My love/hate relationship with yoga

This is a pose I call "dead homeless person"

This is a pose I call “dead homeless person”

As anyone that knows me will attest, I’ve always had a love/hate relationship with yoga. I’ll write articles proudly extolling the virtues of yoga to other runners (here), and then I’ll do a podcast for Marathon Talk where I basically portray yoga as a combination of witchcraft, spiritualism and pedantry (which is a kind of grammatical witchcraft). This week is no exception as I’ve come to realise that, for me, yoga is both critically important as much as it is sometimes a load of overrated toff. So lets start with the good:

 Reasons Boy On The Run likes yoga

1. Yoga reduces my injury risk

Since I’ve been doing a simple 20 minute yoga routine after almost all my runs, my niggling injury has almost completely gone and everything just feels so much better. There is a whole world of complex, hamstring and calf niggles that have just vanished without a trace. Everyone says that prevention is better than cure, and this is prevention on a dramatic scale!

2. Yoga means that I recover quicker and can push harder

I did a 24.4 km race on hills on Saturday and pushed so hard that my eyeballs rolled into the back of my head and I was like a cowboy with hemorrhoids the next day. That morning I limped around for 2 hours, but after my 30 minute yoga session it was like a big pressure valve in my legs and hips had been released. It was amazing. I was back running easily the next day and I put a great part of this speedy recovery down to yoga.

3. Yoga gives me a different type of endorphin that compliments running

I’ll be honest, I don’t really enjoy the 20 minutes of yoga that I do after my runs. Even though Adriene is very upbeat and perfectly charming, there are only so many times that you can perform the same 20 minutes of stretching without tending to clock watch and wish that is was over earlier. Having said that, I love the way that I feel after yoga. I get the kind of double endorphin hit of my cardiac systems feeling joy that I ran, along with my muscles feeling joy that I actually stretched them (instead of just saying I will).

Reasons Boy On The Run doesn’t get on with yoga

1. Boy on the Run sucks at yoga

“I bet you’re not that bad” – I hear you say. No. I am that bad. I suck so much at yoga that most times I get taught yoga, I’m not even flexible enough to do the easiest extension that the teacher adds on to the pose. The teacher often has to either prop me up with blocks or come up with an extra extension that only I do. Sure, it isn’t pleasant sucking, but I can cope with it. I’ve given up my dreams of being a yoga champion along with my aerobics dream (see below), but it does have a practical application in that 95% of online yoga videos just aren’t relevant to my body. When the teacher cheerily states “just bend over and place your neck on the ground” and I can’t even get my fingertips to within one metre of the ground, I do tend to yell “**** you elastigirl and screw this hippie ****” before turning the yoga lesson off and going off to watch the cricket.

2. Boy on the Run finds yoga boring and repetitive

Now I touched on this earlier and I’m sure that yoga people would have read it and thought “yeah… well… if you do the same 20 minutes four times a week then sure you’ll get bored”. And you’re right, I should really try and mix it up. Maybe do a few different classes and try some different styles? But I’m not going to. Because I don’t care. Now I know a lot of people find running 6 times a week boring. I know a lot of people find track sessions the worst possible thing that they could ever do. I can totally see where they are coming from. But I happen to love it. The saddest thing about running a marathon is the week after where I can’t run. Whereas yoga, I find it a bit boring. Yoga for me is like food for the person with no taste buds: sure I need it, but it is not a solely pleasurable experience. I just need to get it done.

3. Boy on the Run doesn’t like some of the bull**** science that comes with yoga

My girlfriend says “how can you be so sure that Reiki is rubbish if you haven’t tried it?” I don’t know, maybe for the same reason that I know that unicorns aren’t real without having to prove it. And a thoroughbred horse painted pink with an ice cream cone stuck to its head doesn’t count. Yoga tends to appeal to people that never studied chemistry, physics, biology or mathematics but instead see the world as a combination of good and bad energies and think that “The Ring” is a documentary. I’m not so keen on this. I think that yoga works wonders, but I’m not  sure if I’m ready to take on Reiki, crystal healing, tarot-card reading, seances and rain dances yet.

