Your quads take on the most load as each foot hits the ground when running downhill, which will result in cramps if you are not using the correct technique, or if you have not trained specifically to run downhill.
Running coach Matt Buck (www.runningadventures.co.uk) advises: “You should be running on your toes and taking small steps when descending. Many people over-stride when running downhill, which is dangerous and will cause muscle soreness. Make sure you incorporate downhill sessions into your training, allowing you to build up your quad strength and perfect your technique.”
Podiatrist Colin Papworth says: “It sounds as if it’s your cuboid bone causing the problem. If it isn’t sitting right it causes problems with other foot muscles and lower leg. It happens commonly after an ankle sprain and can appear months or years later. Treatment will probably consist of a podiatrist mobilising the cuboid and talus bones in your foot, and soft tissue massage and stretching. You must definitely try not to go over on your ankle again while cuboid syndrome is healing – Kinesio taping seems to help.”
It can be demoralising as towards the end of a race those tired legs just refuse to keep up with the gang. Here are the pros' top tips:
- Javed Bhatti discovered mid-ultra fartlek sessions: “Challenge a fellow competitor to 2min at a 5k pace – your muscles and mind will soon be reinvigorated,” he suggests.
- “Make sure you’ve got your pre and during nutrition nailed,” says Jayson Cavill, “and eat little and often.”
- “Stick to your race plan,” is Debbie Martin-Constani’s advice, “and don’t get pulled along too fast at the start.”
We all have a guilty pleasure… pies, pints, cake (mmm, cake)… but are the good things in life not so good for your running? Our panel of experts give us some food for thought.
- Get natural You don’t have to be a saint but try and maintain a normal, balanced diet – think real unprocessed food, not fads. Debbie Martin-Constani
- Moderation Everything in moderation is a pretty good principle. I often stop for a proper pub meal halfway through on long training runs. Javed Bhatti
- Balance I’ve found you get out what you put in and taking care of your body with a balanced diet may give you much better results. Jayson Cavill
- Fuel Up Fuel in the tank is the key to ultra-running so you need to make sure you have sufficient fuel for your runs. There’s nothing wrong with pie and chips, provided it’s not every night. Jayson Cavill
Colin Papworth says, “Highly cushioned maximal shoes feel quite different to run in. Some like this feeling and use it to help them ‘spring’ forward, others find it unstable. They'll give you underfoot protection – useful if you suffer from pain caused by continual loading on ultra runs. When buying, you'll need to take into consideration things like pronation control, heel to toe drop, stiffness and shape. Some maximal shoes will incorporate a rocker sole – thicker in the midsection – or a very steep curve from the forefoot to toes, and this can have an effect on your gait. Again, some people will love this feeling and some will struggle with it. Understand why you want to try them and go to a shop where you can sample a range and discuss with staff what you are trying to achieve. A good shop with knowledgeable staff should be able to guide you through this process.”
Joe Cooper says, “To improve explosive speed and power, don’t head straight to the gym. Your own body weight and the great outdoors are the only tools you’ll need, along with a willingness to put some effort in. Using these components and the three exercises (right) will enable you to run faster for longer on differing gradients. Expect to generate the ability to make the most of more ‘runnable’ sections after an arduous climb, and to develop an increased ability to cope with jumps, steps and lateral movements at higher speeds."
1 Uber lunge
Start in a lunge position, heel lifted behind you. Do a deep lunge and at the lowest point power up with both legs to jump into a split stance, feet shoulder width apart. Repeat with the other leg. Alternate legs for 3 x 20 reps.
2 Power jumps
Start in a wide stance. Do a deep squat and power through the lower body to jump, getting full extension/pushing hips forward, then back to a squat. Focus on activating your muscles and landing gently. Do 3 x 15 reps.
3 Triple speed hills
Mark 100m on a hill. Jog slowly uphill for 30m, three-quarter pace for 30m, full sprint for 40m. Slow walk back to the start. Recovery time between reps is roughly twice the time taken for each hill rep. Repeat 8 times.
Emma McCabe says, “This is probably plantar fasciitis, which is a degenerative change of the plantar fascia, a band of tissue which runs along the base of the foot. There's collagen breakdown and micro tears occur. This is a common runners’ injury and there are numerous reasons you might be more prone to it. When an injury recurs like this, though, either you haven't reached the root of the problem or there hasn't been time for it to fully resolve.
The first thing to do is to have your running gait analysed; experts will pick up on any asymmetries or pronation and may suggest more supportive shoes. It may be that you've ramped up your training too much at once, in which case rest, and then build up your training more gradually. Resist the temptation to make up for lost time by going full throttle.
What's plantar fasciitis?
Plantar fasciitis is one of the most common running injuries. It occurs when the PF is damaged, thickening and becoming
Plantar fasciitis causes pain under the heel, often worst in the mornings. Walking/running may seem to ease it but it often gets more
This is a band of tissue which runs along the base of the foot. It runs from the heel to the toe bones, supporting the arch and acting as a shock absorber.
