Archive for May, 2009

Luxembourg Marathon – The Night Run

May 24, 2009

Luxembourg is a small, usually quiet town but it really came alive for the marathon and half-marathon on Saturday night. What seemed like thousands of people lined the streets and cheered the runners as they (the onlookers) sipped their drinks in bars and cafés or enjoyed their evening meal. In the residential districts, some families set up barbecues in the street, brought down chairs and sofas and made a night of it. It was a truly festive occasion. 

Frankly, it was all pretty exciting and the home crowd very welcoming. 

The course, though, was pretty tough. It seemed that the first half of the marathon was downhill and the second half was uphill. Negative splits were just not going to happen. 

The organisation was good (apart from a crush at the start) and there was plenty to drink along the way. That was just as well as it was a warm evening. 

The finish was quite something too. A four hundred metre dash along a torch-lit path at dusk and into a sports arena fitted out with lights and sound like a disco !

Oh and I managed a personal best of 3 hours 48. I felt comfortable all the way, no aches or pains, and no stiffness the following day either. I tried as best I could to keep a decent chi-running posture and foot strike and that seemed to help quite a bit. 

I’m really happy and that brings this season’s marathon running to a close. I have big plans for the autumn, though!

Posted by Xavier.


The Guardian, Running and Liberty (and J.S. Mill too)

May 22, 2009

Emma John, a journalist who writes for the British newspaper « The Guardian », avers in her recent article that runners are crazy or in her own words that they are «a bunch of recluses who enjoy the prolonged sensation of self-inflicted pain”. She probably meant the article to be a light-hearted critique of endurance sports and to bring back down to earth those who make all sorts of spiritual claims for participating in them.

The problem is that it isn’t particularly funny, or erudite or perceptive.

She simply does not get it. The basic points elude her. Runners, triathletes, mountaineers, cyclists do what they do because of two basic concepts : liberty and fun.

First, we can run because no-one, no government has prohibited it. That’s wonderful and to be cherished. Does Emma John realise Hezbollah does not really “approve” of the Beirut Marathon, for example ? That’s why a lot of runners participate in it, in order to celebrate the freedom to “just do it”.

Second, we run out of choice, not compulsion. We do it because we like it, because it is fun for us. Other people prefer to do other and life is enriched by the varied endeavours of individuals.

Emma John blames the fact they put Alan Sillitoe’s “The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner” on the English-lit reading list” for what she describes as “a golden age of machismo”. And she claims to have read Murakami’s “What I Talk About When I Talk About Running”, gets the title wrong for a start (she calls it “What I Think About etc”) and thus completely misses the metaphor.

What Ms John needs to read – a sad omission from her reading list – is John Stuart Mill’s “On Liberty”. If she had read that before pontificating, even in jest, she would have been a bit closer to getting it. But I can anticipate her response …. “Why bother reading a book by a dead Victorian?” she may ask. She’ll have to find the answer to that question herself because I’m going running.

UPDATE: There’s a good response by IanM on his blog here. He makes the additional point that many runners, himself included, run to raise money for charity. Good point. 

Posted by Xavier.

Some Running Websites

May 21, 2009

I did a little surfing of the web the other day to find some good running sites.

If you are looking for a general site with lots of different tips and discussing many different topics, have a look at “Best Running Tips“. It contains lots of information.

Looking for different races around the world ? Then go to “RunAbroad“. It is a wonderful site that provides information on races, usually half-marathons or marathons (but not exclusively), in all sorts of different places. You can sign up for a free weekly newsletter here. That newsletter is very good indeed: it describes the race, how to sign up for it, how much it costs, where to stay and how to get there. 

Then there’s “Fetch Everyone“, a mega website where you can log your training, participate in discussions on all manner of topics, find races and so on and so forth. 

Posted by Xavier

Antwerp 10 miles (post race syndrome)

May 13, 2009

I think that the two most exciting parts of a race are the starting point and the finish line. And those two parts make the whole race worth running and are remembered afterwards.