4. Boy on the Run thinks that some types of yoga teachers need to get over themselves

I know a chap who is an amazing yoga teacher. I am shocked by how flexible and powerful he is. I’d love my body to be like that and I think it would be really beneficial as I grow older. Mentally, however, I wouldn’t put him on such a pedestal. He is clearly one bad yoga class away from walking into a fast food chain with an Uzi and machine-gunning down anyone that won’t serve him breakfast. But, despite this, he seems to see himself as a kind of spiritual success coach of anyone that enters his dojo (or whatever you call it). No offence, but aren’t you just someone that is good at stretching. I’m good at writing software, but the last programming class I did didn’t involve a “purging” phase followed be a lecture on how we can all be nice to each other. Some people are great at cricket, some are great at running, some are amazing swimmers and some are brilliant cyclists. Yoga is the only discipline I’ve come across where being good at it seems to give you the right to tell everyone how to live their life. With the irony being that often the person conducting the glass spent 3 years in a straight jacket completely convinced that they were a glass of orange juice. I’m here to learn how to stretch, not to bare my soul. Shut up and tell me how to touch my toes!

Bad yoga class? Oh oh.

Bad yoga class? Uh oh.

 

Positive gender equality in sport – and why this matters to me

my-childhood

This is what blokes were when I was young. These are two blokes after playing sport, which is for blokes.

Now I’ll admit that I’m an unlikely feminist. Firstly, I’m a bloke. Secondly, I’m an Australian bloke. My childhood was spent watching sport full of blokes, with my Dad (who is a bloke – this was before the operation!) whilst my mother cooked in the kitchen. Now, my only sibling is a brother, so I’ve always been brought up in a sporty, male-oriented culture. So I’ve never known what it is like to grow up with girls, and I’ve never seen sport and participation in sport from a female viewpoint.

Initially, it never struck me as that strange that sports such as Aussie Rules Football, cricket, soccer and rugby were entirely played by men. Could I name a female Aussie Rules footballer? To be honest, I don’t even know whether they have a female league. And then there are sports where females have a much greater level-pegging such as Tennis and Athletics (and most of the Olympics). I would watch the Martina Navratilova games with as much enjoyment as Andre Agassi and Cathy Freeman winning the 400m has always been chiselled on my mind as the seminal Australian moment of the Sydney 2000 Olympics.

So, basically, as I’ve got a bit older I’ve noticed that there are effectively 3 tiers of female participation in sport:

Tier 1

Sports where women can earn as much as men and have comparable levels of fame an respect.

Tier 2

Sports where the female version of the game is non-professional or massively downgraded to a point where it is almost impossible to make a living doing it.

Tier 3

Sports where women don’t play. But you could dress sexy and be a cheerleader and dance around with pom poms? So that is OK right?

 

"In a strange mixture of conservatism and chauvanism, we have the IPL cheerleader, who are expected to be sexual objects, but demure.... Not sure how that works..."

“In a strange mixture of conservatism and chauvanism, we have the IPL cheerleaders, who are expected to be sexual objects, but demure…. Not sure how that works?”

Now as this is a running blog (and a bit of cycling), these are the two I’m going to focus on. I think running is in a very, very good place with regards to gender equality (relative to most other sports, at least) but I think cycling still has a long way to go. Track cycling is level, but road cycling still has such afflictions as:

  • Podium girls
  • No proper full-length female equivalent to the Tour de France or Giro D’Italia
  • Women’s cycling road races are reduced distances to the men

“But, boyontherun, what you don’t understand is that women are unable to compete over the same brutal distances as men, because they aren’t physically as strong. That is why the female marathon is shorter and that is why the female ironman (which is the most brutal event ever) is shorter than the mens…. Hang on? What the deuce!?! They aren’t!”

So, why does cycling still lag behind running and athletics in this sense? My feeling is that biking hails from an “Old Skool Mediterranean bloke culture” which sees bike riding as the domain of the white European man and the role of the woman as a kind of “podium girl”. But ultimately, female British track cyclists are just as famous and recognisable as the male ones. Riders such as:

  • Victoria Pendleton
  • Emma Pooley
  • Lizzie Armitage
  • Nicole Cooke

are household names around the UK. If they put on a female Tour De France I imagine people would watch it. In droves. Sport is about characters. Once people identify with the characters in sport, they are 10 times more interested in the sport, and this is a concept that is completely gender non-specific. For example, people couldn’t give two hoots about Mo Farah until he won at the Olympics, because they didn’t know about him. They didn’t know his story and they didn’t recognize him. This is the same affliction that is faced by female participants in under-supported and under-televised sport…

I have no idea what to make of the "podium boys" concept!