You need to ensure that you're doing flexibility exercises such as calf stretches– make sure you release the hamstrings too. Using a foam roller can help with both. The plantar fascia will also need releasing. Roll a frozen water bottle, tennis ball or spiky ball around under your foot to help loosen it.
Strengthening exercises play a big part in rehabilitation: doing exercises with a resistance band to strengthen the muscles around the ankles, calf raises and also picking items up from the floor using your toes can help. If you've had a previous injury of the ankle, knee or hip this imbalance may be the main problem. If none of these suggestions work, I'd highly recommend physiotherapy. Good luck!
Kim says, “The illiotibial band (ITB) is a fibrous band that runs down the outside of the leg connecting the glute (large bum) muscle and a small hip muscle (tensor fasciae latae) to the bone just below the knee. Pain is thought to occur when the band tightens, compressing sensitive structures between it and the knee. If you get the problem intermittently, it’s probably in response to a change in running mechanics which usually occurs when fatigued. Analyse your running around flare-ups. Have you done more training, longer runs, increased tempo or downhill? Work out the causes and adapt your training to allow more recovery between trigger sessions or reduce the volume. Then, progressively make yourself more robust in these areas by slowly building back up. Strengthening the glute medius will help. These 2 exercises work the muscle in running relevant positions.”
1 Single-legged squat
Start with 3x5 reps, building to 3x15 reps. Keep hip, knee and foot in the same plane to work the glute and avoid tightening the ITB. Stay slow and controlled. If this causes pain in the ITB, start with a double leg, seated squat and progress to single leg. To make it harder, do more reps, use weights or lower the seat you are squatting on to.
2 Side step-up
Start with 3x5 reps, building to 3x15 reps. Stand beside a bench at roughly knee height. Step the near foot up onto it then stand up straight, driving up through the ‘benched’ leg and raising the opposite knee. Then lower down to the start position, slowly and in control. To make it harder use a higher step or hold weights.
Dave says, “Try to take the widest line through the corner. Imagine driving a car round a tight bend; you can go faster if you use all the road, the ‘racing line’. Shorten your stride length. Think short, quick strides as you approach the corner and then build back up to your normal stride as you exit. Incorporate ‘fast feet’ drills into your training to develop fast twitch muscles and quick reactions. Also, drop your uphill shoulder slightly to shift your body weight to the uphill side of the bend. Imagine riding a bike round the bend, you’d lean uphill, and it’s the same principle here. Try to focus on the ground a few feet ahead of you rather than looking straight down at your feet. As with any skill, it takes time to develop so include it in your training. Practise on a variety of slope angles and different types of terrain.”
Dave says, “To get through the last stages of a long run you need to get your nutrition/hydration right and have trained well. Practise eating early in training and make it an essential part of your long runs. Find out what works for you. An accepted intake is about 60g carbs per hour so don’t wait for the last 6 miles before taking on fuel. It’s the same with hydration, sip little and often rather than stopping at stations and glugging loads. Try electrolyte drink to replace minerals.
As for training, it’s a simple matter of putting the miles in. If you’ve got a couple of years running under your belt you can probably run 6 days a week. Many people will build up to a long run of 20 miles about a month before the race. Include long runs with the last 40min at a faster pace to get used to running on tired legs. Getting fit is a gradual process, stick at it!”
Cushla says, “Dogs need to build up to long distances slowly and steadily, just like their human companions. By taking your dog with you on training runs and building distances together, you'll ensure you're both race fit. Start with 5km to 10km, then add an additional 3km per week up to 20km. Overall, it’s down to the dog; if they stop, so do you. It’s a team goal and, when you start a run, they don’t know if it’s 5km or a marathon – unless they recognise the extra backpack you’re carrying for their supplies. Carry water, a collapsible bowl, first aid kit and dog booties; consider your dog’s nutritional needs and avoid running on hard surfaces to help protect their joints and paws. Avoid running in warm temperatures and hold off on long distances until your dog is 2 years old and has had a vet check. Don’t use a non-pull harness or head collar and, just as you’d avoid eating before a run, don’t feed your dog just before or after either.”
Charlie says, “Running on surfaces like ice, snow and mud requires different techniques to dry running:
■ Ice needs very quick and light footwork, almost as if you are running on air. The longer your foot stays in contact with the ice, the more chance there is of slipping. Your body should be as tension free as possible, but ready to readjust, should you slip. Of course running spikes will stop all or massively reduce the possibility of sliding.
■ Snow can be quite easy to run on and, depending on the type of snow cover on the ground, can be a real joy. Of course, snow comes in many different forms, especially in the UK. You can run down a slope with good cold, squeaky, hard packed (run as you normally would, but with more pronounced heel strikes), into breakable crust (high quick steps like running through high bracken) and the spring-type corn or granular snow and slush (hard in with the heels to create some form of traction). Each requires a different technique.
■ Mud is similar to both of the above, meaning very quick changes in footwork are required. In descent, you will find you can have a firm footing while the next can be all over the place. The best way to deal with this is to be ready for anything. Good balancing skills are key.
