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Cycling for Runners

Runners like to run. Getting most trail and ultra types to give another form of exercise a go can be difficult. Many of them are happy to do some yoga or core work, maybe even the occasional weights session, but for the most part we’re time poor and any opportunity we have to train we prioritise tying up the laces and legging it. However when it comes to race preparation, this isn’t always the best way to get the most out of your body. There’s one type of exercise that translates across to distance running perfectly, and that’s cycling. Yep, busting out the lycra, being hated by drivers and getting a sore ass may well be the best thing you can do for you.

The benefits of cycling include increased leg strength, increased total training time without the impact created by running, reduced loading of bones, improved cardiovascular endurance and injury reduction. What I like best about it is that due to the mechanics of it cycling not only makes a great alternative to running mountains (Which a lot of us don’t have access to) but it also means you can do the occasional ‘Mega day’ of training where you do a long run in the morning, smash some food and then jump in the saddle to rack up some more training – without the impact. This is particularly useful for preparing for 100km+ events because there’s only so much running your body can handle, however you might benefit from a couple 6hr+ training blocks (EG A 4 hour run followed by 2 hours on the bike).

Introducing cycling to your training should be done like any other new addition –gradually. Start by just spinning the legs on the trainer at the gym as your warm up and cool down. If you don’t have a gym membership, then when hitting the road it’s good to simply cruise for 40 minutes or so and get a feel for it on a recovery day. Across a few weeks you should slowly up the frequency, volume and intensity. The hard thing to do is know where to place cycling in your routine. It’s often best done as a value add, such as replacing a second run or instead of doing an easy day. One or two rides a week is ample, with one being up to 3 hours…only once you’re use to it and as an alternative to a run.

Cycling is also great for post race recovery or during the build phase of a training block. After any distance race it’s good to have time off from running, followed by slowly increasing your training load over several weeks. Cycling lets you keep active during your downtime while reducing the load on your body. It’s also ideal for incorporating with your running while slowly building the training load as you return to your normal regime. As the running increases, decrease the riding, but try to keep it in there, even if it’s just one hour a week.

Tips for newbies:

  • Get some cycling knicks. They’ll save your bootie.
  • The sore bum will subside! It might take a few weeks, but persist.
  • Sometimes you may get a sore neck from holding your head up to look down the road….like the sore bum, you get use to it.
  • Training on a stationary bike can be sweaty business as you don’t have air flowing over you. A towel on the floor and one for wiping yourself down are advised.
  • A light stretch afterwards is recommended as hamstrings and quads will stiffen up and the range of motion when pedalling is slightly less than when running.
  • Use music or a podcast to help avoid the boredom of using an indoor trainer.
  • If road cycling, find friends to join you. It’s safer and better for motivation.

England National Cross Country Championships

It was a coincidence, but a fitting one, that the latest This Girl Can campaign launched the Friday before the National Cross Country Championships. As I took off my warm layers and headed with the rest of my team through the club tents towards the start, a sea of men in coats parted as we strode through.

“Do you think this is what it’s like being in a girl band?” I asked my friend and teammate Laura. In my short shorts and club vest, I was certainly wearing less clothes than a member of Little Mix.

We had a 5 minute wait at the start in the cold, February wind but my Serpentine teammates formed a group hug to keep each other warm. That morning, as I’d eaten my porridge, a man from the Oxford English Dictionary had explained to a breakfast news presenter what the term ‘Squad Goals’ means. Maybe we could offer them this picture instead.

When the gun fired, more than 800 women charged up a hill. After the sweeping uphill start we rounded a corner and came down past the crowd who were loud in their support. The huge pack had spread out a little as runners found their position and it was possible to see more than a few steps ahead. And what I could see was the first water jump.

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The women ahead of me threw themselves into the dark, muddy water and up the slippery bank the other side, so I followed suit. The water was cold, the mud streaked down my thighs and I smiled as I imagined myself as one of the This Girl Can billboards with the caption “This is my idea of a mud pack.”

The Nottingham course was challenging: 8k in total made up of two laps, several water jumps on each lap, a leg-zapping sharp climb up to Woolaton Hall and some knee-deep boggy sections. These were my least favourite part. I’d seen juniors walking back earlier covered head to toe in mud and I realise now how it happened. As your foot plunges into the ground, the mud wraps itself round your ankle and tries to hold you back. Move ahead to soon before your foot is released and you’ll take a tumble.

