Wednesday 25 September 2013

Is running any good for overweight and obese people?

Today I've got a guest post for you, from Alan Jackson MSc, FCIMSPA, who is the Founder of Discovery Learning & Weight Management Centre

Is running any good for overweight and obese people?

I have been a weight management practitioner for 20 years now and as you would imagine, I frequently come across people that want to lose weight but are uncertain as to which activity would suit them best.  More often than not they don’t seem too keen on the idea of running. Furthermore most people (me included at one time) would suggest to these people that running would be a bad idea and that perhaps walking or some gentle swimming might be a better bet.
That is until I met people like Phil, who was a smoker, heavy drinker and clinically obese.  There would have been many health professionals (me included) that would have tried to dissuade Phil from running and used our professional prowess and clinical judgement to justify our advice.  Phil was a definite case of giving the health professional the run around.  We were worrying about his obesity, his CVD risk factors such as smoking and blood pressure, but Phil was focussing on the goal and his route out of his destructive lifestyle. He knew what was right for him and as in all such cases, people know what is best for them. He knew he had to run.
Phil has subsequently completed many endurance runs and successfully ran the Snowdon Marathon in 2006; which has to be said is no mean feat for anyone. Phil is now a healthy and fit individual that is enjoying life to the full and his life has turned around.  If you are overweight or unfit and would like some inspiration, if you think that you can’t do it, you may wish to visit Phil’s excellent running blog. When you do, remember Phil’s starting point for his journey Phil’s Blog  
This really interested me and I have since had the pleasure of meeting many people like Phil that were very overweight or clinically obese and didn’t think they were capable of doing any exercise.  I subsequently set about building up a movement that would appeal to these people, in particular those that believed that their days of vigorous physical activity, running and sport in general were long behind them.  I spoke to football, rugby, running and martial arts clubs to see if they could help and before long FitFans was born.  FitFans aims to help people like Phil to make a start at doing something active that they thought they would never do again.  Once again if you are looking for some motivation to start running or getting fit, you could do a lot worse than taking a look at the FitFans project .
SWOT analysis
So let’s do a quick SWOT of running as an exercise for obese people, is it really a mainstream starter or does it just suit the hard cases and nutters that want to do it the tough way?
  • Can be done most anyplace – no membership fees required
  • Ideal for varying the intensity, duration and frequency to suit your fitness and objectives
  • Low outlay on equipment (though  decent running shoes are essential)
  • Not too time consuming - in the early phases!
  • Excellent for cardiovascular fitness and endurance
  • Excellent for weight loss
  • Suits the social animal or the recluse – run in clubs or run alone
  • Can be tough on joints (particularly knees) of overweight people
  • Not too much fun in winter or in blazing heat
  • May present a risk for those running alone if they have cardiovascular risk factors already
  • Discover your inner fitness and strength
  • Meet a whole new community of people – at the park or in clubs and events
  • Runners usually think carefully about diet and this is key for weight loss
  • Great for self-esteem and improving self-belief
  • May be a springboard for engaging in many other activities and sports
  • May be too hard and you could fall at the first (only if you go about it in the wrong way)
  • May further damage already impaired joints
  • May be embarrassing as I am so big
It will be up to each individual to undertake their own SWOT and determine if indeed running is for them.  All I can say at this point is that I have seen sufficient numbers of overweight and obese people take up running recently and providing they have gone about it the right way, they have outperformed other more sedentary weight loss clients by a country mile. I’m not sure if it is the running itself, or what it takes to be an obese runner that provides the effect (or maybe a bit of both) but either way the difference is stark.  
All that I can say is that I have been really stunned by the difference in those that do and those that don’t undertake vigorous physical activities such as running with respect to weight loss, diet and self-belief - which underpins all weight loss. I have come 360° with respect to running as a suitable exercise for weight loss and now I simply ask the client: “Would you like to see yourself running a few miles every day?”  They laugh and say:  “That will be the day!”  When that day does come however, they are utterly transformed. The confidence, belief and motivation that they exude makes them unrecognisable from their former self.  I love it when that day comes for my clients.
I hope that this article will help people that want to lose weight to consider running as a platform to achieve their weight loss goals.  Not all runners are ultra-fit psycho endurance masochists. Most are just ordinary folk, just like you or I.  So give running another look.
Alan Jackson is the Founder of Discovery Learning and Weight Management Centre which are health and fitness and wellness educational organisations for gym and fitness professionals and personal trainers.

Monday 23 September 2013

A picture's worth a thousand words

Here are three running videos that my good friend Conrad shared with me, to try and get me back into the swing of things with my running, to help me rediscover my motivation and my mojo!

