Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Dignity in de feet?

In this past week of running I have experienced every emotion, from joy at completing 16km , to misery and shame when I couldn’t manage even 7km and skulked home after 5km, with two new blisters. 
Blisters are a common, and hopefully minor annoyance. As a doctor, I really ought to know exactly what to do with blisters. In truth, I wasn't really sure.  Most of what I know about blisters I learned in the New Zealand bush, where the standard advice was to pop them and then apply a chemical “second skin”, like Compeed. This seems to have worked well, but these recent blisters, and the plethora of contradictory and confusing advice I’ve had from runners, doctors and other concerned supporters caused me to pause and look for some scientific answers.
It turns out that there isn’t much consensus on blisters. What I was hoping for, a systematic review of the evidence base of friction blister treatment, either isn’t out there or is hiding itself well. I did find this superb review article in the British Journal of Sports Medicine

The authors advise lancing painful blisters with something sharp and sterile. Popping blisters with unsterile or blunt objects risks introducing infection, sepsis and cellulitis. 
The old adage “prevention is better than cure” is probably one I was foolish to ignore. So as well as stocking up on compeed and investing in some anti-blister socks, which are just the most comfortable socks ever, I bought some new running shoes.

"No ma'am"

It probably says quite a lot that I’ve always chosen running shoes by colour in the past. Hovering round the imposing wall of running shoes at NikeTown a couple of days ago, a beaming teenage sales-boy approached me with, “huh, you ok there ma’am?”. 
“Yes,” I replied confidently, trying not to exude the un-coolness that NikeTown somehow draws out of me, “I’d like some new running shoes and am trying to decide between these pink and those purpley mauve ones.”
“What are you training for?” the beautiful youth wanted to know.
“The marathon, the London marathon,” I said, feeling my coolness counter rising by the second.
“Have you just started training?” he asked.
Coolness back in the zero stakes. Why would he ask that? 
“You wouldn’t want to run in those pink shoes ma’am. No, those are more dance shoes.”
“But they are on the running shoes wall,” I was indignant.
“Yeah, yeah, I know,” he shrugged, “But you wouldn’t want to run in them.
Here, try these on.”
And he handed me a pair of chunky looking bright white shoes, with fluorescent peach and intense eye-watering blue trim, that have been designed by someone either profoundly and totally colour blind or with a wry sense of humour. 

They are the most comfortable shoes I have ever worn. Each foot felt pampered in its own four poster bed of a running shoe. But fluorescent peach? 

The future's bright

Needless to say, the shoes didn’t come in any other colour. I haven’t seen such a glow since I got my highlighter pen out for final exams. All this preoccupation with fluorescent trimmed footwear and sore feet made me think again of Merlin, and of literally being “in their shoes”.
A good friend from university, who is currently in Cairo, wrote me a very touching email this week, “most of the hotels here are full of people from Libya and Syria seeking treatment from gunshot wounds. I am glad you are running for Merlin.”
Again, I asked myself, could you put yourself in their shoes? 
I’d like to give all readers a chance to do that, by sharing five impossible choices Merlin workers face

If that exercise has prompted you to sponsor me, you can do so easily here
What happens to your money?
  • £15 could buy enough chlorine tablets to give clean water to over 1,000 people
  • £50 could buy health kits for five community midwives, including basic drugs and supplies
  • £100 could help buy a summer health kit, with the essential drugs to treat waterborne diseases. Each health kit treats 200 people
Thank you to everyone who has been so generous, either with sponsorship, blister advice, or just by not laughing at the fluorescent peach trimmed runners. It all means a lot. 

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

The path less pedalled

My training schedule recently has morphed into a 10km run a few times a week and a longer run once a week. 

When I started out, I had plans to get fancy with things like Fartlek (no sniggering, it's a type of interval training), but it seems I have one pace. Slow but steady. 

A good friend who ran the Berlin marathon a few years ago suggested I might like to try cross training:  a break from running and instead either cycling or swimming for one training session a week. There are lots of good reasons for doing this, not least injury prevention, but it appealed to me for two reasons.

