Category Archives: sport issues

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

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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.

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/

My Running Obsessions This Week

There have been many running related topics rushing around my brain this week. I have many things I want to blog about at length but for my first post this week I wanted to share some of the running related subjects I’ve been getting excited about! I’m still officially injured so I’m allowed, indulge me.

Glutes

Following my back injury the gluteal muscles on the right side are no longer buns of steel, more like buns of jelly. Pain has inhibited the muscles so much that my glutes are quivering at the top of my thigh in fear of all exercise. For runner’s this isn’t a good thing. In basic terms our glutes help with weight transference from trunk to lower limb, stabilise our pelvis and help with our propulsion. Right now I can barely single leg squat on my right. So my new rehab obsession to get back to running is working my glutes like they are the latest running revolution and everyone’s talking about them. My glutes need a BOOST (sorry Adidas).

Avocados and Pine Nuts

In between all the hen weekends, birthday celebrations and weddings I’ve had recently I have, honestly, been trying to eat healthily while my body heals and repairs. I have no idea if avocados are good for runners but I know they have plenty of the ‘good fats’. Pine nuts are full of protein for repair and I’ve been combining both of these in chicken spinach salads or popping the whole lot in a pitta or wrap. When you’re injured it’s all too easy to eat junk but these foods have been a tasty alternative to hitting the cookie jar.

Lorna Jane Active

Lorna Jane is an Australian brand that is now available in the UK via Active Instyle. Their designs provide a feminine twist on the standard running gear of vests, capris and tights. Adding mantras to their clothes give them an added bad ass runner girl feel. I’ve just purchased the ‘Determined’ sports bra and I’ll be blogging about it once I’ve given it a jog round the block.

determined bra

European Indoor Championships

The 32nd European Athletics Indoors Championships will be held in Gothenburg, Sweden over the weekend of 1-3 March. The buzz is building quite nicely for me with the UK indoor trials and last weekend’s Birmingham Grand Prix event. On the weekend we saw Olympic GB athletes like Mo Farah smash it. Today British Athletics announced a strong looking team although they failed to include any male 1500m runners. Paula Radcliffe was on Twitter slamming this as ‘totally ridiculous’ and I have to agree. GB have plenty of decent male middle distance runners. Seems a shame not to field any. They can’t blame Charles Van Commenee for any selection mishaps this time!

Jenny Meadows

Jenny Meadows missed last year’s track season through injury but she’s back! She made her comeback at the Birmingham Grand Prix on the weekend and has been announced as captain of the GB & NI team going to Gothenburg. Jenny goes as defending champion having won the 800m two years ago. Jenny is a talented, tenacious athlete and it’s exciting to see her back!

Go Jenny, go Jenny! Picture from britishathletics.org.uk

Mary Cain

Mary Cain is a 16 year old high school student from New York. Mary Cain is a middle distance runner. Mary Cain is coached by Alberto Salazar, the same man who coaches double Olympic champion Mo Farah. Mary Cain is breaking records all over the place and can run 1500m in 4.11.01. Mary Cain is 16 YEARS OLD. The world of running needs to get excited about Mary Cain. I hope she’s the real deal and I hope as she develops, she’ll be looked after and we’ll see her competing on the European circuit. There’s a strong team of U20 women in the UK right now too so female middle and long distance running has some exciting prospects in the years leading up to Rio 2016.

Mary Cain. Image from nationalscolastic.org

So these are my running obsessions this week. Happy training.

Dispelling Myths: Running and Arthritis

A few weeks ago there was an article from the Telegraph newspaper doing the rounds on Twitter. The premise of the article was actually pretty good. It extolled the benefits of weight training for women. Not the typical equipment you might find at the gym but free weights and weight lifting. It was entitled ‘If you want to get in shape, ditch the lady weights and hit the iron’. You can find it here.

I agreed with what most of the author, Dr Brooke Magnanti, said. I agreed with her that you need to lift signficant weights to tone up and become stronger. I started lifting heavier weights during my marathon training and I think it helped me to remain injury free. I agree with her that women are being lied to about diet and exercise and that women have pretty much been brain washed to believe that you can get a Jessica Ennis type body in 4 weeks. More like 5 years and the rest. And she’s right that power lifting makes you feel great because it does. It’s intimidating at first but once you learn the skills and lift progressively higher weights you start to feel amazing. I’d recommend any woman try to learn some weight lifting techniques because it’s not just for men or Olympians.

I was really enjoying the article but then she went and ruined it for me by saying this:

‘Something you can still be doing well into old age, when every marathon runner has had a double knee replacement already? The iron.’

In layman’s terms she is implying that marathon running causes osteoarthritis of the knee. I was incandescent. I am a runner and I am a physiotherapist and I have done my fair share of reading around the subjects and I’m here to tell you right now she is talking UTTER BOLLOCKS.

