Category Archives: running rant

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?

My First (and Last) Taste Of ‘Urban Running’.

This is probably a bit of a controversial post but it’s been playing on my mind so I thought I’d go for it:

I like to think that as a runner I’m respectful of everyone who uses the paths and roads, whether they are pedestrians, dog walkers, fellow runners, drivers or cyclists. I would never expect anyone to get out of my way. I would never shout at someone to jump out of my path. The only time I think it’s appropriate to do that is if you are at a track where there is an expected etiquette. Hear ‘TRACK’ shouted at the track and you either stay still or jump out of the way. Out on the roads though? To me that’s different. Non runners shouldn’t be expected to know about ‘runner’ etiquette and we are all sharing the tarmac.

About a month ago I had a taste of what was explained to me as ‘urban running’. Now I thought any running in any city or town is urban. I was born and brought up in London and I’ve lived in Cardiff so I’ve done a far share of running in cities. People hear me say Wales and think I’ve never run along a street before but apparently urban running isn’t as simple as that. I followed a group of other runners during a group activity and experienced ‘urban running’. I can’t honestly say I was impressed because it went something like this:

Shouting at pedestrians to get out of the way.

Running across the path of drivers sitting in traffic without a great deal of attention.

Jumping out into the road in front of a taxi driver who had clear right of way, endangering themselves and the driver.

I followed the runners but I didn’t whole heartedly join in because it baffled me, felt wrong and I couldn’t actually believe it was happening. Cardiff Parkrun was almost cancelled a couple of years ago because fellow park users were unhappy with the runners and running behaviour like this just gives all runners a bad name. It presents us as being selfish, obnoxious and a little bit arrogant.

I love running but I don’t go running so that I can behave like a bit of a twat. Running doesn’t mean I’m better than anyone else. As runner’s we are privileged to see the world in a slightly different way to everyone else on the roads and pavements, but it doesn’t give us  more rights. I don’t want to frighten people and I don’t want to cause drivers to almost have a heart attack from the fear of almost knocking over a pedestrian. If I thought that the way I was running was of concern to other people I think I’d be mortified.

So that was my one taste of ‘urban running’. I don’t know if it was misrepresented to me or that I didn’t understand it, but what happened that evening did not make me want to experience running like that again. It could be that living where I am in South Wales has spoilt me a bit for quiet trails and empty paths but I have run along busy roads in Cardiff and London and never felt the need to do any of the things I’ve described above. I think we do all run to be free in some way but, in this runner’s humble opinion, that shouldn’t negate our safety or that of other runners and non runners around us.

Some Perspective Please!

The internet and social media loves a bit of hysteria and exercise and fitness are no exceptions to this. Recently there were a few articles posted online which related to CrossFit and a condition called Rhabdomylosis (for more information read more here). First there was this article in the Huffington Post referring to Rhabdomylosis as ‘CrossFit’s dirty little secret’. This was then followed by a few other articles screeching the same thing: CrossFit might kill you via Rhabdomylosis!

Then of course there were the pro-CrossFit articles which accused people who didn’t do CrossFit of being jealous and blamed the participants of CrossFit who have suffered from this life threatening condition for their own demise. Not brilliantly helpful but I understand why people want to defend what they enjoy.

So these were the two sides of the coin. Neither particularly constructive and both with the potential to put people off from ever trying CrossFit or maybe any other form of exercise. Yey, well done everyone for giving people yet ANOTHER reason not to get moving.

Now I come at this from a completely different perspective. I am a runner first and foremost. I do CrossFit and I enjoy it but running has and always will be my first love. But I would like to go through some things that might help us get a bit of perspective on a rare condition, exercise and illness in general.

All you have to do to find out a bit about Rhabdomylosis, specifically exertional Rhabdomylosis is to chuck a search into Google Scholar. Participants in many of the studies that come up are military recruits, ultra runners, marathon runners (dammit) and, umm, horses. Plus a case study about a hockey player who played a tournament, became ill, was rushed to hospital and discovered to have Rhabdomylosis.

