Category Archives: Fitness

New season. New Boots. New Shoe Size!

mens-dress-shoe-styles-e1358203502562 The new season started today! I had the day closed due to holiday plans, so my first game is next week. However, it was time to take a look at my footwear to make sure everything was all set.

I have suspected for a while that I have not been wearing the right size football boots. I’ve had the classic sign of ‘Black Toenail Death’ in both feet. There has never been any pain involved with this but clearly it can’t be too healthy, particularly when the toenail just falls off due to a new one growing underneath it! It has always felt a bit like a scene from ‘The Fly’.

When I went to try on my boots from last season the tightness was particularly noticeable. Perhaps the lay-off in more flexible shoes has been a factor here? Feeling around the toe box confirmed my suspicions, and I could feel the shoes pushing down on my toes without doing this too. Besides, I’m a bit more sensitive to this sort of thing at the moment due to my ongoing achilles tendonitis issues, which interestingly can be caused / exasperated by, you guessed it, shoes that don’t fit properly!

It is also important to leave a bit of extra space as your feet will swell with exercise.

A shopping trip was required…

Mizuno Wave Inspire 8

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I popped along to Alton Sports. First up, I had my running gait video-analysed to see how that looked. I last had this done a couple of years ago, and the results were the same: I very obviously over-pronate. It’s quite scary looking at the slow-motion video as it made me think my ankles were going to snap off at some points!

It was then a case of picking out some shoes, and I went with the Mizuno Wave Inspire 8. Predictably, I did need a whole size higher than I had previously been wearing. They are very comfortable and a treadmill session felt very good. Certainly any achilles discomfort was minimal to zero. The whole twisting inwards motion of over-pronation is a real killer for me, and perhaps is showing another contribution as to why this happened in the first place: If I deliberately go completely the other way, i.e. only use the outside of my foot for a bit, there is no achilles discomfort at all. That’s a strong link I will be keeping an eye on!

Adidas Copa Mundial

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These boots are a real classic. The leather makes them incredibly comfortable and I’ve used them for some time. However, they were the primary cause of my beloved black toenails. I’ve also gone up a size and they feel a lot better now. Plus, mmm, shiny new leather!

These are the ones I will use when turf shoes just can’t cut it. Oh, talking of which…

Adidas Team Mundial

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Essentially, the Copa Mundials but designed for astroturf. The reality is, however, that they are suitable for most firm ground, which certainly covers football pitches at this time of year. As with the other shoes mentioned here, I needed to go up to size 12, and I was previously a size 11.

What about the Minimalism?

I’m a big fan of minimalist running: It got me over a knee injury. However, I need to do whatever I can now to get my form in good order, and achilles well supported, as part of my continued refereeing and rehabilitation. This was really the reason of getting, dare I say it, a more ‘traditional’ running shoe. The replacement football boots needed to be done anyway for the sizing reasons! I also considered trail shoes for refereeing but struggled to find any that were an appropriate colour. That’s a tricky one.

It is possible that I will require orthotics to aid with support when in my football boots, but that’s a pretty open question at the moment: My follow-up with my consultant is this week. Fingers crossed!

Warming up – A myth?

stretching Gary Turner recently posted something thought-provoking on his blog: Warming up for training – is it necessary?. Check it out!

Two relevant quotes from the research:

“Unfortunately there is an astonishing lack of consistency in research value of warm-up.”

“Perhaps most of the advantage derived from warm-up is psychological.”

It would be interesting to find out what further research there is out there regarding this. Let’s take an extreme example of a total achilles rupture. These have certainly been associated with ‘Weekend Warriors’, for example indulging in basketball for the first time in 20 years, then something going pop. Is it fair to blame that on a lack of a warm-up or is it more realistic for it to be the classic ‘Too much, too soon’ situation and the participant’s body just not up to the task?

Further to this, look at instances of injuries in professional sports. These are athletes who (on paper) do everything right in training, are exceptionally fit, and participate in appropriate warm-ups. Yet instances of serious injury still occur. I’m not referring to collision-based ones or similar ‘freak’ accidents, but more something just giving out, such as the aforementioned achilles rupture. And this can happen deep into a match, not within the first thirty seconds.

Injuries due to overtraining make a lot of sense. However, this is just not the same thing as an injury due to the lack of a warm-up.