I went away and did a little research and it was very easy to discover, if you look in the right places, that running has no direct link to causing osteoarthritis of the knee. Many review papers have found that runners are no more likely to develop osteoarthritic changes in the knee and hip than non runners. More research is obviously always needed but anecdotally I have never treated someone who had knee arthritis because of running. Following knee injury playing rugby and football, yes. Being overweight, yes. Hereditary factors, environmental factors, yes. But oddly, or not so oddly enough, from running.

I’m not suggesting runners are immune but there is no evidence that the action of running itself directly causes arthritis. As mentioned above there tends to be other factors contributing such as foot wear, poor muscle power, poor form, poor posture and training errors but not just running. To suggest that in a national paper is a powerful myth to perpetuate and one that has no truth in it. In fact running and other weight bearing exercise has been shown to increase bone density and production of joint fluid so it may in fact hep to prevent osteoarthritis.

So put the thought that running will damage your knees to the back of your mind because it simply isn’t true. I’m not singing the virtues of one exercise over another because to do that is unhelpful. If we stopped doing a sport activity because of potential risks or urban myths then the nation would be even more unfit and overweight than it already is. Just know that marathon running in itself does not lead directly to the orthopaedic surgeon and a couple of joint replacements.

Here’s a link to an abstract from one of the articles I looked at in PM&R, the journal of injury, function and rehabilitation: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22632690. I also searched the archive on the British Journal of Sports Medicine which is a great resource.

Kids, Fair Play and Lance.

This is a running blog but I like to think that I can broaden it out to sport in general and how it effects my family, my children especially. I want my children to be involved in sport because I want them to be fit and healthy. I also want them to learn about teamwork and respect. I also want them to learn about fair play, how to play fairly against and alongside others and to know that cheating is only cheating yourself. Unless you’re Lance Armstrong.

When the allegations exploded recently I really hoped that they weren’t true. I really hoped that this legend of a sportsman wasn’t just that: a totally made up myth, constructed by the drugs and cycling businesses. But it turns out that is exactly what he is. This cheat has made millions and millions from doping and accepting accolades that he does not deserve. In fact in 2005 he flew his children in to France to help him lift his trophy at the end of the tour.

Wow. Just wow. This man went low enough as to allow his children to be part of his charade. He allowed his children to believe that he was this all conquering worthy champion while all the time he was doped up to the eye balls. Well as a fellow parent I have some questions for Lance Armstrong:

When one of your children comes home upset that another child cheated at a game what will your honest advice be? That cheaters never prosper? Ha, well you proved that one wrong didn’t you. Here was I thinking I could teach my kids that you only cheat yourself if you cheat but now I can teach them that you can profit from people’s misplaced faith and admiration.

One of your children comes home and complains that the coach of the team is also the father of one of the other kids. This father is showing favouritism and selecting their own kid even though their kid isn’t as good enough. What will you do? Complain to the Coach/Dad? Say it’s not fair? How can you? You endorse cheating and that there is cheating. Your kid will have to suck it up and deal with the unfairness of it all, the unfairness being that they will never be picked no matter how good they are.

When your child hasn’t worked hard enough at school and is worried that they might fail a test what will you do? Help them study last minute so they pass and hopefully instil the ethic that hard work and graft provide just rewards? Or will you buy the exam questions? Buy the exam board? Sit the exam for them?

When your child is offered drugs that could enhance their performance in a sport but could also cause them serious long term harm and prevent clean athletes from their rightful podium place, what will you say? This drug will help them to win but could also cause side effects such as heart disease, sexual dysfunction, osteoporosis and other potential unknown maladies. Will you encourage them to dope as you did so willingly?

Lance Armstrong maybe a father but I’m not sure he’s taught his children anything worthwhile. I honestly feel sorry for his children because they will learn that their father is a cheat and that nobody likes a cheat. They will learn the extent of what he has done and I really hope that one day he will look into their eyes and see disappointment sitting there because that is what he has become for so many people. A great big cheating disappointment. But then again he has probably taught them that there’s no point in working hard at anything because there’s always a way to cheat the system. You’ve cheated your own kids Lance, well done.

The British cyclist Nicole Cook retired today. A clean athlete who rejected drugs when offered and went on to become Olympic champion. It can be done. She is a true inspiration, the real deal. She left a statement on her website and I think she sums things up perfectly here:

‘When Lance “cries” on Oprah later this week and she passes him a tissue, spare a thought for all of those genuine people who walked away with no reward – just shattered dreams. Each one of them is worth a thousand Lances.’

I will continue to teach my children the importance of playing fair whether that’s on the field, track or at the kitchen table with a game. Because I still believe the glory of winning is in knowing that you did it fair and square.

Chwarae Teg!