Saturday, 28 September 2013

Dublin half marathon race report!

This race started no too dissimilar to previous races, my thought were consumed with negativity and self doubt. I hadn't been training particularly well over the past weeks and I woke up the morning of the race with slightly swollen glands and ache in all my muscles.

I sat on the edge of my bed before packing my gear and honestly contemplated not running. My wife was racing too and had it not been for her participation I'd have hit snooze on the alarm and rolled over. 

The weather on race day was perfect, blue skies, warm but slightly humid. I love racing in the heat, I'd prefer that to racing in the cold. As I set off I kept with my original plan of tucking in behind the 1hr30min pacers and trying to have a good performance. I should have been chasing down a PB but in the early stages of the race I felt content trying to hold pace with the 1hr30 crew. 
2km in I felt awful, my muscles ached with every step and it felt like I was using all my energy to put one foot in front of the other. My mind was racing and all my thoughts were consumed with pulling out. I had a gel in my hand, I never take gels, I took this one with me that morning because I was feeling so tired and I hoped it might give me a boost. At the 4km point I was so lethargic I took the gel, it made me feel worse, now not only was I tired, consumed with muscle ache but now I felt sick too. I stepped to the side of the road and tried to puke, I couldn't. I started running again but realised those pacers were 200m ahead and I wasn't going to catch them. 

I made a decision to carry on, to at least get to the 12km point. This was were the bag drop was, I would collect my bag and get changed. I settled into a nicer pace, I let the pacers go and ran at a pace that suited me. I didn't feel any better but the negative thoughts and doubts about my training subsided. I continued on for a few more kilometers and slowly began to enjoy the race. I was pushing myself through, up until this point all my thoughts were on stopping. Step by step I felt better, my muscles weren't aching now but my energy was till draining. 

By the time I reached the 12km point, I still wanted to stop but I didn't! I convinced myself to get to the 15km mark, at least that would be a decent training distance. I was using lateral thinking, breaking the race up into much smaller segments just trying to get finished. "Only 9km to go, that's nothing!" 
As the remaining kilometres passed by my energy levels plateaued and I felt ok. My muscles no longer ached and each step seemed to energise me. I was genuinely surprised that I was still going. The last few kilometers of the race consisted of a long slow drag uphill, I love running uphill. I started to overtake people ahead of me, I recognised some of the people by their rig out and remember them passing me earlier, when I felt awful. I re-learned the valuable lesson in never giving up. I felt good now and picked up the pace.
I put in a few fast remaining kilometers and finished with a negative split. I was happy with how it played out. I finished in a not too bad 1hr32min57sec. It wasn't my best performance by any stretch but in retrospect it was good to revisit some of the lessons I learned in that race:

Listen to your body
Don't give up too easy
Some of the lows you experience on the road are followed by some of the highs

The day was marred by the death of a fellow competitor. It seems he had some cardiac trouble and emergency response units were unable to save him. There were more than one cardiac traumas that day and there were many people collapsing under the unusual heat and humidity. St Johns Ambulance should be applauded for their quick action and work on the day. Fortunately there was only one fatality. My thoughts are with the family and friends of the man who lost his life.

If you've never ran a distance race before, if you are carrying a few extra pounds, or if you experience any chest pain or tightness you should get some medical screening before attempting a distance race. 

Run long, run fast but most of all RunSensible! 


Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Ibuprofen and paracetamol!

If you are unfortunate enough to have an injury and you want to use OTC (over the counter) medicine, which is best?
I must first express that I use neither of these remedies. I don't tend to carry injuries and if I do I modify my training and nutrition accordingly. I've stated before that I am not a huge believer or prescriber of mechanical strain causing pain. However here's what you can expect from these two products.

How does Ibuprofen work?

Ibuprofen is commonly known as an NSAID's (non steroidal anti inflammatory drugs), what that means is this drug will combat inflammation at the source. 

Example: if while out running you trip and twist you ankle joint causing some minor connective tissue damage which presents as tender, hot, red and painful. You can be sure you have an inflammation. The inflammatory process starts off with a release of histamine from the injured tissue cells. This last about 15 seconds, after which the cells have to produce another substance to keep the inflammatory process going. Remember we need the inflammatory process because it is the beginning of the repair process. 
Once the histamine has been released, the same cells use COX1 & COX2 enzymes present in the blood to manufacture prostaglandins. Without these two COX (Cyclooxygenase) enzymes the cells can not make prostaglandins and therefore the inflammatory process is halted. The ibuprofen or anti inflammatory drugs denature the COX enzymes in the blood which means these cells can not prolong the inflammation and you recover sooner. Our bodies are programmed to produce about 10 times more inflammation than required, but rest assure inflammation is very very useful and with out it you would never heal. 

