The Science of the Tour de France

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Guest blog by James Witts

Tyler Hamilton, Floyd Llandis, Lance Armstrong… The peloton’s worth of professional cyclists who have risen and fallen at the tip of a needle has left cycling’s reputation tarnished. Okay, that’s an understatement. Until Russia and their nefarious goings-on drew the world’s attention, cycling was the go-to sport whenever the words ‘doping’ and ‘professional sport’ were uttered from the lips of sporting commentators.

Many felt cycling deserved its dirty reputation; many deserted the sport, disillusioned that suspicion eclipsed enjoyment when it came to watching the world’s best. Chris Froome, for one, can’t escape the shadows of the past, the French press, in particular, questioning the legality of his every pedal stroke, every stage win, every Tour victory.

But Froome has passed every test (be it blood or urine) and he’s had many of them – the leader of the Tour is tested after every stage and cycling has led the way when it comes to implementing the biological passport, which measures a rider’s levels of new and old blood cells for signs of either EPO abuse or blood boosting. Compared to higher-profile sports like football, which many feel is apathetic and complacent when it comes to anti-doping measures, cycling is positively militant in seeking out the dopers.

Though they seek, they rarely find – there hasn’t been a high-profile positive case in cycling since Lance opened his heart – and medical cabinet – to Oprah Winfrey; instead, Team Sky’s fabled marginal gains have become shorthand for ‘racing fast, racing legal’. Cycling is hamstrung by its past; until Team Sky came along, it was all about racking up the miles, eating pasta and, all too frequently, seeing the team’s doctor for an artificial boost.

Sir Dave Brailsford and his team recognised these manacles and set about unlocking them by doing things differently. Where once teams would have spent a million pounds on a rider and their illegal performance enhancers, Sky would spend £900,000, paying the remaining £100,000 to a sports scientist and coach. Experts in exercise physiology and aerodynamics trawled the world’s sport-science conferences, universities and journals, looking for cutting-edge technology to give them the edge. That’s where my book, The Science of the Tour de France, comes in.

I spent 12 months at the Tour de France teams’ training camps and races – and hours on Skype! – to uncover what goes into creating the Chris Froomes and Alberto Contadors of this world. I interviewed the likes of sprinters Marcel Kittel and Peter Sagan, but also the coaches, sports scientists, nutritionists, aerodynamicists and chefs who help to create these champions. I discovered that science plays an increasingly important role in peak performance, and not just at Team Sky but across all teams.

Take the bikes. Manufacturers spend millions designing new frames via CFD (computational fluid dynamics) and wind-tunnel research. A teardrop-shaped frame, for instance, produces 20 times less drag than a round tube. In training, teams will also load the frames with sensors that gauge how a rider’s bike position changes at different speeds. They can then tweak how the rider positions himself on the bike to cut through the air faster.

Skinsuits are one of the greatest time savings. Watch the Tour and these will be omnipresent in the time-trials where it’s man against the clock. Alberto Contador’s apparel sponsor spent upwards of 400,000 Euros designing his suit, mapping his body and pedalling style to determine optimum seam placement and the perfect drag-reducing material.

When it comes to race nutrition, caffeine remains one of the most proven ergogenics, though many teams will begin the day with a beetroot smoothie. They genuinely taste as bad as they sound but research shows that the nitrates within beetroot makes exercise feel easier.

On the most debilitating mountain stages, riders can burn 8,000 calories. Even the most meticulous nutrition plan leaves a 1,200-calorie shortfall, often worse as the riders’ stomachs and digestive systems are pretty wrecked after 2,000 miles of cycling. So riders consuming gels, rice cakes and bars is a common sight around the Alps.

As Team Dimension Data’s Mancunian sports scientist Dr Jonathan Baker told me over lunch in their European base of Lucca – there are perks to this job! – ‘There are 10,000 sports-science journals published each year. It’s my job to sift out ones that might produce gains and actually work in the “real world”.’

