Saturday, January 18, 2014

The Health Junkie: RUNNING UP THAT HILL.

The Health Junkie: RUNNING UP THAT HILL.: I was recently asked why I wasn't running a local road marathon event.To me the answer was obvious but to the person who posed the ques...


I was recently asked why I wasn't running a local road marathon event.To me the answer was obvious but to the person who posed the question it was a complete mystery.. so I shall explain. Firstly let me state that if you like running on roads then good luck to you, its a great exercise and lots of fun and you can do it anywhere anytime ... however that's not where I'm at.
   Any experienced trail runner will tell you that you have far fewer injuries on trails than on roads. If I ran a full road marathon as compared to say a 50k ultra marathon trail race, it would take me about 3 times longer to recover from the road run. This is sometimes difficult to explain because most people will assume that the road is flat and even, whereas running up and down trails all day with rocks, roots, mud, sand and a general uneven slippery surface must be worse and far more dangerous.
 Looking at it from this perspective it would appear to be the obvious conclusion however this is not the case. Running on a hard road with the same cadence for several hours can cause all forms of repetitive strain injury as well as muscular and skeletal stress, combine this with poor running form and other biomechanical factors and voila .... ouch!
So why is trail running different? Well apart from the fact that you are moving through forests, mountains, rivers and 'nature' in general, which most people find considerably more appealing than a polluted city pavement, it's less stressful on the body.
The ground is much more forgiving in that there is a cushioning effect and the varied surfaces makes repetitive strain rare. Even if you have a biomechanical deficiency (which most of us do) the terrain and constantly changing elevation tend to make this redundant. You are forever switching speeds, climbing and descending, adjusting your stride pattern, cadence, and length at nearly every step, even your breathing pattern is not constant. But what of the rocks and roots that the average runner is so afraid of ? Well I agree at first this is a concern when you are inexperienced but this is more of a mental problem than physical. The ligaments and tendons in your ankles and feet adapt vary quickly and become more elastic, thereby making it easier for you to ride over the uneven ground and as a result, twists, pulls and tears are surprisingly rare when considering the thousands of steps you take on an average run. You are far more likely to get this kind of injury on a road, strange as it may seem.
 However the flip side of this argument is that running on hard or track surfaces does improve your technique because you “can’t cheat” (try to run barefoot on tarmac and you’ll see this effect) whereas running on trails allows you to a adopt a less than perfect technique without any ill effects. This does not mean that all trail runners have poor technique and it doesn't mean that you should not be trying to improve your technique on tracks, its just that it doesn't matter as much. In fact when doing interval training the track is a superb surface to practice your form.

Is there a downside? Yes, you have to concentrate a lot more. I once ran in the mountains with my friend Jules, an experienced road marathoner and he was surprised how much you have to concentrate on the trail. The reason being that there is always the odd root or rock ... or even snake ... where you don't want it to be and evasive action may be necessary however once you get the hang of it the brain is amazing at adjusting your feet to hit the ground a few yards ahead in exactly the right place.
 The other question I am asked is;- Don't you get lost? Again this can happen and as regular readers know it has happened to me once ... okay, twice ... okay, 3 times ! but it is rare and you can always find your way back. I have run literally thousands of miles and the biggest problem for me on trails or ultra-marathons is plain and simple; fatigue. You just get tired. The discipline is to keep going when you are completely shattered and utterly exhausted and that is nearly always mental and rarely physical even though your brain tells you it is. As I have said to many of my clients your brain is trying to protect the organism (which is you)  but physically you are perfectly capable of going much further and for far longer if you just stay strong and trust yourself and your training.
And the final question is usually;- How do you run up hills, or mountains if its an ultra and how do you do this for 10 or more hours? .... this question is nearly always followed by a why? When I first started running long, (as we call it), the question perplexed me too. The simple answer is training, the slightly more complicated answer is training, plus body conditioning, plus attitude.
You actually have to train by running up and down hills on similar terrain ... all the time, simple as that and the body will adapt and make it possible for you to do it. What I learned from Paddy was that you can re-construct  your body to be able to make you do it better and easier. Body conditioning, primarily with weights, is imperative in building a strong physique capable of withstanding the rigours of an ultra-marathon event. This, coupled with sprint and tempo training will increase your speed and considerably enhance your performance for the event.
Attitude just comes down to plain old grit, guts and determination ... and you won't know how much you've got of that until you are asked to find it ... or produce it. Most people, even the elites of the sport, have at one time or another been faced with feeling of  'I want to quit, this is dangerous, I feel terrible, why am I doing this, this is stupid, I'm in pain, its been 21 hours, I can't go on, I don't want to go on! etc etc. These are not fleeting moments, these thoughts can drag on for hours. The goal is to recognise they are just thoughts and to push on, its remarkable how you can... and often they eventually disappear and you find renewed strength and then the sense of achievement at the end is even greater. In the process you discover an important metaphor for life, you can endure no matter how tough the obstacle. Now I am not trying to get all philosophical but you catch my drift.