I have no idea what to make of the “podium boys” concept!

Also, when men say things like:

“It isn’t fair that women get the same prize money as men in tennis. After all, the men have to play best-of-five sets instead of best-of-three sets”…

I’d genuinely like to believe that we were having an honest and open debate but a part of me is always thinking “you’re probably just a sexist pr**k coming up with fancy reasons for why you want the sporting world to continue to be dominated by sexist pr**ks.”

B_BkrZMW8AAO2fL

Anyway, I think I’d like to see athletics and marathon running continue to be a proper “tier 1″ equal opportunities sports. And to do that we need to do the following:

  • Oppose any races that have differential prize pools for men and women. Ultimately, this gives out a “boys sport is more important than girls sport” message.
  • Make sure that female sports are covered equally so that viewers can identify with the female personalities as much as the males. TBH In my experience UK athletics coverage is pretty good with this.
  • Banish things like podium girls or cheerleaders into the ancient annals of “stupid things we used to do” alongside trepanning, bear-baiting and wearing Vibrams.

Ultimately, I want to see a world where girls dream of being athletes because they are surrounded by well-known female athletes that server as role models. I want to share my world with women that run fast, jump far and throw the pointy stick thing (I’m not so knowledgeable on non-running athletics) a long way and where it doesn’t degenerate into the grotesque Hooters parody that is “cheerleading”. I want more athletes like Chrissie Wellington that are so competitive that people start to question whether we even need gender segregation in sport. Ultimately, in the unlikely event that I have a child that is not a cat and it does turn out to be a girl, I want her to be active and participate in sport and not feel like being female is a limitation. That’s what I want! Until then I’ll guess I’ll have to keep explaining the rules of cricket to my cat. He just doesn’t understand LBW…

Class – How one should conduct oneself as a runner

"on longer runs The Scot will also bring a black pudding and a knife."

“on longer runs The Scot will also bring a black pudding and a knife.”

I still remember my first Marathon. It was the Edinburgh Marathon and as we moved through the 14 mile marker we were witness to the stragglers finishing the half marathon (which had been held earlier in the day) passing in the other direction. Now, to still be running this late in the day, we were looking at runners that were running a time slower than 3 hours and some of them looked like they were doing it pretty hard. At this point I was running a marathon at around 3:10 pace and I was surrounded by fairly serious Scottish club runners. These guys looked like they’d done a marathon or 10 and were no stranger to a brutal hill session or 20 mile weekend run. And every one of them was screaming support at the slower Half Marathon runners. Not just one comment, or a small amount of support, but pretty much every single one of the half marathon runners got words of encouragement, support and motivation.  I think. Sometimes it is hard to tell with a thick Scottish accent. They might have been threatening to kill the other runner’s clan, but I think it sounded like encouragement! Now there are a lot of reasons why these “old skool” Scottish Marathoners might not have been expected to support the slower runners:

  1. Maybe they would be conserving energy for their own marathon (which they were in the middle of!)
  2. Maybe they wouldn’t be that interested in the slower runners
  3. Maybe they would feel like the slower runners didn’t train as hard or weren’t as “serious” as they were

With the possible exception of rule number 1, these are all ridiculous reasons! Unless you are a pro runner (and the winner of the Edinburgh Marathon wasn’t running a 3:10!) and you have to really focus, doing things like encourage the slower runners is a critical part of the whole experience. Not only is it fundamentally a nice thing to do,  but it massively encourages people that are new to the sport and also reduces alienation that can exist between faster and slower runners.

When I used to work in London I used to work in the financial district and I would occasionally witness classless behaviour in the change room:

“Yes, my girlfriend ran her first 5km in 45 minutes… I know? 45 minutes! I mean is that even running? HA HA HA!”