What benefits do I get from a warm-up? Say, before refereeing a match?

  1. HEART RATE: Get it elevated. Essentially means I feel ‘pumped’ and ready to go as soon as the match begins.
  2. MUSCLE SORENESS: Get rid of any muscle soreness / tightness that may be present. I want this to happen BEFORE the match starts.
  3. SANITY CHECK: Am I broken? 😉 Identifying issues early on means being able to take appropriate action before it is too late. This might be deciding to stop the activity, or doing something to prevent further issue (strapping up?)
  4. SHOW FACE: Evident to the teams and onlookers that we are taking this seriously too.
  5. INTEL: Get a good feel for the attitude of the teams, if they are also warming up.

As Gary touches on, most of these are psychological, not physiological. The heart rate one is interesting, and it left me wondering whether this actually has any physical impact or the body is simply ramping up the heart rate to meet demand.

Either way, it would be interesting to see more research on all of this!

End of Season Review 2012/2013

UTMEgoalREVIEW It’s that time again! This follows on from the End of Season Review that I wrote last season. It’s a chance to reflect before moving onwards.


THE GOOD:

  1. I GOT LEVEL 4: This was my primary goal for the season. I went into the season requiring another four assessments, as although the first one was good, it wasn’t good enough! Thankfully, they all went well to the extent that I knew that for the final assessed game I was home free provided I didn’t really screw it up. There was then a waiting game until I found out whether The FA would take me, and thankfully they did.
  2. CUP FINALS: As the promotion indicates, I performed well during the season, and was awarded with a total of five cup finals, including a county cup. That’s certainly something I am very happy with, although I know not to expect the same sort of thing next season, mainly due to the consequences of refereeing at the next level.
  3. KNEE ISSUES SOLVED: I transitioned to minimalist running before the season started. This worked much better than I imagined, and I took the preliminary fitness test in that style too. The ligament issues I was suffering with in my leg knee healed up pretty quickly. The knee was probably being shot to pieces with all the heel-striking. I felt I was my fittest yet going into the season.
  4. FITNESS TEST PASSED: A requirement for Level 4. Technically this happens between seasons, but hey, it’s happened! I passed the fitness test with no issues despite the achilles issue mentioned below. In fact, I ran the same distance as last year, which was pretty surprising to me.

THE NOT SO GOOD:

  1. ACHILLES PROBLEMS: In February, some form of achilles tendonitis crept up on me in my right leg. I suspect an overuse injury following the lay-off over Christmas, increased in scope with the terrible weather! Oh, and my lazyness in not keeping up the supplementary training. It’s never been awful but has put me off training for fun, and is still not resolved at the time of writing. As a result, I’m pretty fed up with it and in the early stages of having a consultant involved (X-Rays, Ultrasound and so on).
  2. FITNESS LOSS: Perhaps a bit harsh to put this, but I would consider my fitness levels to have dropped due to not wanting to train with the persistent achilles issue. It didn’t cause any issues towards the end of the season, and of course the fitness test I mentioned earlier went well.
  3. WEIGHT GAIN: The achilles is my excuse here. Limited exercise = Weight gain. However, it’s a poor excuse as there is nothing stopping me from eating healthily! I have put on about a stone compared to my best weight. I need to pull together the discipline and get that sorted.

GOING FORWARD:

Firstly, I’m obviously looking forward to my first season as a supply league referee / contributory league assistant referee. It’s going to be a great experience. My goal here will simply be to ‘Do well and enjoy’.

Secondly, I need to get a handle on the achilles issue. That’s in progress but looks like it will be slow. Very slow. It may even result in me missing some of the beginning of the season as part of the rehabilitation. Worth it though, as I want to be enjoying my exercise and therefore refereeing.

Thirdly, I need to get full fitness back. I’m not unfit but I am falling short of my own standards in this area.

Let’s see how it goes!

Battling with Insertional Achilles Tendonitis

InsertionalAchilles I’ve been struggling with Insertional Achilles Tendonitis since around February. I really need to get it sorted now, so am going to start blogging about it to maintain some sort of focus.

