Preparing my feet for desert running

Friday, October 19, 2018

Preparing for a desert ultra like Wadi Rum Ultra takes a lot of planning and organization.  Slowly you need to build up miles, gather the specific kit you will need, try out said kit, research camping food, try said camping food, and prepare your feet.  Then, in the last three weeks before the race, you need to add in sauna or Bikram yoga sessions, make sure your luggage doesn't go over the weight limit, and finally go see a chiropodist/podiatrist for a “medical pedicure” one week out.  This bit of advice can from my friend, Becs, who has done countless ultras, including Marathon Des Sables.  I don't usually get cosmetic pedicures unless I am going on a beach holiday.  Turns out “medical pedicures" are very different.


Using my Simplyhealth Active Plan, I found a place in London that meets the criteria for reimbursement under the chiropody/podiatry benefit of the Active Plan.  I went to Margaret Dabbs for a “medical pedicure” at cost of £85 for a 45 minute appointment.  I traveled from work to Marylebone on a sunny afternoon at the start of October and wasn't sure what to expect. “Medical pedicures” are performed on dry feet by a podiatrist or chiropodist.  The purpose is to thoroughly exam the feet, addressing any issues (such as nail fungus, ingrown toenail nails, dry skin, bunions, calluses, etc), shape/file the nails, and remove dead skin.

Using the drill to buff off skin around my toe nails
When I arrived at the clinic, there were several women having manicures with nail polish on the ground floor of the clinic.  My podiatrist, Laura, brought me to the basement into a small private room. She began by disinfecting my feet while explaining what she was going to do as it was my first time.  She examined my feet very carefully, looking in between and under each toe. I am lucky as my foot condition was 'mild' according to Laura.  She said my feet don't have a lot of fat on them (they are quite narrow) and I didn't have too much dry skin built up.  She proceeded to cut, then file, my toe nails.  She also buffed the nails before she put oil on my cuticles and explained that cuticles should never be pushed back as they compromises the protection around your nail bed.  Cosmetic manicures and pedicures have got it all wrong. Who knew?

Laura took a 'drill' (which it kind of is) to file down the rough skin around the bed of each nail. She used a scalpel to carefully scrape off all the dead skin on my feet and heels.  Next, she used a big rough file to further smooth the skin on my feet.  The treatment ended with the application of lotion to leave my feet feeling super soft and smelling fresh.

Laura taking a close look at my tootsies
Although Laura was not a runner, she had seen many runners for the same reason I was there.  She told me that it was good that I came in at least a week before my race.  To keep my feet in prime condition, I was to continue to moisturize in the lead up to the race but not to file (if I wasn’t racing, I was supposed to file every day).  We discussed black toenails (touch wood I have never experienced this) and she said that if I get one, I am to leave it alone unless it becomes painful.  She assured me if a black toenail falls off, it will grow back, although perhaps a little differently.

Scraping dead skin off with scalpel
Because me feet were in good condition, Laura said I could come back quarterly for a “medical pedicure” or sooner if I had any problems.  She was easy to talk to and I am very happy with how soft and smooth my feet were.  It did seem like a bit of an indulgence so I am glad my Simplyhealth Active Plan will reimburse me for the cost.  I think if my feet had a lot of issues, it would be something I would want to do regularly.  Although it didn't prevent me from loosing any toenails, I think I would definitely do it again if I signed up for another desert race.

The clinic emailed me the receipt the same day, which I will submit to Simplyhealth.  I did contact the clinic prior to booking to ensure their staff were registered with HCPC in order to meet the Simplyhealth criteria.  Hopefully I will have time this weekend to make my claim online.

Final result
Have you ever had a "medical pedicure"?  If so, why?  Let me know in the comments below.

Thanks to Simplyhealth for sponsoring my 4x4 Challenge and allowing me use of their Active Plan. All opinions are honest and my own.

Medical sign off for my first ultra

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

When you start running bigger and more challenging races, the organizers want to ensure you are in tip top shape to compete.  Some countries, such as France, will ask for a doctor to sign a release form stating you are fit for each and every race you run.  I had to do it for the Paris Half Marathon, which meant an appointment with my GP, taking time off work, and a £30 fee for a signature on a form.

