Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Why are women scared of the weight room?

For a lot of women starting out on a weight loss programme or just looking to get fit, the weight room is a place they avoid like a man avoids cleaning. On their quest to slim down, the worry of becoming a female Arnold Schwarzenegger keeps them as far away from pumping iron as possible. However, by doing this, women may be missing out on huge health, fitness and weight loss benefits.

Why do most women think that touching a weight will make them look like this?
Muscle, the fat burner
It’s been highlighted in some of the previous posts, that, muscle uses energy even when you’re not doing anything. So, it would make sense that, the more muscle you have, the more energy you burn throughout the day. To put it in simple terms, if two people did exactly the same amount of work during the day but one had slightly more muscle, then that person would use more energy during the day.
The problem comes when you start to do lots of cardio and lots of dieting. When you do this, as well as water and fat, you start to lose muscle, which isn’t good. So, even if you don’t want to be bursting out of your t-shirts any time soon, it’s essential to do some resistance work to minimise your muscle loss.
Muscle, the injury preventer
If you move, at all, you are at risk of injuring yourself, you only have to see how many “accident claim” adverts there are to realise that people are always slipping, tripping and falling over. So, if your muscles and connective tissues are more tissue paper than...than...well, something tougher than tissue paper, you might end up with a serious injury.
Weight training can toughen up those muscles and connective tissues (ligaments and tendons) and so reduce that risk of injury. So, hit the weights to avoid being the next person in that annoying accident claim advert.
I hate those injury lawyers adverts. Anyway, has anyone
ever actually slipped on a banana peel?

Muscle, the stabiliser
When you had your first bike it probably came with two little wheels on the side that stopped you falling off and wobbling all over the place. Your muscles do exactly the same thing and they are doing it all the time. When you move your muscles constantly make minor adjustments to keep you up right. If you want to know this processes actual name, it’s proprioception, just in case you were curious.
Simply then, if you start to waste away this muscle, you’re removing the stabilisers. Obviously you’re not going to start falling and stumbling like Babmi on ice, not now anyway. But as you get older, it will definitely become an issue.
Still scared of the weight room
The title of this post might point at just the weight room but muscle gain can also be built from exercises that don’t use weights. Resistance training that uses body weight is great because you can do it anywhere, although firing out some press-ups at the bus stop will draw strange looks from passers-by.
It was said at the beginning, weight training or resistance training will not make you bulk up into a muscle machine, which requires lots and lots of training and nutrition. It will though help you burn more fat and rescue the chances of you getting injured.
So, ladies, forget hiding away from the weight room or some resistance training.
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Sunday, 30 October 2011

Running my first race in the dark

Last Friday I ran my first race that took place in the dark, in the Skeleton Race in Loughborough. It was another great experience to add to the small number that I’ve already had in running. As well as being my first race in the dark it was also the first race I’ve don’t that didn’t take place in the morning so the preparation was completely new. (I did want to put some pictures in but it turns out that there wasn't anyone taking pictures that you can buy)
First things first, preparation
I really wasn’t sure what to do during the day; should I go for a gentle run in the morning? What should I eat, when should I eat? I think I could have done a little more research than I did but in the end I went for doing nothing in the day and pretty much ate as I normally would; I had couple of pieces of toast for breakfast, early lunch and then an early dinner. Even though I could have known a little more about what I should have been doing, I made a plan. I think this is important for everyone to do for every race, no matter what your ability. Remember; fail to plan, then plan to fail.
Committing a cardinal sin, again
If you’ve read some of my other posts (if not, then why not?) then you might have stumbled across my post about my last race and committing some of the “cardinal sins of road running”. Well, on Friday I committed a big one; I didn’t warm-up. To make it worse, it was a freezing evening, making injury a huge risk.
Once the race started I could feel how stiff my muscles were and it took them about a mile to warm-up. Even though I didn’t end up injured, I think, in fact I know, that I would have had a better time if I had warmed-up.
Head torches
The problem about running in the dark is that, well, it’s dark. Race rules said that all runners must carry a torch or wear a head torch (I opted for a pretty cheap head torch). Friday was the first time I had run with it (another slap on the wrists for me, I know) and let me tell you, it’s tough to run in the dark with a head torch that doesn’t offer much in the way of light and that bounces around your head.
When the race started there was, like you’d expect, lots of runners lined up ready to go. That meant that there were lots of head torches lighting up the way. After about a mile, there were less people around me, meaning less light, and after about 2 miles there was no one in sight in front or behind me......I was all alone.
Nearly getting lost
So, 2 miles down, I’m on my own and I’m coming up to a marshall. They shouted at me which way to go, I went in the direction I thought they said and they had to shout back that I’d gone the wrong way, I had to turn around and mumbled a few unpleasant words. After that my faith in the marshalls went right down. At each turn I started physically pointing and asking which turn I had to take.
I came to a turn at about 4 miles and the marshall shouted something but I wasn’t sure what it was. I headed down a path but wasn’t 100% it was the right way. The course was supposed to be marked out with glow sticks but I didn’t see one for a few minutes, I began to think the worst.
 As I started to think that I was lost, there was a moment where I think logic evaded me. It might have just been that I was tired and not the fact that I thought I had gone the wrong way and was lost. There was a single moment that I thought if I was lost then I would stay in the same spot and wait to be found, until I realised that I could just turn around I go back in the direction I had come in.
Coming across the finish
Turns out that I wasn’t lost and I hadn’t gone down the wrong path. The glow sticks started appearing again and I had started to gain on the person in front of me. I could see the finish up ahead to switched on the after-burners and tried to catch up the guy in front. I pushed as hard as I could but left it too late. I wasn’t too disappointed though as I had still come 9th   (out of ~250), easily my highest finish in a race.
9th place, lessons learnt and an enjoyable first race in the dark, all topped off with a toffee apple at the finish because it’s so close to Halloween.  