The history is fairly typical for this sort of injury: Overuse. I’ve been running regularly for years as a football referee. In a typical game, I will travel 10 km in a variety of ways: Walking, jogging, running, sprinting, running backwards, changes of direction… It’s all going on! When fully fit I would also be engaging in training runs of between 5 and 10 km, and last year I did the Great South Run (10 miles) with no problems at all.

I used to be a classic heel-strike runner, but switched to a minimalist style last year. I managed to transition pretty quickly and was using that style for about eight months before the achilles issues struck. Transitioning also solved the knee ligament issues I was suffering from in my left leg! Due to the long time period before the achilles issues came on, I’m not blaming the minimalist style here, but I do accept that it does load the achilles more than heel-striking — That’s how it saves the knee joints from being shot to pieces!

So what happened?

Well, over the last winter we had atrocious weather in the UK. Lots of games were postponed. I was lazy and did not keep up my supplementary training runs. Then it was the Christmas break and I didn’t do anything then either, but did put on a bit of weight! When the season started again the weather continued to be bad, so it wasn’t really until February that I was back to full-intensity games. And that was the problem. I went from a sustained period of doing nothing to resuming my usual refereeing intensity, and at that point the tendonitis started. As is typical, there was no sudden ‘BANG’ moment: it was more of a dull that came on the following morning. It never really went away and has persisted since then.

I would class the pain as annoying. It doesn’t impact my performance per se: I can still run, sprint and so on, but I just end up paying for it afterwards or the next day. Doing two activities in two days is really asking for trouble. Basically, it makes me not want to or enjoy training, and that has gotten worse over time. Not because the soreness has gotten worse, more that I am just getting completely fed up with it.

At the end of last season I took a bit of a break, but short-lived. About three weeks. That isn’t very much for an achilles tendon injury from the reading I have been doing. I then needed to train for my fitness test (Cooper Test and sprints), which I passed with no problem. Then another four weeks of rest before I got a bit over confident and did two 5k runs in two days, and the soreness came right back. Not as bad as it has been though, I will say, but again the fact I am not healed is getting tiresome.

I’ve had some physio during this time but I am left feeling that in my case, it isn’t helpful without giving the tendon time to rest first. Calf stretches cause pain due to the tugging on the tendon. It isn’t the ‘nice’ sort of pain you get when you know a stretch is doing you good. It’s the ‘Please don’t do this!’ sort of pain. There seem to be various references that the best thing to do is ACTUALLY REST IT, and certainly don’t try stretching and strengthening until that painful acute stage is over. Common sense, I guess?

The latest is that I have seen a consultant who has taken X-Rays and an Ultrasound. I’m awaiting my follow-up. The X-Ray has not shown anything out of the ordinary: Perhaps a very slight Haglund’s Deformity but it seemed very, very small compared to some of the example ones on the Internet. Besides, this did come on in an ‘overuse’ scenario. The Ultrasound confirmed a very small (1mm or less) tear. I don’t know exactly where yet until the follow-up. The optimist in me sees this as a good thing in a way: A tear can heal, even if it will take a while, and I’d rather it be that rather than some structural failure.

The immediate plan is more rest until the follow-up in a week or so. I won’t know then whether I should commence refereeing in the new season when August swings around. If I have to declare myself injured for a month or two (maybe more?!) then so be it. The important thing is to beat this. Much as I will be chomping at the bit as a result!

Watch this space…

Minimalist Running: I’m Flying!

Things are going really well in my continued adventures with minimalist / natural running. To begin with, the Inov8 F-Lite 230 shoes are amazing. Absurdly comfortable and light. Well worth the money and I keep eyeing up other shoes in their range!

The transition has gone excellently. I am now comfortably performing my usual outdoor 5k training runs. To begin with, my goal was “Get round the route with no injury; it isn’t about speed”. I realised at the end that I physically had a lot left in the tank, and had set an average time! Not bad for an effective ‘sighting lap’. It was also very obvious that any knee pain was absent. Knee soreness had become a feature of my running in ‘traditional’ running shoes, and was part of my decision to transition.

As my confidence has grown, I’ve started to increase the speed. This has taken a bit of adjustment, as before I would increase my speed by drastically increasing my stride length. Now, I am increasing my cadence instead, keeping my feet below my hips. It has felt a little strange, particularly when my GPS reports that I am hitting quick speeds but it feels like I am just gliding along!

