Daily Archives: September 10, 2016

Hearing voices? Differentiating between good advice and background noise to improve running technique.

It’s been a while since I’ve cast my pearls of running wisdom before the swine that is my regular reader.  Few points of clarification here.  I don’t wish to alienate you my reader, educate certainly, offend, absolutely not!  You need to understand that warthogs – African swine if you will – are my absolutely favourite animal (FACT).  I used to have a picture of one on my business card, so this isn’t an insult. Here are some pictures of me enjoying quality time with a smorgasbord of warthogs I particularly adore, by way of supporting evidence.  Also, I am including these photos because I think this running blog will be greatly enhanced by the inclusion of a few gratuitous warthog shots, and I’ve not managed to sneak them in prior to now.  FYI, if ever I need to think of my ‘happy place’ in order to help me calm down so that I do not follow through with, oh I don’t know, killing someone who has annoyed me say, this is the place I go to in my head.  I know, it explains quite a lot:

Secondly, warthogs are in fact awesome runners.  Have you ever seen them move?  They can manage up to 30 mph for a short distance at least.  They are stoical and determined, and defy the expectations of those who might presume that their physiques work against them when it comes to running.


Trail running as it should be done

Essentially, I think if I had a spirit animal it would be a warthog.  They are awesome. Fiercely loyal; inherently hilarious; outstanding body confidence;  always wanting to know what’s happening if not always alert to social graces and caring not one iota for appropriate dress codes. Perfect role models in fact.  However, I digress, today’s blog is to share with you some Top Tips that I have been garnering in order to up my game with regard to running technique.  I already know that you will struggle to find the right words to express what you are thinking in respect of this, so please don’t try to thank me,some things are best left unsaid.  Knowing you are achieving your best because of me is all the gratitude and recognition I seek.  Whenever people catch sight of me and then quickly do a U-turn and run away from me at full speed I tell myself that they are doing so merely to showcase their running form. It is the ultimate affirmation for me in a way, I won’t hear of it explained otherwise!  This is an example of one of the voices in my head, which conveniently takes me to the topic in hand.  Hearing voices.

I get a bit confused about which voices to listen to.  Should I listen to my body or the commentary in my head?  Healthy eating gurus  and indeed some sport coaches are inclined to tell you that if you learn to listen to your body you won’t go too far wrong in respect of diet and fitness. (Eat when hungry only, that sort of thing). Well, I’m not entirely convinced.  My body is prone to saying things like ‘I’m nice and comfy on this sofa‘ and ‘shall we walk now – lungs are killing me puffing up this hill‘.  Honestly, I think I’m pretty tuned into that voice, and it’s being so ready to listen to it which is keeping me very much in my comfort/ non running zone, which as any expert will tell you, is a great way to remain nice and comfortable (Type one fun if you will).   But, maybe not so great in terms of ever improving my performance let alone ‘fulfilling my potential.’


The commentary in my head is also pretty loud.  Mostly it’s along the lines of ‘oh crap, this is hard‘, ‘oh no a photographer/ someone I know – I’ll have to keep running a bit‘ or most loudly of all ‘this is pointless you are rubbish at running, just stop now, go home and never leave the house again‘.  Even though there is a dedicated club for rubbish runners (no really there is, see below) this internal monologue is not conducive to enhancing my enthusiasm for running, let alone my performance doing so.


Time for a change.  Let’s make running great again! (That is a topical reference by the way, not an endorsement of Trump).  Couple of things contributed to this, have contributed to my desire to change up a gear in relation to my running.  The imminence of The Dirty Double weekend away with my Smiley Paces running club (eek, what was I thinking, 15k followed by a 14k in potentially ‘biblical’ conditions, November, Lake District) for one thing.  I know it sounds drastic, but I’m wondering if I should train for it.  This would be an alternative option to dropping out say, and it is still two months away.  The other thing that made me question my nigh on terminal apathy in respect to my running of late,  was my return to Accelerate Woodrun in Eccleshall Woods last Thursday.  (Incidentally, spell check thinks this should be Ecclesial woods, so there’s a thought).  It was suggested that it might help me if I keep a running diary, and note the extent to which I work hard on my runs. This should be scoring on a scale of one to five, where ‘1’ is easy peasy and ‘5’ as eyes popping out and lung bursting (I think those were the technical terms).  Well, leaving aside the administrative detail that I probably wouldn’t fill an actual diary with my runs, I’d be alright noting my runs on a post-it note, in my heart I already know the answer to the question with respect to effort exerted.   I’m always hovering around a two and half, as soon as it gets remotely horrible, I just stop.  Could it be this is where my training is going wrong?  What an extraordinary revelation!  Maybe I do need to just try a bit harder now and again and see where it leads…