Pre-race weigh in
Wadi Rum Ultra, race 3 in my 4x4 challenge upped the ante a bit and asked for an electrocaridogram (ECG), in addition to a doctor's note saying I was fit and healthy.  The race didn't provide an official form for the doctor to complete so I looked at what the Marathon des Sables form covered.  Included was a medical history, blood pressure, resting heart rate, allergies, and current medications.  I forwarded the link over to the Walk-In Clinic when they invited me in for my medical sign off.

I thought it would just be an ECG because that was included in my original wellwomen appointment in 2017 as that is all the race asked for.  Instead, I was pleasantly surprised for a full physical, ECG, and urine analysis which in total lasted just under an hour.  The Walk-In Clinic have their own sports physical form which made it a bit easier to send the required info over to the race organizers.

Low blood pressure
The doctor is the one I have met in my past visits (including travel vaccination) so we have already built up a bit of a rapport.  She asked relevant questions about the race (how far, how long, what is the environment, how have you been preparing).  We had plenty of time to discuss these answers and much more.  I asked her about hydration strategies as I was still trying to figure that one out.  She talked to.me about my anxiety medication and how I might experience hallucinations under these extreme conditions.

Hooked up for my ECG
The ECG was painless although a bit of a faff to connect to all of the wires.  I think I moved or took a deep breath during the first measurement because my graphs showed a bit dip.  We repeated the process and my resulting ECG was normal. Hurrah!

ECG results
The clinic receptionist offered to scan across my letter and ECG for me even though also they give me the original.  The team is always helpful and efficient.  I love visiting their clinic as the appointments run to time, are long enough that you don't have to rush any conversations with the GP you see, and the customer service is superb.  If you ever need something for a race (ECG, physical, travel vaccination, etc), I recommend booking in. This private practice offers more flexibility than a GP office with a central London location, next to the Gherkin.

Thanks the City Walk-In Clinic for the complementary service.  All opinions are honest and my own.  

Working with Function360- one year on

Friday, September 28, 2018

I can't believe it has been 1 year since I started working with Function360.  For this that don't know, this performance innovation centre is based near Moorgate Station in Central London and offer many different types of services (osteopathy, physiotherapy, sports therapy, corrective exercise, dry needling, myofascial release etc).  They fully supported my two year plan of a Boston Qualifying (BQ) time from day one.  Now that we are halfway to that goal (eek!), here is how they have helped me over the last year:

Phase One: Gait analysis, initial strength/movement assessment then prescribed corrective exercise




My first appointment at Function360 was to have a gait analysis.  Last summer, I really struggled with pain in my feet and Achilles.  The BQ goal was delayed by a year because of this.  The info gathered during this appointment fed into my runner-focused strength training plan.  There were a few imbalances identified that if addressed could reduce my risk of injury given my activity levels.

Nearly every Thursday morning from October to December 2017, I would work with a corrective exercise specialist team member from Function360 to strengthen my key running muscles- glutes, hamstrings, and core.  When we started, I was unable to do a 'bird dog' but was soon progressing to a more challenging posture.  We also worked on improving my squat technique and hip mobility.  My Achilles needed this more than anything as I was just recovering from a bad flair up of tendinopathy during the summer of 2017.

Bird dog in my garden

I tried my best to complete my exercise regimes at home in addition to our weekly sessions.  Once I was stronger, we cut back to meeting once every other week while I completed two to three more sessions on my own. The exercises were chosen based on what my body needed to improve strength, in addition to what kit I had available at home (exercise bands, dumbbells, steps, and a yoga mat).  I could tell they wanted me to succeed by working with kit and time limitations.

Doing my stretches at work on a break

Phase Two: More core. 
At the start of the 2018, I was assigned to Ben (a physio and rehab specialist) who did another assessment to monitor my progress.  I told him about the niggles I was still getting in my hips and glutes and he prescribed a new set of exercises.  I met with him monthly to receive a new program and to check in on any issues I was having.  I was already in the habit of setting aside 30 minutes a few times a week for my exercises, so this worked for me and my schedule.

