Friday Finds – 19th May

Friday Finds is a regular feature in which I collate and share interesting articles and posts on running/health/fitness which I’ve read recently. Some might be inspiring, some might be scientific, some might provoke debate. All are things I’ve found in some way thought-provoking.

It’s been a funny old week in the world of running and fitness. The biggest spring marathons are naught but a distant memory, the Breaking2 experiment is still generating some comment (more on that in the promised separate post soon!) and with the (mostly) better weather people are getting their summer training schedules kickstarted. For that reason it really is a bit of a mishmash of finds this week.

I’ll start with a story from the world of triathlon. You might remember Jonny Brownlee’s dramatic finish to the World Series finale in Mexico last September when his brother Alistair carried him over the finish line. Back in action for the first time since then, he once more demonstrated his grit and determination when a crash in the bike leg rendered his bike useless. Rather than give up, Jonny picked up the bike and ran barefoot to the transition a mile away so he could still head out on the run. Despite being almost 7 minutes behind the winner, he still finished the race, saying, “I had not come all the way…not to finish.” What would you have done?

While Jonny Brownlee may not have had quite the comeback he was looking for, what about the rest of us? Taking time out of training for any reason inevitably means a lot of hard work to regain previous form, something I’ve noticed even from taking a little time off after a marathon. With that in mind, I found it really interesting to read this piece from Outside in which a number of high-profile athletes discuss their approach to a comeback and what they learned from it. Some even went on to perform better than before!

At the other end of the scale, what happens if we run too much (yes, it is possible). This is a topic I’ve come across a few times recently, both in print and on podcasts, and I think it worth highlighting. It’s easy to fall into the trap of only running because it makes us feel good, but it’s important to find a bit more balance in our workouts in order to be create the strength we need to support our running and to be a bit more resilient. Getting the balance wrong is a fast track to injury, as I’ve learned to my cost, and if I could give myself as a beginner one piece of advice then this would probably be it. In this post the writer discusses how easily our running can become an obsession, and what we should do about it if that happens.

Possibly the coolest thing I’ve come across this week comes from Nike. The sportswear giant, fresh from their Breaking2 endeavour, has created a running track shaped like a running shoe. What’s so cool about that? Let me tell you. The track is also lit by LED lights and is integrated with a sensor worn on your shoe (a bit like a timing chip) which then allows you to race against your own virtual avatar. If you’re anything like me then as soon as you’ve watched the video you’ll want to give it a go. Shame it’s so far away!

And finally, here’s one for the ladies. Posts on social media lamenting the struggles of putting on (and taking off!) a sports bra are a regular occurrence (and a struggle our male counterparts will never know). For those in the know, this tongue-in-cheek set of instructions for putting on a sports bra is sure to raise a smile:

Happy reading,
The Running Princess

Friday Finds – 12th May

Friday Finds is a regular feature in which I collate and share interesting articles and posts on running/health/fitness which I’ve read recently. Some might be inspiring, some might be scientific, some might provoke debate. All are things I’ve found in some way thought-provoking.

To be honest, it’s been another week full of Breaking2 news, however I intend to write a separate post on that in the next few days, so instead I’m bringing you a selection of other bits and pieces I’ve come across this week.

The 8th -14th of May is Mental Health Awareness Week, and mental health is something I’m growing more interested in. I now come into contact with so many young people who are struggling with their mental health and while I do what I can to support them, I always wish there was something more. For me, running is what I turn to in difficult times to help clear my head and refocus. I’ve also found yoga really beneficial in helping me feel calm and settled through the controlled breathing and slow movements. So it was with interest that I read of Matthew Rees, the runner who shot to fame after his selfless act at the London marathon, and how he has used running to help combat depression.

An interesting take on the mental side of running is covered in this article from Outside which deals with boredom and how we might channel that into improved performance. In this day and age people find it increasingly difficult to just “be” and accept boredom as something that might drive creativity. Instead, we tend to reach for our phones as a distraction. Perhaps as runners we can use it to our advantage?

