What Are The Best Running Surfaces?

During my years as a pro, I trained on many different surfaces.

I ran on roads, grass and sand. On bark chip, trails and on the track. I even ran on mud roads and on treadmills from time to time.

While I certainly don’t run anywhere near as much as I used to, I still run a mix of surfaces when I do lace up my shoes and run. I believe it helps me.

Unfortunately, this doesn’t seem to be the case for the majority of runners here in Singapore.

Whether it’s a conscious choice or not, no matter where I look, people are running on concrete. They’re running the roads, the park connectors and the pavement like it’s the only option available.

But, what if it’s not the best option for every run?

In this post, I will discuss the pros and cons of the different running surfaces and make a case of varying the surfaces you run on each week.

What Surfaces Can You Run?

If you look at what the pros are doing – runners and triathletes – you’ll notice that they seem to favour running off the road to running on hard surfaces.

They also vary the surfaces that they run on, something that I am a huge advocate for.

While not an exhaustive list, here are some of the common surfaces that you can choose to run in Singapore and elsewhere.

Sign up for Coached running or triathlon programmes.

Roads and Pavements

Pros. The main benefit of running on the roads and pavement is the availability of these surfaces. Singapore is a concrete city so this option provides an endless supply of smooth, well-lit and always available running.

A hard surface also provides some benefit when training for a road marathon. The hard surface conditions your legs to handle the intense impact of running on such a hard surface for such a long time.

Cons. Hard surfaces are very unforgiving and increase the amount of shock transmitted up into your feet, legs and hips. This impact when delivered frequently can lead to shin splints and other injuries over time.

The other downside to running the roads is the constant stream of traffic (cars, bikes, pedestrians, e-scooters), fumes, potholes and traffic lights.

Each of these is a problem on their own that affect your health, safety and running experience.

Grass

Pros. Grass provides a more forgiving alternative to roads and pavements and provides a little respite for your ankles, knees and hips. Because the surface is softer, your muscles have to work a little harder than on the road and this builds strength over time.

On top of that, you tend to recover more quickly from runs on the grass because the impact of each stride is significantly less than on the road.

Cons. Besides being slippery when wet, the slightly uneven surface of grass can be a blessing and a curse. While this even surface will help to increase your ankle, knee, hip stability and balance in general, it can also lead to a rolled and sprained ankle.

Treadmill

Pros. A popular option in Singapore, treadmills provide a nice break from the searing heat and humidity allowing you to run inside under the breath of a nice cool air conditioning unit. A cooler temperature helps to keep your heart rate down and allows you to run a higher pace at your desired heart rate.

The treadmill is also a forgiving surface that provides distraction-free (no traffic lights, potholes, traffic and pedestrians) running where you can easily choose to run a flat course or over hills.

Cons. Treadmill running is inherently boring and even a short run can feel like an eternity. That said, the optimist in me sees that this boredom strengthens the mind.

Running on a treadmill might look like running on the road but it’s actually quite different. Your muscles work in a slightly different way as the spinning belt acts on your legs and your running gait is often affected.

Trails

Pros. Trails are my personal favourite surface to run as they often provide beautiful scenery that helps to enhance the experience of running. The softer surface places less stress on the legs than the roads and helps to build strength in your feet, ankles and legs.

Cons. Not always accessible, the uneven surface can lead to ankle sprains, slips and falls. You also need to be mindful of mountain bikers whizzing around, other trail users and potentially harmful animals.

The Track

Pros. The main benefit of running on the track is the fixed distance. It allows you to easily track your pace and derive data from time trials and other field tests like MAF testing in a relatively controlled environment.

Besides slower runners ignoring track etiquette, there is no traffic, potholes or other things to distract you from your running.

Cons. Spending too much time running around the track in the same direction can lead to muscle imbalances. Be sure to run in both directions if you are spending considerable time on the track. Like the treadmill, the track can also get boring pretty quickly. Unlike the treadmill though you can’t just switch on Netflix.

Sign up for Coached running or triathlon programmes.

Sand

Pros. Another soft surface, running on sand lowers the impact the feet, ankles, legs and hips have to tolerate and helps to build strength. As you run sand moves beneath your feet so it is a very hard surface to run on.

Run over soft sand for a more challenging run or run over the damp hard-packed sand to make things a little easier.

Cons. Running on sand can significantly alter your gait. Beaches are often sloped and the soft and shifting sand will alter your running gait, which may increase your risk of injury.

Mix Up Your Surfaces

If you want to become the best athlete you can, take a note from the pros and vary your training surfaces.

Specificity plays an important role in performance so choose your surfaces and favour them at different times in your preparation depending on the race you are aiming to perform at your best in.

If you’re running a trail race, spend more time on the trails. If you have a road marathon coming up do a higher percentage on the road.

By mixing up the surfaces you’ll enhance your recovery and build strength in your feet, ankles, legs and hips. This will help to keep injury at bay and make you a more resilient and faster runner.

4 Common Mistakes That Runners Make After A Marathon

I’ve made many mistakes as an athlete.

Training mistakes.

Racing mistakes.

Gear mistakes.

Travel mistakes.

You name it, I’ve f*cked it up at one time or another and paid the price.

With over 50,000 runners lining up to run in the Singapore Marathon this coming weekend, it’s a time of year that I witness others making a lot of unnecessary mistakes.

Race execution mistakes aside (there will literally be thousands), it’s common to see a lot of careless mistakes being made in the hours and weeks following an important race.

While this obviously has no negative effect on the race just completed, it can play a big role in your recovery and the preparation and execution of your next race.

In today’s post, I am sharing 4 common mistakes that I see athletes making after an important race. I hope that you’ll take note and make smarter decisions following your next marathon or important race.

Sign up for Coached running or triathlon programmes.

Mistake 1: Not Refuelling Properly

Running a marathon burns a lot of energy. Duh!

This means that as soon as you cross the finish line of a race, you need to begin thinking about refuelling to replace the energy you have lost.
The body has a small window for optimal nutrient absorption, so you want to make sure you capitalise on that by getting in a mix of carbohydrates and proteins.

Think of refuelling in two parts.

  1. Hydration
  2. Energy, nutrients etc

Hydration
When your sweat losses are high, it’s important that you begin to hydrate properly soon after finishing the race.
I typically recommend a 500ml (16oz) bottle or two of Precision Hydration’s PH 1500 to drink in the first few hours of finishing your race. This mix of water and sodium helps to restore your body’s equilibrium in a short space of time.