Psoas march

Phase Three: Maintenance and recovery

This summer, as my marathon training started up, my sessions with Ben were mostly sports massages.  We had discussed previously how I would manage the strength training alongside weekly mileage requirements.  There just isn't enough time in the day!  He was confident that I had a good baseline level of strength to work off of.

One thing I had missed in my previously marathon training cycles was the regular rest and recovery.  I tended to only get sports massages after I couldn't stand the pain in my periformis anymore.   It is so important to maintain your body with rest and recovery, not just blast it with HIIT sessions all the time.  This lesson has taken my years to learn.

Sports massage with Ben.
Sports massages are necessarily 'relaxing' (I have zeo pain tolerance) but chatting with Ben is a good distraction as he works on tense muscles in my legs and back.

Phase Four:  Life after the marathon
After the NYC Marathon in November, I plan on taking a step back from cardio and looking at my body imbalances again. I now have a gym membership and will focus on weight training in addition to revisiting the Function360 programs I have.  Ben and I haven't talked about what approach to take yet but I am sure we will come up with something achievable that will produce my desired BQ in 2019.



Bonus appointments: Emergencies
Function360 has been fantastic at getting me in when I am panicking about a new pain weeks before a race.  For example, I had developed a (what I thought was) random hip pain in late January.  I was training for Mount Kilimanjaro and had a 10K race coming up.  Jordan, the company director and physio therapist, kept me calm as we went through a thorough medical history and assessment of the pain and my posture.  She decided I needed some dry needling only to discover a huge bruise on my hip from a fall I had while camping.  We concluded that fall probably knocked my body out alignment temporarily.  Ben is easy to reach via email or Instagram if I have questions about my exercises or a little niggle.  Most recently, I was starting to develop 'maranoia' when my neck hurt during a spin class.  An osteo appointment with Victor made me feel much better because he didn't find any serious issues and he did a few manipulations to release some joints in my neck and back.

Dry needling

The proof is in the pudding really.  Is all this hard work paying off?  Since I began working with Function360 a year ago, I have:

  • run a sub 25 minute 5K in May
  • improved my 400m time from 2:00 to 1:40
  • increased flexibility in my hips and hamstrings
  • reduced my Achilles pain
  • become a more confident runner

Are you ready to achieve these things too?  I wish I knew this could happen for me years ago.  I would have started much sooner (and stuck with it!).  If you have committed to putting in the miles, I can tell you targeted strength training will make a world of difference to your  running performance.

Function360 is kindly offering my readers 15% discount on their first visit with code #F360MM15.  If you pay them a visit, please let me know how it goes in the comments below.  Everyone on the team is fantastic.  You will be in good hands no matter who you see.

Thanks to Function360 for the complimentary services.  All opinions are honest and my own.

Race review: Marathon du Medoc

Thursday, September 20, 2018

What you will see most of the race- runners and grapevines.
Have you ever heard of the Marathon du Medoc?  This no-pressure race was the first in my 4x4 challenge.  It is quite famous in France, as well as among the international running community, for its unique format.  Fancy dress (costumes) are mandatory and wine it offered alongside water at all the refreshment stations.  Many of my London running friends have done it before.  A group of them had a spare place which gave me the opportunity to run the race this year.  I love to explore new places by taking part in running events.  This trip was no exception.

It seems a bit odd to be running on these gorgeous estates, but hey ho.

Race entries and fees: This is by no means a cheap race.  Registration was about €80, which included a really nice technical running t-shirt (women- size up as the women's cuts is extremely form fitting), small branded drawstring bag, food and wine along course, "lucky dip" bottle of wine from one of the wineries along the course in a really nice wooden box, a cooler bag, finishing line rose for female finishers, a plastic cup for the after party, medal, and more food and drinks after the finish.  Add on top to the cost of the registration fee the transportation and accommodation costs, especially if you decide to stay in Bordeaux rather than Pauillac.


Line for the loos
Course and bogs:  The course starts along the Pauillac riverside and winds through the vineyards of the Medoc region.  Some of the course is paved and some on loose gravel and dirt.  The start is a bit conjested due to the narrow town streets and plenty of runners but people start to spread out after the first and second wine stops.  Of course, the scenery along the scenery is a very pretty due to the surrounding vineyards.  We were spoiled by blue skies and sunshine too.