And it was my job to relay that information to recreational riders of all standards so that a) they weren’t blinded by academia and b) they could integrate some of the ideas into their own training. That’s what I aimed for in The Science of the Tour de France. Whether I achieved it is over to you…

9781472921703Click here to buy The Science of the Tour de France: Training Secrets of the World’s Best Cyclists at discount.

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Celebrate International Yoga Day! 5 poses for beginners from Nicola Jane Hobbs

author pic CROPYoga brings people together. Regardless of age, gender, religion, and culture, yoga has the power to unite.

That’s why this week we celebrate International Yoga Day.

We celebrate the way yoga increases our well being – physical, mental, and emotional. From helping you lose weight, gain muscle, and increasing your flexibility, to reducing your stress, boosting your body confidence, and improving your overall fitness, adding yoga into your day is one of the best lifestyle changes you can make to improve your health and happiness.

If you want to get started right away, then have a go at the five poses below.

Ocean Breath

Ocean_breath_seated CROP

This is a form of breathing you can do before you work out and use throughout your training or yoga session to help you focus. Traditionally called ‘Ujjayi’, the noise you make is similar to the sound you hear when you hold a seashell up to your ear. It expands the lungs by dynamically pulling fresh air into them and expelling stale air.

  1. Sit or stand comfortably with your spine upright and take a couple of long deep breaths.
  2. Inhale through your nose and exhale through your mouth. With each exhalation make a ‘hhhaaa’ sound as if you are trying to steam up a mirror.
  3. Now continue to make the same sound as you exhale, but close your mouth so you are constricting the back of your throat to make a soft ocean sound (you may also sound like Darth Vadar!).

Down Dog

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Down Dog is one of the most popular poses because it strengthens and stretches the body as well as acting as a physical barometer for how your body feels in between other poses and flows. It shows how each part of your body works in harmony with the other parts – the looser your hamstrings are, the less pressure you will feel on your shoulders.

  1. Begin on all fours, hook your toes under and slowly straighten your legs to push your bottom to the sky so you are in an upturned v-shape.
  2. Check your hands are shoulder width and feet are hip distance apart and relax your neck.
  3. Exit the pose by bending your knees to the mat.

 

Seated Twist

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Turning the upper body in one direction and the lower body in the opposite direction is the main action occurring in this pose. This releases tension in the spine and strengthens the muscles of the core for a more defined waist.

  1. Begin in a cross-legged seated position with your hands resting on your knees. Pull back on your knees to lift your chest and lengthen your spine. Reach your left hand behind your back and place your right hand on your left knee to take the basic form of the pose.
  2. To refine the pose, squeeze your bottom and deepen the twist by keeping hold of your left knee and bending your right arm to pull the left knee towards you.
  3. Exit the pose by coming back to centre. Switch the cross of your legs before twisting to the other side.

Crow

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Arm balances require a combination of strength, balance and focus. Grounding yourself through your hands to provide a stable foundation is essential for giving you the confidence to lift your feet off the floor. The stronger your core is the less weight your knees will place on your upper arms and the longer you will be able to float in Crow.

  1. Begin in a squat position, coming up on to your toes if you can’t keep your heels down. Spread your feet so they are slightly wider than hip-width apart and place your hands on the floor in front of you shoulder-width apart. Lift your bottom by straightening your legs just enough so that when you lean forwards and bring your shoulders in front of your wrists you can snuggle your knees into your armpits. Slowly transfer the weight into your hands, lift your toes off the ground and bring your heels together.
  2. Once you have found your balance, refine the pose by bringing your toes towards your tailbone so you are rounding your spine. Activate your abdominal muscles to lift your torso upwards and reduce the amount of pressure on your arms.
  3. Rock slowly backwards on to your toes to exit the pose.