Stories like those of Matthew Rees gain most of their traction these days on social media, and runners are particularly guilty of sharing everything about their runs, sometimes to the irritation of their non-running friends! But why are we so obsessed with sharing every run be they good, bad or indifferent? The writer of this next piece shares her theories and I have to say it makes sense to me. These days I tend to keep my running chat for my blog’s Facebook page or dedicated running groups so I know my ramblings (and photos of me leaping about like a loony!) will be seen by those who are interested in running and simply “get it”, but I think I’m still driven by the same factors suggested here:

Of course social media last weekend was all about Eliud Kipchoge and the Breaking2 project, but in the days afterwards another speedy runner came to light, this time in a half marathon. 18 year old Benjamin Pachev ran a 71 minute half marathon. That’s speedy, but not pushing any boundaries…until you learn that he did so whilst wearing Crocs. Yes, Crocs. Those funny shoes with the holes in them that are often the butt of jokes. Not being a Crocs wearer I’ve no idea how he kept them on his feet and am impressed not just at his speed but that he did so in footwear far from traditional. I can’t see Kipchoge looking to race his next marathon in them though 😉

And finally, you may remember me sharing the quirky story of the crossword compiler who challenged himself to create a clue for each mile of the London marathon. For the crossword fans among you, here’s the finished puzzle (for the impatient, the answers are in this post about the process itself):

Happy reading,
The Running Princess

Friday Finds – 5th May

Friday Finds is a regular feature in which I collate and share interesting articles and posts on running/health/fitness which I’ve read recently. Some might be inspiring, some might be scientific, some might provoke debate. All are things I’ve found in some way thought-provoking.

The biggest stories this week seem to be all about records. While one of the biggest news stories is the Breaking2 project, world records hit the news again with the announcement that world and European records set prior to 2005 are likely to be struck from the record books as athlete samples to combat doping have only been stored since that date. This of course means that athletes like Paula Radcliffe, who has always fought for clean competition (and successfully argued to retain her world record after previous attempts to change the criteria) stand to lose their record. I can certainly understand that something needs to be done as there will be many records set by athletes who were doping, however it angers me that clean athletes are set to lose out. Whatever happens, Paula Radcliffe’s 2:15:25 will remain the standard I compare other athletes to as it is a phenomenal feat of endurance that has stood unchallenged for over a decade.

Another controversial announcement surrounded the “exercise pill” which scientists have been studying for a number of years. It is claimed that the pill could provide some of the benefits of exercising, without actually having to work out. This could be of benefit to some groups of people unable to exercise, however it seems to me that it would also be open to abuse as the compound involved was banned by WADA in 2008 and concerns persist around the long-term prognosis of taking it regularly. Fitness benefits aside, exercising is about so much more than just gaining fitness: it’s about fresh air, endorphins and the simple feel-good factor of knowing you worked hard to improve your strength or stamina. No pill can really offer that, can it?

Something that’s really caught my attention is a new feature being rolled out by popular fitness app Strava. Their new Athlete Posts feature will initially be available to a small number of select athletes, but there are plans to roll it out to all users over the summer. Keen to delve even deeper into the social networking aspects of the platform, the new feature will allow users to write longer, blog-like posts to share in the Strava community e.g. tips, kit, training updates, etc. I can already see how this would really easily suck me in to spending more time in the app than I do at present, which may or may not be a good thing, however I will be very interested to see how this new feature develops and how it is used by different groups of people such as elite athletes, everyday runners and bloggers.

Phew! I don’t know about you but after all those serious stories at the start of this post, I’m in need of something a bit lighter, and fortunately I’ve found the very thing. Those of us of a certain “vintage” will well remember the opening credits of TV show Baywatch, with all the slow motion running. Well to celebrate the release of the new Baywatch movie a unique event was organised: the slow-mo marathon. Yup, it’s exactly as it sounds. If you’re in need of a laugh then I definitely recommend watching the video in the article below:

And finally, if even the thought of slow-mo is too much for you, then how about a gym class that’s all about sleeping? That’s right, sleeping. Designed to combat that scourge of modern life, a chronic lack of sleep, classes consist of a 45 minute afternoon nap. Now there’s a fitness trend I could get in to!

Happy reading,
The Running Princess

Friday Finds – 28th April

Friday Finds is a regular feature in which I collate and share interesting articles and posts on running/health/fitness which I’ve read recently. Some might be inspiring, some might be scientific, some might provoke debate. All are things I’ve found in some way thought-provoking.

