Meet the sci­en­tist whose tips can turn you from couch potato to cham­pion

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - HEALTH - By TOM OUGH

If you ever find a bot­tle of or­ange squash-in­fused wa­ter be­hind a tree in the Chiltern Hills, don’t take it away: it might well be John Brewer’s, and it might be help­ing him through a dif­fi­cult train­ing run.

“If you’re get­ting tired of train­ing or rac­ing,” says John, “hav­ing some­thing sweet in your mouth can give you a men­tal or phys­i­o­log­i­cal boost that makes things seem a lit­tle bit eas­ier. It’s al­most like your body is think­ing, ‘Hey, here it comes!’”

So if he’s on a long run that loops back on it­self a few times, he’ll hide it be­hind a tree and take a sip each time he passes. “Rather than carry it all the time, I’ll have it ev­ery time I’m go­ing round. It’s a sim­ple thing to do that makes you per­form slightly bet­ter.”

Brewer is one of the world’s lead­ing marathon sci­en­tists and is full of tips like this. I’m grate­ful for them: he and I are dis­cussing long-dis­tance run­ning over the course of a four-mile jog in the Chilterns, and as he scam­pers nim­bly up a steep hill it’s be­com­ing in­creas­ingly dif­fi­cult for me to keep up.

No shame there: he’s 56 this year, but he’s a pro­fes­sor of ap­plied sports science, a for­mer ad­viser to the Eng­land foot­ball and cricket teams and a 19-time Lon­don Marathon

About the book

run­ner. To beat him on his own hilly turf would be like out-bak­ing Mary Berry. At least that’s what I tell my­self.

Brewer has just pub­lished a book in which he seeks to dis­pel false­hoods about run­ning and ex­plain to be­gin­ners of any age how they can im­prove their tech­nique quickly and eas­ily, es­pe­cially if train­ing for a marathon.

Think you need a good start to get a good time? Wrong: de­plet­ing your carb re­sources early is a ter­ri­ble idea. Reckon your train­ing should in­clude runs to­talling 40-50 miles a week? Wrong: for am­a­teurs, shorter sprints and one long weekly run should be enough. Think it’s all in the mind? You can’t out­run poor train­ing, slacker. And if you think marathons are bad for you, that you need to im­prove your gait, and that you should eat a trough’s worth of

John Brewer’s long-dis­tance tips

pasta the night be­fore the race, then you’re wrong, wrong, and wrong again.

But if you think run­ning will lower your choles­terol, blood pres­sure and risk of var­i­ous un­pleas­ant ill­nesses, and also lose you some body fat, then you and Brewer are on the same page. “If I can mo­ti­vate peo­ple to run marathons, great,” he says, “but if I can mo­ti­vate a few peo­ple to do some­thing shorter, then that’s good as well.”

Just like this. It’s a bright, mild day in the fields, warm enough for the leaves to still be on the trees but cool enough for it to be ob­vi­ous that it’s ex­er­tion, rather than heat, that’s mak­ing me sweat. I shouldn’t have worn cot­ton, Brewer says, be­cause it soaks up mois­ture and be­comes heav­ier; the light­weight flu­o­res­cent thing he’s wear­ing would be bet­ter for a race.

For­tu­nately, we’re not rac­ing to­day, and now that we’re on flat­ter ground I’m hit­ting a nice rhythm. What makes it all the more en­joy­able is that at a time when I’d nor­mally be in the of­fice, I’m in­stead breath­ing fresh air un­der open skies. “I’m a big ad­vo­cate of run­ning out­side rather than in a gym,” he says. “The en­vi­ron­ment changes all the time, so the trees will be a dif­fer­ent colour, and often you en­counter kites hov­er­ing and screech­ing.”

He’s a good coach, and while he dis­ap­proves of my break­fast — “Crisps and hum­mus?! I’d be gen­er­ous to give you two out of 10” — he re­as­sures me that my don­key-on-ice run­ning style is all right. “Your body tends to know what is nat­u­rally right for it, and you’re run­ning in a way that’s right for you.” And he has some good ad­vice for how to cope with hit­ting the prover­bial wall: “Just try to change your stride length, be­cause there’ll al­ways be some en­ergy in the mus­cles, and that’ll start to find a few ex­tra re­serves of fuel that you haven’t been us­ing in your stan­dard stride.”

Even if you haven’t run for decades, Brewer says you can work up to it. “Start with a walk, find a friend to do it with if you can, and build up grad­u­ally.”

Cit­ing cham­pion oc­to­ge­nar­i­ans like Ed Whit­lock and Gwen McFar­lan, he says the vet­er­ans cat­e­gory will see plenty of records bro­ken over the next few years; older run­ners, he says, are men­tally stronger than their ju­niors.

“Do we stretch now?” I ask, teacher’s pet­tily, as we reach the car and slow to a walk. “If you want to, yes,” he replies, “I sup­pose, the­o­ret­i­cally we should … but we haven’t been go­ing very fast.” I’d bet­ter start train­ing.

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