This very quick search tells me it is not a condition that is limited to those who do CrossFit. Further reading showed that some individuals have an unfortunate genetic predisposition to develop Rhabdomylosis which they would have had no idea about before exercising (this was found to be the case in the hockey player case study). Plus people on prescribed statins are at risk and those with underlying thyroid conditions (which they may not know about). The Huff Post article quotes a US study as giving a 0.06% incidence of Rhabdomylosis for the US population but I couldn’t find figures for the UK population. So all in all I’m not overly worried about Rhabdomylosis and CrossFit. A couple of case reports do not make an epidemic.

Moving on I wanted to address the pro-CrossFit posts which blame individuals for ‘bringing it on themselves and not taking responsibility’. Well I would just like to ask: do people who get a knee injury playing football bring it on themselves? Do marathon runners bring it on themselves when they collapse from a heart condition they didn’t know they had? Do horse riders bring it on themselves when they fall from a horse? Did the hockey player deserve what he got for trying to do his best for his team? I just don’t get this argument and I really think it is counter-productive. As mentioned above, people may have a predisposition to Rhabdomylosis (I hate typing that word). They might be in an ‘at risk’ group that they have no idea they are in. So a little bit more empathy please for people who do happen to develop this condition.

I get that not everyone likes the same kind of exercise. CrossFit is still relatively new and people are probably still trying to get used to it being around. Plus people tend to be ignorant of things they don’t know or don’t understand. I could argue that running has been around since the dawn of time, no doubt one of the oldest forms of exercise going, yet people still hate it and ask me why on earth I want to do it. But as long as I enjoy it and do my best to maintain my health and wellbeing, who cares? A small study of runners who completed a marathon in Taiwan found that everyone who finished had sustained some damage to their hearts. Would this stop me from running? Never. Life is too short to freak out about something that may or may not happen.

So pro and anti CrossFitters. Consider your heads well and truly knocked together. The articles from both sides are completely unhelpful and bordering on hysterical. There is no clear research to say CrossFitters are more at risk than those who take on 100 mile Ultra runs. There is probably more research out there about why running is harmful (la, la, la, la I’m not listening) but the research on obesity, heart conditions and diabetes, all consequences of not exercising or being active, concerns me more. Take a step back and gain some perspective and help people to fall in love with moving and being healthy.

Crap Words.

This post sort of has something to do with running and it sort of doesn’t. I’m being vague aren’t I? This post is just one of those that ended up rumbling around my head as I went for my 20 minute jog today (yes I did say jog, I’m taking it back bitches).

Anyway I digress. I was mooching on that there Twitter and spotted a couple of tweets by the awesome Helen from Diary of a Newbie Strongwoman. The one which I’m referring to and which inspired this post was this:

‘Can I just take a minute to express how much I FUCKING HATE the term MILF. We are people not sodding objects’.

Amen to that. It got me thinking though. There are other terms that refer to women and occasionally specifically to me and exercise which I despise:

  • MILF
  • Yummy mummy (ugh, puke).
  • Post baby body (this one always riles me).
  • Hot
  • Badass (oh do fuck off).
  • Skinny (again, fuck thee off).
  • Skinny minnie (please just go away).

I can’t stand these expressions, they do not define what I do or how I feel about running. They have nothing to do with running and instead conjure up the image that I’m bothered what people think about my body. I’m not, really not. I would much rather people used words to describe my attitude, my approach to running and the way in which I achieve my goals.

So to end my ranty negative post on a more postive note I thought about some words that I would happily use to describe me as a runner:

  • Passionate
  • Determined
  • Stubborn (love that one).
  • Feisty
  • Committed (even though I’m injured).
  • Athlete (apparently we all are but my phone auto corrects my name to athlete. It’s a sign!).
  • Competitive
  • Inner strength

Ok, now that probably is a long list but give me a break, I’ve been injured and I’m trying to be inspired about running again, ESPECIALLY after getting my Good For Age entry confirmation for the Virgin London Marathon through!

So now over to you….

Which words relating to health and fitness to you hate?

Which words would you use to describe yourself in relation to your chosen fitness endeavours?