Firstly, cross training can make a runner more efficient. Secondly, it makes us stronger, which means faster. And although this is an endurance race, a little additional speed would be a wonderful thing. 

Today I hopped on my bike and went for a scenic ride along the Thames path. My ride is an Amsterdam style affair, complete with fat tyres and basket. A few years ago I decided that stylish and elegant was better than bent double over the handlebars, flying along. 

On yer bike

Cross training by cycling today had an unexpected bonus. Discovering a new route to revisit on this week's long run. If Thursday goes to plan, I will write about it here.

I'd like to say a very big thank you to everyone who has sponsored me recently. It's so encouraging seeing the total going up, especially on cold mornings when it would otherwise be tough getting out to train. Many thanks to you all, you are starry.

If you haven't yet sponsored me, but would like to help me raise funds for Merlin, you can do so by clicking here.

Lots of people reading this blog have already heard why I'm supporting Merlin. In short, their doctors and health workers work in some of the most difficult environments and some of their health clinics are massively under equipped (and this is one of the things money donated will go to).  Merlin works in war zones where medical staff face untold risks.  Money raised will be used to support some of the world’s most vulnerable people in Haiti, Kenya, Sudan (north and south), Mynamar, Pakistan, Nepal, Afghanistan, Somali and the Central African Republic.
The main reason I chose Merlin above other medical charities is that they use a big fat 96p in every pound donated directly in the field.  

Thursday, 9 February 2012

Marathon running tips from Lisa Kent, Personal Fitness trainer

Kimberly, who is also running for Merlin, went along to the recent 'Meet the trainer’ get together last Sunday (run by the Virgin 2012 London Marathon). Bless her, she took some notes, and has very kindly passed these on to Merlin. When I got them by email, they were so good I just had to put them on here for everyone else.

Lisa Kent, Personal Fitness trainer notes

Excel Centre Expo
·         If you can go to the Expo before Saturday 21st April, do. It can be extremely busy on the day before, and will mean you will be on your feet for longer than you would like to be before race day
·         The Expo will be open from Wednesday 18 April
·         You MUST go to the Expo to get your race number, timing chip and kit bag

On the day

·         Make sure you choose the right starting pen – don’t go for one which will be too fast for you
·         Enjoy the day and the atmosphere even if you want to get a good race time
·         Don’t forget your timing chip. You won’t get an official time without it
·         Remember that you will be running the same course as the Olympic champions –this is a great thought to spur you on!
·         Don’t get ultra competitive and don’t worry about someone in a costume over taking you. Run your own race!
·         If you are worried that you are running too slowly, you are probably running too fast, hold some energy back for the last few miles
·         Tell your friends and family to cheer you on at a set point along the way –this way you don’t have to worry about not seeing them. Merlin will have a cheer point, so tell them to come and cheer with us!
·         The toilets won’t be nice, if you can find a pub to go to with toilets, use them if you can


·         If you have completed a 10 mile run by this stage, you are on track. If you have run further then this is just a bonus!
·         Don’t peak too soon. You should look to have a 10% increase in either your total mileage or your longer weekly run
·         Be careful if you choose to run over 18 – 20 miles before the run. You don’t really need to go over this prior to the marathon
·         Last long run should be planned for 3-4 weeks before the marathon. Taper your runs from the end of March
·         Stick to short 2- 3 mile runs the week before the run (only do this a couple of times)
·         When you are tapering, slowly reduce your runs down to 10 miles, 7, miles, 5 miles, 2-3 miles
·         Sports massages are nice to have and can soothe aching muscles

Cross training
·         Keeps you mentally involved if you try something new
·         Go swimming, cycle, play tennis...