Energy, Nutrients etc
Within 30 minutes of finishing your race, you want to take in 100-300 calories as a mix of carbohydrate and protein.

Carbohydrates are needed to replace muscle glycogen while protein helps to produce muscle building amino acids and hormones. Too much protein, however, will inhibit your body’s absorption of the carbohydrates so you need to be mindful here.

Aim for a ratio somewhere in the range of 3:1 or 4:1 carbohydrate to protein.

Following that initial post-race window to take in nutrients, you want to eat again between 1 – 3 hours following the finish of your race. During this meal, you want to take in a higher amount of protein along with carbohydrates and healthy fat.

This will help to decrease inflammation, increase muscle glycogen stores, and rebuild damaged muscle tissue.

Mistake 2: Being Too Sedentary

Although it’s tempting to sit around in the afternoon and days following a marathon, one of the best things you can do for yourself is to keep moving.
Low intensity, easy movement helps to keep the blood flowing and facilitates the removal of byproducts that are produced during the race.

As two-time SEA Games marathon champion, Soh Rui Yong says:

“I go for light walks to keep the blood flowing in the 2 weeks after a Marathon just to help blood circulation and promote recovery, despite how sore I might feel. No running though!”

Like Rui, I suggest you are proactive in your recovery. Aim to move about the house regularly and get out for easy walks in the days following your race.

Mistake 3: Training Too Soon After A Race

While light movement is crucial in your recovery process, starting to train again too soon after a race can be a disaster.

Racing, particularly long races like the marathon, places a tremendous amount of stress on your body. Your joints take a pounding, muscles get damaged, glycogen stores deplete and immune function is compromised.

Basically, your body takes a beating.

Rather than jumping right back into training, you need to be progressive and allow for sufficient recovery.

I suggest taking at least 7-days completely off running. From day 4 onwards, you can introduce some light ‘training’ in the form of cross training.
Easy cycling or a light swim are good options and help to supply oxygen-rich blood to damaged muscle tissue.

After 7-days, you can begin to ease back into some light running if you want to. Begin with 20 – 30 minutes of easy jogging, and alternate running days with off days for the next 7 days.

Gradually increase your duration as you begin to feel better throughout the week but do not rush your progress. It’s important to note that you should not exceed 60 minutes of running before day 14.

After 2-weeks, you can begin to ease back into a more structured programme again.

Monitoring your heart rate can be useful here to ensure you are not building your training too quickly.

Mistake 4: Racing Too Soon

I know you LOVE to race. I am sure Eliud Kipchoge does too. But here’s the thing.

Eliud Kipchoge, the world’s greatest marathoner and world record holder only runs 2 – 3 marathons a year, max!

Why?

Because marathons are incredibly hard on the body and running too many them or any other race, compromises his ability to perform at the highest level when it matters.

He carefully plans his season and training in advance to get the best from himself each time he toes the starting line.

You may never run as fast as Eliud, but there is no reason you can’t follow his blueprint for success. Rather than doing every race that comes along, I encourage you to be careful in your race planning and allow for adequate recovery time between big races.

It’ll help you to race better when you do line up and it will contribute to the maintenance of good health, something that I believe should be a priority for all amateur athletes.

Mistakes Don’t Have To Be Made

One of the best things you can do for yourself is to learn from the mistakes of others. I’ve made all these mistakes (and many more) at one time or another and I share them so you don’t have to.

If you want to recover quickly from your next big race and you want to perform consistently across your season, apply the lessons here and you’ll be well on your way.

Good luck!

A Guide To Kicking Ass In The Singapore Marathon

In around 3 weeks, 50,000+ runners will be lacing up their shoes for Singapore’s premier running event, Standard Chartered Singapore Marathon.

As the Official Coach of this fantastic event, we spent the last few months teaching runners how to optimise their training so that they can enjoy the experience and achieve a great result.

We wrote an eBook, gave away free training plans, conducted training clinics and hosted Facebook live sessions.
In short, we’ve done everything we could think of to help you run at your best.

Hopefully, you’ve acted on our advice and find yourself in good shape.
Regardless, the majority of the ‘work’ should now be done and for the next few weeks, your focus should switch from training to freshening up and maximising your fitness on race day.

Between Now And Race Day

I once read that you’re better to go into a race 10% undertrained than 1% overtrained.

I totally agree.

With such a short time until race day, it’s too late now to build any meaningful fitness so you shouldn’t be trying to ‘cram’.
Instead, let’s look at some things within your control that will help you to freshen up and race to your potential.

Sign up for Coached running or triathlon programmes.

How To Freshen Up

Lower The Volume, Keep The Intensity
As you get closer to race day, it’s important that you keep training. You definitely shouldn’t be training as hard as you have been, but you need to keep moving in order to maintain and sharpen your fitness.

As time passes and race day draws closer, you should ease off the volume, shortening each of your runs. While you do that, the intensity of your sessions should remain in order to simulate what will happen on race day.

The body remembers endurance much better than it does speed.

Carbo-load? Maybe!
You’re probably already a carbo-loaded athlete if you’re eating a standard Singaporean, Western or Indian diet.

If that’s the case, I don’t believe there are any major changes you need to make other than being mindful of how much food you are consuming as you drop the training load down. You want to be careful not to put on any additional weight in these last few weeks through poor dietary choices.
For the most part, keep doing what you’re doing.

If you’re eating a lower carb diet like we are proponents of at Coached, the next few weeks is a good time to eat a little more of the higher quality carbs like fruits and veg, quinoa, dark chocolate and sweet potato. You want to make sure your glycogen stores are topped up but you don’t want to eat so much that you negatively affect your ability to generate energy from fat.

It’s a fine line.

Stay Hydrated
Leading into race day, it’s also very important to hydrate. Don’t just drink water as you may dilute the sodium in your blood and do yourself a disservice. Instead, drink a sugar-free electrolyte drink that is high in sodium.

I like Precision Hydration drinks for this reason.

If you haven’t already done their online sweat test, do it now. If you’d like a more advanced sweat test, book an appointment at our lab.
Once you know the sodium concentration in your sweat, you can customise a hydration strategy that will help ensure you’re always in an optimally hydrated state and ready to perform.

Get Plenty Of Sleep
With the training load down, it’s a great time to make use of those extra hours and get some more sleep. Try for an extra hour each night or if that’s not possible, sneak in a short nap during the day.

