You must respect the spikes

22 July 2015, 15:18 New track spikes

Remember a few weeks ago I told you about the new track spikes I bought? Well, this isn't an issue with these specific spikes, nor how they're suited to my particular feet or gait, but more of a general issue with track spikes that no one ever told me:

You must ease in to running with the spikes (pins) in!*

I've spoken with countless people over the past three weeks, some experts in athletics, others ex-national level athletes, and some coaches and physios, and they've all said the above. Pity no one told me this before I did my warmup, drills, and 4x 800m with my spikes in a few weeks ago, having abruptly ended the session after the 4th when a sharp, shooting pain appeared out of nowhere on the ball of my right foot, just under the big toe joint.

I was smart/experienced enough to stop immediately, unscrew all the pins, and gingerly try another lap with just the plain spikes, but it was clear that nothing, not even going barefoot for a cool down, was going to help the pain. My coach, Barbara, is also a physio, so she had a good poke around the next day and told me to ice, elevate and rest it, but assured me it was not displaying the signs of a stress fracture.

So I grudgingly rested for the week. And the next. I am neither patient, nor good at resting, and it was bad timing that this meant I had to travel all the way out to Coventry for the final Team GB training day, but sit out the actual training. After two weeks of nearly constant, low level pain whenever I stood, walked, or even sat down, my patience was beginning to wear thin, and my ability to cope with stress and sleep properly was also eroding along with my lack of running.

Foot wrapped in tape
Note Barbara's choice of tape to cheer me up, ha!

I saw Barbara again two weeks after the incident, and this time she taped up my foot to hold the tendon a bit more secure - it had hurt the most when I try to raise my big toe (ie: when my foot is behind me while running or walking), so taping it felt a bit like a sports bra for my foot - not holding it rigid, but giving my brain a subtle clue to not bend it quite so much when I walk, and extend my Achilles more instead. To be honest, I've never been a massive believer in kinesio tape, but that day was the first pain-free day I'd had in two weeks, and it gave my foot enough of a break to attempt a short 3km run the following Tuesday.

I can't say that that run was 100% pain-free, but it certainly wasn't an alarm-ringing, "omg you must stop immediately!" sort of pain, either. Considering the detrimental effects Not Running had been having on my stress, anxiety, and sleep levels, I figured it'd be better for me overall to finish the 15min easy run than to stop and feel broken, dejected, and frustrated on a bus instead.

In terms of timing, it's not been great considering I've got the British Transplant Games in Newcastle next weekend (3km road race then 1500m, 800m, 400m, and 200m on the track), and the World Transplant Games in Argentina in four weeks, but now that I'm on the upswing, it feels like both of these are achievable, especially since I've not lost any strength training workouts during my unscheduled rest.

* The consensus seems to be that you should only run the last rep at the end of a session with the spikes (pins) in, and certainly no more than 3-4km even after you've built up over a few weeks. And after a long break (such as winter), you need to build up again. Because, as I can attest, everything feels perfectly fine until it doesn't!

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Varied shoes for varied running

18 September 2014, 17:33

I swear I used to be a runner that just owned one pair of running shoes. But somehow over the years I seem to have accumulated a bunch of different pairs, each of which has a different purpose in my training schedule.

New Balance Minimus Road Shoe (10v1, zero drop)

NB Minimus Road
I wear these for… Tempo and Threshold runs, like Run dem Crew. These are extremely light road shoes, and they’re best for anything fast.
What I like: They’re super lightweight, they’ve got a really wide toebox so my toes can splay as wide as they possibly can and still not touch the sides! They’ve also got an integrated tongue on one side so they’re really comfortable with no chafe points.
What I don’t: The sole is designed for the road, but they’ve got crap traction in the rain. My feet also get super sore from the impact if it’s anything longer than 10k (I’m still building my foot strength!).