Feminism and Running

I never thought I’d be writing that title on my running blog. I never even considered that running and feminism were issues that would cross each other, although I guess when you read about women’s fight to be included in marathon racing and the IAAF trying to over turn Paula Radcliffe’s world record, I suppose feminism and issues of equality do come into the sport more often than it ought to. I always feel that where feminism and sociology are concerned I’m a bit naive and a bit thick. But I feel I’m intelligent enough to know when something or someone is being derogatory to women or not.

Yesterday Runner’s World sent a tweet asking their female followers a question:

‘Question for lady runners: has PMS ever struck before a long training run or big race? How did you cope with cramps on the go?’

The few replies they received answered honestly as to how they dealt with it: pain killers, gritted teeth, will power. However there was a tweeter who objected. They suggested that they might unfollow Runner’s World on feminist grounds. Or suggested that she just ran whatever hormonal state she was in. They felt there should be no genderisms in running. I tweeted with this fellow runner that I disagreed and we exchanged a couple of polite tweets  and that was that. But I just wanted to expand on this to explain, in my own opinion, why I don’t think Runner’s World were being ‘unfeminist’.

Firstly, Pre Menstrual Syndrome is a very real syndrome. As a teenager I suffered and it could affect my running. My cramps used to get so bad that on occasion I would pass out from the pain. If I’m honest I always struggle running at ‘the time of the month’. I feel more lethargic, my immune system suffers and I have back pain. So I believe Runner’s World were genuinely asking followers how they deal with these symptoms. Symptoms that are as real as those of IBS, ITBS, PF, CLBP or any other abbreviated condition. They did not mention ‘hormones’ anywhere in the tweet.

Secondly we cannot deny biology. If the tweet had been asking female runner’s how they cope with running while pregnant would the tweet have caused the same reaction from this person? Probably not. The fact is women have a menstrual cycle, men don’t. Women have a womb and ovaries, men don’t. Runner’s World were addressing an issue that affects 50% of the population. For me, to do that rather than leave it solely to publications directed at women means that they are being inclusive of their female readership.

Thirdly I feel that Runner’s World did the right thing asking their female readers. If they’re doing a feature then why not ask their female readers? I would find it more patriarchal if they asked a male doctor what women should do to cope with PMS coming into a race. PMS affects all women differently and as we’ve already established, males don’t have the kit that we do in there, so how can a man have the experience to tell us how us women should manage it. Instead Runner’s World have taken a ‘Twitter focus group’ approach to ask the women who are affected by this how they manage the variety of symptoms it causes (however saying that I was put on iron by a male doctor to manage the anaemia caused by heavy bleeding so I guess my last point doesn’t really stand up there. Bugger).

In a nutshell what I’m trying to get at is that I didn’t agree with the other person. I didn’t see what was unfeminist about the question. Surely to ignore a fact of biology that affects half their readers would be unequal and less feminist. I assume they were working on a feature triggered by inquiries from their female readers. They may be acknowledging that running is becoming increasingly popular among women and are finding ways to connect with them. Maybe it’ll give some insight to men who are eager to blame ‘er bloody hormones’ rather than understand that what some women experience at that time can be as debilitating as a pulled hamstring. Or maybe I just don’t understand feminism and what it is at all. I better go and burn my sports bra.

P.S For the record I find this offensive to my feminist leanings. This picture appeared on the page of a company I follow asking followers on FB to ‘tag’ female friends that they felt the picture applied to. This gave me rage. Or am I being unreasonable? I haven’t included the whole image or the name of the company. I’ve cropped that lower part out because I really don’t get why seeing a women’s buttocks are relevant to women’s sport or fitness. Rather than a ‘what can she achieve’ she is reduced to ‘wow look at her butt’. Am I being a fuddy duddy killjoy?

heavy rep gear

Running and A Massive Rambling Rant.

There were two pieces doing the rounds recently regarding marathon running and the detrimental effects that charity running have had for ‘serious’ runners. These pieces were written in relation to the larger races such as the London Marathon which is just around the corner. What frustrated me as someone who has been around athletics and running since the age of eleven was the cynicism and the ‘serious runners vs recreational runner’ implication of the articles.

