Category Archives: health and beauty

The Elle Running blog: a few thoughts from a runner/physio.

This week on Twitter the lovely running blogger Laura retweeted a link to the Elle Running blog which had a feature entitled Claire Danes is running wrong. The author, Amy Lawrenson, looks at people’s feet while they run and she has decided that because Clare Danes is a heel strike runner, she is doing it wrong. According to Amy, heel striking is the worst possible way to run. She goes on to say that when you are heel striking you are putting immense pressure through the joints of the lower limb which could lead to problems. She says that we ‘should’ be running on our mid or fore foot.

Amy’s blog caused a bit of an uproar among some of the running bloggers I know, the main reason being that it could put of potential lady runners from trying to run or that runners could become embarrassed. Amy subsequently updated her feature:

‘We had some feedback on Twitter about this post. I was told by a physio that my heel striking was contributing to some pain I was getting in my knee and hip. A midfoot or forefoot strike was deemed to be preferable. Never feel embarrassed about how you run or scared to get out there! The best advice would be that if you want to take up running regularly then go for a gait analysis and speak with an expert who will assess your running style and discuss any tweaks you may want to make. I do believe that heel striking isn’t great for you but others feel the opposite, the best thing is to find what works, and is safe, for you’.

For me as a runner and a Physiotherapist who treats runners, I just wanted to raise some other points that had been niggling me:

My problem is that the author is applying the advice given by her physio for her individual case to the general running population. Someone looking for advice about running could read this and try and apply it to themselves, which would most likely result in an injury. You can’t just change from heel strike running to fore foot or mid foot strike. It needs time and work to transition. I had a chat with a guy from Salomon who told me that their athletes take up to three years to fully transition from mid foot to fore foot/barefoot running style.

I also need to mention the runners that I’ve seen in clinic who have read about fore foot and barefoot running and tried it.These are runners who probably had no real issues with the way they were running before but they’ve read about the latest running trend and naturally assumed they should be doing it. This is what has made me sad about running lately. There is so much advice out there but running is an individual activity performed by people of all genotypes and phenotypes: you simply cannot generalise what is right for one person to another. The research has not yet proven that fore foot striking or barefoot running is superior to heel or mid foot strike. Adharanand Finn trained with some of the best runners in the world when he wrote ‘Running with the Kenyans’ but even he discovered great variability in running style among the athletes he ran with.

I would also love for an agreement on what defines a ‘gait analysis’. Do we mean being asked to run on a treadmill in the shop while the shop assistant watches us try different trainers? Or do we mean a biomechanics lab where an individual is stripped down to their shorts, key points marked on their body and then filmed running on a treadmill while being picked to pieces from the trunk downwards or the feet up? (for me I love seeing what happens at the hips and work down, it’s not just about the feet people!). And if it is the latter then what about the potential stress that a ‘bad’ gait analysis could cause? Does the person giving the analysis give advice and exercises? If it ain’t broke do we need to fix it? Anecdotally I have seen people who have been given orthotics for flat feet and they’ve ended up with a world of other problems. This type of gait analysis isn’t that simple and I really don’t think everyone needs it.

I tweeted that I didn’t think everyone needs a gait analyis to run and it triggered a great debate among the runners I follow. One person felt that gait analysis by a physio helped to identify that the wrong trainers had been causing their knee pain. Another said that having gait analysis had enabled them to adjust their running style to help them avoid buying necessary trainers. Many other people felt that speaking to the people in the running shops had helped them buy the trainers that were right for them. But none of these people were instructed to run in a dramatically different manner.

I have had niggles and injuries of late and I am a mid foot runner. But as someone else said on twitter the answer is not always round the foot or issues with foot wear. It can be about so much more (usually inducing a back injury from lifting a toddler over here). I think the Elle Running blog may have had the best of intentions in sharing a running experience but picking on the way another runner is running is just the wrong way to go about it. I would like to know how Claire Danes herself feels about her running. If she’s not injured and she’s enjoying running then I’d say she’s probably running about right.

What do you think? Should everyone try and transition to fore foot running? Does everyone need a biomechanical analysis before running?