New Balance Minimus Trail Shoe (1010v2, 4mm drop)

NB Minimus Trail
I wear these for… Summer trail running mostly, though before I got the road-specific pair above, I did all my road mileage in these, including running London marathon.
What I like: Like the other Minimus, these have got a great, wide toe box and the mesh on top keeps my feet nice and cool. There’s more grip to the Vibram soles on these, too, so they’re fine with a bit of Hampstead mud.
What I don’t: If you run on the road too much, the soles really wear down to nothing pretty quickly, and this particular pair had a hard bit of stitching by the forefoot that wore into my right foot for about 6 weeks (a previous pair of the exact same style didn’t have this issue).

Brooks Pure Drift

Brooks Pure Drift
I wear these for… Long distances on the road.
What I like: We bought these specifically because my poor, tender feet were getting overly sore from running anything over 10k on the roads in minimalist shoes. I got black toenails just from the impact forces in London marathon, and we wanted something that was still minimalist, but with some better forefoot cushioning. It took two tries to get the sizing right, but these have also got an adequately-wide toe box. I also love the knobbly laces, which just don’t budge even if they’re only single-knotted.
What I don’t: They’re ever-so-slightly too short for my big toe, which rubs a little bit at the end (but the next bigger size was way too big in the forefoot, making me slide all over the place!). Oh, and the pink. Pitiful (ie: no) choice in colours for women.

Puma Complete Haraka Cross Country Spikes

Puma XC Spikes
I wear these for… Track! Even though I originally bought them for cross country, which it turns out I hate.
What I like: These are lightweight, flashy, and have fantastic traction for the track, even without the spikes in.
What I don’t: My poor toes feel squished together as they’ve not got enough room to splay fully when I land, meaning I tend to get blisters between my toes after long sessions.

UnderArmour SpeedForm XC Trail Shoes

UA Trail Shoes
I wear these for… Winter trail running, when the mud is up to your knees!
What I like: They look totally bonkers, but I love the high tops – they give great ankle support and I’m never worried that I’ll lose a shoe in a bog. They’re also surprisingly lightweight, have a stretchy toebox, and a good, grippy sole.
What I don’t: The sole gets worn down very easily if you have to run on pavements to get to the trails, and they’re an absolute bugger to get on and off when they’re caked in mud!

What about you? How many running-specific shoes do you have? Surely I’m not some crazy outlier here, right?

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My new favourite speed combo

14 July 2014, 14:27

Unfortunately of late I’ve got lots to say, and not enough time to say it! I find myself composing posts on my slow and solitary runs, but then when I’m back at my computer, the paid work and writing for my sewing business takes precedence.

I don’t often talk explicitly about my sewing patterns here, but you’ve seen enough of them in my race photos, and I wanted to show you my new favourite running set.

The top is my latest pattern, the VNA Top, made with three different wicking fabrics that happened to coordinate absolutely perfectly when I put them together. I had only a tiny bit of the geometric print leftover from the top, but it was enough to pair with some black Suziplex wicking lycra to make a pair of my Duathlon Shorts in the “booty” length. If you’re interested in the fabrics or sewing details, I’ve posted in great detail over at Or if you don’t sew yourself, get in touch if you’d like to commission me to sew you something.

teal mixed print VNA set

These were taken this morning before (left) and after (right) my interval session along the river this morning. It was hot enough at 8:30 that I was thankful for the shorts, and the extra silicone elastic I added to the hems to keep them in place (as an aside, this is a super easy fix to store-bought shorts that ride up!).

I’ve only got a month left now until the British Transplant Games, where I’ll be defending my double gold medals in the 3km “mini marathon” and 1500m, but also running the 800m, 400m, and 200m. So hence all the speed intervals and track sessions! But I can’t afford to give up my long runs, either, as I’ve got Berlin marathon looming at the end of September, too…



Packing for a long run

25 February 2014, 12:20

I had a request from Rebecca to talk about what I pack for my long runs, so I thought it was a great point to explore since my supplies have evolved over the last several years.

