Pico kit

I had my first experience of using an InDurance Pico kit the other day as a tester of what the whole set-up was like. With a very impressive set-up, here is a quick review of what the product is:

Firstly ‘Pico’. Well ‘Pico’ is the metric prefix to mean 10(-12), or trillionth, and also means ‘peak’ in Spanish; so I figure they’ve used the term for measuring tiny amounts to attain peak performance. Neat.

With a range of ‘Pico kits’ to choose from, you can measure all sorts of blood biomarkers to get an idea of what is going on inside  the engine. After deciding what you want to measure, the whole process is efficient and pain-free. I chose the ‘Osteo-Energy’ kit measuring vitamin D for a variety of reasons, but more on this in a later post.

Pico kit size

A small pack arrived in the post containing full instructions of how to go about getting my finger-prick blood sample, and how best to get my finger to bleed properly – which sounds silly, but was actually very useful as the labs need enough blood to accurately measure the biomarker you are after. Don’t skip this bit as its pretty important.

Pico kit

After watching the ‘how to‘ video and setting up the collection bottle ready, I gave my hands a good scrub and warmed them up (more blood flow = easier bleeding), pricked my finger with the provided lance and started ‘milking’ my finger into the bottle.

Pretty soon the bottle was filled, packaged with the reply form and paid envelope, and stuck in the post.

Easy.

What surprised me was the speed at which the lab turned around the result and InDurance sent me my report. Within two days I had a full report on my vitamin D levels, which were borderline low (pretty typical for a Brit basking in the English winter). The report was laid out in an easy-to-interpret layout, had no geeky medical jargon, described the what vitamin D is, why measure it, and how to improve it.  This was a great opportunity to enjoy some well deserved sun in Portugal for medical reasons… Maybe more importantly, the report also contained a solid bunch of references at the end, which back up all the information contained, so you know you’re not being blagged.

Tests like this are rarely available to everyday athletes, but the biomarkers being measured could have big effects on your health and performance. This seems a pretty neat way to keep your eye on your engine, look after it and keep it in good nick.

Overall I was impressed at the InDurance product, enjoyed sunbathing in Portugal, and will definitely be asked them to take a look under my bonnet again.

This sounds obvious, but I think we, or at least I, certainly can get carried away with my thoughts at times about what ifs.

After a couple of months struggling to get back to form from injury, and a race looming, its easy to start thinking about what would have been possible if I hadn’t been injured, how fast I could have gone, what I might have been able to do if the last few months had panned out differently.

But I was injured. Probably for good reason too, so in that respect I can learn from it and change my training in future to stop the same problems from recurring. Training is all one big learning curve anyway, and each year I’ve learnt more and more about what I can and can’t do, how much load and pressure I can take and what I can’t, and the warning signs you’re starting to get carried away. Preparing your body for such a barrage of ridiculous stresses is not a walk in the park, but its easy to forget this and just assume its distinctly normal to run double marathons every few weeks.

So I guess there is point number 1: injury is not a failure, its an opportunity to learn.

With a distinct lack of what I’d like to class as ‘training’ in mind, approaching T60 with the same gusto is pretty difficult. I hoped to be running a fast marathon next weekend, but without any decent running behind me this would be a pretty dangerous move; instead, I’m opting to head out for a sportive to practice suffering for a while, trying to keep up drafting the better half. It’ll still be solid few hours of lungs and legs and a good opportunity to get my gut used to eating on the move again!

Running a fast(er) marathon (not particular fast for all you whippets out there….) is not a main aim of mine. I run because I love running. I love running on trails and over mountains, so the decision to drop the road marathon in view of a better chance to go for T60 was a relatively easy one.

After a sub-par attempt at T60 last year I was super excited about going back this year and smashing it, learning from the gut issues I had last year and turning up in great shape confident I could have a good crack at the course record. So this has changed somewhat, as I’ll be going into the race with far less running in the build up to it.