Sleep is the ultimate tool when it comes to recovery. It improves hormone regulation, strengthens your immune system, improves fat burning and can affect thermoregulation.

In short, it significantly drives recovery and helps you to freshen up.

Maximise Your Fitness On Race Day

On race day, your job is to get the best result you can. To do that, you need to execute a controlled race that maximises your fitness. When it comes to race execution, there are five specific areas where you need to put your focus.

1. Mindset
When you race, it is important to stay positive. That can be a challenge as you begin to fatigue and the race throws unexpected setbacks at you like cramps, chafing or any other unpredicted situations.

Your brain can only think about one thing at a time so it is important you focus your mind on process related thoughts like your running form, pacing and fuelling. The more you think about those things, the less you think about the pain or setbacks and the less likely you are to slow down.
I used to use body checks to help keep my mind in the right place and I encourage you to try them if things get tough.

2. Gear
Runners who use new gear on race day are making a big mistake. While you may think that using some fast looking new gear will give you a mental advantage, it often causes more harm than good.

Blisters, chafing and bloody nipples (ouch) are often the result of using gear you’re not familiar with. Stick to your tried and tested kit and you’ll run in more comfort and limit your chances of these annoying (and painful) ailments.

3. Running Form
As you run and you become tired, your form is going to begin to break down.

Your goal is to delay the rate at which this happens. While this is primarily addressed in training (with a running specific strength training programme), you need to be constantly mindful of your form and do your best to correct yourself when you catch yourself slipping.

Ask yourself:
Are you running tall with a subtle forward lean from the ankles? Is your head up? Are your shoulders back and relaxed?
Think about these things often and aim to correct them when you start to get sloppy. The longer you maintain good running form, the less you’ll slow down and the faster your finishing time will be.

4. Fuel
When you run long distances, taking in enough fuel to sustain your effort over the distance is very important.
Think of race fuelling in two parts.

  1. Hydration
  2. Energy

I personally advocate splitting these two elements so you have more control over your fuelling strategy.

Hydration is addressed by taking in water and electrolytes. Energy is addressed by taking in calories (usually through gels). You need to be doing both throughout the duration of your race.

As with gear, the number one rule when it comes to fuelling is to never try anything new on race day. Stick to what you have practised in training and be consistent.

5. Pacing
Pacing is the single most important thing to get right on race day. Get it wrong and you will suffer in the later stages of the race. Get it right and you’ll maximise your fitness and achieve a great result.

Pushing too hard, too early in the race sets off a chain reaction of events that work together to slow you down. High levels of lactate accumulate and glycogen depletion and muscle breakdown occur at a faster rate.

While it’s tempting to start quickly, I encourage you to be conservative. Your goal is to run the second half as fast or slightly faster than the first half. To do that, you need to be patient.

Race Smart, Race Well

As you have learned there are many things that you can do in the next 3-weeks to freshen up and be ready to race.

On race day though, execution is everything.

Execute with patience and control and you will achieve the best possible result given your starting fitness and the length of time you had to prepare.
If for some reason, the race doesn’t go to plan, consider getting Coached for your next race. We’d love to work with you.

I wish you all the best.

How To Run Injury Free

I recently read that as many as 79% of runners are getting injured each year.

If that is correct, it’s a frightening statistic.

Think about it. Nearly 8 out of every 10 runners you see are injured or will suffer from an injury this year.

As an athlete, I spent a good percentage of time thinking about injury and working hard with my team to prevent them in the first place. Even so, I too suffered from small injuries that set me back from time to time throughout my career.

As a coach, injury is something I continue to think a lot about.

Besides wanting to improve, running injury free is the most common reason people sign up for a Coached programme. It’s also the most frequently asked question when I present at events.
Clearly, injury is a concern for almost all runners and coaches.

Why Runners Get Injured

In my experience runner’s appear to get injured for two main reasons.

  1. Structural and biomechanical imbalances
  2. Mediocre training practices

1. Structural And Biomechanical Imbalances
Structural imbalances are things like having one leg longer than the other.
Biomechanical imbalances are usually caused by muscular imbalances (tight muscles working against weak muscles), although they can sometimes be caused by structural problems, such as leg length discrepancies as mentioned above.

2. Mediocre Training Practices
Injuries happen when you progress your training volume or intensity at a pace that your body is not conditioned to handle.

A runner’s fitness will often develop at a faster rate than their tendons, ligaments and bones.

You see this a lot in runners who suffer from recurring shin splints (although it is not the only example) when they first start training. Their aerobic fitness is allowing them to run further without feeling winded, however, their shin muscles haven’t adapted to the increased load caused by the increase in volume and they quickly become injured.

Sign up for Coached running or triathlon programmes.

How To Run Injury Free

If your goal is to run injury free then it makes sense that you address these two main causes of injury. Here are four specific things that can help you to run injury free.

1. Progress Your Training Gradually
Increasing volume and intensity too quickly can hurt you. To run injury free, you need to set aside a suitable timeline that allows enough time for progression. 12-weeks is a good timeline for 10km or a half marathon. For a marathon, 16-weeks is more suitable.

Start out with low volume, easy runs and as time passes gradually increase the volume and intensity.

A high-quality training plan (yes, like Coached) comes in handy here. A well-planned training plan provides a patient and structured progression that gradually builds both your fitness and functional strength as you move towards your race date.

2. Compliment Your Run Training with Strength and Conditioning Sessions
To address structural and biomechanical imbalances, you need to include running-specific strength training into your weekly routine. It’s worth working with a good physio or personal trainer to first identify specific areas of weakness and developing a plan to address each area.
By strengthening your core and running specific muscles, you’ll not only limit your chances of getting hurt, you’ll also become more resilient to fatigue and find yourself slowing down less in the later stages of a race.

3. Eat Nutrient Dense Foods
The stronger your immune system, the more resilient you will be and the less likely your body is to break down. Eat plenty of vegetables and some fruits (beware of the sugar) each day for the nutrients they provide you.

Fat is a vital macronutrient that should be eaten regularly. Fat is important for creating healthy cell membranes that are resistant to damage during exercise. You need fats for three primary reasons – to provide essential fatty acids, to provide essential fat-soluble vitamins and to meet energy needs.
If you eat a lower carb diet as we recommend then that last point is very important.