My bare minimum I take for a run (of any length) is my phone and my Oystercard (London transport card – so I can get home should anything go wrong). If I’m wearing a jacket, these will usually go in a pocket, otherwise, they can both fit happily into an armband. When I first started running long runs (I’m going to qualify these as anything over 90min), I pretty much just added water into this mix, usually in the form of my favourite lady Camelbak (see here). This was easy as I was running my long runs around the river, starting and ending right outside home, so I didn’t really need much for the journey there or back, and as soon as I got in the door I could eat or drink something.

OMM backpack mid run

Things became a bit more complex when my trainer started making my long runs hill sessions, too – there obviously aren’t any hills along the river, so I now needed to travel up to Hampstead Heath for my runs. Getting there consisted of a 1km jog to London Bridge, then a 40min tube ride, and then another short run to the park. In the summer, I travel light, only really needing to add an armband pocket with a gel or two, and some cash to buy a bottle of water and a snack for the ride home. Oftentimes I’d fit this into my trusty Camelbak, but I recently bought an Inov-8 waistpack to give me a bit more storage space (mostly for larger snacks, as I’m trying to mix up gels and “real food” for my fuel).

Innov-8 waist packInnov-8 waist pack

I’ll admit – I was surprised at exactly how big it is when it arrived, but I’ve taken it on a few test runs when fully packed and it stays out of the way of my arms and doesn’t bounce, so it seems like a winner!

My default for winter long runs, however, is to wear my OMM running backpack. I’m not exactly a tiny girl, but I’ve got the various cinches and sliders on the absolute shortest and near-smallest settings and it stays very nearly bounce-free, providing I pack it with the contents tightly at the bottom of the bag. I’ve found that it really weighs me down for speedwork, but for my long runs, it doesn’t really make too much of a difference when I’m already trudging up hills in ankle-deep mud into a headwind!

OMM backpack

I probably do the girl thing of overpacking, but my main reason for needing the backpack in winter is so I’ve got a jacket to put on after my run – otherwise I get really shaky, yellow-fingers numb and cold on my tube ride home, which is not a good thing!

So for the typical wintry Saturday long run (anywhere between 2-3hrs at the moment), I’ll pack:

  • Phone

  • Oystercard

  • Chapstick

  • Tissues

  • Plastic bag for my phone in case it starts raining

  • keys

  • Headphones

  • Water bottle with nuun inside

  • Banana

  • 1-2 gels or Shotbloks

  • Baggy of whatever run fuel from Feed Zone Portables I made the day before

  • Jacket for afterwards

  • Dry gloves & hat for afterwards

  • Spare phone battery

  • Skratch hydration powder sachet (to mix with a bottle of water afterwards)

  • Cash to buy water or a candy bar afterwards

As you can see, I’m not exactly packing light! I’ve been carrying a fair amount through all my toughest training runs, which should hopefully make things feel much easier when I’m off racing the next consecutive three weekends(!). But that’s the point of training hard, right – to make race day feel easy in comparison.

My first race is Bath Half this weekend (where I’ll really only need to carry my phone and a gel or two), then the weekend after I’ve got Flatline (where bags are stashed at the top of the hill) and the Marrowthon 10k (just my phone for anything under an hour), but the third weekend is the Spitfire 20 miler. I had been hoping to use it as a dress rehearsal for London marathon, but there are fewer water stations at Spitfire than the (really, almost excessive) every mile water stations at London, and also fewer cheering stations for friends to resupply me, so I may wear my Innov-8 pack even though I probably won’t for the big day itself.

I know I’m not alone in running with backpacks – I see an awful lot of run commuters and weekend long runners wearing them, too, but what’s everyone’s view on bringing supplies along on race day?

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Feed Zone Portables: book review and road test

26 September 2013, 12:17

I don’t tend to buy many “books about running”, but I’m a total sucker for cookbooks, so when my husband alerted me to the fact that there’s a new cookbook out specifically for food to eat while cycling or running, I was intrigued.