There are plenty of toilets in the start area compared to the number of entrants.  I was really disappointed at the number of port-a-loos along the course through.  There was a lot of peeing on the vineyards, which looked funny when several men dressed the same lined up adjacent rows.

The bag drop was a bit of a faff as all bags were searched, then a label was handwritten by someone else and attached before the bag was placed in a big trolley.  Later, you collect your bag, they look at your bib for your number, then asked you in French 'what color your bag was' (I think) and dug through a large pile of bags.

Few members of Team FOOD!
Location:  Pauillac France, about an hour drive north of Bordeaux.  You can fly direct to Bordeaux or take a train to Paris, then another to Bordeaux. From Bordeaux, there are occasional trains, a local coach (bus) service or the marathon has a private shuttle service organized too.  Each option runs at a specific timetable which you should check before booking.  Half of our group took trains via Paris and the other fly to Bordeaux.

Refreshment station
Atmosphere:  Was absolutely amazing!  Everyone at the start line was happy and relaxed with the goal of having a good time.  So many people from the local community were out too, both cheering us on and volunteering at the numerous refreshments stations.  Many people put picnic tables out along the road and were enjoying meals as we ran by.

Goody bag was ace!
Race bling and goody bag:  Last year's medal was in the shape of a guitar because the theme for the race was music.  This year's theme was amusement parks.  The medal was round and had the roller coaster logo in the center.

Race 1 of my 4x4 challenge done!
After you get your medal and bottle of wine, you can enter the after party tent, where there is more wine, beer, and snacks.  We were a bit rushed for time at the end because we wanted to make the shuttle bus back to Bordeaux.  Thirty minutes was enough time to have a few drinks before hopping on a hot bus and getting stuck in traffic.  At least no one from our group got sick, unless some of the other passengers.

Team FOOD finishing hand-in-hand.


Tips if you want to take part next time (from me and my teammates):

  • Plan ahead.  Accommodation is very limited in Pauillac.  There are shuttle buses and trains but you need to book in advance.  Pay attention to the booking cut off dates!
  • Add a day or two on to your trip and enjoy Paris (especially if you have never been).

Matt and Pippa ended up slowly cutting off bits of their costume along the way.

  • Consider how hot and heavy your costume will be.  If you are running with friends, matching costumes might make it easier to spot each other in the crowds.  I was surprised to see that not all costumes were related to this year's theme.  There were lots of minions and Disney characters. You can be as creative as you want.
  • Don't forget you will be running a marathon.  It is easy to get caught up in the other details for this event but you will be on your feet for about 6 hours if you enjoy the refreshment stations.  You can take it at a party pace but it is still a lot of time on your foot.

Oysters, steak and ice cream are available at the last few refreshment stations.

  • The race website is extremely hard to navigate.  The translations are poor which can be frustrating when you are trying to find the answer to something (like when the shuttle buses are).
  • Pack medication for tummy troubles.  Basically, we broke all of the normal pre-race rules by drinking the night before the race, staying up late the night before the race, and eating different foods  like rich cheese and wine.  I was suffering a bit from stomach issues on the course and wasn't able to find an open pharmacy over the weekend until 11pm on Sunday night in Paris.  It was not ideal.

Cheers!

  • Bring your friends and make some new ones along the way.  There is plenty of time to  meet other runners at the pasta party, race, and after party.
  • Stay hydrated!  We had unseasonable temps this year.  Although you only get a few shots of wine at each refreshment station (I wasn't even buzzing at the end of the race), keep drinking water along the way.
Have you ever completed Marathon du Medoc or something similar?  Let me know in the comments below.

Post script: My teammate, Melanie, says she likes the little quirks of the race (website, bag drop, transport) and thinks is what makes it more of an adventure.  I say there is a race out there for everybody!

One of the large ducks we had to avoid being run over by.

Thanks to Simplyhealth for sponsoring my 4x4 challenge.  If you enjoy living an active lifestyle, check out their new Active Plan.