■ Uphill on all surfaces requires short, well-placed steps. Look for the best, most solid and grippy ground and steadily work your way upwards. Most important: shoes! Make sure you have enough grip.”
Rin says, “If you're going out for a longer run, a good hearty breakfast of slow release carbs is what you should aim for. Some runners feel bloated and uncomfortable or find themselves heading to the nearest bush if they eat too close to a run or eat too large a meal, so aim to have your breakfast 1-2hr before your run. If you have a more sensitive gut on the go, choosing low fibre and low fat options may help. If your run is going to be less than an hour, consider having breakfast on your return to save time and gut issues.”
1 The Old Faithful: Porridge
Good source of slow-release carbs, adaptable to meet any needs and warms you from the inside. MAKE IT 50g oats, 1-2 cups milk, 1tsp topping. Cook on medium heat, stir to your preferred consistency.
2 The quickie: Breakfast smoothie
Good, balanced, on-the-go breakfast and ideal if you struggle to stomach solids first thing.
MAKE IT 1 banana, 2tbsp 0% fat Greek yoghurt, 1tsp nut butter, 1tbsp oatmeal, 1 handful baby spinach, 1tsp honey, top with milk – soya works well. Mix in food processer and blitz!
3 The TLC: Hot chocolate & toast
If you’re prone to gut issues when out running, some tummy loving care might be what you need. MAKE IT 1-2tsp cocoa powder, low fat or soya milk, 1tsp almond essence for a marzipan twist. 2 slices white bread toast with a thin layer of spread plus honey or jam.
If you’re organised with your cooking and eating, fitting in training is far easier, Sally explains. “Most of my running is in the evening so I have a snack an hour or so before – usually a flapjack, nuts and raisins or a sandwich – as it’s no good attempting a run with no energy. It’s great to do a big batch of soup: it’s easily digestible so you can head out to run almost straight after. If planning a longer evening run, I have a more substantial lunch. I’m a big fan of setting the slow cooker before work, then running in the time I would have been preparing dinner.”
There are always little chunks of time throughout the day that might not be long enough for a run, but that doesn’t mean they have to be wasted. For Sally, bodyweight exercises, stretching and foam rolling can always be fitted in. “I take regular Strength and Conditioning for Runners classes – these involve lots of balance exercises, such as standing on one leg and dipping from the knee. We do small circuits of squats, lunges, plyometics, such as hopping and jump squats, then core work, such as plank, side plank, clam and bridges. These can be done at home, the gym, anytime really, and can include as many or as few exercises as time allows. Foam rolling is a great way to utilise time in front of the TV at the end of the day.”
If you’re short of time there’s little point in slow miles. Up the intensity to get the most out of your training. Ian likes a hill race against himself. “If you don’t have real hills, stairs or a steady incline will do the job. Warm up with a slow jog for 10min, remembering to include a slow lap of the ascent you’re about to pit yourself against. If you really want to go for it, it’s all about negative splits, aiming to go a little faster on each lap/ascent, so don’t go too quick on the first one. Depending on the slope angle and length, aim for 5 on your first session. After each uphill section jog down slowly. Then, a 10min gentle warm down.”
If you’re spending more time analysing your runs on Strava or devising training plans than actually running, take a look at your priorities and motivation for running. Anna has learnt that if she’s procrastinating then maybe something’s up. “The beauty of trail running is there should be no faff. You just grab your shoes, a bag, water and a bar if you want them, and go. I don’t use GPS watches so that’s never an issue. I really love to run so, when I wake up, I quickly have breakfast and just go. If I am thinking I can’t be bothered, I take this as a cue that I may need to back off. So, if you’re faffing there’s probably a reason.”
It’s not necessary to have a training plan set in stone, but some planning means that a run is less likely to get bumped out of a busy schedule; you won’t waste time wondering what to do and you’ll maximise the benefits of the runs you do manage to do. Ian describes how he plans his week “It’s good to plan your week around one or two key sessions so that you are motivated for
them when the day arrives. Prioritise quality and aim to make two 30min high intensity sessions, such as fartlek (varied pace) or hill work, and the other a tempo (5-10k race pace) run. The other run(s) can then be steady-paced miles to take you to the distance or 'time on your feet' that you need.”
If you’re struggling to fit in your training or, more importantly, enough quality recovery to balance it, you may need to re-evaluate your goals. Nik explains,“If finding the time to train is a constant uphill battle, alter your goals and expectations. For a good few years I aimed for ultras and multi-day events but, with an increasing workload, started to really struggle to get the miles in. So, I dropped my distances and instead focused on seeing how fast I could get over 5k, 10k and short fell races. I was able to dial my training volume right back but the increased intensity meant it was no easy option. Seeing my PBs tumble and beating guys who’d always been faster than me felt as good as crossing the finishing line of a 120-mile ultra.”
All our experts agreed it's worth spending a bit! Sally Fawcett had a fall recently on a training run. “I was in the Peak District, 6 miles away from the car, and suddenly I was walking rather than running in gale-force winds and rain. If the worst happens and you need to wait for the Mountain Rescue, you need to know your kit is going to keep you warm and safe.”