Then, after skimming through the introduction on Amazon’s “Look Inside” feature, I realised I was taking screenshots of pretty much every page, so I broke down and bought it.

Feed Zone Portables

Yes, it’s primarily a cookbook, but the first 50 pages are possibly the best, and most easily understood description of basic sports nutrition principles that I’ve ever read, and completely worth the price of the book alone. It’s written by a chef for the US cycling team and a PhD in exercise physiology, so you get a ton of Actual Science about carb deficits, calorie burn rates at various running & cycling speeds, glycogen storage capacities, etc. There’s a disastrous amount of psuedoscience in pretty much everything I read about exercise in the media and online, so just the fact that they’ve cited the studies makes me sit up and take notice.

They also explain how your GI tract works and how exercise affects it, why coconut water isn’t a great sports drink, why liquid calories are not the same as solid food calories while on the run, why some people get diarrhea when taking gels, and the difference between pre-packaged energy bars and home-made bars.

I respect the last point most of all, because there’s clearly not much scientific research going into it, so these guys just bought up everything they could find in the store, and analysed the carb, protein, fat, calorie, and fiber content, the percentage of the ingredients which sounded like “real food”, and tallied all these up in a spreadsheet (these guys really like spreadsheets!). As it turns out, the main difference between the bars you buy (even the nice ones, like Nakd) and the bars you make is the water content. This makes total sense, as you need water to stay hydrated and to digest the solid food, but shelf-stable foods need to be dry, of course, so they’re actually dehydrating you while you eat them!

So having read through all this, I was pretty fired up to try some of the recipes and test it out on the run.

The recipes are largely broken into: Rice cakes (soft, not crunchy), baked eggs, tiny pies, cakes & cookies, waffles, and little sticky bites. There’s a good mix of sweet and savoury options, loads of vegetarian recipes, and a lot are gluten-free, too. They’re also really mindful of using common ingredients, so I went straight for the tiny apple pies, since I had just been given some cooking apples from my in-laws’ garden, and I had everything else on hand already.

There are four crust options for the Two Bite Pies, and I used the “Traditional Pie Crust”. I do a fair amount of baking, but I always buy pie crusts because it seems like too much work. But I actually made the crusts here, since it used the food processor and was actually pretty easy, too. Each recipe makes 12 crusts (which can be frozen), so you can either fold them like Cornish pasties, or do as I did and stuff them into muffin tins.

Tiny apple pies - composite

The filling was enough for 10 pies, so I threw together some chopped fresh fig, blackberry jam, and goats cheese for the other two crusts. I made these on a Wednesday, and by Saturday I was lucky to still have some left, because these were really freaking tasty. Or, in the book’s terminology, they “passed the sofa test”.

To see if they passed the road test, I enlisted the help of my friend Murdo to help me eat the pies on our 20km run (what a guy!).

Pie carrying methods

The only real problem is that they’re a bit awkward to carry – I tried first to put them into a stretchy belt I have, but they bounced so badly I had to tie them around my Camelbak after the first kilometer. If I’d make the turnover crust, or sticky bites, or cookies (or if I had my jacket pockets), I don’t think it’d have been an issue.

Murdo & his tiny pie

We brought out the pies at about 10km in – Murdo was restrained and ate his in several bites for the next two kilometers, but I wolfed my down in one go.

Melissa & her tiny pie

Both of us loved the taste, neither had any stomach issues, and the crust and filling were moist enough that he didn’t even need any water, either (I just drank my usual few sips). It was our only fuel for the run, though to be fair, I often run that distance without anything at all so I wouldn’t necessarily need it (but a tiny pie midway through really helps boost morale!). So these definitely got two thumbs up! I also had my husband taste-test one after his cycle ride, and he agreed they were pretty freaking tasty little pies.

So the verdict is that, after reading the book, I now understand a hell of a lot more about what my own body needs (and can handle!) during a long run, and I’ve got a ton of tasty and versatile recipes to try out during marathon training season this winter.

There are some free recipes from this book available here if you want to try these for yourself!

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