The sports and ex­er­cise medicine doc­tor and ath­lete, on how to get the ba­sics of run­ning right with­out gad­gets

Trail Running (UK) - - Warm- Up - Pho­tos Colin Hen­der­son and Mer­rell UK Words An­drew Mur­ray

‘It’s the ba­sics of run­ning that are the foun­da­tions.’

You look as if you’ve raced al­ready mate,” came an un­wel­come com­ment from a fel­low com­peti­tor on the start line of the Kielder Marathon. He was right: I looked and felt sham­bolic. I’d come straight from a night shift, so had had lit­tle sleep and noth­ing de­cent to eat. Not even the ul­tra-light cloth­ing and in­cred­i­ble GPS watch I was wear­ing could save me. I ran a per­sonal worst and sulked all the way home.

I thought back to Kenya, where I had once spent a few weeks work­ing as a doc­tor with some Bri­tish and Amer­i­can ath­letes. In each of the last ten years, 90% or more of the world’s fastest marathon times have been run by ath­letes from ei­ther Kenya or Ethiopia. Mostly these are ath­letes from very mod­est back­grounds who would never have used the fancy po­tions and wrist-com­put­ers, promis­ing in­cred­i­ble ben­e­fits to per­for­mance, that ap­pear ubiq­ui­tous in the UK. “You guys make things so com­pli­cated,” one top Kenyan ath­lete com­mented as I logged a morn­ing run onto my lap­top.

Brother Colm O’Connell, coach to the likes of David Rud­isha and prob­a­bly the most suc­cess­ful coach of all time, agrees: “What my ath­letes need is a lack of dis­trac­tion. This al­lows them to train, eat and sleep.” The truth is that some­times fancy gad­gets can make a very mod­est dif­fer­ence, but in terms of bang for buck, the three things that are go­ing to get you that fin­ish­ers’ medal, per­sonal best, or even race win is train­ing hard and smart, eat­ing well, and sleep­ing ad­e­quately.

Per­haps we have been caught up by the pur­suit of mar­ginal gains, and taken in by ath­letes ad­ver­tis­ing alti­tude ma­chines, ex­pen­sive socks and high-tech gad­gets. You can guar­an­tee that any­one at true elite level will al­ready be train­ing ad­e­quately, eat­ing well and achiev­ing de­cent sleep, so any­thing that might give an ex­tra 0.1% be­comes a lot more rel­e­vant. Mo Farah trains as hard as the Kenyans, eats un­be­liev­ably clean and sleeps like a cham­pion. He’ll use some of the best science on earth, but will ab­so­lutely nail the fun­da­men­tals. It is the ba­sics of run­ning that are the foun­da­tions.

So, the good news is that you can put your credit card away. It’s get­ting back to ba­sics that will bring you suc­cess in 2017. Here are my five top tips for suc­cess…

RUN FAR Build up your miles, so that you are con­fi­fi­fi­dent you won’t hit the wall come race day. Most run­ners will do one long run per week, and build up the dis­tance grad­u­ally. RUN FAST Train your body to run fast at least once – but ide­ally twice – a week. This could take the form of hill reps, fartlek, or tempo. EAT WELL If it’s ad­ver­tised on TV, it’s prob­a­bly bad for you. 70% of ad­ver­tis­ing spend on food is ei­ther pro­cessed or sug­ary food. Get good-qual­ity pro­tein, fruit and veg­eta­bles into you, and only when you’ve earned carbs re­place them. SLEEP LOTS Aim to get at least seven hours nightly. Many of the world’s best av­er­age nine or even ten. Mess­ing around on Face­book on your phone won’t gain you any medals. CON­SIDER THIS Only once you have all of the above nailed should you think about splash­ing out on the fancy stuff. Im­por­tantly, there is also much to be said for en­joy­ing your run­ning. Many of us are mo­ti­vated by suc­ceed­ing and hit­ting tar­gets but, to be hon­est, be­ing happy and en­joy­ing the great green gym of the trails is what does it for me. So, for 2017, my plan is to get a de­cent kip each night, to avoid the dread­mill/stop­watch on the track and, above all, en­joy my­self and the trails.

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