Sunday, June 21, 2009

Let's Talk about Wimbledon

Some trivia about Wimbledon, which is probably much better know for its aces than races. Aces or races, you'll ask? There's Wimbledon, the world's leading tennis tournament staged by the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club which was founded in 1868. But I'm sure not many of you know that there's also a close connection between tennis and cross-country running .

Both sports were "born" in the same town, Wimbledon, England, 10 miles south of London. One sport has exploded into a world wide TV spectacular with huge summer crowds, big prize money (£12, 550,000 this year), high status, champagne and of course its famous strawberries and cream. The other is virtually unchanged - lonely, muddy and under appreciated, just like the way it was.

The first open cross-country race took place on the Wimbledon Common on December 7, 1867 while the first modern tennis championship was started about a mile away a decade later on July 9, 1877. That first Wimbledon Common race was probably the progenitor of road racing and marathon races as we know them today.

Thanks to the BBC, Wimbledon tennis was the first sport to be broadcast on radio and world wide TV. More than 800 million viewers follow the event on TV while more than 400,000 spectators attend the 2-week long tournament which remains the only Grand Slam event still played on grass.

Those of you who have ran cross-country races here in Singapore or any where else know the deal. To be a good runner over the course, you have to negotiate terrain that is usually up or down, slanted perhaps but seldom flat. Whilst running in your racing flats, you 'll be able to feel every ridge, root and rock under the slippery leaves. The course will often present a new challenge at every turn, which demands a total combination of balance, aerobic fitness and leg strength. All this can add benefit to your character. My first real running race was a cross-country race. This is how I gradually built my strength up -training and running over cross-country which later paved the way to me finding success racing on the track and roads and later in triathlon as well.

Our only "real" cross-country course in Singapore is Macritchie Reservoir, which over the years has been landscaped to make it less "wild" and more runner friendly. At the Wimbledon Common though, it has remained an undeveloped public park where you can easily run 20 miles on the 1140 acres without retracing steps.

Tennis and cross-country running both have great history and tradition, but are at absolute ends of the spectrum. One is entirely formalized and structured, the result of modern rule-making. The latter is completely unstructured, almost primeval, more of a participant sport with few spectators who certainly don't go to be seen.

While I will definitely watch the "live" telecast of the tennis matches beginning tomorrow, I prefer to be running cross country. I am moving, I am free, there are no lines, no fences, no boundaries or schedules.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Aqua Based Rehabilitation - You Saw It Here first

Yes you did. Yesterday's Straits Times (130609 page c32) had a report called Water way to fitness. Please see the link here).
Our post -Aqua Based Rehabilitation (Deep Water Running) was published on 30th April this year (Check it out here).

We have classes weekly, please contact us if you are keen on learning it.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

You Spin Me Right Round Baby Right Round

No, this write up is not about the 80's song by Dead or Alive made famous again in the show "The Wedding Singer". Rather, I am talking about riding your bike and spinning your pedals round.

It's well documented that part of Lance Armstrong's key to success is an unusually fast cadence while cycling- about 110 rpm (revolutions per minute). The rationale behind is this- spinning faster requires less muscle effort, so you fatigue less and recover faster, especially while climbing. It works for Lance, but will this style work for the rest of us? Well, what works best is finding what is most the most efficient cadence for yourself.

First and foremost, you have to have an efficient riding position before you learn how to pedal in smooth circles. For me, I use a goniometer (measuring tool) to ensure the cyclist has a saddle height that leaves his/ her knees bent between 25-35 degrees when the pedal is farthest away from the saddle. In addition I also drop a plumb line with pedals horizontal at the front of the knee cap to bisect the pedal axle. This is to achieve an optimal position for power transfer. For the actual pedal stroke it is better to "lift and pull back" with each pedal stroke and not push the pedals down. This can be achieved with strong core and hip flexor muscles. Please also see this.

Bear in mind that riding smaller gears and spinning faster than what you are used to will feel uncomfortable at first. It takes a while before it becomes natural. Try the following drills.

On your next ride, shift to a low gear and experiment with different cadences, 85, 95, 110 rpm, spinning a few minutes at each. If you ride 20 rpms faster than what you are normally used to, riding at your usual cadence will feel easy. You ideal maximum cadence is when you are spinning fastest with you form intact - no bouncing up and down in the saddle.

Single leg pedaling will teach you how to apply power through the whole pedal stroke (and not just on the down stroke). It's better to do this on a relatively traffic free road if you do not have a trainer at home. Do 30 secs on each leg, building to 2 mins, with equal rest time.

But don't let this technique become your cardinal rule. Sometimes you still need to shift to a heavier gear and go - especially if you want to accelerate instantly. Like when you buddy attacks and you want to follow, or when you are doing the attacking.

* Picture of Lance taken by Aized on Stage 6 in Adelaide, Tour Down Under 2009

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Hyponatremia at Sundown Marathon

What's that again you say? Hyponatremia means having low levels of sodium (or salt) in your bloodstream (<135 meq per litre).

At least 3 runners were known to be affected judging from the data my friend collected as part of his research from runners who participated in the 84km Sundown marathon last Sunday.

How serious is this? Well, there was one death from hyponatremia in the 2002 Boston marathon. Thankfully, there were no fatalities from this race. Most runners are aware of the dangers of dehydration, but not many are aware of the dangers of over hydration.

Usually, athletes who participate in marathon distances and above, half ironman distances triathlons and above are most at risk.

Sodium (or salt) is a very important electrolyte that is involved in muscle contraction and has a role in moving water through your cell walls and distributing it throughout your body. When you sweat, you lose salt and water, and if you sweat a lot, you can deplete your body's sodium stores. If you drink too much water and do not have enough enough sodium (or salt) in the body, the water cannot move from the gut to the blood stream so the water remains in your tummy.

A common complaint among athletes is that they have drank a lot yet still feel thirsty. They feel bloated, their tummy is swollen and they have a upset stomach. More severe symptoms can include cramps, giddiness, disorientation, vomiting, diarrhoea, convulsions, swelling in the brain and even death in severe cases. Trust me on this, I had most of the previous mentioned symptoms and even spent 2 days in the ICU in a Hong Kong hospital when I had hyponatremia while taking part in a 100km run in November 2000.

Some interesting numbers for your consideration. Sweat contains 2.25-3.4 grams of salt per litre. In a long race, you can easily sweat 1 litre an hour, so in a 12 hour race that can add up to 27-41 grams of salt. A general rule of thumb is that you should consume 1 gram of sodium per hour in a long event. You should also increase your salt intake in the days leading up to the event (try 10-25 grams of salt per day pre race). Now, those of you who know me know why I always sprinkle extra salt on my french fries and why I'm not afraid of eating chips. Well, now that I'm not training like before, I'd better not go crazy with my salt intake.

To get just one gram from sports drinks alone, you will need to drink 2.8 litres of Gatorade. Do you think you can drink that much for the duration of your race? Not many of us can. Even if you drink sports drinks (instead of water), it is quite likely you will sweat out more salt than you can drink, especially on a hot day. You will probably need to replace your salt specifically.

Hope this helps with your next long training session or race.


 Almond CSD et al, (2005). Hyponatremia among runners in the Boston Marathon. New Engl J Med. 352: 1550-1556.

Noakes, T (2002). Hyponatremia in distance runners: fluid and sodium balance during exercise. Curr Sports Med Rep. 1: 197-207.