    Having said all that ultra-marathon running will NOT keep you healthy though it will keep you fit.
Another conundrum and one that I will explore in a later blog. Road marathons or ultra trail marathons or any distance over 30k for the average person is not recommended. Indeed the health benefits of aerobic exercise have been proven to decrease if you run further than this distance ... and at the very least your health does not increase if you run any further. Its the law of diminishing returns if you run over 30k or approximately 20 miles per week the negative effects on the endocrine system can be substantial  and difficult to trace when exceeding these distances but suffice to say it is extremely stressful on the human body and more specifically the heart.  Of course there are exceptions; for example a Kenyan athlete who has run long distances from childhood (or Killian Jornet from Spain) will not be as affected as your average 40 year old who jogs for 45 minutes, 3 times a week and lives in Boise, Idaho ... and then suddenly decides to run a 50 mile race!
       So there are plusses and minus's  but in the end  I am consistently drawn back to one simple truth, I run through the heart of nature because I feel connected ... I know I'm beginning to sound all 'Navajo' here but that's just the way it is.
    And a final comment on running up that hill; after several hours it's easier to run up a hill than it is to run down ... trust me.


Tuesday, January 7, 2014


The Health Junkie: TOP 10 FAT BURNING EXERCISES: Let me begin by saying that one of the worst ways to lose fat is by running  an ultra marathon. I don't run long distances to lose weig...


Let me begin by saying that one of the worst ways to lose fat is by running  an ultra marathon. I don't run long distances to lose weight ... and neither should you. The stress of running a long way for a long time increases cortisol production which in turn inhibits fat loss. The human body is a super efficient machine and so will have you using up the least amount of fat on that long run ... so no fat loss there.
I do it because I like the challenge, both the mental and physical, whilst running through and experiencing the beauty of nature. As I've said many times before, I find it romantic. (Don't ask)
It's also not that healthy, yes you have to be super fit to do it but health and fitness are not necessarily the same thing ... but I digress.
After a great deal of research both from scientific study, practical client success stories and personal experience my conclusions are as follows;-

1) Sprinting
     Without doubt this is the number one fat burner and its quick and super efficient. You can burn the maximum amount of fat sprinting by doing only 12 minutes of exercise a week. Yep, that's what I said 12 minutes a week!   For example studies have shown that if you do 8 x 30 second sprints with 90 seconds rest in between, 3 times a week, you can lose up to 30% of body fat over an 8 week period. Its the EPOC effect of burning fat for up to 36 hours after the exercise is completed. That's 12 minutes a week  and you can increase Growth hormone (GH) production by up to 771% over the same period ... add hill sprints just to make it spicy. Are there downsides? The main downside is that if you don't train up to this level then you can have injuries, so start slowly and build up to this protocol week by week.
. 2) Cross country skiing.
 Okay, so you've got no snow but if you have, this is serious exercise ... and I don't mean downhill skiing, sorry.  The downside is it takes longer than sprinting and more preparation but it is less prone to injury (excluding Angela Merkel), and a great all round cardiovascular workout. It also provides a different metabolic stimulus for the body in the winter season.