Legs Up The Wall

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Inversions are very restorative. They bring the blood back to the heart and lungs and relax the nervous system. Legs Up The Wall pose allows you to completely relax at the same time as lengthening your hamstrings and releasing any tension from your lower back. If you have had a long day and don’t fancy a full Yoga Gym workout then use the time to rest and restore in this pose.

  1. Sit sideways against a wall and swing your legs around so you are lying on your back with your legs up the wall. Bring your bottom as close to the wall as you can and straighten your legs, resting your heels on the wall. Spread your arms out wide.
  2. Rest here for as long as you need to.
  3. To exit the pose, move your bottom away from the wall slightly and swivel your legs around to one side before pushing up to seated.

 

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Want to hear more from Nicola? Yoga Gym: The Revolutionary 28-Day Plan for Strength, Flexibility, and Fat Loss  is available to buy at discount from www.bloomsbury.com.

You can contact Nicola directly on Nicola@YogaGymRevolution.com

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Leading a Revolution in Women’s Cycling

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Suze Clemitson on the Aviva Women’s Tour

It’s fair to say that, in Britain, we love our Golden Girls. Women like Nicole Cooke, Victoria Pendleton, Laura Trott have all ridden to Olympic glory. And when Lizzie Armitstead battled Marianne Vos on a rain sodden Mall in 2012 it ignited interest in the sport like never before. For the multitude of spectators who had been underwhelmed by the men’s road race it was a light bulb moment. Lizzie Armitstead, who lost out on Gold that extraordinary day, has emerged as the best rider – male or female – in the world in 2016 and hot favourite for the women’s road race in Rio. And those huge crowds, that massive support has never diminished.

If you want bang for your buck in terms of exciting, attacking bike racing then you need to get out onto the UK roadside in June and follow the Aviva Women’s Tour. Created in 2014, it’s already regarded as one of the best women’s races on the calendar and alongside the women’s Tour de Yorkshire – which boasts the richest purse in the sport, even surpassing the Tour de France’s La Course – it’s spearheading a renaissance in women’s cycling.

The new women’s World Tour calendar – of which the Aviva Women’s Tour is one of the jewels in the crown, earning the highest ranking – is bringing the sport to a bigger audience than ever before through better TV coverage and live streaming. But women’s cycling needs more – more sponsorship, more high quality racing and more exposure. When the promised start to finish coverage of the Tour de Yorkshire failed to materialise there was widespread disappointment. The appetite is there to change the cycle from a vicious to a virtuous one.

When I was interviewing women for Ride the Revolution I rapidly became aware of how much frustration there is at the lack of proper recognition for women’s cycling and how much passion there is for this beautiful sport. Women ride for love and for fun, as Roxanna Knetemann so simply and perfectly puts it. But I was struck by something Bob Stapleton – who ran the hugely successful HighRoad men’s and women’s cycling teams – once said: “Our values started with our women’s team. Women, in general, won’t get rich by racing, so they put a higher value on the work environment and how they feel as part of the team.”

Marianne Vos, the Dutch star who is one of the greatest riders ever to race a bike, strongly believes that men’s and women’s teams need to co-exist – to train together, learn from each other and share resources – to raise the profile of her sport. She wants to finish her career on the toughest cobbles in the world, riding a women’s Paris-Roubaix. Vos, like Britain’s Golden Girls, embodies all that is best in women’s cycling: intelligence, attack, fighting spirit. The sport has worked hard to be attractive to sponsors, on a sound professional footing for the teams involved and entertaining for the fans.

But anyone can ride the revolution – sign up for Strava and compete against everyone from your next door neighbour to the cream of the women’s peloton, or join a Breeze ride catering for women of all abilities and fitness levels. Bike manufacturers like Trek run regular ‘Ladies Nights’ to encourage women to get more active in all aspects of cycling from riding to bike maintenance. And there are more of us out on our bikes than ever before – training, commuting or simply for fun and fitness – given confidence and encouragement by the exploits of our homegrown cycling stars.