Friday, 28 October 2011

Is the Government doing enough to tackle obesity?

The number of obese and overweight people across the UK is incredible; nearly 70% of the population now fill this category. Yet the government does not appear to be facing up to this issue and trying to reduce the high numbers of deaths linked to obesity each year. Compare this to the number of deaths caused by things like drink driving or smoking and how much government money has gone into reducing these and it doesn’t look like we’ve been getting value for money.
Drink driving and speeding
Everyone has seen that drink driving advert with the barman playing all the different roles and playing out that other bloke’s life if he has another drink, I bet most people even know all the words (I know I do!). Or what about those adverts about speeding with the little girl saying “if you hit me at 30mph....” in that cute voice that makes you feel guilty about speeding. I haven’t got exact figures but I bet these campaigns weren’t cheap.
"....So, what's it going to be?"

So, given the effort by the government, you would think that this is a major contributor to the number of deaths in the UK each year, easily in the thousands. Yet, the total number is only in the low hundreds.
What about smoking?

This images are shocking, would you buy a McDonalds
if similar pictures were on their packets?

Smoking has long been a big problem in the UK and comes with lots of bad consequences, just like obesity. It accounts for around 80000-100000 deaths in the UK. To reduce this, the government seems to have done an awful lot; there have been TV adverts, there are those disgusting pictures of diseased lungs on cigarette packets and there is even a smoking ban in workplaces. This amount of effort to reduce the number of smokers is, no doubt, an expensive measure, a lot more money seems to be spent on this than has been spent on the issue of obesity.
I don’t want to get into a huge moral debate about what lives are more valuable than others nor am I saying that the money spent on these campaigns has been wasted.
So, what’s being done about obesity?
As I’ve already said, 70% of the UK’s population is now overweight or obese. That’s nearly 70% of the population that have an increased risk of coronary heart disease, strokes, type 2 diabetes and even some cancers. Over time, and even already, this will put a huge strain on the NHS.  Cardiovascular disease is the single largest killer in the UK and it has been proven through research time and time again that those that are physically fit reduce their risk. Why then, are the government not doing much to get Britain active?
On the official Number 10 website, the PM’s official page, not once does it mention reducing obesity as a priority. In terms of sport, the only priority seems to be hosting a successful Olympic games. Speaking of the Games, was this not supposed to be a springboard to get the UK into sport? I don’t think there has been any sort of surge in numbers taking part in sport or even more people interested in the Olympics.