But should I dwell on this? Of course not, I need to go at the race with what I’ve got. Easier said than done, but its an important point. There is no benefit wasting energy thinking about the what ifs, let alone how it affects my mood. So instead, over the next couple of weeks I’ll be doing the strength work I need to do to pull out the other side of these injuries, do what running I can, then attack the race with what I’ve got.

It’ll be a good test to see where I am. The main goal of the season is October time, so it’ll be a great opportunity to test the legs to see where we are, what foundation we’re working from, and a nice leg stretch before the world champs.

Point number 2: do the best you can do, whether you are on fire, or feel like you’re ploughing through treacle, as long as you’ve done everything you can on that given day, you can walk away with your head held high.

InDurance – Initial thoughts

InDurance is one of my little projects. Something on my mind that I’m hoping will develop and grow into a much bigger project.

What is InDurance?

InDurance is the crossroads between health, technology and performance. It is the brainchild of a sports medic, looking to take the guess-work out of performance and the health of normal athletes, weekend warriors, part timers, not just elites.

The idea of using blood biomarkers to determine when you are healthy and can train, versus when you are overstepping the mark and really should take a step back. Sure, intuition and common sense can tell you this. But intuition and common sense can only go so far. 

There are times when you might be under performing and you just can’t understand why. Or when training and racing is going really well, and you’re wondering how much more is left in the tank to keep pushing.

Elite athletes may have this ingrained/learned mechanism to tell them when to let off, but not all of us have developed that yet. I’m not saying I’m some gung-ho lunatic, but there is a fine line between pushing boundaries and overstepping them.

Why am I bothered? – athlete Ollie

I’ve certainly walked that line before. Recently.

So this idea appeals to me. The idea that we might be able to use blood biomarkers to give us an idea when we are just tired from cumulative training stress, but still plenty left in the tank, or tired because our immune system is drained, and if you carry on you’ll get man flu (a very serious condition, women – do not underestimate this).

Some biological things are easily fixable, and some things aren’t.

Low iron stores? Well that could be form a variety of problems, but not eating enough is pretty damn fixable. Low vitamin D? Again, diet and sunlight exposure = get outside and eat more yummy fish. So if these things are so easily fixable, but have the potential to be so destructive to your performance, why not measure them and fix them?

Rubbish genes? Thats something you can’t change. You’re born with them; they’ve been pretty set in stone since that time your Mum and Dad….well…. you get my point. So if you can’t change them, why measure them?

Yes there is the epigenetics argument for super-geeks, but this isn’t on a day-to-day month-by-month scale; just stay healthy, don’t smoke and at least you’re children and children’s children will have a good chance.

Why am I bothered? – geeky Ollie

This is pretty damn interesting stuff. Can we catch problems before they manifest themselves into something truly nasty?

This is prehab. And prehab is arguably The Don of all medicine. Prevention is better than cure. How many lives are saved by vaccinations every year? How many heart attacks and strokes are prevented by diet and exercise?

But what about prevention in the world of the elite athlete, and more importantly, the world of the weekend-warrior athlete. Elites have teams of people around them to keep them healthy. Weekend-warriors don’t, and are the people most affected by poor diet, poor sleeping hygiene, poor training balances; all preventable (and curable…) problems that just aren’t being picked up because…well because you haven’t got a team of professionals around you fussing about your health.

This is where I think InDurance really has legs. I’d love to see it prevent problems: prevent weekend-warriors’ training and racing going down the pan, just because they didn’t know any better. More selfishly, prevent me becoming unwell, and allow me to leave no stone unturned in the search of running far and fast. Come with me on this journey?

Microadventure – Forest

‘Microadventures’, a term coined by Alastair Humphreys: “Simple expeditions and challenges which are close to home, affordable and easy to organise“. What an awesome idea.

This year is the year of the microadventure, so my partner-in-crime and I decided we’d squeeze some adventure into our normal week, packed a sleeping bag and headed out into the woodland.

New Forest eveningNotice the horses on the horizon?

Easy to do adventures, with minimal kit is the key here. I took a cosy sleeping bag (PHD minim 500), a bivi bag (Terra Nova Moonlite), an inflatable matt (3/4 length thermarest), then chucked them in my very unadventurous bag and we’re ready to go.