Run Wild!

I am a big fan of animal print. Not in a really obvious Bet from Coronation Street way (I hope) but in that a little touch of animal print can really help an outfit to pop a bit. I have a muted grey leopard print cardigan, three pairs of animal print shoes in different styles and a couple of tops (ok I do sound like Bet).

However I’m very pleased to say that some of the running retailers seem to agree with me regarding animal prints. I’m a huge fan of something a little bit different on my bottom half and it turns out that this post has ended up with a slight lean towards the well dressed legs department. Here’s some of the really wild gear that I’m coveting (just coveting, I’m trying to be good!).

Adidas have a number items in animal print, including their higher end Stella McCartney range but I think the less expensive items are just as nice. They’ve brought out their ‘perfect fit’ three quarter length tights in new prints and shades. I have two pairs of these capris from a previous range and I vouch for them. They are possibly the most comfortable capris I’ve ever trained/run in. Here are a couple of my favourites.

Ok, I don’t think these are strictly ‘animal print’ but the graphic print from a distance and in this grey hue looks a little bit like snake print

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Check out these capris. Zebra print. ZEBRA PRINT! You can pretend you’re galloping across the savannah in Africa during your runs.

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Women’s Techfit Perfect Fit Three-Quarter Tights available £25.00 at http://www.adidas.co.uk.

Nike are always in there with the trends and they have a splash of animal print in their running collection.

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I have these tempo printed boyshorts (£22 from http://www.store.nike.com) and I love them. I bought them in a small but I think if I had them again I would buy them in extra small (actually I did, but the courier company lost the package and Nike were EXCELLENT in dealing with the problem and giving me a refund). The fit came up a bit big on me round the waist band and it gaped, so I would suggest trying them on and committing to fitted and then some. I have to admit the shape of the shorts and the print did make me feel a bit hot stuff. Perfect for a speed session.

Puma have a wild cat as their logo so why not some wild cat themed gear. They have a few items in animal print including these sweat pants (£40 from http://www.shop.puma.com), perfect for cooling down after a hard session…..I guess. Not entirely sure I could go for strolling down the street in these but lounging about at home in them I could possibly manage. Their lifestyle shoe collection of trainers and high tops also have splashes of animal print. And to celebrate Usain Bolt’s World Championships win, Puma have an offer on: buy 2 items and get 50% off the second item with the code bolt100. 

Animal print does tend to have it’s negative associations style wise but I think these pieces are fun and not too in your face. And let’s face it, a splash of animal print in the middle of a tough run will just make us ladies look all the tougher. Like Tarzan’s Jane if she took up marathon running. I definitely fancy saving up for the zebra print capris but I may have to start a one in, one out policy with the running gear like I do with my shoes. Why do the running gear giants do this to me? (I love it really).

Asthma

I wrote this the other day as I was feeling a bit emotional. I wasn’t going to publish it but I think it’s really important that people understand how awful asthma is.

Last night I think my son had an asthma attack. He doesn’t have a diagnosis of asthma yet and I hope I’m wrong but I have a horrible gut feeling that it might be. My gut feeling comes from what I recognised in him last night and similar incidences previous to this. The relentless cough, not eased by water or  slapping on the back. The audible wheeze coming from his chest. The panic and the distress on his face as he tried to gasp and breath. I recognise it because I’ve been through it.

The last bad asthma attack I had was when I was 19. I was away with my family on a tropical holiday in Malaysia. I hadn’t been bothered by my asthma for months, it had been dormant and I just took my inhalers out of habit. Taking them had become an ingrained daily ritual. I didn’t really feel I needed them but I still took them. I don’t know what happened to trigger the attack that night. I don’t know if I ate something or inhaled something but I remember the dream that woke me up.

In my dream I was swimming just off shore of the hotel we were staying at. I was swimming underwater. In this dream I became aware that I needed to come up for air so I tried to swim back to shallow water. But I couldn’t. And the more I tried to swim to the surface the more panicked I became. As I woke from this nightmare I came round to the sound of my own wheezing and my gasps for breath. I took my inhalers but they seemed to do very little to relieve me. That night my mum came to my rescue. She lay in bed with me the rest of the night cradling her 19 year old daughter while I lay propped up in her arms trying to catch my breath.