The Change 4 Life campaign,
with the jelly baby people

I had thought that there was no government backed campaign to improve the health of the UK from exercise and a better diet. When doing some research though, I stumbled on the “Change for Life” campaign. Can you remember it? Their adverts have got what I think look like jelly baby people. I think the biggest testament to the success of this campaign is the fact that I, and probably you, could not even remember it, never mind any of the information it is giving.
I think it’s pretty clear that obesity is a big problem in the UK (no pun intended) and that something has to be done. What’s clearer is that the UK government is not delivering.
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Thursday, 20 October 2011

Commiting the cardinal sins of road racing

This Sunday I was in the Tamworth 10k, running my first race in over 6 months (You might have read my post about how my Pre-race Nerves ). After reading and preaching the do’s and do not’s of road racing, I couldn’t help but cross the line with disappointment. Knowing that I’d committed some of running’s cardinal sins.

The week before

It’s very, very easy to do what I did in the week leading up to the race. Do nothing. Hey, it’s taper time. All of the hard work has been done, I’ve put the training in and now’s the time to relax and not burn myself out before the race. I only managed to put in two runs in the week and the last one was on Tuesday, 5 days before the race. I hadn’t planned on not running again but if anything popped up I just gave up the run I had planned, thinking that it didn’t matter.
There is a lot of advice and research out there for tapering. There has been research saying that a 67% decrease in training is optimal, I’ve seen a study that showed a 90% decrease increased endurance and performance. What is agreed on in a lot of research though, is that the “do-nothing” approach to taper is non-beneficial. I knew this, but ignored it anyway, committing the first cardinal sin, not doing anything during taper.
The day before

An important thing in endurance events is energy; without any, you won’t be able to keep going. This is the basic idea behind the concept of “carbo-loading”. Carbohydrates are a quick releasing energy source that is used during endurance events, so if you take more in, you will have more to use during a race. Simple.
On the day before my race I had lots to do and had very little time to eat. This meant that I had no lunch or dinner and the only thing I ate between 5 o’clock and going to bed was a small tub (like one of those mini ones you get at the cinema, not a small tub that would feed 5) of vanilla ice cream, not the most nutritious of foods. And before this all I’d had was a banana and a piece of orange. Not eating the day before a race limits the energy available and so compromises performance. And so I had committed a second cardinal sin of road racing, not eating the day before.
The night before

There is some debate into the issue of sleep before competition, and for that reason I’m not going to call this a sin, but I got into bed after 12 o’clock the night before and I was up at 5am the next morning. I have seen in some places that performance may not be reduced by one night’s bad sleep and some places that say otherwise. I think it is down to the individual and all I can say is that, even if the lack of sleep didn’t affect my actual performance, it definitely played on my mind. Lack of sleep then may not be a cardinal sin, but it might take you off the road to success.
The race

So far, so bad, but still, I made it to the start line and my race performance was still mostly in my hands. I had warmed up well and lined up close to the front, ready to go. 5 – 4 – 3 – 2 – 1 – GO! And boy did I go and commit the ultimate of cardinal sins. I began running at a pace much faster than I had planned to run, more than a minute per mile quicker. And there it was, the third, and biggest cardinal sin, going off too fast.
Big finish! Not sure how, but
somehow, I got to the end

I was up with the race leaders for nearly 1km. At the time it felt like I couldn’t slow down but now I think it was more a case that I wouldn’t. I felt great, but that didn’t last. My chest and my stomach started to burn after only 2km and I was pretty sure I wouldn’t even finish. I had to slow right down and get recover a little. I eventually came over the line in 41:38, I had wanted to go under 40 minutes. The race was a good experience though and proves that knowing what to do and not to do in the build-up to and during a race is one thing, but getting them right on the day is another.

I committed three of the cardinal sins of road running. That’s not to say they are the only ones and I’m sure you have committed some of your own. Let us know which ones you have committed and if you suffered for it.