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The weather was perfect; no cloud cover meant it was pretty nippy but we could bed down underneath the stars, not a view you often get to fall asleep to.

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imageHome from home

imageN.B. no stars here – this was at dawn…but you get the point…

Dawn woke us with a bunch of birds hollering more tunefully than I usually do during my morning shower, and we were treated to the unspoilt beauty of the forest.

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A quick brew (with a jetboil) and a banana in the forest; packed up, back home for breakfast, then out cycling for the rest of the morning. Feeling pretty content and adventured by lunch, with the rest of the day still to play with. Run along the beach? Maybe just some chill…

What are you waiting for? Get out and #microadventure

Struggling with injury

“I’m injured”.

Those are two words you never want to mutter. Especially when you’ve just been running better than ever before.

It started at the end of January: I had an amazing month, was knackered at the end so had a rest week, then bizarrely my knees were feeling a bit achey, a bit tight. They hadn’t done this before. It was odd. I took it easy, did lots of stretching. I didn’t go away.

Fine, I’ll take a day off. Surely that will fix it?

Yeah right, a day off, after 3 months of hammering myself, 2 ultras back-to-back, the last one being a 2 day 66mile hilly route? A day off wasn’t going to fix this. I’d pushed it and pushed it and my legs just weren’t quite ready to take that level of punishment.

After I couldn’t shake it off, I went up to see the guys at the Bosworth clinic. Tangent alert: When you find a good physio that you get on well with, stick with them. It applies to anyone in your ‘inner circle’; people you trust to help you, people whose advice you will take, even if its not want you want to hear.

I’ve been going to see Gordon and Paul at the clinic for a few years now, and in that time have built up a great relationship. They know me, what I can and can’t do, what I’m good and bad at (I’m horrendously inflexible, can only go in one direction and don’t like taking things easy); probably most importantly, I trust them. When I first tipped up at their door, I was getting injury after injury, and could just about wobble in a straight line for a long period of time. After a few months of stripping me back to the basics, and rebuilding everything I do from the ground up, I was running PBs at every distance and not getting injured. That was the proof I needed, these guys know what they are doing, and I was going to listen to them, and do exactly what they say.

So they told me to stop running. Complete lunacy! Stop running? This is the beginning of the season!? I’m running better than ever?! I can’t just stop now?!

But they were right, I’d massively overloaded my extensor mechanism and developed quadriceps tendonopathy because of it. Or hurty knee for short.

I needed to rest a bit, or at least active rest and not put more stress through it, and get on the rehab. A load of eccentric quad work, starting with bodyweight front squats, then sticking my heels up on a wedge (or my parent’s skirting board….) to put a bit more load through the knees, then eventually do it with some weight on my back before I could return to running.

I didn’t just stop dead. After a bit of rest, I was able to cycle without any pain. So I started with half hour turbos, then they got a bit longer, and now I’m doing 2hr rides and turbos without even thinking about it. All nice and easy, keeping an endurance base.

Four weeks ago I started front-squatting with just my bodyweight. Then I was able to do a front squat and hold it there for 30s seconds before standing back up. Then do that 5 times. Now I’m doing it with 120kg on my back. I think I’m improving.

I’m back to running too. A nice gradual return. I did a couple of 10 minute easy runs last week, and now I’m doing a whopping great 15 minutes at a time. No pain. Thats the crucial bit. And my god do my legs feel stronger.

I also don’t feel knackered the whole time. I dug deep over the winter, and needed to rest properly after. I can also look back and clearly see what was going on and what was going through my head. I’d been wound up so tight hell-bent on performing that the bigger picture had started to evaporate. I didn’t want to rest as I’ve got a marathon coming up, and wanted to run an ok time. But let’s look at the bigger picture, I don’t really care much for a good marathon time, I want to run 100 miles fast, not 26. And the 100-miler is in October, not April. So really, I’ve got time.

Yes I ran well in January, but I needed a better strength base, and now I’ve got that. I can translate that gym-strength into injury-proof running, and later turn my strength into speed.