3) Rowing.
   Ever seen a fat rower  thought not. Rowing machines are just as effective as long as it is, for example, 400 metres of short bursts of high intense rowing. Intense means full out. The downside here is that you have to learn proper technique for it to be effective.
4) Lifting weights.
Specifically, Barbell Back Squats, Dumbbell Decline Renegade Rows, Chin ups, Deadlift, Dips, Lunges, Cleans, Front squats, Snatch, Bent over rows etc.. etc but any combination of these exercises will increase lean muscle mass, cut fat and increase your fat burning potential. They can be done individually, combined in supersets or in a circuit. Correct technique is essential for these to be effective.
5) Bodyweight exercises.
 Burpees, press-ups, dips, mountain climbers, box jumps, lunges, squats. The main benefit here is that you don't need any equipment and you can do these virtually anywhere. I would also add skipping/jumping rope and cardio kickboxing.
 This is a great fat burner and a superb exercise but it has to be vigorous, as in short sprints. Cruising up and down the pool all day, nice as it is, ain't gonna burn much fat ... and you need water!
7) Walking.
    A surprising choice perhaps but walking at a good pace, i.e. power walking for an hour burns fat. Its low impact, low injury and can be done anywhere anytime but, I mean a good sustained pace, not a slow amble through the countryside picking daisies and reciting Wordsworth.
8) Jogging
    If you are new to exercise then jogging a few times a week (Minimum 45mins) will burn fat but after about one month its effectiveness will wear off as your body adapts, so then its just maintenance. Please don't jog on a running machine week after week  ... you are wasting your time, it's just junk miles and studies have shown that if you do only this for several years you will slowly put weight on! I know I have done it myself many years ago. I remained at about 16% body fat and never got slimmer. The only reason I didn't get fatter was that I ran further and further until it was an ultra marathon ... and still I didn't burn any fat!!
9) Cycling
This comes low in the list for obvious reasons. Long slow distance cycling burns very little fat (unless its the Tour de France) but throw in a few mountains and some speed sprints and now your talking. Doing a 4 minute 'Tabata' on a stationary bike is  highly effective or do a Sprints x 8 routine but on the bike. The downside is time, preparation ... and you need a bike.
10) Squash
     This is a highly intense anaerobic sport but I don't know many people who play squash, good as it is, probably because the downside is firstly, injuries and secondly ... you need a squash court!!

So there you have it, my top 10. To be brutally honest any high intensity exercise, (sprint/row/cycle) combined with strength work (bodyweight or free weights) and a little low impact cardio (jogging/ swimming/cycling/walking), done 5 times a week will do it but at least you have some variety in this list. We are all individuals and an exact program designed in line with your goals, body condition, fitness level and overall ability is the preferred option but if this is not possible then just do something!
No doubt I will get emails and comments disputing some of my choices but feel free, its all a learning curve and we never stop learning.
Obviously you need to combine these exercises with healthy nutrition ... but you knew that anyway.
Okay, so in my first two blogs of 2014 you know my opinions of what to eat and what to do ... and I think today is a great time to start, so go do it.


Wednesday, January 1, 2014


The Health Junkie: FAT LOSS SECRETS AND THE GRAND CANYON: Odd title but read on. As many of you are aware I have been conducting personal one on one training sessions for much of this year ... hen...