I’ll never forget that night. It has faded in memory but I remember being truly fearful that I was about to die. Terrified that any moment I would lose consciousness and I would pass away. Terrified that there would be one final gasp and no breath would come. Every breath was a fight against the invisible hands gripping around my chest, choking me of air. This attack lasted for hours but eventually my medication started to work and the attack eased off.

5 year old boys have no comprehension really of life or death or what their breath really means but last night I saw terror in my son’s eyes. I felt helpless. He had been out at a local pond with his friend collecting tadpoles so I assumed he might have had some kind of allergic reaction to something in the environment that had set this attack off. We gave him piriton and as luck would have it this seemed to calm things down.

I really hope this is a one off and that he doesn’t develop full blown asthma like I did. When people drop into a conversation that they have a ‘touch of asthma’ I always wonder if they experienced the same thing as I did and my mother before me. The sleepless nights sitting up in bed, scared to lie flat as it made everything feel like it was closing in on you. Hearing the crackling and wheezing off your chest, not believing that this horrible noise is coming from you. Coughing and coughing and coughing because for a moment each time it helps you get some breath, not realising that in fact coughing makes your airways spasm even more. That is my experience of asthma.

Why would I write about this on my running blog? Because I really believe that running and being a sporty child helped my asthma. I think being fitter and stronger gave me some reserves to cope when I had a bad attacks (Doctors often recommend swimming to children with asthma and I was in a club for a while but it turned out chemicals in the water exacerbated my condition).  I truly believe that running helped it and without it I may have had more attacks and importantly asthma never prevented me from training or competing unless I was really unwell.

 Thankfully I grew out of my asthma and my attack at age 19 seemed to be the beginning of the end of it. I know asthma can recur but I really hope it doesn’t. More than anything though I hope my son doesn’t take after me. He can have my running genes, he can have my stubborn genes but I certainly hope that he gets to skip my asthma genes. If it does so happen that he takes after me I will make sure he stays fit to fight it through his love of cycling and swimming, hopefully with a bit of running thrown in too.

My Unhealthy Kit Obsession

This is just part of my running wardrobe. Lately I have probably spent a small fortune on running kit and work out gear. Last year I was sat in a store having a make up trial and the girl noticed my Nike carrier. ‘Workout gear? Not very exciting is it?’ But yes it is I nearly screamed at her. I get a buzz every time I buy a new piece of kit and then even more of a buzz when I think about when I’m going to wear it. Running gear has replaced my shoe obsession. However when I bought the bright pink running capris last week I was starting to wonder if I had issues.

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This is probably only a third of what is in my running drawer.

Over the whole of my injury period I continued to buy kit. Every time a shop or brand newsletter popped into my email account I was on there, browsing for more neon t-shirts and patterned capris. I was bordering on shopaholic. I kept telling myself these were my post injury presents. I deserved them for all the pain and heartache of not being able to run. Months of injury later I have a huge drawer of kit bulging with sports bras, singlets, socks, shorts and more. But the fact is you can’t wear it all at once and you will have the old favourites that are comfortable and reassuring like a favourite pair of jeans or shoes.

When I was a youth athlete I wasn’t ever kit obsessed. Almost every training session I would wear the same pair of purple shorts and the same, mud stain spattered white/greying Reebok t-shirt. My mum probably despaired of that t-shirt and may even have tried to get me to bin it. But I couldn’t care less. I wore it nearly every track session, spattering more and more mud up the back of it, ruining it further. But I felt safe, happy and confident in it.

Back then I didn’t have all the running clothes that I have now but I was just as happy in my training. I think it’s time to curb the kit splurging habit and get back to basics. Concentrate on getting fit again and being healthy. Focus on my goals and training for those goals. Kit buying obviously became a distraction which swiftly became a habit. These sports brands have cottoned on to the running market and in particular the female running market. I’ve been well and truly sucked in but no more I say. I will no doubt buy something now if I need it or if something has worn out but not just for the sake of it. Looking smart in new running kit can make you feel good but getting fit again and running well will make me feel even better and if I’m really honest? I’d swap all that gear for my old Reebok t-shirt and purple shorts if it meant I could get the last six months back.