Its been a great opportunity to do all the things I don’t have time for when I’m running properly. Socialise (I’m surprised I’ve got any friends left); relax a bit; enjoy cycling again; get ahead with medicine (if I get all my work done now, then when I am back to running, I can train like a pro…?).

Its also been an interesting time to learn about my own thought processes. Develop a better awareness of whats going on in my mind. To start with, I didn’t want to admit I was injured, running defined me, it was just what I did, and what I was good at. If I stopped running, then who was I? But that is a toxic mentality. If you’re coping mechanism in day-to-day life is exercise, or you let it completely define you, then when you get injured, you’ll fall to pieces. You are not just an athlete, you are a person. Yes, I am still a runner. Yes, I still love running. But I don’t need to centre my wellbeing around being able to run, and being able to run well. Yes I want to explore my boundaries and I want to perform to the absolute best of my ability, but I don’t need to win to be happy.

There is a subtle but crucial difference in there, don’t be on the wrong side of it.

Psychology in endurance sport is immensely powerful, and if we are willing to train physically for 20 hours a week, wouldn’t it be stupid to not spend an hour a week training our most powerful tool, our mind?

So for now its a gradual return; let’s not ruin all this good work by getting over excited…

I’ve been chomping at the bit for the last few days waiting to hear the result of the Spartathlon ballot. Why? Because I want to do this race. Really badly. Like really really want to do this race. It doesn’t claim to be much, except 246km through the high September sun in Greece, following in the footsteps of the ancient greek messenger, Pheidippides.

Its one of the originals. Its a classic. And of all the runners who have done it – most say its the most difficult and satisfying effort they’ve done. Period.

But I’ve not got in.

I made the qualification standards, but not through the ballot. Its a ballot, its random, this happens, but I still got a pang of disappointment in my stomach.

Let’s take a look at the other side of this though. I’m still young and trying to figure out how the hell you run these ridiculous distances…. time is on my side; I’ve got an awesome season coming up (which has started quite nicely); I’m racing abroad twice already at the Maxi-Race and CCC; not doing Spartathlon opens up the end of the season to do another race instead, learn more about myself, about pacing, about nutrition, more experience, become a better runner, finish with a bang. So I’m setting my sights on the Autumn 100, a chance to try and do the 100 mile distance properly, get it right, or at least learn more about getting it right.

I’ve done two Centurion Running events before, and they were faultless. Well the organisation was faultless, my running definitely wasn’t. So I know this will be a great event, and I’ll hold out for reasonable weather in mid-October. It won’t quite be Greek summer weather, but at least I’m used to running on muddy English trails in overcast and rainy conditions…

Today marks the day when I start running again after a mid-season break / recovering from injury / building a proper strength base / ironing out the creases – whatever you want to call it (more on that in the next blog…), and its the day when I know what the season looks like, know what the end goal is, know what I’m working towards, and I’m excited. Very excited. This is an awesome opportunity.

Can I go quick at the 100 mile distance?

Give blood, please.

We have busy lives. Training, working, playing. Fit, healthy individuals, full of ambition and energetic pursuit.

We don’t often get to see the other side.

We don’t often get to see that trauma patient, a mother, sister and daughter, caught in a traffic accident, who has lost most of their blood volume, teetering on the edge of life and death.

That man with cancer, holding their child’s and wife’s hands, together fighting this disease, now desperately in need of blood for some precious time.

That child with leukaemia; that child who is yet to live a life, innocently staring up in hope.

We, as athletes, don’t often get to see how crucial freely available blood is, how much it can help sick people. 

We meticulously plan, train, eat, sleep in search of that bit more performance, another race, another experience. But some people just aren’t as lucky as us. Yes we’ve fought for it, but so have they. And they’re fighting now. For their life.

Our blood, something to simple, so easily available, so replenishable, so completely free.

We’re the kind of people that would do extreme events and challenges for charity, raising money and awareness. So why wouldn’t we do something so simple to save a life?

Time is the most precious commodity in this world; we have it, they don’t. You can give it to them.