At the starting point there is this whole atmosphere of excitement, impatience to start, smiling and encouragement by the crowd. The same at the finish line, people encourage you in the last meters of the race, the other runners congratulate each other for their success and the whole thing is like a celebration!

These last days after the race in Antwerp and without having another race scheduled soon, I am not that consistent with my training and not motivated enough (or at least as much I was with the prospect of the race). This is why I think that the psycological factor plays a very important role for training. This is why I have to find a race to feel that I’m preparing for…

However, after Xavier’s latest post on Chi running, I’m getting motivated again to try some alternative training 🙂

Posted by Maria


May 9, 2009

I attended a chi-running seminar today in Brussels.

It was co-taught by two excellent teachers, Michelle Muldoon from the United Kingdom, and Marion Meesters from the Netherlands, who came especially for the day. 

I got the feeling that all the participants in the class enjoyed it and benefited from it. There were runners of all abilities: some novices, some regular recreational runners, some long-distance runners and some competitive club runners. Even one ultra-marathon runner. 

Chi-running is a technique for running derived from Tai-Chi, based on posture and foot placement. The idea is to adjust your posture to enlist the force of gravity to propel you forwards and to place your feet in such a way you don’t land heavily and waste energy. If you get it right, you should be able to run faster with less effort and a lower risk of injury. 

Here’s a video that explains the basics:

It will take time and practice to master it properly, no doubt. But the immediate benefit  I found was a tangible lessening of the effort required of the legs when running. And that was when I still tended to strike the ground too heavily with the heel and not lift my feet backwards high enough. 

I’ll do a long run tomorrow, will try my best to incorporate the techniques (especially the one where you try to lengthen the back of your neck – that straightens the pelvis and opens up the chest) and report how I get on. 

I certainly recommend such a seminar. Check Michelle’s and Marion’s websites to see if there are any convenient classes. 

Posted by Xavier

Tabata workout

May 6, 2009

I’m keen on cross training – doing other types of exercise than just running.
I’ve just discovered a type of workout called the Tabata workout, named after the Japanese researcher who developed it. To find out more, look here.
This other link also provides a succinct explanation and some instructional videos.
In a nutshell, the workout consists of doing some sort of very vigorous exercise for 20 seconds and resting for 10 seconds, repeating that sequence seven more times. The result is a four minute workout of great intensity. You can do all sorts of intensive exercise for those 20 seconds: skipping, squats, sprinting, cycling or whatever you please.
One type of exercise I’ve tried and liked is this one. I liked it because it is a strenuous cardio workout that does not put a great deal of pressure and tension on the knees. That means it is suitable for those days off from running when you are supposed to rest your joints such as knees. Be warned ! This is intensive stuff and you should not attempt it if you are not fit to start with or you have some sort of heart condition.

If you can do one set of four minutes, you are doing well. As you improve you can increase the number of four minute sets.

The fitness gains are supposed to be very great and out of all proportion to the time spent doing the workout.

I tried it in the gym the other day, managed two sets of four minutes and felt utterly exhausted.

Posted by Xavier.

Intervals or Tempo

May 1, 2009

While we wait for the next instalment about Maria’s fabulous achievement last weekend, here’s an article about whether intervals are better than tempo running for improving general fitness and performance. 

The result of research at the University of Texas Southwestern Human Performance Center which compared the results of tempo and interval training in a group of athletes. Although the tempo running group ostensibly did more “quality” running than the interval runners, the latter achieved more significant gains in fitness and performance than the interval runners. As the article states:

A key lesson to be learned here is that intensity is always the most-potent producer of fitness; it is a much-stronger stimulus for improvement than training volume and workout frequency.  When you conduct your intervals at 90 to 100 percent of VO2max (and at higher intensities, too), the amount of fitness gained per minute will always be greater, compared with the running capacity accrued at lower intensities.

Here’s an alternative link to the article.

So, if you are short of time and want a good work out, do intervals rather than a tempo run. But don’t over do it because it is relatively easy to get a minor injury from the hard, fast running that interval training requires.