In their own way, each film is incredible and inspirational.  I watched them this evening then made myself go for a run....

The first video features the truly incredible Spanish athlete and mountain runner, Kilian Jornet

Unfortunately I couldn't embed the second or third need to click these links. They're both well worth watching!

Dangerous territory & some much needed inspiration

Throughout my running career, I've had peaks and troughs in my training and have often struggled with motivation. It’s always been temporary though, and with the support of other running friends have always made it back into my trainers and out of the door, before too long has passed, or too much damage to my fitness has been done.

At the moment though, I'm going through a really difficult time where I just can't be bothered to go out for a just feels like it's a chore that can be ignored...and it seems to have struck me worse than ever before. After having so much time off with the injury, I can't believe that I'm not taking full advantage of having recovered, and I don't really understand what's wrong with me - on one level, I do want to run, because I'm a runner, and I want to be fit enough to race, I'm putting on lots of weight at the moment, and I'm feeling pretty shitty about not running but when it comes down to it, I've just got no desire to get out the door and put in the effort. Whereas once I would have felt terrible about letting days & days pass without getting a run in, and to see a week on my training plan with lots of “zero miles” entries would have been a huge embarrassment, I seem to have stopped caring that much :(

I think I'm in pretty dangerous territory and I have to rediscover my commitment to running, and fast. I have to get back into a routine whether I like it or not, I have to stop filling my face with crisps, cakes and chocolate, and I have to start running regularly again because otherwise I can see my weight gain spiral out of control and my fitness levels plummet and my status as a runner, disappear. I had a real wake up call this morning – I walked up the escalator at Oxford Circus tube station on my way to work, stairs I've run up before, and I really felt the effort in my legs. What?! Last year I was an ultra runner who could (relatively) comfortably run 50-odd miles, this spring, I was an ultra runner who just about managed 262 miles in 10 days, next year I'm meant to be tackling 100 miles in a day! But I can’t walk up a flight of stairs! WFT?!

It’s just not good enough to get so blasé about my fitness, my health and who I am…being a marathon runner has become an integral part of me and I certainly don’t want e to become that unfit couch potato who tells stories about when they used to run, that no-one believes...

This morning, I was catching up on twitter and facebook, reading about friends who've put in some amazing performances at events over the last few days, that sounded absolutely fantastic. I'm so proud of each and everyone of them. There was the whole team of awesome and always inspiring tweeps finishing the High Peaks 40 including Chris who was running his first ultra; there was Catherine, Susie and Lisa who all ran the Toad, which I enjoyed so much last year; Lena completing the Brownlee Triathlon; Allan finishing the Cotswold 100, just months after breaking his leg; Karen smashing a PB in her half, and Phil finishing Langdale, his first marathon after the injuries he picked up at the 10in10, with our other Brathay friends, Malc, Eleanor, Charles & Angela, while the Godfather, Steve, ran his incredible 600th marathon there, supported by his lovely wife Teresa who ran the half. Over Saturday night, Justin ran at Equinox24, completing over half the distance he covered, barefoot! For the past few weeks, the wonderful Chris Heaton has been taking part in his mind-blowing 30 marathons in 30 days challenge for Brathay Trust, and Traviss and Foxy have been running marathons across America. Lindley's flown out to Greece this morning determined to conquer Spartathlon this year, and Mimi's gone too, to do the DOUBLE! And they're just the people who I can think of, off the top of my head, doing things this weekend! I'm sure there are many others.... 

Next week, it's the Berlin Marathon, and although I have a number, I've decided to forfeit my place because I'm just not fit enough for it. I'm going to miss Johnny's 100th, and running with a whole crew of friends who are going to be out there - Kaz, Heather, Mel, Craig, Keith, Rosemary and John. I'm gutted not to be there.

Every person mentioned above has played such a massive part in my running achievements so far, and there are lots of others too who have made a difference with their support and advice over the years. What an incredible group of people they are - I feel absolutely privileged to know them all. I think I owe it to everyone to stop being so lazy, stop making excuses and just get back to training. There's not a single reason to stop running, and a thousand reasons to keep at it, especially now that I feel really depressed thinking about what everyone else was up to while I was sat on the sofa this weekend! I want to get back to being able to really enjoy being involved and to feel like a legitimate part of the awesome running community again and to take part in some of these fantastic events...and not keep pulling out of them!

So now I've given myself a good talking to through this this post, I've got to get out there and actually do the running. Taking any more time off just can’t be an option any more…I really don’t want to have to change the name of my blog and I definitely need to add some more medals to my collection!