Obviously, to just go right out there and ‘try a bit harder‘ without soliciting other random opinions would be very irresponsible.  I decided to confer with my hobbit running buddy, who is also going to do the Dirty Double, and (alarmingly) has suddenly become ultra-focused and competitive in anticipation of this event.  We can do our training together.   We met up on Friday (yesterday) and straight off she came up with a brilliant idea that we should go for a flatter route, so we couldn’t use the hills (which are steep round here) as an excuse for slowing down and stopping all the time.  I blinked at her a bit, and explained the scoring system as an amendment to her proposed motion, and we decided to give it a go.  The problem is, to be honest we got a bit distracted.  The thing is we had to discuss our future training regime, and our having this discussion wasn’t compatible with actually running as neither of us can talk and run at the same time.  Also, I really needed the loo (yes I did go before I left the house, but I’d had to take a detour en route and had miscalculated the strength of my pelvic floor). I mean  I’d have been ok for a bit of yomp, but flat-out, nope, I needed a precautionary pee.  Plus we were very taken with the active wear video as per my last post, and so had to incorporate some ‘posing in our active wear‘ time into our run, which was also to involve a recce of some of the forthcoming TenTenTen.  I don’t know if I’m running that, I might volunteer instead, but Hobbit Buddy has entered it.  The upshot it was more a planning meeting than an actual work out session, but it was a start.

So what happened was this.  A gentle jog down to the public loos in Endcliffe Park during which we had our catch up chat.  You wouldn’t believe what scrapes Hobbit’s cats have been getting up to, we clearly needed to cover all that!  Then we got distracted in a conversation about weight.  I concede, if I lost weight it would obviously help with my running, but getting diet right is more complicated than the ‘just think of food as fuel‘ brigade would have you believe.

Food is not only about nutrition.  I do eat really healthily, for me it’s portion control that is the issue, but I don’t ever want to be made to feel guilty about eating an avocado. Honestly, only a couple of weeks ago someone said to me when I was about to tuck into a salad which included both avocado and olives ‘you aren’t seriously going to eat those are you – this is where you are going wrong!’  Spoiler alert, yes I was and yes I will again.  Excluding those from my diet is not my idea of healthy eating.  Possibly polishing off the end of Brie whilst you are waiting for your soup to heat up, is not so good I accept that.  It’s those kind of habits I need to break, not getting some sort of food related neurosis about ‘forbidden’ fruits.

Normally hobbit buddy is pretty good on these points, but on this occasion I wasn’t so taken with her advice.  ‘How about instead of eating all that cheese whilst you are waiting, why not do 20 press-ups instead?’  That was twice in one morning I blinked at her in utter incomprehension.  Does she not realise cheese is as addictive as heroin?   I’m not going to listen to her voice if the best it can come up with is ‘do press-ups voluntarily in preference to eating perfectly ripened brie straight off the knife‘  to be honest.  I totally know her advice would work, obviously, but it also not ever going to happen in my universe.  Does anyone really do that, apart from ‘Dr’ Gillian McKeith who everyone knows is basically unhealthily obsessed by other people’s poo and not even a real doctor?  Also, she (Dr McK) is so self-righteous and smug that the very thought of her makes me want to take lard intravenously just to annoy her and I’m vegetarian and (as established previously) swine are my friends, so that’s really saying something!  Really, do you want to build your career around this, just to get dumped in a jungle somewhere and be made to eat kangaroo testicles as the high point of your fame?  To be fair, if you do, there is a vacancy now Dr McK has been discredited, so good luck to you!


Perhaps it was to avoid continuing this conversation that we then decided to try for a bit of a sprint ‘as fast as we can to the dog poo bin‘, because, whilst Sheffield may well be the Greenest City in England, that was as imaginative we could be when thinking ahead to the next memorable landmark after the Endcliffe Cafe.  Phew, it was further than I thought, that was hard – gawd do some people feel like this the whole time when they are running. That’s not type two fun, that’s type three, surely?

On the plus side, Hobbit was a bit breathless too, so we regrouped and got back to our central strategy which was procrastination.  ‘So this is a good thing to do, hypothetically, and we can incorporate more of it into our future runs, but let’s talk about our core and conditioning work strategy now shall we?’ We have decided to start using the outdoor gym (next week) and see if we can do some strengthening work, by sharing different exercises with one another.  I will bestow on her the wisdom gained through my participation at woodrun, she will bestow on me the wisdom gained through her HIIT work-out DVD.  What could possibly go wrong?

So then, we went off on a TenTenTen recce, and got massively distracted by posing in our active wear when we got to the magical arboreal archway that is such a delight to discover in our local patch of wood.

