There are lots of different theories on what works for running, and what doesn’t. Like most runners, I’ve tried various cures, gadgets, and crazy ideas, just to see. Below is a list of things that I find work, or don’t work, for me. It should be kept in mind that these are my opinions – lots of the things that work for me, don’t for others, and vice versa. I’ll be adding to these lists as I try new things, or remember things I’ve tried already. If you know of something that works (or doesn’t for you, let me know on the form below and I might try it!)
Works. (for me).
Improved Running Form – I worked on my running form and it worked wonders for me. Not the easiest thing to do, but definitely worth it.
Compression socks – I tried these with some degree of scepticism – I genuinely didn’t think they would do anything for me, but have been pleasantly surprised – they do seem to reduce lower leg pain after long or hard runs. I wear them after the runs, not during, I don’t think I’d feel comfortable running in them.
Normal Cotton Socks – On a related note to the above, I run in ordinary cotton sports socks. No fancy 1000 Mile Socks, no double skin blister socks, just plain white cotton socks from the local supermarket. I’ve run every marathon and ultramarathon I’ve done in these, and I’ve never gotten a blister. Why? I have no idea.
Hill Training – Without doubt, one of the biggest improvements to my training has been hill training – not only does it strengthen the legs, and improve fitness, it also improves hill running technique, and, I’ve found, removes the fear of hills on race day. It also makes you feel like a bit of a beast.
Dioralyte – This is the best electrolyte replacement I’ve found, much better than sports drinks, or those tablets you add to water. I have to take salt as well.
Bandana – Discovering the joys of the bandana has been a recent thing for me, but has made life so much easier – I keep my hair cut to little more than stubble, and this creates two problems – first my head gets sunburned, and second, sweat runs off my head and into my eyes – this can be quite painful on hot days! A €2 bandana has solved both these problems. Though I’ve been told it makes me look even more like a bouncer from a biker bar than usual.
Cross Training – Getting out there and doing something other than running can be great – it breaks what can be the monotony of a long training programme, and it can help build muscles that you need for running, that running doesn’t necessarily help – such as a strong core. Triathlon training is great, if time-consuming, as is gym work. If I had to recommend one training type I’ve done which I found worked, I would say swimming.
Visualisation – I like to visualise a race (especially an ultra) before I run it – I go through the various stages, how I will run them, and how I will cope when things get tough. During the race, I will think ahead of how I plan to run the next stage, and, if I am getting tired, I visualise myself crossing the line, and how that will feel.
Sandwich Bags – ah, the humble sandwich bag. Along with the bandana, probably the most value-for-money item in running! When you run, stick your smartphone in a sandwich bag – not only will it stop moisture doing unpleasant and expensive damage, but it means you can still use the touchscreen! It can also be used to keep wet wipes (for toilet emergencies, cleaning vaseline off your fingers etc.) wet, and can be used to hold jelly babies in your pocket so they don’t stick to places they shouldn’t. Also useful for keeping paper money dry.
Doesn’t Work. (for me)
Carb Loading – The good old giant plate of pasta the night before a marathon. While it is nice at the time, it won’t, in my experience, do anything for you in the race itself, except possibly to leave you feeling bloated and sluggish. I try to eat plenty of complex carbohydrates the week before the marathon or ultra, drink plenty of water, and get lots of sleep.
Gels – I’ve tried lots of different brands and types of gels, but they just don’t seem to work for me. Not sure why. I now eat actual food during a marathon or ultra, and that seems to work. My favorites are crisps, sunflower seeds, nuts, and jelly babies. Chewing jelly babies also seems to help with rage issues if things aren’t going according to plan.
Kinesiology Tape – I so wanted this to work – aside from it seeming to be an easy way to run while carrying an injury, it looks all cool and Olympic athlete-y too. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to actually do anything for me, other than remove body hair (painfully). I think it’s a bit like unicorns or prayer – you need to believe in it for it to work – I know people who swear by it.
Stretching – Tough one, this. Some people swear by stretching before and after a run. Some say only stretch before to warm up the muscles. Others say only stretch after because you’ll tear muscles otherwise. I used to stretch, and used to get lots of injuries. Now I don’t stretch, and don’t get injuries. I don’t blame the stretching for the injuries – I think that’s down to better fitness and a change in how I run, but I also don’t think stretching does anything to prevent injuries. There are people who would happily kill me for that statement, but that’s my experience.
Smearing your feet in Vaseline – Lots of people advise this for blister prevention and comfort on ultras, so I foolishly tried it for the first time on my first 100k. This was breaking my golden rule: “Never eat, drink, wear, or carry anything on the day of a race, that you haven’t eaten, drank, worn, or carried on at least two long runs” – but what can I say, it was a moment of madness. To make it worse, I’ve never gotten blisters running, so I don’t even know why I did it. Ultra madness I suppose. I slipped and slid around inside my shoes, and the feeling was horrible – it felt like I’d stepped in dogshit, which had somehow gotten inside my shoe. I ended up having to stop at mile 15, wipe off all the Vaseline, and change my shoes and socks. Lesson learned.