Friday Finds – 23rd June

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.

This week (19th – 25th June) is the third Women’s Sport Week, “a national awareness week providing an opportunity for everybody involved with playing, delivering, working in, volunteering or watching sport to celebrate, raise awareness and increase the profile of women’s sport across the UK” and this year has the theme of “More women, more active”. In both 2015 and 2016 I marked the occasion with a selection of women’s sports articles in Friday Finds, and this time around is no different. Since a number of sources have featured articles related to WSW2017, I’m including some of the ones I found most useful.

BBC
The BBC has published a number of articles throughout this week highlighting women in sport. They kicked this off by publishing the results of their study into prize money, and encouragingly it does show a definite narrowing of the gender gap since their last study in 2014, however until there is 100% equality there is still work to be done.

Of greater concern is the report highlighted today which looked a little further into recent studies suggesting girls are turning away from sport as young as 9 years old. Clearly, if we want more women to be active then this worrying issue needs to be addressed so that young girls get involved in sport for life.

The Telegraph
This newspaper asked a panel of influential women in sport who they thought had the greatest impact on sport in the Britain. They could interpret this in any way they saw fit, but each woman nominated 10 others (excluding themselves!) and these nominations were used to compile a list of the 20 most influential women in British sport. The results are very interesting and I would find it even more interesting to carry out the same exercise with everyday women to see who they consider the most influential. Would they create the same list? I’m sure there would be some crossover, but I suspect there would be some other names in the mix.

The Independent
Another newspaper, this time highlighting the issue of a lack of female coaches in professional football. They use the story of Rachel Yankey, who at age 8 shaved off all her hair in order to pretend to be a boy so she could join her local football team. The article contains some quite staggering figures comparing the number of male coaches to female, and is another example of how something has to change at grass roots level for more women to see that sport is an option for them, especially in traditionally male-dominated sports.

Huffington Post
The online newspaper focused on the everyday, ordinary women and some of the reasons why so many are put off being active. They highlight the findings of the This Girl Can campaign and everything they are doing to inspire more women to get involved. Clearly Women’s Sport Week and This Girl Can complement each other beautifully.

This was followed up later in the week with a powerful piece outlining some of the key statistics when it comes to women’s participation, before making the important point that in a time of great uncertainty sport is a unifying force – and that’s exactly what we need right now. In order for all of us to reap the empowering benefits of physical activity, we need to remove the barriers that are preventing so many from taking part.

Tough Girl Challenges
Over on Sarah Williams’ website, the Tough Girl Team (including me!) has been working hard this week to promote WSW2017 with a number of articles designed to encourage more women to try something new. You can check it out here (and read more about my involvement with Tough Girl Challenges here and here)

Finally, if you are inspired by WSW2017 and would like to read more, the resources section of the Women in Sport website contains links to a number of useful articles and studies into women’s sport and some of the issues that need to be addressed to help get women and girls more active.

Get out there and try something new!
The Running Princess

Friday Finds – 16th June

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 mark a successful start to my Tough Girl 100 challenge to complete at least 10 minutes of yoga or mobility work every day (2 weeks in and going well through a very busy time at work) I thought I would bring you a yoga special this week in Friday Finds. I had a few stored up and now seemed like the ideal opportunity!

My yoga journey began just over a year ago when I attended my first Ashtanga class. I was lucky enough to get to a beginners’ session that turned out to be just me so I got a one-to-one introduction to the basics before joining the main class the following week. Since then I’ve only missed a class if I’ve been away from home or had a work commitment. I love how the class makes me feel and I DEFINITELY notice the difference in my strength and flexibility as a result – all good for my running! So my first article this week comes from The Guardian‘s “My Workout” series in which people share their stories about their favourite way to keep fit. It’s clear that for this writer, yoga has a very significant place in her life.

Ashtanga is also the subject of my next find. The status of yoga is often debated, particularly when  it comes to whether or not it “counts” as exercise. The way I see it, it may not raise my heart rate as much as a tough set of intervals, but there are still some postures and sequences that are far from easy. It also helps build a lot of strength. With that in mind, I was pleased to come across this piece that delves into some of the science that has been applied to the practice of yoga to determine that Ashtanga in particular IS good for us:

Sticking with the science, I also enjoyed reading this next article which delves into how yoga affects our mental wellbeing. Interestingly, the studies cited sought to compare yoga poses (asanas) with “power poses” and found that those holding yoga poses felt more energy, power and self-esteem.The theory is that this has something to do with the feedback the body receives while in these poses and I find it all intriguing.

Even more interestingly, The New York Post reports that the mood boost from regular yoga practice could last up to six months! A comparative study between a 10 week Hatha yoga class and 10 weeks of health education for two groups suffering depression found that symptoms were alleviated for much longer following the end of the courses for those who practiced yoga. The conclusion drawn is that sustained practice would continue to lessen symptoms the long term. Wouldn’t it be great if doctors could prescribe yoga rather than medication!

And finally, for a bit of fun why not try this quiz from The Telegraph and see if you can spot the real yoga poses from the fake ones. It’s a bit trickier than you might expect!

Happy reading,
The Running Princess

Friday Finds – 9th June

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.