Can you believe it’s the end of April? It’s been such a great month in the world of sport, at least as far as marathon running is concerned, and you can look out for a post from me over the weekend about why marathons are so special. In the meantime, here are some other articles that have caught my eye lately.

This week saw our senior pupils finishing school for study leave as the exams here in Scotland are about to start. Most are (hopefully) heading off to to sort out revision timetables and spend big chunks of their day with their heads in their books, however one piece of advice I always like is to take time to exercise as well – even if that’s a simple walk with the dog. On that topic, my first article this week features former Ireland rugby captain Fiona Coghlan explaining why exercise is so important for young people, particularly in an exam year.

Next, a reminder about the power of positive self-talk. Many endurance athletes use mantras or other mental tricks to help them when the going gets tough (mine is, “I can. I am. I’m strong”) and this article explains the difference using self-talk can make to performance. Since the mind will give up before the body, mental training and having a strategy ready for tough moments (and in endurance challenges there will ALWAYS be tough moments!) is as important as the physical training when it comes to pushing limits.

Someone who took on a really huge endurance challenge for charity is Rob Pope. Originally from Liverpool, Rob decided that, like Forrest Gump before him, he would run across the USA. He has already run from Alabama to California’s Santa Monica pier where, like Gump, he simply turned around and kept on going! Judging by the pictures, he’s even starting to look a bit like Forrest Gump!

Another endurance athlete with his sights set on a major challenge is cyclist Mark Beaumont who recently announced his plans to beat the current record for cycling around the world (123 days) by attempting to complete the circumnavigation of the globe in just 80 days! With his imagination fired by Jules Verne, Beaumont will set off from Paris in July with his support crew and will be raising money for charity through this epic challenge. All I can say is wow!

And finally, these days we’re all guilty of using apps like Strava to record our runs and share them with others. But what if your run doesn’t go as well as you would like and it’s out there for all to see? This tongue-in-cheek post takes us through some ways to use the name we give the run to account for any issues encountered. I found it pretty amusing and will definitely be remembering this the next time I have a bad run!

Happy reading,
The Running Princess

Friday Finds – 21st April

Friday Finds is a regular feature in which I collate and share interesting articles and posts on running/health/fitness which I’ve read recently. Some might be inspiring, some might be scientific, some might provoke debate. All are things I’ve found in some way thought-provoking.

At this time year there are always loads of running-related articles around: from coverage of the Boston and London marathons (as well as the countless other spring marathons taking place around the world) to advice on how to get started/run your first race/get faster that come hand in hand with the improving weather. As a result, there are plenty of articles and stories for me to share with you today, covering a wide range of topics…

I’m going to begin with some positive news surrounding parkrun. If you’ve been reading my blog for a while then you may remember my outrage when Little Stoke parkrun closed after the parish council wanted to charge for the use of the park every week, a move which flew in the face of parkrun’s message of being free forever. But last weekend it emerged that the government is to consult on proposed legislation which would ban councils in England from charging volunteer communities (such as parkrun, a not-for-profit organisation) offering free weekly events in public parks. Parkrun is a fantastic community doing great things to motivate more and more people to exercise regularly, so I for one will be pleased to see such legislation put in place.

For those who enjoy cycling (something I really should do more often as I always love it when I do) then the results of a University of Glasgow study published this week provide some good news. The five year study suggests that those who cycle to work cut their risk of death from causes such as cancer and heart disease by over 40%. Great news for those with an active commute, but as ever the downside to this is that the infrastructure for cyclists in this country needs to be improved in order to tempt more people away from 4 wheels and on to 2!

Also published this week were the results of an interesting study into how “contagious” our exercise habits are. Factoring in our propensity to befriend those who are like us, the study looked instead at a network of worldwide participants and analysed a wealth of data to show that, when it comes to running, friends do influence each other. This seemed particularly pronounced when there was a degree of competitiveness involved, and gender differences were noted too. The article mentions that the researchers now plan to look at how this applies to other forms of exercise, and I think it would be really interesting to compare the results.

Something I’m becoming more interested in is the mental side of training and how a strong mind can help improve performance. Part of my preparation for a race, particularly a marathon, is visualising how I want to finish and using long runs to develop strategies to overcome negative thinking. This next article explains a little more about why building mental strength is important, and how we might begin to do that.