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Saturday, 15 October 2011

Pre-race nerves

Following a quiet summer and a tough few weeks of training, tomorrow I will be racing in the Tamworth 10k. This will the first time I have been in a race in around 6 months because of a knee injury that has kept me from pounding the pavements all summer. This will still only be my 7th race and my first at this distance; I’m still pretty much a beginner.
Going into tomorrow though, I have to admit, I’m nervous. Nervous about a few things; about not finishing if my knee starts to play up, not getting the time I want, I’m even nervous about getting to the race because this is first time I’ll be travelling alone. The more I’m thinking about it, the more I’m getting nervous. To make things worse, I’m playing in a football match today (stupid I know and a problem easily fixed, don’t play, but I have to), so I’m definitely nervous about getting injured.
Have I been here before?
In the races I have done before, there were nerves, but different nerves then what I feel now. In my first race, a marathon, the nerves were definitely concerned with not making the distance, a problem I’m not envisaging for tomorrow. Then I’ve done 2 half marathons where my biggest concern shifted from finishing, to time; the runner’s biggest enemy. So far, my battles with time have always seen me triumph, beating the times that I have set for races. Tomorrow? Well, I think that could be a different story.
Stepping up
Over the last 6 weeks or so, things have gone a little quicker than they were going before. My legs have been turning over a little quicker and all of my runs have a little faster. I’ve thrown in a lot more sprint work and I think it is doing wonders. All this has done though, is raise my expectations. The time in my mind that I have set is at a quicker pace than my previous race times would predict. Am I setting myself up for a giant, thumping fall then, or am I preparing for one of my biggest personal highs of running so far?
One of the best ways to get over nerves is to plan. As the old saying goes;
Failed to prepare? Then prepare to fail”
Obviously the most important preparation is training; there is no point expecting to break records if you haven’t took the time to train, and train well. For me, I can’t change what training I’ve done now. All I can do is look over my training plan and see whether training has gone well (which it has) or not. One day before the race though, the things that need to be planned and prepared are the little things that make race day run smoother than Barry White on ice.
What am I having for breakfast in the morning? What time is the race? How long does it take to get there? What facilities are there? What’s the weather going to be like? What food or drink will I want before, during and after the race? These are just some of the questions that have to be answered beforehand. Once these are answered, you can relax a little and concentrate on running the race.
When all’s said and done
Tomorrow, like many other runners every weekend, I will emerge in one of two states. I can crash and end in defeat, beaten by father time. Or, I will rise and triumph. Whatever happens, I’m sure I will be back at the start line again. Ready take on time, other runners and those ever-present nerves.
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Friday, 14 October 2011

Are there some people who will never care about their health?

We all know people that don’t exercise. We all know people who live their lives on a bad diet. Some of them are overweight and some are those ones that never put on weight no matter what they eat or how little they exercise. For the latter, it can be quite easy to think that because they are not overweight that they are relatively “healthy”. Fact is they are probably not. If your diet is poor and you’re not exercising, your health is suffering, regardless of the size of your belly.
Of these people that we all know who don’t exercise, ever, why is it that they cannot summon themselves of the sofa and out for a jog or down a local sports club or...just...well...anything. And what about those with a poor diet? Why don’t they put down that processed meal and eat something fresh or swap their takeaways for something that’s..... not a take-away? My question (a little like the title suggests) is; are there some people who will just never care about their health?
Some examples
Have a little think about some of the people you know who don’t exercise, do they fit into one of these? The bloke who used to play team sports until ~40 and hasn’t exercised since he finished? That person who never liked P.E. in school and has just never exercised, someone who is overweight and uses that as a reason why they can’t exercise or the office worker that says that they just haven’t got the time. 
What about the people whose diet reads with more Mc’s and ready’s than perhaps it should. We all know the mum without the time to make a dinner from scratch, the person who seems to always get a takeout or someone who would only ever get their 5-a-day in if banana milkshakes, cherry drops and strawberry ice cream counted.
Can they Change?
There are some people who yo-yo diet or that once a year might get into the gym. Forget those; we’re not interested, not today anyway. The people that we’re interested in are the ones that never do anything. Not a single thing.
Some people seem stubborn about not exercising and healthy eating. I’ve met more than one person who thinks it’s, and I quote, “sad” to lead a healthy life and that their unhealthy ways provide them with a much happier time on earth. Really? I’m not going to go and get the chez long and go all psychiatrist on you, but can anyone really say that a lifestyle is “sad” without ever trying it. I used to think that running seemed boring and, well to cut a long story short, I’m now out pounding the streets most days in the week.
It’s not just stubbornness that is keeping some people unhealthy; there are a lot of excuses that people chuck about. Time, money, effort....the list could go on.  But would these people use these excuses if they knew some of the facts?
Just 15 minutes of low intensity exercise a day can increase your life expectancy by 3 years. 15 minutes!!! Who can’t find 15 minutes a day to live longer? And that’s just one benefit of exercise. I’m not going to list all of the benefits here but would people make more of an effort if this sort of information was out there? I don’t think they would.
Is all lost?
Are some people unreachable, beyond hope? Are there some in the bewilderment of healthy lives, cast away in a world of gluttony, slobbery and laziness? I’m going to leave it here for know and let you think. I want to hear your thoughts. Can anyone do anything to change things? Do things need to change? Let me know at the bottom.
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Sunday, 9 October 2011

Have you been inspired by the Ironman World Chamionships?

