so in my  view, its better to practice and perfect running technique then throw in control bursts of nasal breathing, but only when your happy with comfortable pace.

Remember, the side effect to the quick fix is an equally quick drop off.

Starting out
When you're just getting into running start off with distances that you almost find laughable... but seriously... a huge part of the psychology of running is winning, I don't mean competing with others and crossing the line first,  but i do mean in competing with yourself, doing more or going faster than before.
Many would say to start with a walk and for many, this is absolutely correct, it's a good way to get warmed, so, increase your walk rate over time until you're feeling more comfortable to break into a run, I won't harp on about walking, so let's focus on the actual running aspect :)

run 100 meters at a time as your very first day.
then double that to 200 meters on the next day
then double it again to 400 meters on the day after
The again to 800 meters after that
Then 1600 meters
 at the end of week 1 you're pretty much running a mile  (Not precisely but it will do).

At this stage some people get carried away, resist the urge !

Stay at about a mile for a few days (or as long as it takes) and  practice your breathing and foot placement as well as running at varying speeds etc (We will get to that later).

This is you laying down solid foundations which enhance a near effortless running performance and to prevent injury.

Speed is vanity, good technique and endurance is sanity, focus on the latter !

Maintaining and building
By now you have started to build a solid running foundation... even though you may feel the distance isn't too great, your technique will be close to spot on and this is far more important.

You will now be physically able to increase your distance, set realistic benchmarks and increase the running time knowing that you have trained your body to accept it, so now we have to look at maintaining and building performance.

So, set a benchmark...
1. Choose a location that is flat and always accessible
2. Choose a weather neutral day if possible
3. Measure the distance (Using permanent landmarks is best - keep this the same)
4. Make sure you're comfortable, fueled and hydrated properly
5. Don't panic... this is your first proper timed effort.

Once you know how long it takes to run your fixed distance at your best effort then you have a benchmark and all future assessments are based on this run in order to measure your progress.

You can now start the process of running further and faster.

Try to stay in control of your progress as a sudden jump will compromise your achievements.

Half a mile per week is the maximum increase for a beginner, this gives your body time to recover, learn and build while reducing the chance of injury to a negligible quantity.

You might have friends who go on and on about the fact that after 2 weeks they are running 10 miles, well good for them... in a few weeks time guess who will be complaining about yet another injury....

Safe progressive training is everything

Interval training
Now that you're comfortable with your running, set your benchmark and adding distance each week you will be ready to force a shock in your body to cover your distances with more grace and speed, as a consequence you will continue to enjoy or at least, begin to genuinely enjoy your running.

Interval running is a predictable form of speed play.

Walk, jog, run, sprint... so you might do this on a sliding scale to begin with, this allows some recovery time.

Walk 1 minute
Jog 45 seconds
Run  30 seconds

Sprint 15 Seconds

You would continue that cycle over a fixed distance of a mile for example.

Dependent on how you feel after each cycle (That 1 mile) you can change the times, the better one to change is the walk time, so gradually decrease that by 5-10 seconds at a time.

The overall effect of this is that you train your body to accept a higher average workload, the net effect being running slightly faster with slightly less perceived effort...

Fartlek training
Similar to interval training in the way that you adopting that speed play approach to running again, however Fartlek is for many people, far more interesting and fun, not to mention challenging!

This is a much more randomized system of running training, so you still cover the 4 basics..

1. Walking
2. Jogging
3. Running
4. Sprinting

But this time instead of going off predictable times you can base going for a spring on an event, i.e.,

1. See a red car then you sprint.
2. Hear or see a dog you jog
3. A cyclist goes by then you run
4. See another jogger then you walk.

The time for each activity can be decided in advance or you can even randomize that too (Starting with 10 seconds is fair enough though then defaulting back to a jog each time)

This puts the spring into your step, a style of exercise that aids those more who are currently running, either competitively or just for fun.

Plyometric exercise is based on fast moving impact, exploiting the elasticity and shock absorbing properties of your muscles, then harnessing stored energy to complete a follow on movement.. think jumping on the spot and getting higher and higher as you go..

In essence you are re-training your body to use that stored energy which is otherwise wasted.