And finally, you may remember back in November I included an article about Harry Potter yoga…well now there’s some video! I think my favourite thing about the whole concept is the “Downward Dumbledore” and now I really want to have a go at this. Any takers?

Happy reading,
The Running Princess

Friday Finds – 14th April

Friday Finds is a regular feature in which I collate and share interesting articles and posts on running/health/fitness which I’ve read recently. Some might be inspiring, some might be scientific, some might provoke debate. All are things I’ve found in some way thought-provoking.

I can hardly believe that this time last week I was in Paris getting ready to run the marathon and now I’m back home trying to type this with my cat draped across my arm! What a difference a week makes! Still, it’s the Easter holiday weekend here in the UK, so whatever you’re doing I hope you have fun. Let’s kick it off with a little bit of light reading…

One of the stories I included last week surrounded the Tehran marathon and the disappointing news that female entrants had been told they would not be allowed to run the marathon course. Instead, they were offered the chance to run on an indoor track. I continued to follow this story while I was away last weekend and was thrilled to see many women stand up to this order either by creating their own route or, in a couple of notable cases, running the official route alongside the men anyway. I do love to hear of people standing up for what they believe in, particularly when it comes to equal opportunities for all.

There have been many studies in recent years looking at the connection between exercise and life expectancy. This week, details of a new study emerged which suggested running to be much more powerful than other forms of activity at increasing life expectancy, with an average of 3 years added to a runner’s life. Apparently 1 hour of running can add 7 hours to someone’s life (and not because that run feels like it takes 7 hours lol!). That seems as good as reason as any to lace up and get out there!

For those of us who like to race, water stations can present a bit of a difficulty. Cups can be awkward to drink from on the move (I usually manage to choke!) and while bottles are much easier, they’re not the most environmentally friendly. Step forward the new edible bottle you may have seen shared on social media this week. I watched a video on this product that showed people simply popping this edible bubble of fluid in their mouths, and the creators believe it could be used successfully at races. The article here suggests it will be piloted at the London marathon, so if anyone is running it I’d love to know if they get a chance to try this out.

In a week when science delivered the news of the increased life expectancy in runners and the edible water bubble, perhaps one of its best achievements was in working out just why shoelaces come undone. We’ve all been there, tied them nice and tight then looked down mid-run to see a lace flapping about with every stride. It all comes down to inertial forces it seems, and while some knots might be better than others, sadly no definitive solution has been suggested. Science, get on that one next!

And finally, we’ve all seen those pictures of Strava art and marvelled at the time and planning involved in creating a simple outline or forming a few words, but this week two runners from Cardiff definitely won the prize for the best Strava art ever…a Welsh dragon! The advance planning and 8 hours of running involved certainly reveal their dedication and I’d love to see if runners from the rest of the home nations have a go at something similar. Any takers…?

Happy reading,
The Running Princess

Friday Finds – 7th April

Friday Finds is a regular feature in which I collate and share interesting articles and posts on running/health/fitness which I’ve read recently. Some might be inspiring, some might be scientific, some might provoke debate. All are things I’ve found in some way thought-provoking.

I can’t imagine it will be much of a surprise that I’m going with a marathon-centred Friday Finds this week! Due to travel timings I’m writing this (quickly!) in advance so it may turn out a little shorter than I normally like. C’est la vie!

First up, some breaking news from the elite ranks and the disappointing information that the 2016 Olympic champion (and defending London marathon winner) Jemima Sumgong has failed an out of competition drugs test. I remember watching her stunning comeback to win after suffering a fall and hitting her head during the London marathon, so am saddened to hear that this has happened.

Next up, another piece of disappointing news, this time about participation. I was thrilled to learn that women would be able to compete in the 2017 Tehran marathon for the first time, however the sting is that it has now been announced that female participants may have to compete on an indoor track rather than outdoors with the male field. This seems to be a move forward from a previous announcement that women would not be able to participate at all. It’s clearly a difficult ongoing situation, but I’d love to see women having an equal opportunity to participate.

Moving on to a much more positive story, I have been quite intrigued of late by Nike’s plans to try and break the 2 hour barrier, however in this next piece from Outside, consideration is given to the female equivalent. The record is, of course, held by my great favourite Paula Radcliffe (remember that time I met her?) with her 2003 time of 2:15:25. And now it seems that science and maths (not my strongest subjects outside of running topics!) suggests that the equivalent marker for women is 2:16, meaning that for we women, that “barrier” has already been broken! As they shout along the route in Paris, allez les filles!