You have to ensure you are eating enough. When you don’t eat enough and take in enough energy from the right sources, you’re putting stress on your body that will begin to break you down over time.

4. Get More High-Quality Sleep
Sleep is something that I see a lot of athletes neglect. It’s often the first thing to go when life is busy and training volume is up. That’s a recipe for disaster.

Sleep improves hormone regulation, strengthens your immune system, improves fat burning and can affect thermoregulation. It does a lot of important stuff.

When you don’t get enough sleep – 7 to 8 hours of high quality, deep sleep each night – your body is more susceptible to injury and illness.
We all have 24 hours in a day. Edit your lifestyle to find ways to prioritise sleep. Maybe a little less social media and television are good places to start.

Running Injury Free Is Simple. Not Easy

As you can see, running injury free is not rocket science but it’s not easy either. There are lots of moving parts that need to be carefully balanced.
Plan thoughtfully, be patient and pay attention to the details. I am confident you’ll see your rate of injury drop and your consistency improve as the month’s pass.

Good luck!

Be Careful Who You Listen To

Years ago, when I was still young and early in my pro career, I used to drive my coach crazy.

I was so eager to get better that I spent a lot of time thinking and obsessing over what I should be doing. I was convinced there was a better, faster way to get the results I wanted.

I watched triathlon dvd’s, read triathlon magazines (yes, I am that old) and as time passed, the websites that were replacing them.

I spent hours training and chatting with training buddies, comparing what they were doing with what I was doing.

I noticed their training volume, intensity and race choices.

I looked at what they were eating and how they were fueling their training and racing. I looked at the gear everyone was using.

It’s there the doubt and questioning began to bubble at the surface.

After half-ass doing what my coach advised and half-ass copying the approach of others, my results were not what I wanted.

Fed up, my coach intervened.

While not his exact words, the gist of our conversation went like this.

Coach: “Ben, I believe you can be a good athlete but you’re making poor decisions that are affecting your ability to improve. Rather than looking for a magic pill, you need to believe in our process and in the training and advice, I am giving you. Without that trust, this is not going to work.”
Me: “But [insert athlete’s name here] is doing [insert training method/gear/etc here] and it seems to be working. Plus, I read something that says it’s good so why shouldn’t I try it?”

Coach: “Maybe it is good but maybe it’s not good for you. Instead of trying everything you read or hear willy-nilly, you need to be more deliberate in how you filter and apply it. If you’re only doing some of what I advise and the rest is coming from different sources, how will we ever know what is working and what is not? When things go well (or bad), we won’t know whether that’s the result of the work we are doing or whether it’s due to the other things you are experimenting with.“

Me: “So what do you want me to do?”

Coach: I need you to stop listening to so many voices and I need you to let me be your filter. Before trying anything, you need to come to me and we need to discuss what you want to try and why you think it will help you. From there, I will run it through my filters, my experience, and we’ll make a decision on what to try and what to do away with. Do you think you can do that?”

Me: “I guess so.”

Coach: “Good, because if things continue as they have been, I’m afraid this isn’t going to work. Are you clear?”

Me: “Crystal.”

The message was received and it turned out to be fantastic advice.

Sign up for Coached running or triathlon programmes.

Be Careful Who You Listen To

With information so readily available and everyone willing to share their opinion or advice, it’s very simple to get caught in the trap of thinking there is a faster or better way.

I am constantly speaking with athlete’s who are listening to too many voices, just as I used to and bouncing all over the place. They’re trying different training methods, diets and gear without any structure or a way to measure whether it’s working.

It’s no surprise that their results are not great.

When you listen to too many voices and fail to filter appropriately, you’ll find yourself in this situation – confused, unfocused and lacking confidence.

1. Confused
With all of the world’s information now available online, there have never been more voices. For everything you read, it’s likely you can read the exact opposite point of view, all seemingly backed up by scientific studies. This is obviously confusing and can lead to a lack of focus.

2. Unfocused
When you are confused or you don’t know what you’re doing, it’s easy to lack focus. You jump around trying different things hoping to find one that will work for you. The problem is, the less focused you are and the more you chop and change, the less likely you are to succeed.

3. Lacking Confidence
As you consistently fail to achieve the result you want, your confidence begins to suffer. You begin to question your abilities, your approach and whether you should be doing this. It sucks the joy from the process and your motivation wanes. Sooner or later, it’s not uncommon to give up altogether.

Filter All Advice

When you hear a piece of advice that resonates with you and you wish to see if it works for you, you need to plan and allow enough time (3 – 6-months seems to be a good timeframe for most changes to show themselves – good and bad) to test the changes.

Never try something for two weeks, decide it doesn’t work and move on to the next thing. Many changes are happening at a cellular level so your body needs time to adapt before it will respond positively.

Figuring out what advice to take and what to ignore is something that I still struggle with. I suspect it’s something I’ll always struggle with, but I’m getting better at it.

When considering advice, you need to filter what you are hearing.

Four Things To Consider When Taking Advice

1. Perspective
When I began my pro racing career, I would often ask other athletes which race I should do.

Some athletes really enjoyed the thrill of competition and always strived to race the strongest fields. These athletes would always recommend the toughest races.

Placing and prize money motivated others. These athletes always recommended a race which would be easiest and offer the greatest chance of winning some prize money.

For obvious reasons, whichever perspective the athlete had made a huge impact on the advice that they gave. Not everyone you ask for advice is looking for the same result as you are.

Consider not just the advice, but the perspective that motivates it.

2. Experience
Most people tend to give advice from their perspective and from their experience.

When you ask someone for advice, it’s common for them to draw on their experience, experience that may be substantially different to those you have experienced. This is not necessarily a bad thing but it is worth considering.

For example, if the person offering you advice has never suffered from prolonged injury, it’s likely their advice will be coloured by that. In this example, their advice might be to do more volume or intensity than what is suitable for you, given your injury history and biomechanical issues.

While it’s useful to get advice from people with varying experiences, always take the context of the person’s experience into account. Do they mirror your own?

3. Bias
It is human nature to give more weight to the advice you subconsciously already agree with. Like a person’s experience, that’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it’s important to be aware of.

It’s hard work to try and strip your biases as you consider advice, but recognizing those biases is an important step in giving all good advice the consideration it deserves.

4. Consequence
At the end of the day, no matter who dispenses the advice, the final decision lies with you.

Sometimes the advice will pay off and you’ll benefit. Other times it will fail and you may find yourself injured or sick.