So if ibuprofen can denature COX enzymes, why not give everybody a small does every day and minimise overall tissue damage?
Just like all things in physiology you can not mess with one system without messing with another. Let me explain. Our stomachs are a dark vat of hydrochloric acid. The substance we use to stop this acid digesting the stomach wall is called intrinsic factor. Intrinsic factor is manufactured by parietal cells, the key ingredient used to make intrinsic factor are COX enzymes. 
Most people on long term NSAID's should be also taking omeprazole, which will reduce the hydrochloric acid in the stomach. This, it is thought will make up for the lack of intrinsic factor but low hydrochloric acid will cause many digestion and reflux problems. So personally I think it's best to avoid these nasty pitfalls.

Note; low intrinsic factor levels will cause pernicious anaemia another pitfall of trying to manipulate one aspect of physiology. Anaemia deserves a whole separate post!

So ibuprofen will have an impact on the actual site and it will help with the recovery process. It's worthy to point out that once the inflammation is inhibited some of the pain will be inhibited too. So there are some analgesic affects of taking NSAID's. 

How does paracetamol work?

If we take from the above that NSAID's actually have a direct impact on the tissues involved and that they can help the healing process (although its at the detriment of your health), we can take from this that paracetamol (pain killers) will not. 
These work to kill the pain, usually quite effectively for about 3 hours but they will not impact the site and they will not promote healing. They work by blocking a receptor on your brain. All feeling (sensory input) makes its way to the brain by 3 cables (neurones). When you want to block a pain message jumping across the final cable to the point on the brain that registers pain you can pop a few paracetamol. They fill the receptor sites so the pain message can not complete it's journey, making you unaware of the pain until they are worn out. Once they ware off the pain will return until your body manages to control the inflammation itself. This usually takes about 48 hours. Although you can help this process using alternative methods. 

What's the alternative approach?

Ice the area of inflammation ASAP. Remember the prostaglandins will start to be produced 15 seconds after injury and will continue for about 48 hours. Icing the area will cause the blood vessels to constrict, taking blood away. Less blood means less COX enzymes and therefore less prostaglandins so less inflammation, which we now know means less pain. 

Increase anti-inflammatory foods over these 48 hours. Any raw fruit or vegetables will benefit this process. But specifically  
Bioflavonoids in citrus fruits and berries
Mint, Cumin, Thyme and Paprika
Cherries and Cherry juice
And let's not forget mushrooms and Green leafy veg!

Try to avoid chicken and eggs. Poultry products are the greatest cause of a pro inflammatory state in the body.

Both of these drugs are a common feature on ultra distance aid stations and on long training runs. It should be noted that apart from the effects stated above NSAID's are likely to yield some kidney damage if taken during endurance sports and you body is likely to be dehydrated. Also pain killers like paracetamol may cause some liver dysfunction if you pop too many during times of prolonged exercise and low body hydration.

Tuesday, 3 September 2013

Poor hydration and joint pain

Dry mouth is not the only indicator of a poorly hydrated body. Often the sign can be a head ache, minor stomach cramps, nervous feeling or joint pain. 

Our bodies need a constant supply of water to maintain adequate levels, since we loose on average 1-1.5 litres per day breathing, sweating and peeing. If levels remain chronically low one key sign might be joint pain. When inadequate water levels continue over time we develop an inability to remove metabolic waste accumulating in joints and muscles. This waste is very acidic with a pH level way too low for our bodies. This acid build up will irritate free nerve ending which interpret this as painful sore joints. Structurally there is nothing wrong with the joint and it shouldn't cause pain. So often increasing water hydration for a few days can eliminate joint pains. 

So how much water do we need? 
There is now straight forward answer to that question since demand is governed by a persons size, activity level, diet and the climate they live in. A good rule is to ensure regular water hydration breaks throughout the day while avoiding drinks with high fructose corn syrup (sugar) which might quench a thirst but will not hydrate your cells. 
Water is always a better choice when thinking about hydration. Green tea works very well too and will supply lots of antioxidants and a nice taste.