While the less elite among us may not have our sights set on quite such speedy times, in all likelihood those of us with a spring marathon ahead will have a time goal in mind, but working out a reasonable estimate of what we might achieve is very difficult. The marathon is full of pitfalls and no matter how well training has gone, anything can happen on race day, especially after 18 miles. Ian Williams of Fetch Everyone has used the data available to him on his website to come up with a formula which might help.

And finally, one of the things we can’t control in a race is the weather. I’m expecting warm conditions on Sunday in Paris, which will be tricky, but I think participants in this recent 14k race in France had a much tougher time with some very different conditions. I recommend watching the video to get the full effect!

Happy reading,
The Running Princess

Friday Finds – 31st March

Friday Finds is a regular feature in which I collate and share interesting articles and posts on running/health/fitness which I’ve read recently. Some might be inspiring, some might be scientific, some might provoke debate. All are things I’ve found in some way thought-provoking.

It’s finally the end of term and I feel somewhere between elated and exhausted! The last few weeks have been tough and I’m definitely in need of a break, so tonight I thought I would bring you a more lighthearted selection of finds, focusing on some of the more unusual, entertaining and just plain mad aspects of running…

First up, a new variation on a previous trend. You might already be familiar with the #race the tube phenomenon which went viral in 2014 as a runner tried to beat an underground train between two stations in London. In this latest version, a German marathon runner took on the challenge of racing a subway train for 10k across Berlin. There’s some video included in the article – I hope your German is up to scratch!

Sticking with 10k for now, here’s a story from a most unexpected source for a running blog – Horse & Hound! Including this makes me feel a little like Hugh Grant’s character in Notting Hill when he interviews Julia Roberts about her new film and says he’s from Horse & Hound magazine haha! Anyway, I’ve had my fair share of interesting encounters in races, like seeing those guys who run the London marathon every year dressed as rhinos, or that time I got chased by cows during a hill race, or last Sunday when I had a rather low fly-by from the scary bird of prey that sometimes attacks runners near here… but I’ve never found myself running alongside an actual horse! Yet that’s exactly what happened to runners in a 10k race in Trafford recently when the wonderfully named Mildred escaped from her field and joined in with the race for a couple of kilometres until she was caught! Now that’s not something you see every day!

Another unlikely source for this blog is Classic FM, and yet somehow I’ve come across a story combining both running and classical music as a student at the Birmingham Conservatoire plans to run the Liverpool half marathon this weekend dressed as a viola in an attempt to set a new world record. The current record stands at 1:26:57 so he’ll need to be fairly nippy to beat it. As a fellow string player, I wish him all the best.

Speaking of half marathon records, former professional runner Chris Estwanik set a new record at the recent New York City half for the fastest half marathon whilst wearing a suit. Why? Well, because it was a bet, of course! The Bermuda-based runner was offered a free round of a rum cocktail if he could break the record, and his time of 1:11:36 took more than SEVEN MINUTES off the previous record, so I think someone must owe him a drink!

And finally, if you fancy trying something a bit more unusual yourself, then take a look at this list compiled by The Guardian. It makes me wonder how many more totally bonkers races there are in the world (and how they came about in the first place!). If you’ve tried anything a bit different then I’d love to hear about it…

Happy reading,
The Running Princess

Friday Finds – 24th March

Friday Finds is a regular feature in which I collate and share interesting articles and posts on running/health/fitness which I’ve read recently. Some might be inspiring, some might be scientific, some might provoke debate. All are things I’ve found in some way thought-provoking.

It was a grim start to the week for amateur sports as a BBC State of Sport investigation revealed the extent to which doping is spreading through sport at all levels. Of greatest concern is the statistic that among those polled, over a third personally knew someone who had doped. Looking around the start line at a race, whether or not a fellow runner has taken performance enhancing drugs is the last thing on my mind, but this poll suggests that the issue is more widespread than I would ever have imagined. Perhaps that’s just me being naïve? I’d love to know your thoughts on this.