Did you see any of the Ironman World Championships on Saturday? Our Brit Chrissie Wellington delivered the goods in the women’s race for her 4th title and Craig Alexandre took his 3rd World title. The times were phenomenal and these guys show just what the human body is capable of.
The Best
Craig Alexandre crossed the line in Kona in a time of 8:03:56, 12 seconds quicker than the previous distance best. His spits were; swim 2.4M - 51:56, bike 112M - 4:24:05, run 26.2M - 2:44:03. Let’s just put these times into perspective;  in the Speedo Open Water Swim Series swimmers raced for 2.2 miles along the Thames, downstream. The winner finished in 00:45:06. For 2.4 miles this would have got a time of about 49 minutes, only 3 minutes quicker than Alexandre and they didn’t have to worry about a 112M bike and 26.2 run after.
Craig Alexandre crossing the line to take the win in08:03:56

Correct me if I’m wrong (which I might be) but I think the World Record for 100M bike time is 03:27:05. That pace would give a 112M time of around 03:51:40. That’s only around 30 minutes quicker than Alexandre’s effort and for those who know anything about cycling, things like course and conditions are very, very important – the slightest headwind makes a massive difference. I’m not saying that this world record was done in more favourable conditions or on an easier course because I don’t know. But, if it was, it again makes Alexandre’s time even better.
Finally, Alexandre’s marathon time of 02:44:03. If you know anything about marathon times I know you will already be impressed. In this year’s Berlin marathon, the fastest marathon on earth and against marathon specific trained athletes, Alexandre would have finished a hugely respectable 226th. And that’s after he’s done an epic swim and a quad-busting cycle.

Chrissie Wellington - smiling, as always

Chrissie Wellingtons splits looked like this: swim - 1:01:03  bike - 4:56:53 run - 2:52:41. I could just as easily go through the ever-smiling Chrissie Wellington’s splits and show just how good they are but I won’t, you can just see for yourselves.
These figures are truly incredible. If you are an athlete or keep-fit enthusiast of any sort, you can’t look at those times without being in awe. The winners and top finishers of yesterday are inspirations, but so is everyone else who took part.
The Rest
First of all, I admit, I did not watch the whole race from start to finish without a break. That in itself would be an endurance event and if anyone out there managed it, well done, that is an achievement accomplishable only with training and dedication.
Of what I did see of the race, the part I enjoyed the most was the finish. Not the finish of the pro’s, but the finish of the people that were just happy to finish. Some of these people were amateur triathletes, some were just amateur athletes, and some were just ordinary people, some with a great story.
The person that was put in charge of welcoming and commentating on people over the finish line was great. He was enthusiastic and helped to make each person’s moment of triumph that little bit more special. As people crossed the line he addressed them by their name, cheered them on and called each an Ironman as they finished. He also shared a little bit of a back story of a few.
A couple of the stand-outs for me were a 71 year old man and a women that used to be overweight. The man was an Asian chap who clocked a respectable time of just over 14 hours. To be honest, I don’t think he cares about the time. He had this beaming smile as he crossed the line and was greeted with a huge cheer from the crowd.
I know that the women I mentioned used to be overweight because the commentator said so, not because I’ve got a biography of every finisher. I’m sorry that I can’t remember how much but the commentator said she had lost a lot of weight in training for the event and as she crossed the line she did this funky little foot shuffle.
If you’re reading this, first of all, thanks, but second, you can’t help but be inspired. I imagine that some people will see this and say, “well I couldn’t do that”. Fact is, you can. Most people could do this. The elderly Asian man and the overweight women didn’t have anything else except will and determination.
Whether you are an athlete that is stuck in the middle of the pack or someone that’s overweight or someone that’s clocked up a few years under your belt, this Ironman World Championship can’t help but motivate you. It has definitely put the thought in this writer’s mind about trying that little bit harder in training and even slighted tempting them to dabble into the world of triathlon.
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