To help with pacing, I performed the Cooper Test on a treadmill. This particular test forms part of my referee promotion in the coming season. I set it for a steady 13.5 km/h, which would equate to a 2700m distance. That’s typically what I was hitting in my old running shoes. I comfortably hit that in the new shoes, including upping the speed at the end to bring it home! Most notable to me was that afterwards, again, I had loads of energy left and no soreness. Wow!

Today I decided to run a 5k but for a good time. I had a strong pace throughout, and the end result was that I beat my PB (set last year) by 25 seconds! And, you guessed it, I had energy left at the end to up the speed for a continued duration. In the old shoes, and with my old style, my legs would have been too sore to do that.

I am really, really happy with how this is working out so far. I have increased my performance and reduced my injury level. Lots more fun to be had here! I am sure that the CrossFit and weight loss have aided this whole process, and long may it continue.

Operation De-Lard: 7.3 kilograms and counting…

In my End of Season Review, something that I needed to sort out was the weight that I had put on during the season. It had perhaps been creeping up slowly over a couple of years, but most noticeable over recent times. The end result was that I had gained over 10 kilograms.

This was not good for various reasons:

  1. I was starting to feel sluggish in terms of agility when refereeing.
  2. I was picking up ‘niggly’ injuries, such as to my knees, due to increased loading.
  3. I FELT FAT!

It was time to sort this out.

Now, I’d got down to a good weight for me (78 kilograms) before. Judo and weight training combined with around 2000 calories per day. I tracked that with DailyBurn Tracker which was good at the time, and keeping a record helped to keep me honest. This time around, I went with MyFitnessPal which is an EXCELLENT site with a wonderful community spirit. Its mobile apps are impressive as well, and all for zero cost!

To begin with, I tried 1500 calories per day but this was too low. After a few days, I was feeling lethargic and hungry all the time, so I sensibly upped it to 2000 calories. This is a good level for me. If I want to eat more, I simply ‘earn’ the calories through exercise! My Garmin Forerunner 410 GPS / HR watch is brilliant for tracking those bonus calories. This is much better than the horrible ‘save calories to cheat later’ approach that some eating plans advise.

That’s the nutrition side of things. How about the exercise?

I’m continuing the running: A combination of distance and speed training. I’ve also taken up CrossFit circuit training in order to build a stronger and more balanced body. Running is great but it only helps me from the waist down! I’m really enjoying this mixture of activities at the moment. On the running front, I’m also working on transitioning to minimalist / natural running as heel-striking is a horrible way to treat your knees!

So far, I have lost 7.3 kilograms in just over a month. I’m incredibly happy with this progress as it has been pretty quick but in a controlled and healthy way. I feel like I have my body back again, although there is plenty of work still to do.

To me, none of this feels like a diet, more like how I should be treating my body with respect!

Natural Running: Too Much Too Soon?

I recently took my first steps in natural running. About 5k on a treadmill, to be precise, in order to get a feel for the mid-foot/toe motion as opposed to my usual (very) heavy heel-strike technique. It felt great and so much lighter.

However, the very nature of this style is that the calf muscles and Achilles tendons are having to do more work. They are partly protected in a traditional running shoe as the shoe is taking over! Despite only doing 5k at a gentle pace, I suffered from some bad calf soreness over the weekend which ruled out any further running. Thankfully, it is pretty much back to normal today.

By contrast, my Achilles is just fine and I’m not surprised by this: When I first started football refereeing, I had major problems in that area, even though running was not new to me. Why? Changes of direction and speed. It’s one thing to go out for a jog where your tempo rarely changes. When refereeing, your speed and direction is constantly changing, and my Achilles did not know what hit them! It took a while to settle down, although I did not help particularly by refusing to rest properly. The end result: Strong Achilles.

I need to be more careful with the transition. Today, I intend to do a simple 5k on the treadmill (The weather outside is awful!), but most of it will be in my usual running shoes, with a bit of natural running in the my new Inov8 shoes at the end. A safe mixture. After all, I didn’t get any pain during the previous run: The DOMS came afterwards!

My calf muscles are getting more of a load in other ways too: I’m working on learning jump-rope for conditioning (via CrossFit) and being light on your toes for that necessitates calf-loading!