And there was further worrying news yesterday with the announcement that JogScotland is to suffer a funding cut of £100,000 which will put its future at risk. While I’ve never attended a JogScotland training session, I know of a number of people who have found it invaluable in getting them running, keeping them running and introducing them to like-minded people. I’ve had a couple of positive experiences taking part in JogScotland events, and when it comes to helping those who for whatever reason don’t wish to join a running club, JogScotland is seen as welcoming and inclusive. In an age when inactivity is a ticking time-bomb for health, do we really want to lose a programme that has gained 40,000 members since 2002? I really hope something can be done to save this important resource.

Let’s look to something a bit more positive now. Earlier in the week I came across this article from The Huffington Post. It was published a while ago now, but the content remains relevant as it examines the vocabulary we use to describe our lives, and the messages these words send to children. I may not be a parent, but I do work with young people and considering the connotations of words is part and parcel of my job. Although written ostensibly for parents, the messages within each of these words is relevant for everyone, regardless of age:

I also enjoyed this piece from Outside in which the writer describes his challenge of running a sub-5 minute mile. Far from being an elite athlete, his times in other races are not hugely different to some of my PBs, so this endeavour was more about setting a huge goal and striving to achieve it – something I very much approve of! The headline kind of gives away the result, but I still enjoyed finding out a bit more about how the writer trained and how he felt on the track during his attempt. Running a single, timed mile is something I’ve never tried, but the idea intrigues me and I often wonder what time I would be capable of. Perhaps one day I’ll find out…

And finally, if you thought the track marathon I included earlier this month sounded a bit tedious, then today I have something that’s potentially even more dull: a marathon in a multi-storey car park. No, your eyes aren’t deceiving you. That’s a marathon in a multi-storey car park! 71 times up and down all the ramps, staring at concrete, graffiti and rather questionable puddles. Personally, I think I’d prefer the track marathon – at least there would be a bit more daylight and fresh air!

Happy reading,
The Running Princess

Friday Finds – 17th March

Friday Finds is a regular feature in which I collate and share interesting articles and posts on running/health/fitness which I’ve read recently. Some might be inspiring, some might be scientific, some might provoke debate. All are things I’ve found in some way thought-provoking.

There was sad news earlier this week with the announcement that legendary runner Ed Whitlock had died. I included Ed Whitlock in a Friday Finds post earlier this year as well as last autumn when he set a phenomenal record for his age with his sub-4 hour marathon time. Since the announcement of his death from prostate cancer, my news feeds have been filling up with tributes to him, and I wanted to include some of them in my post this week. Goodbye Mr Whitlock. You were a truly amazing example of not letting age be a barrier to achievement.

So what does it take to have the sporting longevity of someone like Ed Whitlock? According to Brad Stulberg, writing for Outside, it’s all in the attitude, and what’s interesting is that the attitude we adopt later in life is largely developed when we’re young. Those more able to embrace sport for the love of participation rather than agonising over results cope much better with seeing performance change with age. My favourite part of this article is the reminder that sport is, “every bit as much about personal growth, community, and having fun. Aging may slow you down but it need not take your identity as an athlete.” Wise words indeed.

Of course we can all expect to see changes is our performance as we get older – after all, no magical fountain of youth has yet been found to stop our bodies ageing – but what exactly can we expect to observe and what does that mean for the way we train? Studies show that we will use oxygen differently, our muscle function will decline and we will need longer to recover from hard workouts. But that doesn’t mean it’s all doom and gloom. With sensible adjustments to training we can continue to participate for many years, perhaps even remain competitive, we just need to make sure we hold on to the motivation to do so! Personally, my hopes are high: my dad still runs and can still beat me over 5k (but I’ll beat him one day…!)

Some good news for our running performance as we age comes from a new study which suggests that while elite athletes tend to peak between the ages of 25-34, those of us who are a bit less elite may continue improving until around 50. Yes, we will be subject to the same bodily changes that come with age, but since we won’t have trained to the same intensity as elite runners, we still might have something left in the tank to perform well for longer than was previously thought likely. The point about adapting training still holds true, but there is certainly no excuse to be using age as an excuse. And that’s something Ed Whitlock would definitely have approved of!

And finally, if that isn’t enough inspiration to set a positive attitude, embrace the joy of participation and set the foundations for a long and healthy life of sport, then here are some other remarkable athletes showing us that age is no barrier to taking on challenges and pushing limits. Maybe one day we will be just like them.

Happy reading,
The Running Princess