The Fine Line: Women, Exercise and Food.

Women, exercise and food. These three things have a pretty complex relationship. Women seem to be the biggest target for anything relating to weight loss and fat loss. The best exercises being touted and the best fat busting diets being advocated.  We tend to have a complex relationship with food. It is guilt, it is comfort, it is indulgence. Food can never be what it is: fuel. This is the same for women who exercise. Despite the effort we go to in trying to be healthy or in trying to challenge ourselves the question of what we should be eating hangs over us. Too much fat? Too many carbohydrates? Not enough protein? Too much sugar. Food, exercise and guilt become intertwined and it can become a minefield when all you want to do is eat the right thing.

I’m not talking about a balanced diet of vegetables  carbohydrate and protein. The majority of women I know who exercise and run competitively are extremely sensible about what they put into their bodies. But a trend towards being lean and limiting our fat composition could be to our detriment. You could be the leanest runner, be the Cross Fitter with the lowest fat composition but do we know what we’re doing to our bodies in the long term? Not many of the women I have ever trained with do so to be thin, they just want to take part in their sport. But I think as women we all need to think about what we’re doing to our bodies in the short and long term.

So after waffling on for ages what I really wanted to talk about was Female Triad Syndrome. This is a condition that has been documented heavily in professional dancers but there are more and more studies that are looking at this syndrome in relation to other sports including recreational running. But what is Female Triad Syndrome you ask? Well the diagram below gives a pretty good visual explanation but basically it was the name coined to describe a syndrome of disordered eating, disturbed menstrual cycle and osteoporosis.

Now I don’t want anyone to panic or worry that they’ve got this syndrome but a recent blog post by Flake and Cake and Holly Avil’s story has had me thinking for a long time about us girls who exercise and the attitude we have towards food. For women food isn’t just about fuel for exercise but it also helps to regulate our hormones via fat composition. If we’re exercising heavily but not getting enough fuel other systems in the body start to suffer, namely our reproductive and skeletal systems. You may be thinking ‘But I’m not having a baby’ but a disruption to our menstrual cycle can have a detrimental effect on bone mass and long term can result in osteoporosis. Short term it means you may be more prone to injuries like stress fractures, not something any athlete wants to deal with.

So I suppose what I’m trying to say is look after yourself. The menstrual cycle is a good indicator of a woman’s health and if you’re worried about your cycle than see your GP. Equally if you are having any injury problems or niggles then seek appropriate advice.

If you’re training for something then fuel yourself appropriately, eat well, hydrate yourself and you will feel the difference. Training for an endurance event and exercising to lose weight are completely different things and somewhere along the way the two have been confused. If you’re not sure if you’re eating enough for the amount of exercise you’re doing then speak to a dietician. 

As runners we tend to think about the here and now, the next training session, the next race. But maybe we need to think about what’s happening to our bodies beyond our training schedules. A bit of cake from time to time really won’t do you any harm, restricting your food intake to a narrow group of foods probably will. Food for thought?

Diagram from http://www.natus-physiotherapy.co.uk

This is also a really interesting read http://www.femaleathletetriad.org/2013/03/dieting-gone-awry-when-food-is-foe/

Obsessed With Avocados

I’m obsessed with avocados right now. I realise they don’t have an amazing taste on their own but if you get them just at the right time then their texture can really change a dish. 

Monounsaturated fats (the good fats), a good source of fibre and the presence of vitamins B, K and E make avocados really nutritious  In fact the fats in avocados have supposedly been liked to lowering cholesterol. I haven’t been an avocado fan for years, linking it to Christmas prawn cocktails but I’ve rediscovered this fruit and I’m really enjoying it. Here’s how I’ve been trying it this week.

Avocado accompanying my poached egg and bacon with a sprinkling of pine nuts.
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Tarting up a bacon sandwich with some added tomatoes.

