I have thought a few times about whether I should share my experience and if so at when - well, I have just finished my first 20 mile run in two years which I did not think was possible. Although I could wait until I have a good result in a race to report that isn’t really the point of my story and so I guess now is as good a time as any. The point, by the way, in case it doesn’t come across clearly in what follows is that I love running and the Cool Impossible, is letting me do it!
The background is that I was a runner / triathlete at university. I then took an informed decision to drop out of sports and travel the world which included dveloping a heavy marlboro red smoking habit for a decade. Over the last 6 / 7 years I have had a few attempts to get back into running. This period was punctuated by a very tough time at work when I don’t think I ran for at least 2 years. I also drank far too much and ate badly. Throughout all of this time of “getting back into running” the main constant has been injury: hip problems which required hip arthroscopy surgery which took 2 years out, achilles problems which culminated in surgery took another 16 months, calf problems took most of another year, and so on... I also had a collapsed lung that required pleurodesis in May 2013 which really knocked the wind out of me (boom boom!). Add it all together and I have mainly been injured with short bursts of running for this 6 / 7 “running” years.
Currently, I am 38 years old and live in London, regularly working 60 + hr weeks and do a fair amount of travelling which takes me away from my wife and our little daughter who I try to sped as much time with as I can (and which running can’t take priority over). The reason for telling you this is to say that I am trying to make this work while living a normal life which i need to keep in balance and where running is a third priority.
So, where am I now: well, I have been running since November 2014 virtually injury free (currently 4 months). I have lost 2.5 stones (going from around 15 stone to around 12.5 - I am 6’3” to put this into context) and I feel great about running. I can run 20 miles with (almost) no sweat. I am planning to run a sub 3 hr marathon in April (2 months time) and and ultimately would like to do some beginner ultras later this year and then some “real” events next year.
How has this happened? Answer - I have followed Eric’s Cool Impossible as closely as I have been able to. For anyone who is interested, this is what I have done:
1. I have tried my best to follow Eric Orton’s advice. I have researched quite a lot of his recommendations and although he does not go into the science in his book, I have found a scientific explanation for everything I have looked into. For example, did you know there is a very good reason why long slow runs should not exceed 3 hrs in length other than injury potential? There is - just look it up!
2. Starting up: I had calf problems when I started the CI, so I took about a month to complete the transition phase.
3. Form: this is what has made the real difference. I cannot over state this. FORM, FORM, FORM. I was a forefoot striker anyway, but I now know that I was all over the place, mainly through over striding, weak core and slow cadence which was firing massive shocks through my body with every stride. Whenever I am flagging in a session now I focus on picking my knees up quickly and everything else seems to fall back into place. I run with a Garmin Forerunner 220 and I have noticed my cadence increase from a maximum of 160 / min (both feet striking) to generally between 180 and 190 per min.
4. Sessions: I have done almost all the sessions in the CI phase 1 and have only missed one (counting sessions as everything other than the recovery runs - of which I have only done perhaps 2 or 3 in total). I am currently at phase 1 / week 7.
5. Shoes: I use my old Asics for gardening and alternate between a pair of Altra Torin 1.5s (which I started with - and have taken out the inner sole) and Altra Superior 1.5. Run and Become by Victoria / Westminster sells them. I know there are other brands out there - including B2Rs (which I could not find in the UK) - but I have found Altra excellent.
6. Be athletic: a.k.a. do your slant / disc board and core exercises. I have generally been good on the slant board and disc and probably do the exercises 2 - 4 x per week. I prioritise running over the board work when I am pushed for time but try to warm up on the slant board. When I am tired I fall off the start board without poles. When I am not tired I can generally balance for 2 mins in any position. I maybe do the core exercises 1 - 3 x a week. These really do depend on how much time I have. There is also no point in doing these if I am too tired as I just spend the “session” rolling around on the floor. The only other thing I do are 50 press ups each morning and this is just because I am vain and I don’t want to be a super skinny shouldered runner. Overall, though, I hugely believe in the slant / disc boards and think they have fixed a huge number of lower leg / hip problems that have plagued me for years. I cannot believe that these seem to be unknown to physios.
7. Nutrition: I think this is the most complicated part for anyone who has not properly studied it (i.e. me). I got very bothered about nutrition and tried to go “plant based” for a while after being inspired by Scott Jurek’s book Eat and Run. Truth is, it seems to me that unless you really know what you are doing and are organised enough to make it work then this is a minefield and you can really do some damage to yourself. After a lot of thought I now live by four rules:
Rule 1 - whole and organic foods only;
Rule 2 - no refined sugar;
Rule 3 - with the exception of cake, which is always off limits, rules 1 and 2 can be broken at any time when it is either excessively socially or professionally embarrassing to insist on them;
Rule 4 - no smoking.
As an addition to Rule 1, I hugely prefer fish and chicken over dark meet and I eat lots and lots of fruit and vegetables.
8. Gear: I have a Garmin Forerunner 220 and normal running gear. I also recently bought a gel belt which I use to store electolyte replacement gels for my 2 hr plus runs (I have been experimenting with Torq gels which seem to work ok). For mountain marathons I use Cliff Shot Blocs. I am also a big believer in compression clothing and run in a pair of 2XU calf guards and have another pair for recovery as well as some 3 /4 length tights for my quads.
That’s it! (PS: the reason I was feel able to post this today is that I ran 20.26 miles in 2hr 30 mins HR z2 - 3 fluctuating as I felt and still feeling strong at the end.)
Hope someone finds this useful.