Thank you Simplyhealth

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

As I hinted on social media, I have a big announcement to make this week.  I am thrilled to say Simplyhealth is sponsoring my 4x4 challenge for the next five months.  Be on the lookout for some great posts and vlogs about my upcoming races and the preparation that goes along with it. My challenge offically started over weekend with a wine tasting/fancy dress marathon near Bordeaux, France. I left London Friday morning on a crisp morning but the weather was lush on race day. Some of my team were wearing proper costumes during the run whereas I had a t-shirt with tulle sewn all over it (see my Instagram for some pictures of the day).  Thankfully, no one suffered from heat exhaustion as we made our way around 20 wineries in the sunny French countryside.  We were able to sip wine along the way to stay cool and eat local cuisine to refuel.  It is a pretty famous marathon and I am had an amazing time running with my Advent Running friends.



Included in my sponsorship with Simplyhealth is a year-long membership to their new Active Plan.  If you are physically active like me, you might put off seeking treatment or professional advice due to the expense.  Simplyhealth wants you to stay healthy and the Active Plan can reimburse for: sports massages, osteopath treatment, prescriptions, dental cleaning, trips to the optician and more.  There are four levels of cover to select from, helping you to choose a rate that’s affordable to you. I know I will be taking full advantage.  Having a big birthday coming up in February (eek) made me realize I need to start sorting out my health, like how I sometimes have blurry vision and how I need to see a dental hygienist on a regular basis.


Over the next five months, I will be sharing my story through each of the challenges along with my experience using the Active Plan to help me keep my body in tiptop shape.  Luckily, the plan can also be used internationally if need be (touch wood).  If something happens before or after a race abroad, I don't have to worry about waiting until I come home to the UK to seek treatment. Some of my posts will also be shared by Simplyhealth meaning you can also track my running and health adventures through them as well.

Follow me on social media (click on pink buttons to the right) so you don't miss the links when I share them.


Big thanks to Simplyhealth for believing in me and my lifestyle choice to remain healthy and active.  I really appreciate their support.

Learning about the food you should eat

Monday, August 13, 2018

Back in October, I began the first of five modules of my Future Fit Advanced Nutrition and Weight Management online course.  After running the Chicago Marathon, I had a few days with my feet up recovering so I started chipping away at it.

Studying in my office with help from my personal assistant
I started off with the longest module, Nutrition and Weight Management.  I figured it would give me a good review of nutrition topics I had covered in my personal training course with more detail.  There were 16 lessons all together in this module, each of which took 20-30 minutes to complete.  For this course, I had to be online to play each lesson, which features an audio track of the text.  There are knowledge checks periodically within the lesson to see if you retained key bits of information or to see if you have prior knowledge about the next topic.  The information delivered so far is simply put and broken down into little chunks that were easy to digest.  If I didn't finish a lesson, it would save my place and offer me an option to resume where I had finished or to start at the beginning of the module.  Before passing each lesson, you must complete a five question quiz and score 100%.  You can repeat the test immediately of you missed one or two questions but if you take too long to pass, you will have to log out and back in to restart.

Each lesson also has a resource folder which includes a transcript, relevant forms, and sometimes a glossary.  Any time I had a question, I could either email my tutor or submit a question through the website.  Most of my questions were around the technology side of things, rather than the course material, because computers are not my forte.  The Future Fit Training team were always quick to respond and very helpful.

No joke, this cookie is as big as my head.  And when I get stressed, I eat the whole thing.
Part of the course is a case study working with a client to help them learn more about their food habits and emotional links to eating.  It was actually hard to find a volunteer that was willing to work with me for eight weeks.  Through Twitter, I found two competitive male cyclists who wanted to drop some weight to improve their cycling performance.  One of them was travelling a lot of work and was unable to check in with me on a regular basis.  I am happy to say the other client was able to check in regularly and found the accountability very helpful.  He tracked his food three to four days a week for me and started choosing fruits and vegetables over convenient processed foods.  He didn't loose any weight but he was sleeping better and feeling more energized during the day.


My tips for online study success?  Give yourself deadlines to complete each lesson or modules by writing them in your diary.  Think of them as exam dates that you cannot change.  Set aside studying time in your diary each week too.  I prefer to have the same slot every week (although that hasn't be possible with marathon training the last two months) and keep plugging along but your schedule might be better to spend one day every other week.  Set up a place to study that is free from distractions- no TV, no music, no kids (or dogs) interrupting you.  You are taking this course to improve your health and knowledge, as well as to help your clients.  Make it a priority.  Have a notepad to take notes or print out the resource info to annotate as you go along.