Yes there are still issues and problems confronting the sport, as the latest revelations of sexism at British Cycling confirm. That professional women riders continue to overcome being treated as second class athletes to produce world class performances is testament to their mental toughness and commitment to succeed. And the landscape is changing as parity in prize money and quality coverage becomes the norm not the exception. Looking back on Ride the Revolution I can see how much has already changed for the better. Of course there’s still a long way to travel – the fight for wage equality continues – but the news that emerges from the women’s sport is ever more positive. We’ve come a long way since Beryl Burton – arguably the greatest women’s cyclist ever – could complain “I was a double world champion in an international sport and it might as well have been the ladies darts final down at the local.”

There may not be a woman’s Tour de France – yet. But the Aviva Women’s Tour does a brilliant job of showcasing women’s cycling at its very best. And if you don’t believe me, go and see for yourself – it’s a brilliant day out, cheering on some of the toughest, most dedicated and talented athletes in the world.

9781472912916Want to hear more from Suze? Ride the Revolution: The Inside Stories from Women in Cycling is available to buy at discount from www.bloomsbury.com.

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Insights from the Giro d’Italia

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Matt Rabin, Chiropractor for the Cannondale Pro Cycling team, reports from the Grand Tour

It’s the final rest day of the 2016 Giro D’Italia, and we are camped up in Bressanone in Alto Adige, as far north as you can almost go in Italy before hitting Austria. For a rest day there can be far less beautiful places to sIMG_20160521_121911tay, at least in the ten years since I’ve been with the team there certainly have been. Pre WWII this area in fact ‘was’ Austria and it still very much feels like it. While there are some nods to being Italian, the staff at the hotel all speak German first, the food is more Austrian than Italian, and on asking our Italian riders, they say the locals certainly consider themselves more ‘Austrian’ than Italian. But only 20km down the road to Trentino where tomorrow’s stage starts, and back into ‘Italy’ we go…

I’m one of two chiropractors that will be with the team (Cannondale) throughout this Grand Tour. I came in on the first Italian rest day to Florence to take over from Rob (Palmer), the other chiro serving this race. We had a crossover day on that rest day to catch up on the current situation of all the riders’ ongoing concerns from the first week. This was helpful. Our medical team, which consists during a race of the chiropractor and Doctor, split the races almost 50/50. This is how we’ve done it the past few years – it works well as it keeps everyone fresh and gives a new perspective on the status of the riders. Continuity of care is really important, which is why there have to be excellent lines of communication and you have to know how your colleagues work, otherwise it won’t.

We had a few crashes in the first week, which meant some of the riders were limping into the rest day a little bit banged and bruised. Luckily nothing serious, and importantly for us nothing we want to see any of our riders have to quit this race for. With one week to go we still have all nine ridersIMG_20160517_173001 – which is good news. At the moment we’re all busy. The Doc is separating riders who are getting colds to prevent the spread, and seeing to changing any wound dressings, amongst other things. When I took over there were a couple of guys suffering from low back pain. One rider had some knee pain after hitting his knee on the handlebar during a stage, and a couple of riders felt ‘twisted’ on the bike – one because of a saddle sore (an occupational hazard causing him to sit skewed on the bike) and one from a crash. All small stuff really, but small things can become bigger things quite quickly with the stresses and exertions of a Grand Tour. This Giro is no exception – the parcours, to say the least, has been difficult.

In time-honoured tradition the second and third weeks of a Grand Tour ramp up in difficulty, so as we left the rest day last week and headed into the Dolomites – some of the most spectacular scenery I’ve ever seen in my life, it must be said – naturally some of the boys were concerned that their small issues would become bigger ones. My job is to try and ensure they do not. This time, as we head into a week to go – touch wood – we’ve been able to manage their issues and come through the other side, and everyone looks ready to perform from a biomechanical perspective. Great news.