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Mackeral salad of with mixed leaves, avocado, beetroot and more pine nuts (another food I’ve just discovered).

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Looking at these again is making me hungry.Is there such a thing as too many avocados? I have heard about a chocolate cake recipe using avocado but I’m yet to track it down.

How do you have your avocado?

Lorna Jane Active: Sports Bra Review

A little while ago I wrote about running mantras and how they can motivate you. Within that post I included an image of a sports bra by Lorna Jane Active, an Australian brand that is now available in the UK. A couple of weeks ago my back was feeling better enough for me to start a few short runs so in celebration I ordered the Determined Bra to try out.

Now I’m fairly fussy when it comes to sports bras. Some bras claim to be high impact and to absorb all the wobbles but when you try them on it’s like the bra can’t actually be bothered. And because my exercise is predominantly high impact I need a sports bra that’s going to work as hard as me. It’s not even that I’m particularly well endowed at a 32B (thanks kids). Even so when I wear a sports bra I like to feel like I’m a medieval woman who has bandaged her breasts down so tight that she could enter court and masquerade as a boy. My Shock Absorber bras have always done this for me so I never thought I would stray from my usual brand. If I’m honest I was a bit worried that the new bra would be a let down like others before it.

I had picked the Determined bra because yes, I had been impressed by the mantra by the same name along the rear band. The bra was £40 but at the time of purchase there was a special Valentine’s Day discount of 20% which brought the price to £32. This combined with free delivery for purchases over £30 left me an extremely happy customer. What can I say, I’m easily pleased. I ordered the bra on a Thursday and it was with me by the following Monday. Speedy delivery, what’s not to love?

I wasn’t able to get out for a run straight away but I dashed upstairs and put it on under my normal clothes. I think this is a nice test for sports bras to see if you can get away with wearing it doing your usual day to day activities. I had ordered an XS size by using the sizing scale on the Lorna Jane UK site and it tallied right with my bra size. It was easy to get on with no awkward contortionist manoeuvres or attempts to fiddle with fastenings. I was able to slip the bra over my head with ease. There were adjusters on the straps if required. I thought the extra padding might annoy me but it actually felt quite comfortable and under my t-shirt gave a nice silhouette.

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I left the bra on and carried on playing with my 3 year old and doing the school run. By the end of the afternoon I realised that I had forgotten I had the bra on. A sign of a good bra is one that you are not aware that you are wearing and I can definitely say this was the case with the Determined bra.

Crunch time came that evening when my husband came home and I got my first chance to go out for a run. As I’m just getting over injury it was a short one. I was concerned that I would become aware of this bra as soon as I started running or that the padding would make me overheat in that area and annoy me. But nothing. Nada. Good, firm support. No jiggling and no strap irritation. It as a cold evening and I think the extra padding may have helped!

So far so good but how would it come out in the wash? I followed the instructions according to the label but I did wonder if the pads would move or become misshapen  Again I was proved wrong in my scepticism. The bra washed really well, the bra maintained it’s shape and I was able to use it for a slightly longer run on the weekend. Again the bra was supportive and gave me no issues with rubbing or irritation.

Overall I think this bra is a really good buy. The price is what I’d expect to pay for a decent sports bra. The styling is flattering under clothes and I would wear this as a day to day bra if I needed to. The bra was comfortable during my steady runs and I was really happy with it. I’m not sure though if it would be suitable for someone with a larger chest size who needs more support than me. This probably highlights the need for a proper sports bra fitting if you’re not a seasoned runner and you’re not sure what your body shape requires in terms of fit and support.

I really liked this bra and it is a great addition to my running kit. Lorna Jane Active are still fairly new to the UK but if all their products are like this I think they’ll do well. Hopefully I ‘ll get to try some of their other products when I’m in the market for some new running tights or even the leopard print bra, because you can never have too many sports bras!

20130223_172514On another note, the running has been going ok. Coming back from injury is hard but I’m definitely Determined. If you don’t believe me read my bra!

For Lorna Jane’s full range of work out gear, which covers yoga, running, gym, dance and leisure, visit http://www.activeinstyle.co.uk.