Odd title but read on.
As many of you are aware I have been conducting personal one on one training sessions for much of this year ... hence the reason for my lack of blog postings. It has been a frenetic, fun, busy and highly rewarding period and the last 7 or 8 months in particular have been non-stop.
    I would say the number one goal for the majority of my clients is fat loss, followed by a toned body and increased fitness. Men want to build lean muscle, as do many women (as long as they don't look like Madonna - poor thing she gets such a bad rap). Now obviously these goals are interchangeable and if training is to be successful then all these goals must be achieved, however for 90% of clients fat loss is still the predominant desire. I have been quoted as saying that most people are fat and have even been accused of being a 'fatist'  (whatever that is) but the point is simple, whether you like it or not, fat and more especially obese people are unhealthy. At 7.8% body fat, I am fat, even though on any measure I am considered well toned, fit and healthy, its just a word. I think overweight unhealthy people should face up to the problem and deal with it.  Please don't comment or email me with the 'I know lots of fat healthy people' because you don't. Do the research, go chat to their doctor, check their blood samples, look at their health records ... or just see how out of breath they are after climbing a few stairs. They are ripe for Type 2 diabetes, heart attacks, high cholesterol, arthritis, dementia and on and on. They will eventually become a burden to the health service, their families and ultimately to themselves.
      To be honest I am a bit tired of having to quietly dance around the subject, it's as if when I say anything everyone goes into a panic and asks me not to mention anything about fat people in case I offend someone. Its ridiculous this faux kindness, lets take action! I have the greatest respect for clients who have, for example, 30% body fat and want to do something about it; Bravo, they have the guts to say let's change this and they work damned hard to do so. Its fantastic to see people realise their dream of a healthy, vibrant, toned body... or run a race they never thought they could do.
The press talk about anorexia as a disease or illness, but not obesity. Having read a plethora of research studies, clinical analysis and so on, only a very, very few people have some kind of  medical reason for their obesity. In the main it comes down one simple thing .....

                                               'They eat too much of the wrong food'

Its not rocket science. If you change the type of food you eat, even by a small amount, you will see a difference. If you reduce your portion sizes you will see a difference. If you do the right exercise you will see a difference. So lets simplify this, here are my top 12 secrets to fat loss:- .....

1) Eat 30 grams of protein within 30 minutes of waking up  (with vegetables) No Carbs.
2) Severely reduce your carb intake (and only eat good carbs), and increase your protein and vegetables/salad intake.
3) Drink a minimum of 2.5 litres of water per day.
4) Get a good night's sleep. (min7 hours)
5) No alcohol. ( Okay, I guess I just lost half my readership :) )
6) Eat a naughty cheat meal once every 7-10 days.
7) Severely reduce your portion size for your early evening meal i.e. before 7pm.
8) Do intense anaerobic exercise 3 times a week.  (25 mins only)
9) Strength train 3 times a week.
10) Have a minimum of 30 grams of whey protein within 30 mins of finishing your exercise.
11) Eat every 3/4 hours ... and NEVER skip meals.
12) Supplement with high quality fish oil, glutamine, zinc, magnesium, green drinks, vitamins and probiotics.

 Okay, that's it. I could go on and add more and I could go into long detailed explanations of why we do this or that, and why it works but most people just want to know the 'how' ... and that's how. One of my clients followed this routine exactly and lost 17 kilos in weight and gained 6 kilos in lean muscle mass, losing 18% of his body fat in 12 weeks, no gimmicks or quick fixes just hard work and sensible eating. This may be an extreme example but I have many similar success stories of clients achieving their own particular goals.

The New Year is upon us, why not make 2014 the year we set new standards, new goals, new horizons ... and set up a plan to take action and achieve them.

The challenge

My goal is simple, I plan to run from the North rim of the Grand Canyon to the South rim, unassisted, alone and in one go. Its not a race and there are no aid stations, its just me and the elements. This is my goal for 2014 and I began my training at 8 am this morning, New Years Day with my marathon expert and friend Jamie. As with all goals you have to start today. In February I am going to recce the Canyon to get a feel for the task, its all booked. I will do the run in October on the last day before the North rim closes for winter. I will map out the route etc and test my ability to climb 10,000 feet out of the Canyon running nearly a full trail marathon in the process. Its hot and dangerous but also fun, exhilarating and exiting ... I can't wait but preparation is the key and planned training is the solution.

This is my goal but if your endeavour is to simply feel better in yourself, fitter and healthier then great, its a worthy desire ... but take action ... today.
I wish you all good luck and good health for 2014.