Wednesday 18 September 2013

Running in the Grand Canyon

So...the Grand Canyon. One of the Seven Wonders of the World and on 29th August, I was lucky enough to go for a run there! I had been excited about this part of our holiday for weeks before we went - I may have lost most of my fitness, but running in the Grand Canyon was something I definitely wanted to do regardless, a real once in a lifetime opportunity....and it was EPIC!

We drove from Las Vegas, where we'd spent the first few days of our holiday, and arrived at the South rim of the Grand Canyon in the dark, and checked into the Kachina Lodge where we were staying for the night. There were some enormous, antlered wild elk wandering around in the grounds of the hotel which was a bit disconcerting, and the sky was incredible - pitch black and more stars than I think I've probably ever seen above me...but as for the Canyon, it was invisible and so we were both really looking forward to the dawn.

We set the alarm early, and so were up before it was really light.  We opened the curtains and were amazed at the view...we really were staying right on the edge - it was absolutely incredible!

I wanted to get my run finished before it got too hot...I wasn't planning anything long but knew in the heat of the day it would still be almost impossible! We'd read the information that had been left in our room about the various hiking routes into and around the Canyon, and they all stressed just how difficult it was going into (and more particularly, getting out of, the Canyon), and that hikers should be realistic about their fitness levels, aware of the affect of the altitude (7000ft) and be prepared for a very challenging I carefully decided upon what seemed to be the most achievable, safest route for my run - The Bright Angel Trail.

Wiki says: The [Bright Angel Trail] trail was originally built by the Havasupai Native American tribe for access to the perennial water source of present day Garden Creek. The trail originates at the Grand Canyon Village on the south rim of Grand Canyon, descending 4380 feet to the Colorado River. It has an average grade of 10% along its entire lengthGrand Canyon National Park categorizes the Bright Angel Trail as a corridor trail. With this designation it receives regular maintenance and patrols by park rangers

Anyway, I got ready quickly and headed out, closely followed by Francis who was planning to take some photos in the early morning light. The start of the Bright Angel Trail was closer to our hotel that I had hoped, but I did at least get a few minutes running along the flat before I started my descent!

When I got onto the trail, I think I was smiling with every step. The path was steep enough to be easy but still very controlled as I ran down, rough and technical enough to feel like I was really trail running, but maintained enough to be relatively safe as long as I paid enough attention, and the views were just unlike anything I have ever experienced.  The temperature at dawn was perfect too. I passed a few other walkers but not too many, and felt relatively alone, and at one with the view...except for the odd chipmunk I disturbed. I took loads of photos with my phone. Unfortunately not many of them came out, but it was wonderful, and if I hadn't kept reminding myself that I would have to run back up this trail, I could have easily carried on down to the river! It was absolutely incredible and a couple of miles that I'll never forget!

I was sensible though, and very soon decided that I had to turn around to face the hard work of running back up the way I'd come - it's an average of a 10% gradient, and so, by the very law of averages, some of it is definitely steeper! It was starting to get a bit warmer too, and sections of the switchbacks were bathed in light as the sun started to rise, so it was decidedly more of a challenge than it had been coming down! The numbers of people walking down the trail were increasing too, with their full trekking outfits and poles - most were absolutely astonished to see a runner in just shorts and vest, and a handheld water bottle! They gave me lots of encouragement though, and all seemed very impressed...except for the two cowboys who passed me on their horses - they didn't seem very impressed, and ignored me as I squeezed myself again the rock so they could safely pass me by. I got the impression they'd rather they didn't have to share the trails with anyone!

As it started to get hotter, and my legs started to feel heavier, I found myself wishing I'd turned back earlier. Before I knew it though, I was on the final stretch of the trail, when as I approached a bend in the path, I was confronted by a small elk having its breakfast! It was only a young one, so I wasn't worried and stopped to watch it for a while, thankful for a legitimate opportunity to rest! I didn't want to disturb it, so when I carried on, I tentatively walked past, slowly making my way around the corner, only to see two much bigger elk blocking the path. This time I was nervous - all of the literature says to be wary of the elk - and I noticed there was a family of walkers on the other side of the path, the other side of the elk, who had also stopped, looking on nervously too! None of us knew what to do, and so just waited, hoping they'd move on.....

Eventually, it became clear that the elk weren't paying us any attention, and if we didn't do something we'd be stood there all day, so I started gradually edging my way towards them. After initially seeming a little startled, the elk went back to their food, and as I came closer, unhurriedly wandered off the narrow path allowing us all to carry on our way.