So the question I often get asked is, how? As a chiropractor I am interested in the biomechanics of the human body and how they are fit for purpose for cycling. And with a thorough physical examination you can determine how the body is working. Are certain IMG_20160521_144053joints too stiff, are certain muscles too short and too tight, is there a balance from left to right, are certain muscles inhibited, what are the key drivers to that individuals presenting complaint? etc. etc. Once this is established, we then work through the different layers fundamentally to reduce pain and improve function, that’s the bottom line. Anything from chiropractic manipulation, Active Release Technique (which is a type of myofascial release), mobilisations, neurological integration (which is an approach that helps to determine if certain ‘reflexes’ are appropriately working), kinesiotape, cryotherapy (good old-fashioned ice), whatever it takes to make the biggest difference with the most minimal input. Why with minimal input? Because you don’t want them getting on the bike the next day feeling like they have been pulled from pillar to post. Everything should just feel better than it had done –that’s the goal. Doing too much is as bad as not doing enough, and getting this balance right is the key, something that comes with experience.

This is my seventh or eighth Giro I’ve been at, and my experience tells me that we cannot rest on our laurels just yet and inevitably more issues will crop up as we move into the last week. Between myself, the Doctor and the soigneurs (‘carers’ – who the riders each receive a massage from every day too) we’ve hopefully got their needs covered. The mood is good in the team at this stage, despite Rigo – Rigoberto Uran – dropping out of the top 10 over the weekend. He’s been fighting a cold, and unless you are totally fit it can be hard to compete with the guys that are. Nobody is feeling sorry for themselves, even though we haven’t won a stage yet. There’s a lot of racing to go in this final week and everyone is fit, ready and looking forward to it. All of which bodes well for the final week.

9781472906595Want to hear more from Matt? The Pain-Free Cyclist by Matt Rabin & Robert Hicks is available to buy at discount from www.bloomsbury.com.

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Why The World is Round, Not Oval

Guest post by Tony Collins

As the Premier League has its most exciting and unexpected finish ever, no-one today could deny that football is the undisputed king of all sports. But it wasn’t always like that.

Imagine a world where rugby is the most popular game. Where Liverpool, Manchester and the North East are among the heartlands of the oval ball code.

Yet that is not an imaginary world. That’s how sport in Britain looked in the 1880s.

In fact, from our 21st Century view, the sports world was completely upside down.

So how did we end up where we are today? That was one of the questions I set out to answer in The Oval World: A Global History of Rugby – and the answer proved to be more interesting than I expected.

In 1863 the Football Association (FA) was founded, followed eight years late by the Rugby Football Union (RFU). But despite being first to organise, the clubs that played association football were a distinct minority.

Rugby dominated the industrial cities of the north of England. The Liverpool and Manchester rugby clubs were formed a generation before the forerunners of those cities’ now world famous football teams. In the North East, the Northern FC rugby team was the leading sports club in the region.

Yorkshire was dominated by rugby, with the sole exception of Sheffield. ‘The lower classes prefer watching a rugby union game’, reported The Field sports weekly in 1884, ‘the Association rules find more favour in the eyes of the middle and upper classes’.

Rugby was the national winter sport.

But in 1871 the FA began what would become its secret weapon: the FA Cup. The new national tournament saw teams of northern industrial workers players pitting their wits against sides full of Old Etonians. What better drama could there be in class-ridden Victorian Britain?

Many in rugby wanted their own national knock-out cup too. In 1878 the RFU was given a ‘cup to be annually competed for by all rugby union clubs’ by the recently disbanded Calcutta rugby club in India.

But the RFU didn’t like the idea that in a knock-out cup clubs couldn’t choose their opponents. A gentlemen’s club from London might be drawn against a team of dockers from Hull – and that was seen as a violation of a gentleman’s right to choose how to spend his leisure time.

Sensing the danger, a letter in The Field in 1884 argued with remarkable foresight that ‘unless a Rugby Union Challenge Cup be speedily established, in a few years the Association clubs throughout the Kingdom will outnumber those of their rivals by at least ten to one’.