Now, I fully appreciate that to the uneducated, untrained and ill-informed eye these pictures will just look like we were mucking about.  Not so dear reader.  Not so at all.  Understanding one’s personal biomechanics through sophisticated gait analysis is an incredibly important part of improving running performance.  We only put ourselves on camera running in this way so we can examine our pronation and check out whether or not we are over-striding.  You have to walk before you can run you know, and preparation is everything.  Fortunately, it is immediately apparent our respective running forms are basically exemplary, so no worries there.  Any slight over-balance is probably caused by the weight of our visors, and we can correct for that with practice.  I’m sure as dammit not parting with mine though, oh no siree.  That visor was long awaited for and hard-won.

At the ‘end’ of our run, we even added on an extra bit, because we have a new resolve to try harder, doubling back on ourselves to take on a flat section at pace again.  If my strava is not toying with me, we even got a PR on that section, which is both good and bad.  Good because it shows we were trying, bad because it still wasn’t all that impressive.  On conclusion ‘proper’ I asked her what she thought of our attempts:  ‘So how would that score on a scale of 1-5 effort?’ I asked.  ‘Maybe 2‘ she said.  ‘Maybe 2?!‘  I thought we were trying a bit harder myself.  ‘Definitely about 2, and type one fun as well‘, she reiterated.  I am really going to have to up my game…

So, summary of yesterday’s outing in relation to hearing voices:

  • the expert voice that suggested grading my running efforts is probably worth listening to for a bit at least as it is a way of monitoring if I’m actually trying
  • the voice in my head saying  ‘stop now’ could maybe go on hold now and again, though no need to take it as far as waiting until my eyes are about to pop out before taking that feedback on board
  • hobbit’s voice of ‘let’s try’ is probably a good one to listen to as well, we can try a new collusion regime (not to be confused with a collision regime, which this very nearly was due to a typing error) whereby we collude in doing more running together not less.  We can but try.  Change in mindset for both of us though.  Yikes indeed!

Today though, parkrun day. I thought I’d take the hearing voices to another level.  My plan was to solicit opinion re Dirty Double and running techniques in general from as many people as possible.  The basic premise is that if you ask enough people what to do, eventually someone will tell you what you want to hear. This is only a slight variation on being sure to ask advice only from someone who will confirm your preferred course of action.  There is a slight risk (like the boy and the man leading the donkey story) that you will come a cropper from trying to please everyone, but it was a risk I was willing to take.

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Sometimes, I have a flash of unwelcome self-awareness, that I immediately try to crush.  That happened a few times today.  I ambushed Smiley Paces friends and parkrun compatriots numerous and various and basically pumped them all for insights and information and then brutally cast them aside once they had outlived their usefulness to me.  I need to work on my life skills, but like my core strengthening work, I see it as a potential future project rather than an immediate undertaking.  So, a little selection of the expert voices I downloaded today:

On walking down to parkrun, by an extraordinary quirk of fate, super speedy founder Smiley, famed for compression shorts and winning races, came alongside.  Much as I’d like to pretend that we mutually and companionable shared running top tips, in fact I basically just appropriated all her years of running wisdom through devious questioning techniques.  The trick is to start innocently enough.  Eh hem: ‘so what’s your thought on appropriate running efforts at parkrun?’ I used as my opening gambit.  Anyway, upshot is, that it can work to use parkrun (say) as your threshold running romp for the week.  That means, going fast enough that you can’t talk and run at the same time (or properly trying in lay terms).  I’m very aware, that at the end of every parkrun I can always muster the energy for a sprint finish. This actually means not that I’m a completely brilliant runner with an amazing turn of speed (though do please continue in that misapprehension should you ever see me in action),  au contraire dear reader, it means I must always be holding something back.  I know this really, maybe I should give more all the way round.  It wouldn’t matter if I ended up slowing at the finish or even limping over it, if I’d been really going for it earlier on.  It is a good point, well made, and one to think about.     It was genuinely interesting hearing her perspective actually, joking aside, how the ‘mixing it up’ means you get breadth in your running performance instead of just a single string to your metaphorical running bow.  I don’t know that I gave quite the right response to the suggestion of track work though.  Said I’d love to come with my sandwiches and watch her train from the stands.  Anyway,  I dumped her at the loos, because I had my eye on the ownder of the next important running voice with whom I needed to engage.

I give you The Runderwear Ambassador.  I have been wanting to catch up with her since yesterday, when I finally hit ‘add to basket‘ and then ‘pay‘ in respect of making a runderwear purchase.  I feel confident these will indeed aid my running progression through by-passing any chafing issues.  Perhaps the associated abolition of my VPL will also shave off crucial seconds by giving me a more streamlined running profile.    I needed some clarification on whether of not I should have got the ones that come up to your armpits, or the more risqué ones that only cover your tummy hole (they cover your arse as well to be fair, I mean the cut of the proverbial jib differs).    This conversation required not only verbal advice, but quite a lot of me scrutinising her knickers and under-garments in general.  It is testament to her sweet nature and my poor social skills, that neither of us considered this to be particularly inappropriate behaviour in a public place.  Still, no-one said running was easy. If you are serious about getting better as an athlete you mustn’t be held back by what other people think.  It’s not like she was going commando or anything.