“Yes, my girlfriend ran her first 5km in 45 minutes… I know? 45 minutes! I mean is that even running? HA HA HA!”

The main thing that you can learn from someone that talks like this is that they probably aren’t that good. I used to do a regular track session with one of the strongest groups I’ve ever trained with in my life. We’re talking about a range of runners who predominantly run 10 km in times between 32 and 38 minutes and not a single one of them would ever say a thing like the above. And the reason is class. A runner who runs a 32 minute 10 km knows where they sit in the grand scheme of running. Sure, they can win their village 10 km by 5 minutes and have the adulation of the dozens of people from their village. But they know that a half decent athletics middle-distance track athlete can tear them to pieces. So they don’t swan around laughing at anyone that is slower than them. Because they know that there are is a bunch of Kenyans somewhere that consider a 32 minute 10 km as a recovery run. Plus, in my experience of running in the UK, Greece and Australia, the runners that are really good, are also really humble.

So these are my tips on how to behave as a runner:

  1. Encourage everyone. Just be glad they are part of the wonderful running community. We’re not picky, we’ll take everyone that wants to run.
  2. Remember there are a bunch of Kenyans up in Iten that are running recovery reps about 30 seconds a kilometre faster than your hard reps. And they aren’t laughing at you…So what are you laughing at?
  3. If you behave with some class, you might even be a role model for a child in this world of “fat blokes that don’t do sport yelling at pro athletes on the television”.
  4. Remember that running a marathon in 6 hours is a damn site harder than running it in 3 hours for a great many reasons. Give these people the respect they deserve.
  5. Be kind. There are people out running that feel very self-conscious and for them it is a big step or a big deal to be doing it. If you encourage them they might still be doing it in 5 years time. If you mock them they might never run again.
"Yep, just about every single runner here can kick your arse"

“Yep, just about every single runner here can kick your arse”

7 Stupid running shoes you shouldn’t ever buy

There is nothing that the “fitness industry” likes more than selling you stupid s*** that you don’t want, don’t need and won’t help you. This post is a celebration of this of the stupidest, faddiest, ugliest, ridiculously marketed, gimmickiest running shoes that money can buy.

1. RunAmoc Adult DASH

This isn't made up. These are a thing.

This isn’t made up. These are a thing.

Buy here. (But why, oh god, why, would you click on this?)

Now, as I’m not a color-blind, elven, transexual, sex-fetishist, I accept that I may not be the target market for these shoes. It is like two elves of middle-earth were drunk at the Green Dragon tavern and got engaged in a competition of who could design the stupidest, least attractive and most impractical running shoes in the world. It is the wonderful combination of suede (which isn’t waterproof) and leather that ensure that you have a 100% chance of blisters that really makes this a magical pair of shoes. And if you haven’t snapped an achilles tendon within 4 weeks, you get your money back!

2. Adidas Springblade drive 2.0

Available here.

Adidas brought us the “Boost” technology which is the world’s most advanced running technology that will ever exist in the rapidly expanding universe and blah blah blah… they didn’t put it in the SpringBlade 2. Instead they decided to put some weird pads on the shoes so you can bounce around like a kangaroo before one of the blades breaks off at around the 4km mark. Don’t be put off by the fact that you never see a single decent sprinter, middle-distance or marathon runner wearing anything as stupid as these. Adidas swear that these shoes “reward you with a ride that must be felt to be believed”. Whatever. I’m not buying them.

3. Asics Gel Noose Tri 10

I feel like I'm going to throw up. Maybe I've already thrown up?

I feel like I’m going to throw up. Maybe I’ve already thrown up?

Available here.

I wonder what the brief for this monstrosity was?

Triathlete: I want a shoe that is so ugly that I completely forget I’m in pain from all the swimming and cycling. In fact, make it so ugly that I lose all interest in the race and focus solely on the moment where I can finish the race and take these ugly things off my feet.

Asics: How about these? We’ve randomly selected some stupid colors that don’t match and written “bike”, “swim” and “run” all over them in jaunty writing.

Triathlete: Dear god. I have lost the will to live.

Asics: You’re welcome. They are £100.

 

4. ENKO running shoes

Available here. Kind of.