Regardless, if you choose to follow someone’s advice and it doesn’t work out, it’s not their fault, it’s yours. You executed on it.

Be certain you can take hold of that responsibility before applying any advice you receive.

Getting Advice is Easy. Filtering it is Hard

Getting feedback is one of the most important things you can do, but listening to too many voices can be a recipe for disaster.

Without the appropriate filters, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by advice, and just as easy to forget to think for yourself when people tell you what they would do.

I hope that this post helps you to become a better taker of advice. I also trust that you’ll filter it appropriately.

Why MAF Testing Is Useful (And How To Do It)

I moved to Singapore 10-years ago and have been a professional coach since that time.

When I first arrived here, I wanted an athlete I was coaching to do a lactate test but I couldn’t find a good place to get one.

Rather than sit around and twiddle my thumbs, I figured I’d buy some equipment and open a lab.

I partnered up with a sports scientist and for a few years, we worked together, putting people through our tests. Lactate tests to measure fitness, establish heart rate training zones and track progress. Fuel efficiency (fat burning) tests to establish how they were using their energy.

I eventually stumbled onto a pretty good recipe that seemed to work for most people, most of the time.

Just as I thought I was doing pretty well and had developed somewhat of a unique philosophy, I read a book by an American named Phil Maffetone.

Phil is a chiropractor by training but has spent the majority of his career working with athletes in a similar manner to what I was doing.

It turns out, Phil had figured out everything I had worked hard to learn (and more) 30-years earlier. If only I had read his book on day-1. It would have brought me a few years up the learning curve and saved me a lot of work in the lab.

While my approach to health and performance continues to evolve and I don’t completely subscribe to the MAF method of training, I do strongly believe in the overriding principles.

Namely, build a strong aerobic system and become a fat burner.

One of the many useful tools Phil developed to help athletes is his MAF test. MAF stands for maximum aerobic function and the MAF test is essentially a way to measure your aerobic fitness.

Most of the athletes I speak with tend to measure their fitness is two ways.

  1. Time trials
  2. Races

While both are great measurements, they are also extremely hard and cannot be done too frequently.

The MAF test, on the other hand, is an easy test, done at low intensity, that can be done on a regular basis to track your aerobic development and to identify whether anything is interfering with its progress.

It helps to identify whether you’re headed in the wrong direction. Either from too much anaerobic exercise, too little aerobic exercise or through any imbalance (such as stress or diet) that is having an adverse effect on your aerobic system.

Sign up for Coached running or triathlon programmes.

Establish Your MAF Heart Rate

Before you can do a MAF test, you’ll need to know your MAF heart rate. I like to establish this number during a lactate test but for those who haven’t done one or don’t have access to this form of testing, you can use Phil’s 180 formula.

For those of you in Singapore, you have no excuse, come and do some testing with us in our lab.

How To Do A MAF Test

With MAF heart rate established, it’s time to test.

It’s important to note that this test can be done with any exercise except weight lifting. For the purpose of this post, however, I will focus on running since the majority of our readers are runners and triathletes.

Here’s how I have Coached athletes do the test.

Perform The Test

Head to the nearest track.

You’ll need a monitor that can capture your splits and allows you to view your heart rate. I suggest you use a monitor with a heart rate strap over a wrist-based monitor if possible because they’re usually more reliable and accurate.

Warm up for 10 minutes at MAF heart rate. If you have done a MAF test before and your second km was faster than your first, increase the warm up by 10 minutes.

Next, run up to 8km at MAF heart rate (this is the actual test). For our fitter athletes, I have them run 8km. For the less fit, I usually have them start with 4 – 5km.

As you run, your watch should capture your splits every kilometre. Your first kilometre will be the fastest and you should find that each subsequent kilometre gets slower. This is completely normal and demonstrates a normal fatigue factor.

Do some light stretching to cool down.

Control The Variables

To ensure an accurate and consistent test result, you’ll need to do your best to control the variables that can affect your test results.

Time Of Day. Do the test at the same time of day. If you do your first test in the morning, do your follow-ups in the morning too. If you do a test at a different time of day, make a note in your log for reference and understand that it could contribute to any changes (good or not-so-good) that you see in follow up tests.

Climate. Do the test in the same climate each time. Heat, humidity, rain, wind and snow, for example, all provide different challenges that can affect your physiology. If you do a test outside the normal conditions make a note in your log for reference.

Altitude. If you’ve not adapted to altitude, it will have a significant effect on your body and your MAF test. If you have to test at altitude when you are not acclimated, make a note of this in your log for reference.

Hydration. You need to be well hydrated before completing the test. Even mild dehydration can slow you down and lead to inconsistent test results.

Equipment. Use the same equipment each time you do the test. If you make changes to your equipment, make a note of the changes in your log for reference.

Health. When you are sick or getting sick your body’s immune system is working very hard to recover. In this situation do not perform the test and wait until you are feeling better.

Your Results

Your MAF Test should indicate faster times as the months go by. When you see this, you can feel confident that your aerobic system is getting stronger and your fat burning is improving, enabling you to do more work at the same effort.

Ming has been following the Coached programme for just over a year and a half.

While everyone develops at their own rate, here are the results from some of his tests to illustrate the progression you can anticipate.

MAF test progression for Coached athlete, Ming

As you can see, he’s able to run at a much faster pace at the same heart rate. You’ll also notice that he has a smaller drop off between the first kilometre and the last as the months go by.

This is the goal and is evidence that training is working.

Try using MAF testing in your preparation and see how it works for you.

Why Rest Days Are Important (And How to Get The Most From Them)

Early in my racing career, the idea of a rest day was not something I liked the thought of. I liked to train, I liked to push myself and the idea of taking a rest made me feel lazy. Like I was being out-worked by my not-so-lazy competitors.

It seems I am not the only athlete to ever feel like this.

Unfortunately for me, I didn’t have a great ability to handle high loads of training. The more I trained, the more I began to suffer from a growing number of niggles and colds.

Once my coach explained to me that training was breaking me down and that rest was the antidote to absorbing training and building my fitness up, I began to embrace rest for what it was. An essential part of the training process.

New mindset in place, the niggles and colds began to disappear, consistency increased and my performance improved.

With rest now an essential piece of the puzzle, I began to strategically structure it into my training and season plans. As a coach, I do the same for Coached athletes too.

How Many Rest Days Should You Have?