Unfortunately, I was soon back in the Canyon village, running on the flat path around the top of the rim back to the hotel, wishing that I had in fact gone further along the Bright Angel Trail, so I could have spent more time on my amazing run. It had been a wonderful experience, and if I'd had the whole day to dedicate to running (and was much fitter!), I would definitely have considered running all the way down to the bottom of the Canyon and back up...although a Rim to Rim to Rim trip would be pushing it a bit far ;)

As it was, Francis and I spent the rest of the day walking the trails along the top of the Canyon, and enjoying the views from the edge. I'm just very glad that I had the opportunity to see the Canyon from inside looking up too...and will just ignore the fact that my ankle was problematic for the rest of the week! ;)

Monday 16 September 2013

The Man in the Arena

I saw this posted on my friend Conrad's facebook page today, after he had to pull out of the SVP100 race.  It's a passage referred to as "The Man in the Arena" from the "Citizen in a Republic" speech by Theodore Roosevelt in 1910 (according to Wiki).

I just love it!

"It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat."

Apparently this passage is really famous, and I can't believe I've never come across it before, but it really struck a cord. It could have been written for ultra-runners! Obviously though, it wasn't, and if you're interested in the whole speech, it's here:

Marathon 34 & marshalling at SVP100

It’s been quite a while since my last blog post, but having been told by a new follower on twitter that they've been reading my blog (woohoo!) I felt I should post an update about what I've been up to, this last month.

On Friday 16th August, for no apparent reason, I decided that the next day would be a good day to run a marathon, and so managed to wheedle a place out of Foxy for the Enigma Gold marathon which was being run on Saturday 17th August. I knew I wasn’t prepared but wanted to give it a go, get a gauge of my fitness, and to see my Enigma friends J It’s no surprise that it wasn’t the most intelligent decision I've ever made and it didn't go too well.

The marathon was very, very hard work, and my dodgy ankle was troublesome towards the end of the race - I found myself walking much more than I ever usually would to try and minimise the damage I felt I was doing and realised that the longest run I should have attempted on it was probably about 20 miles. So, it wasn’t pretty, and I finished in 04:54, which it’s fair to say I was very disappointed with. I shouldn't have been surprised, given the lack of training I've done since the 10in10, and the ankle, but still, I didn't realise I’d got quite that unfit. I got an awesome medal though, and that went some way to cheering me up!!

A smile because I'm finishing!
Catching up

The following Thursday, I had another great session with Essex Bootcamp session, although, despite it being 5 days after the marathon, I was still totally unable to run as my ankle was still terribly painful L

Things started looking up though, as on Saturday 24th August, Francis and I jetted off on holiday for a 2.5 week roadtrip in the US. We flew into Las Vegas for a friend’s wedding, then drove Route 66, went to the Grand Canyon (where I ran - an experience which is going to have a blog post of it’s own), drove down to Palm Springs, and Los Angeles, and then drove up Highway 1 to San Francisco. It was an incredible holiday and we had a absolutely fantastic time.

We got back on Thursday morning, 12th September, and although the jet-lag has been crippling, on Saturday, I found myself crewing at the Stour Valley Path 100km inaugural race…an event I had been due to run but obviously had to pull out of due to my chronic lack of fitness and the infamous ankle. 

Food at our check point!
I was at check point 6, which was at 57 miles into the 62 mile race, the last check point before the finish, and thoroughly enjoyed myself. I arrived to find that there weren't any jaffa cakes, peanuts or flapjacks amongst the mountains of food, so went for a drive to find a shop to stock up on these essentials (well, they are in my mind anyway!) before heading back to wait for the first runners to come through. The race was tougher than I think anyone expected (not helped by the torrential rain the night before which turned the ploughed fields into muddy pits of hell) and the runners took much longer to arrive at the check point than we’d expected, but by the time they got there, I was very impressed at how strong they were all still looking and how cheerful most of them were. I really enjoyed the experience of marshalling a race – I've never done it before – but now have a new appreciation for the volunteers who make the races that I do possible, and would recommend it to other runners. It’s very rewarding, helping people achieve their goals and trying to make it just a little easier, and the general feedback for the event from the runners was very positive. As I volunteered for this year’s race, I get a place in the 2014 event – I can’t wait!! :D 

So…here we are, six weeks before my next scheduled race, the Stort 30…the race where I finished as 1st lady in 2012. I’m certainly not going to be anywhere near that end of the field this year, but I would really like to at least be able to take part! Now the jet-lag has pretty much gone, I am planning to try a run this evening, and then get back to normal and start following my training plan, as my fitness has definitely hit a real low and I really can't spend any more time not exercising. None of my clothes fit me anymore!! I’ll take it very slowly, will try and be sensible and hopefully my ankle has had enough rest to let me start upping my mileage – I’ll do it gradually, and just hope that I can get myself ready to run 30 miles on 27th October.