God, I don’t even know how to start explaining this one. Basically, a slightly overweight French bloke who claims to be a runner decided that strapping a shock absorber to a shoe would be a good idea. He has also added a run/walk switch which has 5 different levels. So what happens if you set it in between the run and walk setting? Does this mean you are walking with a hip swagger? Or running flat-footed? The slightly overweight Frenchman explains that “we understand that running is different to walking”. (claps hands). That is an amazing insight. You should take over from Salazar as coach of the Nike Oregon project.

If you really think this is a good idea, and want to pay $290 USD for running shoes that can best be described as “innovative” but are more accurately described as “very, very stupid” then you can donate to their Kickstarter-style campaign here.

5. Vibram FiveFingers Bikila EVO WP

bikila_evo_wp-14w6302-hero

Available here.

If you enjoyed the movie Avatar, and you want to look like one of those freekish blue things that were on the planet where they were mining “unobtainium”, then these are the shoes for you! These are for the “minimal runner” who wants to avoid the cost of everyday running shoes (these are around £150) for a more “pure” running experience (they stink like nothing else and everyone stares at you). Not only will you spend more and look stupid, you will open up a whole new world of hideously painful injuries. But rest-assured, when you do get the inevitable injury, you will have the full support of the “barefoot community”, some of whom do up to 3km a week (using Vibrams) without injuries. But don’t worry, Vibram is a brand you can trust, especially now they’ve settled their lawsuit over the fact that they claimed that Vibrams “could reduce foot injuries and strengthen foot muscles” without any actual scientific evidence whatsoever. But, of course, Barefoot Jonathon from Eugene swears blind he can do 10km a month (on carpet) with no injuries. I’m convinced.

6. Xero shoes Amuri Venture

As used by the SAS. When they are on holiday at the beach.

As used by the SAS. When they are on holiday at the beach.

Available here.

In the same way that putting lipstick on a pig doesn’t turn it into a supermodel, putting camouflage on a pair of sandals doesn’t make them “army-certified”. Xero shoes are so concerned that you won’t look stupid enough running in their ridiculous running sandals, that they have decided to put camouflage on them, making it absolutely certain that you will look like the complete poser that you truly are. As Xero shoes say:”Do everything. Go everywhere. Naturally.” I’m not sure how shoes made primarily out of rubber moulded in a big factory are natural, but I’m sure I just don’t get “it”.

7. HOKA One one Bondi 3

Is this from Back to The Future 2?

Is this from Back to The Future 2?

Available here.

HOKA has decided that having people run on platform shoes is a good idea. Just ask any air stewardess or fashion model and they will be the first to agree that nothing is better (or more natural) for you feet than walking or running as fast as possible with as much heel as possible. And what is even better is that the upper is highly breathable, meaning you feet will be cool and aerated as you are permanently damaging them.

 

8 reasons you shouldn’t do a marathon if you aren’t that into running

1. There is quite a lot of running involved

Yep. A lot of you will be thinking “that is pretty friggin’ obvious Duncan, why would you even need to write that down?” Well, you would think it was. But the amount of times that someone has said to me “there is this training program where you only have to run 3 times a week..” Only have to run 3 times a week. You don’t enjoy the running? Really, running a marathon when you don’t enjoy running is like having a nut allergy and going to an all-you-can eat Thai buffet. Or being a vegan and going to a steakhouse. It’s a marathon. There will be running. Make sure you are ready for this pertinent fact.

2. You will almost certainly get injured

Hello! I know I'm a monkey, but today I'm going to show you the key plantar fasciitis stretch.

Hello! I know I’m a monkey, but today I’m going to show you the key plantar fasciitis stretch.

If you don’t currently run more than twice a week then probably the first thing that you’ll get out of the marathon is a nasty injury. If you’re lucky it will be plantar fasciitis or Achilles tendinitis. If you’re unlucky it will be a stress fracture, anterior cruchiate ligament or maybe your spinal chord will disconnect and tunnel through your spleen (actually I made that one up). And don’t believe the “barefoot bollocks brigade”. Wearing some monkey bondage condoms (Vibrams) isn’t going to do jack to help you avoid injury. I don’t care what the author of “Born to Run” and  non-runner Chris McDougall tells you. The reason that Kenyans and the Mexican tribal peoples don’t get injured is because they don’t clump along the concrete like a pregnant hippo for 80km a week. Sometimes that nice padding on the running shoe helps to avoid the concrete from smashing your legs to pieces, sometimes it doesn’t. But don’t throw the shoes away! The shoes are helping. The only people that run in bare feet are:

This is Tina. She doesn't wear shoes.