While I wish this was a simple answer, like most questions relating to training, the answer is it depends. There are so many variables that come in to play when considering a question like this and they all need to be considered.

Your work, family and social commitments.  Athletic background, current fitness level, training load, goals and injury history are all important.

While considering these things, it’s important to keep in mind that recovery from training is the main goal of a rest day.

If you’re training a lot or if you have a very demanding schedule outside of your sport, then it’s likely, you’ll benefit more from rest.

As a guideline, I encourage Coached athletes to start with a minimum of one full day of rest each week. Many take more, some take an active recovery day instead. Others take a day of rest once a fortnight.

It really doesn’t matter so long as the outcome is achieved and you can train consistently without losing motivation, falling sick, getting injured or feeling totally knackered all the time.

The key is to find out what works for you and not to be afraid, or feel guilty, for taking your day of rest.

Sign up for Coached running or triathlon programmes.

How To Get More From Your Rest Day

Now that a rest day is an essential part of your mindset and training process, here are four things I have found to amplify the effects of a rest day.

For best results, do them all together. They do work independently though so if something below doesn’t appeal or is not possible, the others will still help. Feel free to pick and choose the ones that you think will work for you.

This is not a complete list, these are simply the ones I believe to be most effective.

Disconnect. It’s not just your body that needs a rest, your brain does too. The endless stream of decisions you have to make each day, the work your brain does coordinating your muscles and every other physiological process during training and your constant consumption of digital stimulation leaves your brain exhausted.

As the most energy-consuming organ in the body, your brain uses approximately twenty per cent of your total daily energy. That’s a heck of a lot and for that reason, you need to let your brain rest too.

To really let your brain rest, you need to reduce the amount of stimulation it receives. In my experience, the best way to do this is to disconnect. Go offline when you’re not at work. Avoid social media, television and other digital forms of stimulation.

To fill the void, go old-school and open a book, go for a walk (see below) or get lost in a puzzle.

A daily meditation practice is also useful for the health and performance of your brain and I highly encourage you to form a habit of meditation.

Move. Outside of training, it’s common for athlete’s to be sedentary (believe it or not). If you work a typical desk job, there is a high chance that you’re spending most of your day curled up at a desk with very little movement throughout the day.

Low-intensity movement, like walking and stretching is really beneficial in the recovery process as it helps to keep blood moving and to flush out waste products produced during training.

To get more from your rest days (and training days for that matter), I encourage you to get off your ass and move around more often. Go outside for a walk between meetings. Attend a yoga class, use a foam roller or do some stretching. It doesn’t matter what you do so long as it’s short and easy.

Eat well. Food plays a major role in fueling and recovering from training. Over the past 10 years, I have become a believer in a lower carb, healthy fat approach to nutrition. I’m also starting to believe that a periodised approach to nutrition could be as useful as it is for training. That’s a story for another day though.

It’s important to note that I said lower carbohydrate, not low, as the exact amount of carbohydrate needed can vary greatly between individuals.

Let’s just say that most people would benefit by significantly lowering the amount of processed carbohydrate they eat and leave it at that for now.

There’s a number of reasons for this belief and one of them is that it helps to keep inflammation levels low in your body.

On your rest days, stay away from processed foods and eat lots of healthy fats.

Hydrate. When your body is dehydrated, it is in a state of stress. For that reason, staying well-hydrated is an important part of training and recovery.

To determine how much you need to drink and how much sodium you are losing in your sweat, I recommend doing Precision Hydrations FREE Online Sweat Test. If you’re in Singapore, you can also visit our lab for an advanced sweat test, where we measure the exact amount of sodium you are losing per litre in your sweat.

With these numbers, you’ll know what you need to drink to remain hydrated during training and at rest. From there it’s simply a matter of mixing up your drink and keeping your bottle on you throughout the day.

Nap. I have spoken before about the importance of sleep. We all need it but it is even more important for people like you, training hard.

A rest day is a great time to sneak in a little extra sleep. Either through an extended night’s sleep or through a short nap throughout the day.

With no training to do, see how you can use this excess time to steal an extra hour or so of sleep. Not only will it help you to physically recover, it is also a primary player in the recovery of your brain too.

Performance = Training + Rest

Training causes micro-tears in your muscles, dehydrates you and burns up your glycogen stores. It mentally fatigues you and generally breaks you down.

Only when you do the training and allow your body time to recover, does it absorb the training and make you stronger. I encourage you to think of rest as part of training and not as something taboo or for people who are soft.

Blisters, Chafing and Black Toenails. The Ugly Side Of Running

There’s an ugly side to running.

No, I am not talking about the guy who shits himself in the later stages of the marathon, the girl with the nasty tanlines or the person crawling across the finish line (although, those are all pretty ugly).

I’m talking about the superficial (and often painful) eyesores that almost all runners face at one point or another.

The blisters, chafing and black toenails.

While I’ve had my fair share of blisters and chafing, I am happy to say that I’ve never had to deal with any black toenails (knock on wood).

To help ease the suffering, I reached out to Tim Maiden to help me with this post.

Tim is the lead podiatrist at The Foot Practice here in Singapore.

With one of the grossest jobs around, he spends a good chunk of his day helping athletes to solve these problems so that they can minimise the pain and disruption to their training schedule.

Here’s what Tim has to say.

Blisters

Blisters are one of the most common causes of soft tissue injury in runners. They’re the accumulation of micro tears under the skin surface (between the layers of the skin) which form a fluid-filled bubble.

What Causes Blisters?
Blisters are caused by the skin exceeding its tissue stress capability. When the skin is stretched too far for too long, it stops gliding, which can increase specific pointed pressure or increase stickiness (shear).

Biomechanics are sometimes a factor in blister formation too, which explains why some of you will get blisters in certain places such as your small toes or on the Achilles tendon, which is often linked with tight calf muscles.

What can you do to prevent blisters?
The good news is that blisters are 100% preventable. My favourite blister prevention techniques are:

a) Shoe lacing techniques
b) Engo plasters
c) Toe socks
d) Orthoses

As with all conditions you need to understand the cause to treat effectively or prevent.

I think the most common misconception is the use of lubrication to stop a blister. Lubricating a blister will often lead to increased moisture in the skin which increases the shear coefficient and could increase your chances of suffering a blister.

What Can You Do To Fix Blisters?
While prevention is always better than cure, there’re a few things you can do to help blisters heal once you have one.