Plyometric exercise has many benefits, one of which is that it over-stimulates the body and can be argued that in doing so enhances your bodies ability to accept shock, i.e., your body copes better with changing surfaces and the demands of hills, not always running up them because you have total control there, but running downhill... think about all the shock as you  have to control your speed, loads of wasted energy going on there... likewise, having the ability to bound up hills can be a real energy saver too...

This is an essential technique which can which gives back more than you might think.

You have the ability to bounce back from fatigue! 

When to stretch
1. Only ever stretch after your runs and make the stretches worthwhile.
2. Hold each stretch for at least 30 seconds in a controlled static pose.
3. Foam rollers offer useful Trigger Point remedies used for those problem areas.

Avoid ballistic stretching - your muscles are already fatigued and ballistic stretching could cause injury through overstretch of fatigued muscle.

Areas to focus on

1. Your shoulders, obliques and the tummy  have worked hard too - it isn't just the legs
2. Then hamstrings, quads (Vastus group), calfs.
3. The ankle, evert in invert, dorsa and plantar stretch movements of the foot.
4. I.T band and Abductors (Includes the Glutes) (TP)
5. Adductor's aka magnus group (Inner thigh)

If you have a Personal Trainer or you have a running club member (who you trust) to help with assist stretches, then some PNF assisted stretches would be handy too.

Sports drinks are kinda pointless if you're running for less than an hour (Unless you're  running very early in the morning and you haven't been able to fuel up properly  - but that's a whole new tangent), any more than 60 mins of running then get them down your neck as required.

However, water is perfectly fine during your runs.
Prior to running, milk is an ideal fluid, its packed with nutrients and helps to maintain hydration for longer.

Before going for a run it is always best to be well hydrated, if you feel thirsty before you set off then your performance is unlikely to be adversely effected.. Preparation is everything!

So keep yourself topped up, this is an ongoing thing, hydration states fluctuate at the best of times, optimal hydration states can take days to achieve where best performance is concerned, there are no 'good' and 'bad' days, only good.

There is the rule of thumb that everyone should drink at least 2 litres of water per day, bare in mind that this includes moisture from foods, obviously weather plays a part, if you're running in very hot weather then this is a good time to adopt an electrolyte drink, but more importantly stay topped up...

IMMEDIATELY after a run there is nothing better than milk (yes, afterwards too!) This is a perfect recovery drink post run, if you have  an intolerance to milk then a portion of protein in the form of a boiled egg, cooked meats or a whey and water mix is worth a go.

During the rest of the day, ensure you take in some fresh acidic fruit juice and clean sources of protein.. try to avoid alcohol the before and the day of running, this gives your body the fighting chance to prepare and repair...

The cycle of preparing and repairing keeps you going. 

Badly fitted, old or well worn footwear is the cause of more running injuries than any other single factor, such  a shame as it is so preventable.
New trainers are much more affordable than a course of physio..

When you are running you trainers will only be good for about 200 miles or 6 months... that is it, after this they can be worn for pottering about the garden etc... Trainers are far easy to replace than knees and hips, less painful too!.

The reason for this cautiousness is that the arch support, cushioning, heal support and overall integrity of the shoe degrades over time. Once your feet no longer get the support they may require your show will only negatively impact on your gait,  which will in turn adversely effect posture, which effects technique which makes running feel tougher... In short, old worn footwear has you feeling like you hit a massive wall,  when in fact you just need some new tread!

Expensive trainers are no guarantee of better performance, the amount of people who spend over £100 on a pair of running shoes only to then then realise that a £40 pair they previously owned gave better support is astonishing....
Buy the footwear because they offer the support and are comfortable, all other reasons are superfluous

One of the main impacting factors on choosing the right shoe for you is the composition of your feet, more to the point the arches, your gender makes a difference too !
This relates to how your foot interacts with the ground.

Factors determining your choice of shoe...
1. Your foot is overly supinated or pronated - look for arch support
2. the foot is inversed or eversed (as per 1)
3. you wear heels (Make sure your trainer has a step)
4. you wear flats (buy flat trainers or even bare foot runners)

Remember that your footwear is astonishingly important, if they are worn, old or feel 'funny' then replace!

I hope you enjoyed reading this blog and wish you the best of luck with your running.

If you live in Belfast / Northern Ireland and you're interested in attaining your significant milestones with greater ease, then drop me a line and or book onto a course... it could change your life :)

By; Mark McIntyre
Beginner To 10k
Half Marathon Training

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