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