The use of Compeed on a blister is great. Many runners often remove them too soon though. You must leave them on for at least 48 hours. Compeed shouldn’t be used as a blister prevention strategy either.

Wear comfortable footwear that doesn’t put pressure on the blisters (if possible).

Use felt to change the pressure points on the foot and offload the pressure around the blister.

Use cushioned insoles to reduce the peak pressures on the blisters.

Sign up for Coached running or triathlon programmes.

Chafing

Chafing is the annoying and often painful result of skin rubbing against skin or clothing. It can occur anywhere on your body, but the thighs, groin, underarms, and nipples are particularly vulnerable to runners.

What Causes Chafing?
Chafing is caused by friction between the skin or by an item of clothing on the skin.

What Can You Do To Prevent Chafing?
Carefully choosing your clothing and equipment is a good place to start. Make sure you buy all your gear early and practice with it in training.

With gear sorted, I’ve found that the most successful prevention plan for chafing is similar to the one I use for blisters. Some people recommend the use of talcum over the areas where you’ve experienced chafing before. Lightweight clothing or skin-fitting lycra can be beneficial so keep that in mind when making purchases.

In some cases, I have seen benefit from taping over tender body parts with sports tape.

Some people benefit from the use of lubricant, but I find that difficult to recommend because it may attract particles and could actually increase the chafe.

What Can You Do To Fix Chafing?
The soreness that people often feel following training or a race can be linked with micro tears in the skin or the onset of bacterial infection. I usually suggest a saline soak and a soothing lotion, unless there are any obvious lesions to the skin then I would suggest antibacterials.

Black Toenails

You can often recognise a runner by the state of their toenails (or lack thereof). Unfortunately, black toenails are all too common amongst the running community which is a shame because this condition is largely controllable.

What Causes Black Toenails?
Black toenails are caused by a number of things, the most common being trauma or a fungal infection. Because trauma is the main cause in runners, I will focus on that.

Trauma is typically experienced in two ways.

Repetitive trauma and high impact trauma. Repetitive trauma is caused by the top of your shoe rubbing against your nail. High impact trauma is the result of or your toe slamming into the end of your shoe or dropping something heavy on your toe.

What Can You Do To Prevent Black Toenails?
The prevention of this condition has a lot to do with your gear choices.

Make sure your shoes are well fitted to your feet. To ensure this happens it’s important to purchase your shoes at the right time of the day when your feet are at their largest. This typically happens late in the day or after exercise.

Choose socks that are thin and have minimal seams as thick socks may cause too much pressure on your toenails.

Experiment with lock lacing techniques and other devices such as silicone toe protectors or toe taping techniques. These can be beneficial.

What can you do to fix black toenails?
Sometimes black toenails don’t require fixing. In cases where there is discomfort in the nails, you can visit your podiatrist to reduce the pressure under the nail and reduce the risk of further nail damage.

However, if the nail is raised, tender or painful, I would suggest visiting your Foot Practice podiatrist. A podiatrist can assist in the aspiration of blood under the nail in a sterile environment, to reduce the risk of further infection.

***

Thanks, Tim.

So there you have it, some great advice for preventing (or healing), blisters, chafing and black toenails. As you can see, a lot of these conditions are controllable with a little bit of forethought and planning.

If you’d like to get in touch with Tim, his details are below.

www.thefootpractice.com
hello@thefootpractice.com
+65 6909 0117

Why Mileage Is Important (But Not That Important)

Born and raised in New Zealand, I grew up in the afterglow of the legendary running coach, Arthur Lydiard.

From an early age, I heard story after story of his athlete’s training, the routes they used to run and the results that they achieved well before I even entered this world.

He was (and still is) a legend in New Zealand.

A believer in building an aerobic base, Lydiard was famous for having his runners doing a lot of mileage. Peter Snell, an Olympic 800m (and 1500m) champion and world record holder, would regularly run 100-mile weeks in his preparation.

That’s a lot of running to race two short laps around a track.

Or is it? It worked!

Fast forward 30-years and I am now fully grown (apparently) and I find myself in a similar position to Lydiard. A position of trying to help Coached athletes perform better.

Unlike Lydiard however, my main focus is not on winning Olympic medals, it’s on helping regular “I have a life” people to optimise their training in a more hectic and connected world.

While mileage is definitely important, it seems to me, that too many runners I speak with have an unhealthy obsession with it.

Whenever I ask someone about their training, a mileage comes back. I ran [insert mileage here] today, this week or this month.

Runners are fixating on these mileage targets, wearing them as badges of honour and basking in the kudos it brings on Strava. They’re disappointed when they’re unable to achieve their targets. Or worse, they achieve them at the expense of recovery and wind up losing motivation or getting sick and injured.

Consistency goes out the window.

Sign up for Coached running or triathlon programmes.

Not All Mileage Is Equal

There’s more to running fast than the number of kilometres your run. There are also many things that act on those kilometres, making them more or less stressful.

Terrain. 60km a week run over mountain trails is harder and stresses the body more than 60km run over a flat course.

Climate. 60km run in a tropical climate like the one we battle in Singapore every day is harder than 60km in New Zealand’s more temperate weather.

Altitude. At altitude, there is less available to oxygen to fuel the working muscles. As such, the body has to work harder. 60km at altitude is harder than 60km at sea level.

Intensity. 60km a week run hard stresses the body significantly more than the same 60km run easy.

Frequency. 60km a week run over two runs loads the body in a different way to 60km run over five runs and can change the training effect.

As you can see, not all mileage is equal.

Run For Duration, Not Mileage

Rather than focusing on a specific mileage, I invite you to focus your energies on running for time.

The amount of time spent training is actually more important than the distance covered since it’s the duration of effort that your body senses, not the distance.

A fit and experienced runner will cover the same distance in a faster time than the novice runner with limited fitness.

For example, the runner who averages 4:30-minutes per kilometre for 60 kilometres per week is running the same amount of time as the runner who is running 9-minutes per kilometre for 30 kilometres a week and is, therefore, experiencing the same amount of stress.

What’s great about running for time is that it helps to self-correct for the terrain, weather and your level of fatigue. You’ll run less distance in the same time when the external stress is high – but, don’t worry, that’s fine and the converse is also true.

You’ll also know exactly how long it will take to complete a session which is nice for planning around a busy life.

Mileage Through Frequency

So what’s the right mileage for you?

That’s for you to figure out. My belief is that there’s no magic mileage number. 60km, 100km or 100 miles a week, I don’t care.