This is Tina. She doesn’t wear shoes.

  • hipsters
  • escaped mental patients
  • cavemen
  • nudists
  • cats

3. Five hours is a very long time to be doing anything

The big fight scene! Only 16 hours to go...

The big fight scene! Only 16 hours to go…

I know  a few chaps that run marathons in 2 hours and something scarily low and they are all amazingly impressed at people that run marathons in times greater than 5 hours. To be honest, I wouldn’t attempt watching 5 concurrent episodes of breaking bad without coffee, proper food or ready access to toilet facilities. Although, if you had the Hobbit movie audiobook on your headphones you’d probably be finished the marathon before Bilbo has even got out of bed. And that would only be part 1 of 7. Seriously, I wouldn’t do a marathon if I had to be out there for 5 hours – have a think about how long that is? That is like at least 3 overs of cricket.

4. You are probably taking a spot that goes to someone more deserving

If you are running in one of those sought-after big city marathons then you are probably taking a spot that could go to one of my harder-training, more deserving friends. Everyone wants to run marathons like London, and if you think that there is a good chance you won’t actually make the start line, then you probably shouldn’t sign up. Simples.

5. You will experience not just pain, but prolonged pain

I was a runner for two years before I did my first marathon and I was very surprised at how incredibly painful not just the training, but the race itself was. It is a very different type of pain to the pain of a 10 km race. It is a kind of tiredness fog that once it descends upon you, you know it won’t go away until you stop running. And that, for a lot of people might be a good 60-90 minutes before the finish of the race. That is quite a lot of time to feel like death warmed up. If you aren’t sure about this fact, I recommend that you spend half an hour at around mile 25 of a marathon and look at all the happy, smiling faces.

6. You might find you aren’t the only one raising money

0.3%. Almost there!

0.3%. Almost there!

When you eventually, triumphantly email around to all your friends asking for that expected donation to celebrate your incredible marathon journey with some much needed charity donations, you might not get the reception that you were expecting:

“Oh, I’ve already donated to 8 people for the marathon this week”.

“Dave is running it in a diving suit and carrying a cement mixer. All you’re doing is running it. That isn’t enough”

“What charity is that? Orphans of people that have died doing over-enthusiastic impersonations of Elvis? Not sure if that is money well spent. Sorry mate…”

Suddenly you find you are exhausted from the brutal training, starting to dread the impending agony and staring down the barrel of a £800 shortfall in charity earnings (vs the pledge that you made).

7. You can probably achieve the same feeling of challenge with a half marathon

Half marathons are difficult. I had a friend (that is an average runner) state: “a half marathon is a nothing distance”. I had another friend (who is a very, very  good runner) reply to that with: “Well, you try running one in under 70 minutes…Then we’ll talk…”

The half marathon is a perfect distance in many ways: it is challenging and long enough to be a good day out (and hard work) but it won’t cost you three months of your life. And your short term health. The key difference (and one you don’t realise immediately) is that the challenge of a marathon is that you are running further than your body has a ready glycogen store to support. This is what “the wall” is all about. Fortunately a half marathon doesn’t push you beyond this level. It makes it a much less technical event to prepare for, far more enjoyable and far more suitable for beginners.

8. It will probably either be in the teeth of winter or summer

Almost all decent big-city marathons are either in spring or in autumn. Which means that you will either do the bulk of your training in the depths of either summer or winter. In England, if you do a spring marathon this means that you will be running over snow-encrusted canals and into the teeth of -2 degrees icy winds. In Greece (where I live now), if you do an autumn marathon (like Athens) then you will be doing 32km runs in 30+ degrees days. You have been warned!

If you are doing a spring marathon, get ready to run in this!

If you are doing a spring marathon in England, get ready to run in this!