There were a couple of long flats where you could relax and just run. I turned to a woman next to me on our second lap and said “This is fun isn’t it?” She paused for a few seconds and seemed to be giving it serious thought before replying “Yes, I suppose it is.” It certainly beats a Saturday afternoon in the supermarket.

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As we headed down the finishing straight a woman ahead of me turned to the crowd; her young daughter was cheering for her mummy. I hope that image of her mum sprinting down the finishing straight of the National Cross Country Championships will be a lasting one. And that she’ll know that ‘girl groups’ come in all shapes and sizes, and there’s more to aspire to than being in a pop group.

Shout out to my Serpies. Gotta get this mud out my hair.

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The Best Dogs for Runners!

Training partners make life on the run a little more enjoyable. It’s nice to have someone to share the trails with and talk to along the way. But sometimes the best running buddies come in the four-legged variety. Here’s our pick of the dog breeds that make the best choice for those that love to spend their free time legging it!

Weimaraner

They’re big, graceful and can run all day. Keep the water up to them as they can overheat in Aussie conditions.

Vizsla

Fast when you need it, but also endurance machines. Vizslas are a synch to train and keep under control on a leash.

Cattle Dog (Blue or red heeler)

The little Aussie battler thrives on attention and exercise. They can run all day and are about the smartest dog you’ll come across.

German Shorthaired Pointer

The ultimate running buddy! They’re mix speed with endurance and are good on and off road.

German Shepherd

Intelligent, obedient and protective of their owners. Shepherds are also easy to train.

Labrador

Despite their ability to get a tad heavy if over fed and under exercised, labs can go all day and love the attention.

Jack Russell

Don’t underestimate these pocket rockets. They have endurance to match most runners and are small enough for city living.

Husky

Bred for dragging sleds, these guys are tough, long distance machines….but only if you live in a cool climate.

Border Collie

Super smart, loyal and agile – perfect for trail runners.

Dalmatian

Made for endurance, these guys may not be bush-bashers, but they’re ideal in urban environments and parks.

Pug

These guys are not so much for when you’re training, more for keeping you company on the couch afterwards!

How far is it round the Emirates? And why does it matter?

For more than a year now, I’ve been coaching some of my run group sessions round the outside of the Emirates Stadium. It’s a good place to run: well lit, no traffic and a wide, flat loop. Early mornings and late evenings year-round there’s plenty of other runners, dog walkers and skateboarders to nod at as you run laps.

There’s just one problem with it – it seems to be in some sort of North London GPS vortex and getting an accurate idea of how far you’ve run, is a bit tricky.

I have between 12 and 20 runners in a session and many of them have GPS devises to measure their efforts, and all of them have the same issues. You know the sort of thing: a wildly inaccurate wiggly line on your map and paces that are much faster or slower than you’d expect to see.

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We know that GPS devises aren’t 100% accurate and they can play up from time to time, which is why you shouldn’t rely on them too heavily. The best way to get an accurate idea of your pace is with a measured distance (such as a track) and a stopwatch.

Of course, if you’re running the same loop or route every week, you don’t need to know how far it is to see if you’re getting faster. And my runners could compare this week’s 6x 1 lap of the Emirates to the same session a couple of months ago. But in order to see how your training pace measures up against your 5k or 10k pace, and to make sure you’re working at the correct effort, you’ll want to know the distance.

One of my group emailed the info address for the Emirates Stadium to ask them how far it was round the outside of their building. The answer came back “600m”. This was much shorter than the 800m that out GPS readings had generally been measuring and we were skeptical about both distances. We estimated that the true distance we were running was somewhere in the middle.

An architects’ plan would give the building’s ‘footprint’ which would probably be the distance the Emirates inbox gave us. But we run a few meters out from the outer wall of the building. And while running in a circle will usually give you a shorter GPS reading than is correct (because the GPS will assume you ran the shortest distance between two points) we knew from the paces it was giving that the 800m was too long.

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And that’s how I found myself, one very cold Thursday evening with another Laura, measuring the Emirates exterior with a trundle wheel. We measured the route my runners run close to the stadium and a larger loop that Laura runs, as well as the distances between certain statues. A runner was doing laps as we trundled round and was keen to find out our readings.

How far is it?

Inner lap (following the grate)
1 lap = 708m
Dennis Bergkamp to Tony Adams = 259m
Dennis to Herbert = 509m

Outer lap (running outside all statues)
1 lap = 803m
Dennis to Tony = 284m

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