The RFU’s refusal to organise a national cup competition was felt most strongly in Lancashire, where local soccer cups and leagues fuelled local rivalries and eroded rugby’s appeal. In soccer almost all matches were in a league or a cup, but most rugby matches were friendlies.

Lancashire rugby’s failure to organise a cup tournament meant that previously rugby cities like Liverpool and Manchester were gradually colonised by soccer. And clubs like Burnley and Preston North End, which began as rugby clubs, switched to the round ball game in the early 1880s.

The pendulum moved even further to soccer in 1885 when the FA legalised professionalism and again in 1888 when the top clubs formed the Football League. But the RFU was firmly opposed to both professionalism and leagues.

Unbelievably, many RFU leaders did not want rugby to be a mass spectator sport. ‘The loss of followers of the grand old game is regrettable,’ wrote a rugby supporter in the 1889 Football Annual, ‘yet looking at the present state of all professional sports we cannot but think that this possible loss is far preferable to legalising professionalism’.

So in 1886 the RFU declared rugby a purely amateur game and banned all forms of payment to players. A civil war broke out between it and the big clubs in the industrial north of England as clubs and players were banned for alleged professionalism.

Eventually rugby split in two when the northern clubs resigned from the RFU in 1895 and began what would become rugby league. As well as paying players, rugby league organised leagues and started the Rugby League Challenge Cup.

9781408831571 (2)But it was too late to turn back the tide of soccer. By the time of the first Challenge Cup final in 1897, the FA Cup final attracted 65,000 spectators, twice as many as had attended even the biggest international rugby matches. In 1901, over 110,000 people attended the final, probably the biggest ever crowd for any sporting event at that time.

Little more than a decade after rugby’s 1895 split the FA had over 7,500 affiliated clubs, roughly fifteen times the number of rugby clubs playing either league or union. Rugby’s civil war had left it exhausted – and soccer was the clear winner.

But it could have been so different. If the RFU had used the Calcutta Cup as rugby’s equivalent of the FA Cup way back in 1878, it’s probable that soccer would have remained the weaker sport.

And that would mean that the sporting world would look very different today.

The Oval World: A Global History of Rugby by Tony Collins is now available in paperback. Save 20%* on all Bloomsbury rugby books here, with discount code OVAL16.

* Discount available to UK residents only. Ends 31 December 2016.

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Nell McAndrew’s Marathon Tips

With this year’s London Marathon only a few days away I know everyone due to take part will be feeling a bundle of nerves and excitement.

I can honestly say that taking part in the London Marathon has changed my life for the better. It has not only challenged me to do something that I had never done before, but it has also given me the chance to raise money and awareness for charity.

010.Ch1I am often asked why I run and in the past I have tried to answer in a way to justify why I do, and especially why would I want to run any kind of long distance. As I get older I have realised that I need to simply reply, ‘why not?!’

Running is my therapy. It’s my way to relax and unwind, to re-energise and refuel my positivity. I cannot recommend it highly enough.

Training for a marathon has given my running a greater focus and enabled me to push myself further than I ever thought possible.

Although I won’t be on the start line this year, I intend to take part in the future as I feel my running journey is only just beginning. I still believe I can go faster and I would love to still be running it when I’m 80-years-old and beyond! Who knows, maybe I will be able to become the oldest runner to complete the London Marathon in years to come!

Running a marathon isn’t easy but to anyone preparing to run on Sunday – you have a great day ahead of you! Yes, there will be aching muscles and sore feet and at some point you will ask yourself ‘why am I doing this?’ but you can’t beat the feeling when you cross the finish line. The amazing crowd support along the way will help pull you through when the going gets tough.

Here are my race day tips to help you enjoy the day and hopefully get a PB!

Sleep well the week before: You will be so nervous the night before the race it is unlikely you will sleep well, so try and get some early nights in during the week preceding the race instead. Aim to have a good night’s sleep on the Thursday and Friday nights and lie in on Saturday morning if you can.