Unbelievably, for the third week in a row I’m going to lead with the story of Kilian Jornet and his Everest summits. No, he hasn’t gone and done it again, but he has now returned to “civilisation” and many media outlets have been interested in speaking to him. Here are some the articles I’ve come across, one featuring a short video charting his journey with a voiceover from the man himself:

Next up, one for those of you who are stat geeks like me. It never fails to amuse me how I can totally understand STEM subjects when put in a running context, but have little hope in other situations! In this article we are given some of the key numbers that demonstrate what is driving the running market right now, from participation to brands to record times. Enjoy!

Speaking of science, here’s an informative article from Outside which explains a little more about how exercise benefits our brains. As runners we’re well aware of how much more alert and productive we feel after a run – even the long ones! – and it’s long been recognised that the mind and body grow together. Here’s a bit more of the detail:

A little more science comes to us from Athletes Weekly who this week reported on the findings of a study into why some people can physiologically cope better with the demands of the marathon than others. As an injury-prone runner I found it fascinating to find out that there’s an excellent chance I can blame my parents as it turns out there really are different genetic markers that contribute to how our bodies respond to hard workouts. Having that understanding would really help athletes to better target their strength training to target those specific issues and become more resilient runners.

And finally, you might remember in my Boston special I mentioned that two guide dog puppies were to be named after the race winners. Now, the adorable Edna and Geoffrey are ready to meet their public. Caution: they are way too cute!

Happy reading,
The Running Princess

Friday Finds – 2nd June

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’m coming over all scientific this week with some rather interesting studies that I’ve come across in my reading.

But first, you might remember that last week I included a piece about ultra runner Kilian Jornet and his speed record for summiting Everest without oxygen or fixed ropes. Incredibly, he summited the peak again just a few days later! The second time may not set a record, but the feat itself demonstrates just how far we can push our limits.

And now to some science. Personally, I’m a big fan of compression tights/socks after a long run as I believe they help with my recovery, however the science on this has always been bit sketchy. According to this CNN report, there is no scientific backup at all for compression tights making us run faster. Interestingly, it is still noted that the belief that they help is just as important. And when it comes to the psychology of sport, surely that’s all that matters?

When it comes to running performance, it’s a fact that women tend to be a bit slower than men. I’ve always known it was basically to do with hormones and biomechanics, but was a little unclear on the finer points of what that actually meant. This article from Live Science helps to explain a bit more. It’s funny how subjects like maths and science, which are far from my strengths, are much more accessible when presented through the medium of running!

Speaking of differences between men and women, it turns out that women’s feet really are always colder than men’s due to differences in body temperatures in different conditions. One company used this to help engineer their socks and base layers to meet those different needs. Intrigued? Here are the details:

And finally, what if all these studies (and all the various, sometimes contradictory, studies about running and health that are published all the time) have you feeling confused about what to believe. This article from The Verge give some advice to help work it out.

Happy reading,
The Running Princess

Friday Finds – 26th 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.

I’m actually typing this whilst lying on a blanket in my back garden – a new experience for me! The last few days have been warm here and I hope you’ve had good weather too. Given the Scottish heatwave my first find this week may seem a little incongruous, but it’s something that’s really captured my attention and I want to lead with it this week. I recently read a Kathy Reichs novella featuring an Everest adventure which taught me much more than I ever knew before about what it takes to summit the famous mountain. So when I read that Spanish ultra runner Killian Jornet claimed to have summited the peak in the fastest known time (without oxygen or fixed ropes) it really caught my attention, particularly given that the area above 26,000 feet is known as the “death zone” as the air becomes so thin. An amazing feat!

Another amazing feat was achieved by María Lorena Ramirez, a Mexican Tarahumara woman, who won a recent 50km ultra race whilst wearing sandals and ordinary clothing. The Tarahumara are the indigenous community who came to prominence in Christopher McDougall’s now-ubiquitous book Born to Run, in which he shared the “secrets” of what made the Tarahumara run so well. I always find it interesting to learn about those who naturally run well, without all of the technology and fancy gear the rest of us are so reliant on.

But what about those of us who aren’t setting out to achieve amazing feats, but to simply run, race and enjoy? A few days ago I came across this report on the state of running in the US and thought it made for interesting reading. The first thing that jumped out at me was the dominance of women, with female runners accounting for 57% of finishers. The other thing I noticed was the popularity of 5k races. I know from my summer visits to Florida that there seems to be a 5k somewhere just about every week, and I would imagine it’s similar in other States. I would love to know how these figures compare to other parts of the world, particularly since the Paris marathon continues to have just 25% of its field made up of female entrants…

I’m going to pair up the next 2 finds as their subject matter is kind of related. I was drawn to these because of how they resonated with my own life. Because Steve and I both train and race regularly, we are often asked if we do these things together. The short answer is no, we don’t . Our goals, paces and available time are quite different and although Steve writes my plans and sets me up with one PT session per week (his time allowing), the bulk of our training is done separately – we really only run together on Christmas Day and in the Paris Breakfast Run! But what if we did try working out together? The writer of the first of these articles tried exactly that with her husband and shares the outcome. And in the second article we learn a bit more about Charlie (The Runner Beans) Watson’s experience of pacing her fiancé in a marathon. I’m not sure that’s something I’d ever manage to persuade Steve to do…!

And finally, if the summer weather is making you crave a gin and tonic in the garden then fear not – it just might be better for you than you thought! I wouldn’t recommend drinking the whole bottle, but at least you can claim some health benefits, however tenuous!

Happy reading,
The Running Princess

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