Most of all, enjoy it!  All of the information will help you fuel your body properly, feel energized and maintain a healthy weight that is appropriate for you.  As they say, "health is wealth".


Thanks to Future Fit Training for their support of furthering my nutritional education.  All opinions are honest and my own.

Coming up next: 4x4 running challenge

Thursday, August 9, 2018

As someone who was cut from her high school football team for being slow, I never imagined I would be running marathons in my spare time while in my late 30s.  Currently, I am pursuing the six World Marathon Major races, but when an advert for a desert ultra marathon caught my eye, I suddenly wanted more.


I started running in 2006 to fundraise for a local humane society.  From 2011-2015, I supported RODS Racing as a way to grieve for my stillborn nephew.  I have been slowly gaining my confidence from being the slowest girl on the team to a confident athlete who is up for a physical challenge.  My latest adventure was climbing Mount Kilimanjaro in 2018 to summit on International Women's Day.

This year by committing to Track Tuesdays and working with the amazing team at Function360, I have never felt fitter or faster.  I have also started to drop excess weight by working with a nutritionist and staying focused on my goals.

With this in mind, I am super excited to announce my 4x4 Running Challenge!

Over September, October and November, I will take part in four different running challenges in four different countries.  They are:

8 September: Marathon du Medoc- fancy dress and wine drinking marathon on Bordeaux region of France

21-22 September: Ragnar Relay White Cliffs, UK- relay race of 170 miles with a team of 10

7-13 October: Wadi Rum Ultra, Jordan- 250 km over 5 days in the Jordan desert with temperatures over 30 degrees C

4 November: NYC Marathon, USA- Mollie's 4th World Marathon Major


#TeamLikeAGirl, who are my new friends 

Wadi Rum Ultra will be the hardest race for me.  Although I am currently feeling strong in body and mind, the only experience I have in multi-day events is as part of a relay team for Spitfire Scramble and Fitbit Fifty.  Plus, I have never run in the desert or an ultra (anything over 26.2 miles/marathon distance).  To successfully train for Wadi Rum, I will need to add more miles into my marathon training schedule, more strength and conditioning to keep my body strong through the challenge, and somehow acclimatize my body to the heat for running for 30+ degree C temps (although the London heat wave is certainly helping).   Can I do this while working full-time and having a (mostly) understanding husband at home? Time will tell.

I was lucky enough to take part in a Wadi Rum training weekend where I met lots of the racers.  Everyone was friendly and happy to chat all things running (my kind of people!).  We have another training weekend coming up in September where I hope to learn more about how to prepare effectively.  There is so much to learn about running multi-day challenges, as well as caring for your feet.   I need to sort out what I am going to eat along the way and make sure everything fits into my bag.  Somehow, I will manage a way to fit it all in.

Salomon Agile 6
I am so blessed as a blogger to have developed relationships over the years with various brands.  Many that I have worked with in the past are once again showing their support for my enthusiastic and adventurous efforts.  I would like to say a huge thanks to these companies for sending me samples of the following kit to put to the extreme test over these next few months.  Reviews will be posted after the challenge is complete.

Salomon- Agile 6 bag and Sense Ride trainers
1000 Mile- Breeze sock
Sole- Active Medium footbed
Skins- various compression wear (more info soon)
Suunto- Suunto 9
IV Doc- Post race treatment

One other aspect of this challenge will be verbalizing my 'why'.  Non-running acquaintances keep asking me why I signed up to do all of these races, why would you rather run 20 miles that have a BBQ, why do you over-commit yourself with fitness activities every day of the week?  I can't yet answer them.  I think some of it stems from being cut from the football team. Another is that I do find it fun (when I am not injured, of course). Some of it might be to draw attention to myself as I am so far from friends and family back in the USA, I don't want to be forgotten about.  Lucky for me, I have plenty of long runs coming up to think this through more carefully. 

If you want to keep tabs on me and my training over the next few months, please follow me on Strava.  A little kudos goes a long way.

We raced down this huge dune near Brecon Beacon. I am pretty sure a local 9 year old girl (not pictured) won.