Rest, rest rest! In the week building up the race there is no point trying to cram in any extra training. Stick to some easy jogging and rest as much as possible so your legs will be fresh on the day. Try to keep off your feet as much as possible the day before the race – any DIY, shopping or housework can wait!

Fuel up: Eat extra carbs on the days preceding the race and have a carb-heavy meal the night before. Make sure it is a meal you have had before a long run previously so you’re sure it agrees with you. Although you will feel nervous in the morning, don’t skip breakfast. Eat at least two hours before the start so you have fuel for the run.

Avoid chafing: Blisters and bleeding nipples don’t have to be part of your marathon experience! Apply anti-chafing gel such as Tiger Balm or Vaseline on your feet and anywhere your clothes might rub when you get ready. This is particularly important if you are wearing fancy dress, once I got a very sore neck from the elastic of my superhero costume cape rubbing in the Great North Run! Women, don’t forget to apply gel under the elastic of your sports bra and men should try putting plasters over their nipples to prevent bleeding.

043.Ch2.NMcD'sRunning.Hydrate: Drink a couple of glass of water before the race but don’t go overboard, if you have too much you will get a stitch and need frequent toilet stops! Adjust how much you drink to how hot it is on the day, as you will need to have a little extra if you are sweating more. Once the race is underway, drink little and often rather than waiting till you are thirsty and guzzling a whole bottle.

Plan ahead: There are three start lines at London so familiarise yourself with which one
you are on and how you will get to it on the morning of the race. Allow plenty of time for your journey as you don’t want to waste nervous energy worrying about getting to the start on time. Make sure your kit is ready the night before with your number pinned on your vest, any gadgets you intend to use fully charged, and your chip on your trainer, so all you have to do in the morning is get up and go.

Keep warm: At London you have to put your kit onto the baggage van to be taken to the finish at least 30 minutes before the start so take an old T-shirt or bin bag to wear which you can then discard so you don’t get cold hanging around before the gun goes.

Pack a spare pair of trainers: After running 26.2 miles your feet will feel sore! It will be a relief to take your trainers off so either pack a spare pair in your bag or ask a friend or relative to bring different shoes to the finish for you. That way you can make your feet feel more comfortable as soon as possible instead of travelling home in your race shoes.

Don’t go off too fast! It is always tempting to go off too fast at the start as it feels easy to begin with and the adrenaline is pumping. But you will suffer later in the race if you try to push yourself too hard too soon. Use a GPS watch to check your pace or take your mile splits on a stopwatch to ensure you are going at your target speed.

Mind over matter: You are bound to feel nervous and worry ‘can I do this?’ My advice is to stay calm and focus on the positives. Think of all the training you have done and how it will help you run well. During the race, if it feels too much to think about making it to the end, focus on getting to the next mile or the next water station instead. Have a positive mantra you repeat as you run. Mine in 2012 was ‘I can do this!’ I kept repeating it in my head as I ran and it helped me stay focused and in a running rhythm.

Enjoy it! It’s fair to say you won’t love every second of running the marathon as there are times it may hurt and you will have to dig in. But you will also feel joy, determination and a great sense of achievement. There is such a wonderful atmosphere in London, make sure you take it all in and savour the experience. Highlights include crossing Tower Bridge and running down The Mall to see the finish gantry. It’s an emotional moment when you cross the line and get your medal – I usually burst into happy tears of relief, euphoria, pride and exhaustion! And once I am recovered, I can’t wait to do it all again!

NellIf you would like to read more tips on how to improve or how to get started in running, there’s lots more advice from myself and other runners in my Guide To Running.

Working with my co-writer and fellow runner Lucy Waterlow and Bloomsbury Sport has helped me to pull together a plethora of information including nutritional advice, training plans and most importantly real life stories from other runners, sharing their experiences and words of wisdom.