·         Treat injuries with care
·         Remember: RICE. Rest. Ice. Compress. Elevate
·         Don’t run on an injury it will only get worse

·         Hold each stretch for 45 seconds to a minute
·         Better to stretch after a run than before

Hitting the Wall
·         If you are feeling out of energy, and your legs feel heavy, you have hit ‘the wall’
·         The ‘wall’ happens when your muscles run out of glycogen, and your body starts to try and burn fat. You will need mental strength to get through this
·         Remember that pain is only temporary and you will push through
·         If you feel bad, walk, don’t run. Never stop unless you really need to

·         Do not run in anything which you haven’t worn before
·         Wear everything ahead of time and do a few trial runs before the big day
·         Put your name on your running vest ( I will send a new vest in March and lettering)
·         Replace shoes every 400 – 500 miles (don’t get new shoes just before the race)

Food and drink
·         Carbohydrates are good and will help to get you through
·         Experiment with energy gels before the day – they may not agree with you
·         Eat jacket potatoes, porridge, slow release foods
·         Don’t eat much (or anything) during the run
·         Drink regularly but remember you can run for at least 3 miles without needing a drink
·         Have a proper dress rehearsal the week before the run –eat what you will on the day for breakfast, and for dinner the night before

Cramp and chafing
·         If you get a stitch, slow to a walk, and stretch it out. Pushing the area where the stitch is can sometimes relieve pain
·         Rub Vaseline onto any areas you think will rub (under arm pits, on nipples and thighs)

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Everything hurts...sometimes

To paraphrase REM, everything hurts. 

Every wrung out cliche about muscles one didn’t know one had are my own today. Every minor niggle on today’s run was rendered several orders of magnitude bigger by the cold. It started off small. I’d set up an hour of music, slow first, then picking up a pace before winding down, with some motivational bits in the right places. But my ipod got stuck somehow and I had the first track stuck on an irritating loop. The touchscreen declined to respond to gloved fingers, then my earphones kept falling out, and to ice the proverbial, my ipod holder split. My left shoe - despite having been shaken out several times - is still leaking sand, while my right was letting in melted snow. 

Laces broken? 'fraid so.
To add insult to hurt pride, today both shoelaces broke. A side effect of running in blazing run and snow flurries in the same week. Then the dog lead got tangled in the baby buggy. 
Still, I thought, when we came home, if even a bad run is another 5 miles on the counter, it can’t be all bad. Onwards...

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Let it snow

A few years ago I almost completed the swim section of a triathlon in Eton's Olympic Rowing Venue, Dorney Lake , in my bikini. At the 11th hour, a good friend gave me a hefty nudge towards a wetsuit, and I wore it for the first time on event day. It sounds ridiculous looking back, but at the time I had the fact it was (UK) Summer in my mind, and having only swum in the Med before, wearing the aforementioned bikini, I hadn’t given details like water temperature that much thought.  
There are some people who just don’t seem bothered by the prospect of getting cold feet. On Sunday morning, after I had shaken last week’s sand out of my running shoes and prepared to make new tracks in freshly fallen snow, it was the images of those swimmers who brave the Serpentine that got me out there.

Swimmers brace themselves , Hyde Park Serpentine, 2012 (Guardian)

But it was to be another Dorney Lake moment. Unlike the Icelanders with their fashionable hundred, we might only have one word for it, but it certainly wasn’t a synonym for yoga pants. Which presented me with a spot of bother. I have only ever run in yoga pants before. I chose them years ago in Nike in San Francisco. They’re blue, calf length, with a chi chi lace panel at the back of each calf. I chose them because I liked the idea of being a runner, and had read somewhere that it’s good to start with kit.
I’ve run in them extensively, and have since bought several more identical pairs. Which is how I came to discover they are yoga pants, and not really meant for running at all. They’ve always served their purpose beautifully, in every sense. Until the snow.
'Snow joke running through this

It was one of those Sunday mornings that separated the real runners from the yoga pant clad amateurs. Armed with my Dorney Lake hindsight, I defended myself against the cold with fleece beanie hat, tramping socks, ski gloves and hot chocolate. I looked ridiculous, but hey, I did my run, and as I ran, thought about the Merlin doctors, and how improvisation based on past experience must be a huge part of their job. Often working in extreme conditions, such as in war zones, they supply medications and face to face care, they rebuild hospitals, they operate mobile clinics, they train health workers and midwives, they reach remote parts of countries which many other aid agencies don’t access, they educate people about disease and family planning. So I will carry on training for my fundraising marathon in all weathers. And yes, I’m going to upgrade my kit.