I believe that you want to run as much mileage as you can comfortably recover from, without losing motivation, getting sick or injured.

In my experience, that will fluctuate week on week with the stress of life and that’s ok.

Your best way of achieving more mileage over the long run is to let go of the mileage targets. Pay more attention to time spent running and running frequency (how often you run).

Rather than running more distance in each run, run for time (the longest run we prescribe our marathon runners is no more than 3-hours, usually less) and run more often (if you want to).

This helps to balance the stress of training and increases your chances of consistency and success. When stress is balanced with recovery, consistency increases and performance improves.

Consistency Is The Ultimate Performance Enhancer

You don’t get fat by going to McDonald’s once and you won’t get fit by going on a 10-hour run. You are what you consistently do.

That’s right, consistency is the ultimate performance enhancer. It’s better than the latest gear. It’s better than performance-enhancing drugs. It’s better than training really hard and taking a big break to recover.

Unfortunately, I can’t count how many times I have spoken with athletes who have an “all or nothing” approach to training. They’re either out training, pushing themselves hard five times or more a week or they’re struggling to get out and run at all because they’re sick or injured.

As a coach, my job is to help our athletes improve. One of the ways I do that is to try to help them structure their training and lifestyle to optimise for consistency.

Over the years, I have tried (and seen athletes try) many things but at the end of the day, I keep coming back to these six because they work.

Sign up for Coached running or triathlon programmes.

How To Train More Consistently

Plan And Schedule Your Sessions
It’s rare that you’ll find success without a plan. Businesses execute marketing, operational and financial plans, among many others. Pilots use a flight plan. Builders follow an architect’s plan.

As an athlete, you should be following a training plan.

A training plan is a simple document, a strategy, that aims to build a bridge from where you are now to where you want to be.

Following a well-structured training plan has a lot of benefits. Besides the specific performance benefits that the progression and specificity provide, the simple act of having a plan helps to make you a more consistent athlete.

How so?

By knowing exactly what you need to do each day and how long it will take, it takes thinking out of the equation. In my experience, the less you have to think, the more likely you are to do.

When you have a plan and you put the sessions into your calendar, just as you would with any other important appointment, it becomes front of mind and this helps to hold you accountable.

Train By Time
When I ask most athletes how long they ran today, they’ll almost always tell me a distance. It seems that many athletes place a lot of importance on this metric.

While knowing how far you go is useful in tracking your fitness, fixating on a specific session, weekly or monthly mileage can prove harmful when it comes to consistency.

That’s because it’s very easy to overwork when you focus on an output.
Running 10k up a mountain takes a lot more effort and time than running 10k down a mountain. Just as running 5k on grass into a headwind is tougher and takes longer, than running 5k over a smooth pathed path with a nice tailwind at your back.

Running for 60-minutes however, self-corrects for changes in terrain, weather and levels of fatigue. When you train over a harder course or in a tougher environment, you’ll cover less distance.

While covering less distance may sound like a bad thing, it’s usually not!

The amount of time spent training is actually more important than the distance covered since it’s the duration of effort that your body senses.

A well-conditioned runner will cover the same distance in a faster time than a runner who is just starting out.

For example, the runner who averages 4-minutes per kilometre for 50 kilometres per week is running the same amount of time as the runner who is running 8-minutes per kilometre for 25 kilometres a week and is, therefore, experiencing the same amount of stress.

When stress is balanced with recovery, consistency increases. High-quality consistent training drives great performance.

Train With A Heart Rate Monitor
In a similar vein to training by time, training with a heart rate monitor helps to balance stress and recovery.

In periods when stress is high – whether from training or life stressors like work and financial stress – the body responds with an elevation in heart rate.

When heart rate is elevated, you’ll need to slow down to stay within your desired heart rate zone. While frustrating for many, it is important to understand that heart rate zones correspond with various markers of metabolic activity, like fat burning and lactate clearance.

When you stick to the zones, you’re continuing to train these important physiological markers but you’re doing it in a way that doesn’t overstress the body and lead to inconsistency.

On the other hand, when you run to a pace, the pace number on your monitor is only showing you the output. It is not showing you the work required to achieve the output.

The goal of training is not to get faster by pushing harder, the goal is to become more aerobically efficient so that at the same (or lower) heart rate, you are able to run at a faster pace.

Listen To Your Body
Endurance sports tend to lend themselves to Type-A personality types who like to do the work. Doing the work is obviously crucial if you wish to find success in any endeavour, but often, athletes are doing it at the expense of recovery and at the risk of inconsistency through injury and illness.

Developing your ‘athletes intuition’ for when to push and when to ease off is important if you want to perform at your best. Training by time and heart rate helps you to ‘dial in’ your intuition and helps to put a little more objectivity to your assessment.

Another great way is to subscribe to the philosophy below that served me very well when I was racing pro.

Take a session off to avoid a day off. Take a day off to avoid a week off.
Take a week off to avoid a month off and so on.

I trained consistently for 10-years with minimal injuries and setbacks thanks to this little beauty.

Eat Real Food
Without adequate fuel, you won’t have the energy to train consistently.

Without the right fuel, you won’t recover properly and won’t be able to train consistently.

What’s the right fuel for you?

Well, that depends, and it’s what makes nutrition such a tricky, and often, sensitive subject.

Without getting into massive detail here, start by cutting the processed carbohydrates from your diet and replacing them with more good quality carbs (vegetables) and healthy fat (avocado, olive oil, coconut, nuts, fatty fish etc).

This change will help to regulate your insulin levels and decrease inflammation. When done well, the nutrient density of the foods you eat also improve. You’ll find yourself recovering faster and more resilient to falling ill.

Get Plenty Of Sleep
In my last post, I spoke about the importance of sleep. Your body needs plenty of high quality sleep to repair itself and recover from the stress you are putting on it when you train.

When you fail to get 7+ hours of sleep each night, your body is essentially in a state of constant stress and over time it will break down. To be consistent in training and to reap the benefits that come with that, you need to sleep well and sleep a lot.

Sometimes the best investment you can make in your preparation is getting more sleep.

***

That’s it, you now know some simple strategies to improve your training consistency. If you choose to implement some or all of these strategies, I am confident you’ll see some fantastic results.

If you can consistently string your training together for weeks, months and years without getting sick, injured or losing motivation, wonderful things happen.

You’ll see!