Let’s be role models. Show people a healthier, more vibrant, free, invigorating way of life. But without blood, some people just can’t have this life we are fortunate to lead, no matter how much they may want it.

Have I got your attention now? Then read on.

What about training?

Donating blood will affect your training, briefly.

A normal blood donation is just under a pint (470mls), about 13% of your blood volume.

So what’s in blood? Plasma – the fluid; red blood cells – which take oxygen around the body; white blood cells – part of the immune system to fight off nasties; platelets – which help the blood to clot; and proteins and other bits and bobs.

Although you can replace your volume very quickly, replacing all the cells takes a bit longer. Your white cells and platelets will return pretty quickly but it can take a few weeks for your red cells to be replaced.

Millions of red blood cells are made in the bone marrow and released into the bloodstream every day replacing old knackered cells. Red blood cells contain haemoglobin, an iron-rich protein that carries oxygen around your body. To make red blood cells and haemoglobin constantly, you need a healthy bone marrow, iron, and other nutrients and vitamins which we get from food.

Some of this haemoglobin and iron is lost in each donation, so to compensate, your body mobilises some stored iron, and increases the amount absorbed from food and drink. If you don’t recover properly afterwards, your iron levels could fall leaving you with an iron deficiency… which if not corrected, could lead to reduced haemoglobin levels, and iron deficiency anaemia. This will leave you feeling pooped.

Don’t panic, its easy to recover

With a healthy balanced diet, getting enough iron shouldn’t be a problem.

You can help boost your iron levels by eating a variety of iron-rich foods, such as lean red meat, poultry, fish, leafy green vegetables, brown rice, lentils and beans. Perfect. A great excuse to have a steak with some leafy green veg for dinner.

You can also easily replace the fluids you’ve lost by drinking lots (of water please, this isn’t an excuse to sink 5 lagers down the local…do that post-race some time) before and after donating.

Back to training

After donating, haemoglobin levels can return to normal anywhere between 20-59 days later. However, you can get back to training much earlier than that. Although I wouldn’t advise training straight after donating, a light session the next day won’t harm and soon you can be back to full training.

If you are stuck into some hard training or in your race season, then I wouldn’t advise donating now, but get yourself registered ready for when all the racing is done, and you’re relaxing during the off-season or getting some base training in.

Where to go

Register now here, or take a look here for your nearest centre.

The process is super quick and easy: you’ll first read a bit of information and do some health screening before getting your haemoglobin levels checked. Once thats done you’ll hop up on a chair (like this cheesy bugger below), get poked with a needle, then its time to sit back and relax. The bag will be full in 5-10mins then its tea and biscuits time before heading home!

Cheesy grin not manditory

I wouldn’t be smiling if it wasn’t easy…

So what are you waiting for? Save a life, give blood.

www.blood.co.uk

Who knows, you might even need some of this good stuff after coming off your bike…

Young, fit, healthy individuals. Perfect blood donors.

Red January

January = pre-season test month. See where we are. What we’ve got, and more importantly, not got. Practice nutrition. Practice pacing. Practice racing. Make mistakes. Learn now.

After a good bit of base at the tail end of 2014, rounded off with a christmas holiday wobbling over fells in the Lakes and Peaks, January was on. On in a big way. I felt fit, light, and ready to test the legs.

The month started well with my yearly jaunt round Tadworth 10, a local XC race – 7 minutes off last year, and 27 places higher coming in 10th/615. Getting there. Ultra = slow or ultra = speed?

Next up was Country to Capital. A great tester of fitness early in the season; you can’t really bluff 45 mile race (or 42… argue at will).

Shamefully, I’ve got lost in all 3/3 times I’ve done the race. “Map? I won’t need this” = “I’m lost and so is everyone around me”.

This time to avoid being a mug for the 4th time I ran the more-difficult first half out-and-back a couple of weeks before to properly make sure I wouldn’t go wrong. That ended up being a 70k run in just over 6hrs. I seemed to be getting faster.