Next stop, Smiley Paces buddies miscellaneous to check out Dirty Double entries.  The first one I caught up with was encouraging about my participation in this event.  (I’m back on to soliciting opinion from others about what should I do – heaven portend I should have to make a decision on my own and take personal responsibility for it).  This was welcome, but somewhat undermined by her shocking revelation that she is doing the two times 10k races not the longer ones in the afternoon.  So whilst her voice was positive, it was not the loudest one influencing me.  Not to worry, dump her, corner someone else.

There in the distance was Regal Smiley and her Running buddy of choice. I shamelessly bulldozed their conversation (well, this was an emergency, all about me and my running needs). ‘I have to ask you a question I breathlessly gasped out to them‘.  Regal Smiley knew immediately what it was ‘you’ll be fine, you should do it!’ Now, this is genuinely encouraging, because she did it last year, and they did it with another Smiley mate who was made to do it despite having fallen over in the shower immediately prior to running.  I rather formed the impression she actually hurled herself down on the tiles hoping that this pre-race injury would allow her to drop out, but it didn’t work).  The only down side of this otherwise encouraging perspective, was that both she and her running buddy are a lot fitter and faster than me, and also a lot taller i.e. longer legs, they don’t have to take so many steps as me going round.    I was standing a bit too close and got quite a crick in my neck gazing up at them.  However, more good news.  Regal Smiley’s buddy (who was volunteering today – clue there) said that she was doing it and wont even be able to do any running for the next five weeks because she is injured.  ‘But that’s brilliant news!’ I exclaimed.  Because this is all about me, and it made me feel so much better to hear someone carrying some no doubt horrific (but unspecified) injury was going to risk a romp round despite being possibly still in pain and having done no training for months!  I skipped away having lost interest in them entirely now they had given some positive reinforcement.  I had again that slight shudder of self-awareness about having been socially inappropriate, but hey ho, it’s not the worst of my faux pas even for just today.  I did a sort of half-hearted ‘oh, well great tapering though, you’ll be well rested before it‘ over my shoulder as an after thought as I left.  Probably not my finest hour in terms of supporting others with their running, but I couldn’t help myself.  Sorry though. Get well soon etc. if you are reading this…

So, whilst I skipped away feeling more confident, it didn’t take much before I  could feel my wavering happening all over again when I then met another Smiley 10k x two=er.  Peer pressure is a terrible thing.  I just believe I should do whatever the person I’ve spoken to most recently is doing.  So many contradictory voices, so little capacity for independent thought on my part.  The only compelling and uncontested truth is that the prospect of some fifty odd (and we are most definitely all odd) Smileys taking over a youth hostel does offer up enormous comic potential.  Plus, there is the added bonus of a boat trip prior to the second race round Ullswater, with actual live music.  So if I disregard the running aspect, we could be looking at a type two fun scenario with associated type one fun at the edges…

So as things stand, I am reminded that trail running is basically exactly like opening a bottle of prosecco.  Terrifying in prospect to many of us (that cork could just fly of anywhere and have someone’s eye out at any moment) yet, if you can just get over that initial understandable angst, you will be rewarded with the giddying delights of fizzy white wine in one context and a runners high in the other.   Honestly, I think that the Lakeland Trails might even include an actual prosecco drinking element as well.  Now there is an incentive I can understand.  The inherent risk is there it is true, but on the other hand, pop that cork and you can be the one to get the party started!


So when it comes to listening to voices.  My advice is this.

  • Take on board advice of experts, they are awesome runners for a reason and they have experience to back it up
  • If you are going to listen to the voices in your own head, teach them to be voices that help you grow rather than encourage you to shrink back
  • Never take dietary advice from anyone who thinks avocados are evil
  • Ultimately, you won’t please everyone, so find a way to please yourself.  Running is supposed to be fun, even if ‘fun‘ can be sort of complicated, and we haven’t even discussed ‘forced fun’ yet (reference Christmas/ Disneyland/ most weddings)
  • Choose carefully who you ask for advice, in case they tell you something you don’t want to hear


and reflecting on all that collective wisdom, I can summarise the advice in relation to improving running technique and performance as this

  • just get out and do it, and now and again, try a bit harder

That’s it, that’s the pearl(s).  Trust it was worth the wait!

Then again, don’t listen to me, I’m just running scared and improvising.

There were 656 parkrunners at Endcliffe park this morning by the way.  That is pretty inspirational.  It’s also a lot of different approaches to running, we all have our own unique styles, and all are valid.  Go us, go Sheffield Hallam parkrun!

You’re welcome, happy running ’til next time.  🙂

Categories: motivation, running, running clubs, teamwork | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

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