Big commercial races no doubt become victims of their own success. They become gigantic beasts which in the end become money making machines. Who knows whether Hugh Brasher and John Disley envisaged that thousands of people would clamour to enter this race each year. Today it is on the World Marathon Majors list and a bucket list race for many people. Along the way though it became about the money. And I’m afraid it’s this that has lead to so many places being given to charity. The London Marathon charges thousands per guaranteed charity place. Subsequently the charities have to claw that money back somehow. They therefore have to ask their charity runners to raise unbelievable amounts of money to justify their place. It is not unusual for a charity to ask someone to raise in excess of £1500 but I really think it is unfair to blame charities or indeed charity runners for the fact that you can’t run the London Marathon.

As someone who has applied to the ballot many times and never been successful I understand the frustration of not getting in. But when you think that they take 180,000 names into the ballot it’s hardly surprising. So I ask you, why does it have to be the London Marathon? 26.2 miles in Tewkesbury is the same achievement as running 26.2 in a famous race. In 2012 I wanted to run a marathon. I didn’t get in through the ballot for London so I entered Edinburgh. A lower profile race, in a great city location, with great organisation. It was still measured as 26.2 and it still counted even though it wasn’t London. I got a phallus shaped medal and shared chips with an elderly German runner. It was one of the most amazing experiences of my life and I did happen to raise a small amount of money for Macmillan along the way, and do you know what it felt good. I had set myself a running goal and I achieved it without being swayed by more commercial races.

So I ran a marathon and yet I’m still cross. Well as Uncle Bryn in Gavin and Stacey says ‘I’ll tell you for why’. There has been a change in running since I started all those years ago *cough 22 years cough*. People don’t use athletics clubs any more. They don’t use running groups. However running has become uber popular and has become really trendy and cool. But instead of joining clubs or supporting the sport, people are signing up to races run by huge brands owned by multi-national companies who offer great goody bags and a catalogue with their latest gear. All of a sudden people believe that this is the only way to run or race and it breaks my heart for the sport I love. The way running has gone lately has made me cynical about it. People shout about what was in the goody bag and I feel for the folks who organise the smaller races who can’t offer medals or t-shirts, just the thrill of having run a PB or completing a race for the first time. Running clubs that aren’t lucky enough to have an attachment to a sports brand are suffering and I really do think it will be do the detriment of the sport and the Olympic Legacy.

Over the weekend I learnt that Belgrave Harriers, at one time one of the most successful clubs in the UK, the home club of Dwain Chambers, are stepping down from the British League. The man who is resigning as team manager stated that the sport isn’t seeing any of the Olympic Legacy and that they are not seeing the elite athletes coming through like they used to. Elite athletes can help prop up athletics clubs. As does organising your own races. Many clubs run their own races for a pittance of an entry fee compared with large races. These clubs do this because they are passionate about the sport, wish to support it’s existence and the access to tracks that we take for granted and hope to provide a place for the next generation of athletes. But people prefer the big races and the kudos that apparently goes with the big name, commercial races and I feel as a result the athletics and running scene at club level will suffer.

So runners what are you going to do? You want to run a 10k/half marathon/marathon. You can’t get into the big fancy, glow stick race you want to do. You may as well not bother ‘eh because they’re the only races worth doing right? Wrong. On the weekend West 4 Harriers ran a Thames Towpath 10. Ealing Eagles are running a 10k for the paltry price of £12 (compare that to the £50 that is asked of entrants to one of the larger 10k races). Turn to the back of Runner’s World and you will find a plethora of races that have plenty of places available for runners. Join a club and get the low down on races that you would otherwise be unaware of. If you have the means set up your own local race and be a bigger part of the running community. Because if you really want to run that race, that distance, smash that goal you will. You won’t just wait around for the one race that all us runners have been brainwashed into thinking is the only one worth doing. If we don’t start supporting our sport rather than blindly paying money and expecting the earth in a goody bag there won’t be a legacy left at all.