After cramming carbs down my throat for a few days following the instructions of Helen Money, our in-house nutritionist, I seemed pretty set, rested and uninjured. I believed I could break 6hrs. I’ve been trying to break it for a couple of years now, rolling in previously with 6:38 (22nd), 6:16 (14th) and 6:22 (23rd).

The first half of the race brought us some joyous blizzard weather with some of the ground still frozen so we could make good progress. January is for testing, not performing. This is a training race. So I duly experimented trying to find what’s going to work for me. The first half was for fueling. Eat, drink, pee and don’t get lost. Simple?

I was sitting quite happily in 5th with some trail blazers up ahead out of sight when we hit the canal – pretty much the half way point where the terrain is easy-going into the finish. After-burner time.

I felt ok, nothing special, just kept pushing seeing what the legs had in them. Then things started going quite well. While I was concentrating on eating, drinking, peeing and not getting lost, the guys ahead seemed to have been pushing it and were now suffering. Slowly, one-by-one, I’d see one of them in the distance up the tow path, reel them in then push past. As time went on I felt better and better, digging down into knackered legs and just kept accelerating. Just before the final check-point I took the lead, which to be frank, scared the Jesus out of me. I wasn’t expecting this. Oh well, this was my race to lose now. I ran for my life.

Some 45 grueling minutes later I staggered over the finish line only a minute ahead of the guy in second. I couldn’t believe it. This was the second race I’d ever won, this time against a big field, in a race I’d been coming back to year after year. And I’d broken my 6hr target. By 53 minutes. Happy doesn’t come close.

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I felt on fire. Got straight back into training. I was invincible. 3 days of semi-failed training later and a calf niggle, I realized I’m really not invincible. Or anywhere close.

I headed out to the Tri Training Harder base in Portugal for The Team weekend to meet all my new teammates, and the ultra-runner could hardly run. I was crashing and burning in a big way. That effort had taken more out of me than I thought.

The Team weekend was amazing. Mixing with some really inspirational and talented athletes (albeit triathletes…I suppose someone’s got to do that sport!) and getting to know the Integrated Support Team guys from the Bosworth Clinic really well – an amazing set up for the year.

Team with wetsuits and bike

By the time I got back I was pooped, and getting set to hit the 3rd race for the month…the XRNG Pilgrim Challenge. 66 miles in 2 days over the North Downs Way. This was home terrain, having done the Centurion NDW100, so I knew the course, knew it was hilly and would trash the legs, and knew it would be muddy as hell.

Was this going to push me over the edge? I was red-lining it for sure. On the edge of an injury and knackered. But hey, January is for testing right? Could I make it 3 wins out of 3 ultras?

Mini-taper and carb load later – I toed the line with Danny Kendall, UK ultra running legend…. This was going to be a hard weekend out. If Danny was on form, I knew I didn’t stand a chance. But its racing, things can always go wrong, and after all, I just wanted to see what I could pull out the hat.

I spent Saturday running through the snow, sleet and rain wanting to curl up in bed. I jumped on the turbo Saturday evening to ease the legs out, refueled like a boss, slept well and shook the legs out Sunday morning back on the turbo before heading up to Sunday’s start. I felt fired up. Ready to give it everything. Dig deep.

Turbo

I’d lost 26 minutes to Danny on the first day, and was 8 behind Edward Kerry (The Run Doctor) in 2nd. If I had a screaming day, and they had hard days, I was in for a chance. What really happened is I spent Sunday feeling pooped, and they both ran like kings. Danny broke the course record, Ed came in 40mins behind and I followed 20 minutes later.

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But January is for testing, practicing, learning. Nutrition worked perfectly, and so did kit. So really, it was a success.

2 podiums in 2 weeks? I’m a very happy, but tired man. That effort at C2C took a lot of digging, and took a lot out of me. At least I’ve learnt where I’m at for the beginning of the season, and it’s a damn sight better than last season.

Fail harder now. Succeed easier later. Great YouTube video. A sentiment I had stuck in my head through January. Did it pay off? Hell yeah.

Now time to rest hard before getting to work properly.