This week I received a Tweet from @aliciacarter901 who said following the beginners plan in the book helped her finish her first marathon in Manchester and ‘enjoy each mile’. So if you’re inspired by London to do a marathon or start running, this book could be just what you need to help you along the way.

Order Nell McAndrew’s Guide to Running now for just £9.99 from Bloomsbury.com. Simply enter discount code NELL16 at the checkout.

 

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The Inside Story of the Professional Jockey

Guest post by John Carter

Jockeys are not like normal people. Nor do they want to be. Most normal people would weigh up the risks and rewards of making a living as a professional race-rider and observe that the occupational hazards are prohibitive. Certainly there are three obvious ones that would put off most of us.

Firstly there is the constant, never ending travelling from one race meeting to another on Britain’s overloaded roads. Day after day. Motorway after motorway.

Second there this is the food deprivation. Jockeys – particularly those who ride on the flat – are on a permanent diet, dehydrated, often two stones below their natural body weight.

warriorsThird there is the inevitability of injury. For even the best jockeys it is not merely a possibility, it will happen. Even the great AP McCoy possesses a body scarred by numerous misadventures and visits to hospital. On average a jump jockey falls around every 20 races. Around three quarters of those cause soft tissue damage; the others involve fractures, concussions and dislocations. Of course they put such dangers to the back of their mind to preserve their sanity, but the constant perils remain nevertheless. They play Russian roulette every time they sit on the back of a live animal and jump a fence at speeds of 30 mph – few other professions are followed by an ambulance as they perform their duties.

Someone like me – a logical, rational member of society – breaks into a cold sweat at the very thought of putting myself in harm’s way to this degree. I feel far more comfortable sitting at a desk behind a keyboard. No travelling, I can eat as much as I want and the only threat of injury is modest eye strain and a tinge of cramp in the fingers.

Yet there have always been braver, hardier souls, who feed off danger, adrenalin and the thrill of competition. Souls like Captain Becher who rode in the Grand National in 1839. Forty years old, ruddy-faced, cavalier and swashbuckling the Captain, aboard his mount, 20-1 shot Conrad, led the cavalry charge to an obstacle described as ‘a strong pailing, next a rough, high jagged hedge and lastly a brook about 6 feet wide’. The horse fell and the Captain landed ingloriously its icy waters. Undeterred Captain Becher got up, remounted and continued the race, only to fall again into the brook at what is now known as Valentine’s Brook. The double dousing went into the legends and the first of those fences became known as Becher’s Brook. Nearly 180 years on it will still present a stern test to horses and jockeys on Grand National day.

The spirit of Becher remains. In writing the book Warriors on Horseback the jockey who made the biggest impression on me was John Snaith. He was a professional National Hunt jockey who plied his trade in the 1970s and 1980s. When he was 28 years old, in 1983 he suffered a terrible fall at Aintree and lay in a coma for six weeks. It was the worst of an accumulation of various injuries and concussions he had suffered and the doctors told him he must retire or suffer severe consequences.

The years that followed were beyond challenging. There were physical and psychological scars. When I met him, some 30 years after his enforced retirement I asked John whether, if he could turn the clock back, he would have chosen a different, safer profession. To me the answer seemed obvious. But he dismissed the notion: he had no regrets and would choose the same path again. Along with the words themselves the tone and animation in his voice left no room for doubt. When he talked of life as a jump jockey – the horses, the camaraderie, the competition and the buzz of winning – his eyes were alive. I learned a lot about the mindset of jump jockeys from John, who is now employed by the National Horseracing Museum, sharing his enthusiasm for the sport with visitors.

In the 21st century, other professionals are following in the footsteps of Becher and Snaith, sharing their courage and thirst for thrills, and the class of 2016 with be on show at Aintree on Saturday. Observe this remarkable tribe of warriors. They deserve our admiration for their skills, athleticism and bravery.

Warriors on Horseback: The Inside Story of the Professional Jockey is out now in paperback.

Click here to find out more.

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