Monday, 8 December 2014

The Drug Called Sport

Choice. To willingly select an outcome. A yes or no. Everyone has to make them. Children, teenagers, adults. From a young age the word 'Drugs' didn't mean much to me – other than – 'say no.' - perhaps a little naïve on my behalf but the situation never occurred all throughout my teenage years. However, the word has manifested it's way into my life in a way I had never dreamed of. As an athlete competing at Olympic level, I regularly have to give drug tests in order to pave the way for clean sport. The often televised Diamond League athletics meetings are plagued by athletes returning from bans due to failed tests. Some athletes not only making the wrong choice once... but twice! During these meets, social media is rife with the words 'cheat', 'drugs' and 'ban'. Certain athletes are trending for negative reasons rather than the superb performances. I remember as a kid watching Paula Radcliffe parade around the track with banners protesting for stronger bans against drug cheats. I never really fully acknowledged it at the time but now it resonates in the back of my mind. She was extremely outspoken all throughout her career and a true role model for younger athletes taking up the sport. Cheating should never be an option.

All sports contain cheats. People want to bypass their way to success and unfortunately drugs are the quickest way to do so. I am under no misconception that these athletes don't also work hard – they have to – but they are unquestionably gaining a major advantage. Currently, there is no deterrent for athletes not to cheat other than their own moral fibre. Almost an 'Lance Armstrong Syndrome' – some athletes believe all their competitors are dirty and so perhaps lightens the blow in their own minds. They return to the sport having served their ban whilst the other athletes and race meet organisers don’t bat an eyelid - throwing themselves straight into the limelight again with several running faster than ever. This is by no means an attack on certain athletes – i'm sure they're are many an athlete whom aren't as squeaky clean as they are portrayed. I'm sure many of them are polite and kind individuals – convicted, cheating or not. I am also under no illusion that every single person makes mistakes. Human error is always going to creep in under certain circumstances, particularly with the added extras of money and championship titles – egos possibly take over.

When I started competing at a slightly higher level in athletics, I met Dwain Chambers at my first ever international. We were team mates and he was one of the biggest names on our team. I had so many questions that I wanted to ask – but I had never met him before and he had no clue who I was. After about 5 minutes of questions buzzing around my head – I blurted a few out. He was chatting about how he found it difficult being away from his young children. I asked if he thought his young boy would become an athlete and he replied that he would love him to take up the sport. I then asked how he would go around explaining to his little boy that he cheated. It was perhaps a bit of a strong and forward question to ask but I genuinely wanted to know. Dwain was extremely down to earth and open which I didn't really expect. I had grown up thinking drug cheats were villains and horrible people – again a very naïve statement to think. Dwain couldn't of been any friendlier and truly made me feel part of the team. He admitted that he felt it would be the toughest thing that he's ever gone through. To tell his young boy, who idolises him and looks up to him so much – that he cheated - he took the easy route. For me, this is another huge contributing factor against cheating and it confuses me how people can lie and deceive in order to gain the benefits. Lying to their own family and loved ones – instead of admitting that they weren't good enough to make it to the very top. Dwain genuinely did come across as a nice guy and I enjoyed being able to ask him questions on all sorts. Drug cheats aren't murderers. They get distracted easily by the bright shining lights of success and the affluent thought that they will never get caught. I can see how it's easy for certain personalities to be swayed but for me, it's a mistake I wouldn't be willing to make. Drug cheats should be banned for life, examples made, purely to try and stop other people from making the same mistake. Reduced sentences should only be offered after receiving enough substantial on how they got it, how they took it, the circle of people whom knew - every single detail of their scheme publicised. 

Drugs are something that have personally never entered my radar. I have been competing since I was 12. I've been to the Olympics, World Championships and Commonwealth Games but they are something I've never come across. Maybe I am not a good enough standard to have ever been offered or know the right people. I find it difficult to get my head around why people make the wrong choice. Sport is difficult. Being successful at it – is never going to be easy. When money becomes involved people become more monstrous. For example, a drug cheat who is back competing can walk away with $10,000 for every Diamond League victory, an undisclosed appearance fee and a $40,000 jackpot win for the series. Meaning other clean athletes perhaps further down the field receive jack all. It tallies up to quite an impressive amount of money. This also doesn’t include private corporate sponsors. Yet when an athlete get caught doping they don’t have to give back any of their prize money directly to competitors. Yes, they loose medals and perhaps give back a percentage of winnings but it is never anywhere near what they have actually made. They can continue training through the duration of their ban wether it be a few months, 18 months or 2 years and pop up again for the next major championships alongside all the benefits they have previously gained from being on the juice.

Would I love to be an Olympic Champion? Of course I bloody would. But would I cheat my way to the top? Not a chance in hell. With my mother being a former athlete, she has always brought us up firmly against drugs in sport. She missed many a medal and perhaps thousands of missing prize money due to athletes who had an air of suspicion concerning them. Ultimately though, they were never caught and so were 'clean'.

The current anti-doping system is good but not great. The blood passport has definitely been a huge step forward in possibly scaring some athletes but unfortunately the doctors and the scientists are always one step ahead. UK Anti-doping have been extremely regimental in testing me since I got added to the whereabouts system last October – being tested every month. But regrettably, other countries aren’t quite as strict. For those who don't know, the whereabouts system is where an athlete is permitted to give a one hour slot (time and location) of where they are going to be each day – along with an overnight address. If the testers turn up to the hour slot you have allocated and the athlete is not there – it's a failed test. Three failed tests results in a ban. These tests are known as in-hour tests. A tester can turn up at your door unannounced – an out-of-hours test – however, if you are not there, it doesn't matter. If you are there,you take the test. It sounds relatively straight forward but it's actually quite a difficult thing to get used to. Initially, I used to set my time slot at 10pm (because I knew I would be awake and hear the knock on the door) but various times I have been close to forgetting about my slot as i've nipped out to Tesco or gone to the cinema – something so small but ultimately being forgetful can get you into a lot of trouble! I find it much easier allocating 6 or 7am as I know I will definitely be in my house and most probably still in bed!

Out in Kenya, all funded GB athletes were tested by anti-doping whom had sent out testers all the way to Kenya but alas the same treatment wasn’t granted to other athletes from different nations. An Olympic Champion and Olympic Silver medallist were both in the camp and yet neither were tested (as far as we are aware) – this completely baffles me. The athletes in question were of a much higher standard than myself and yet they aren't tested. Similarly, in the first quarter of this year - I was tested every single month with a few extra tests after my races. Justin Gatlin (convicted twice for drugs) has been tested three times whilst Tyson Gay (convicted for drugs) has only been tested ONCE! This confuses me to no end. Surely these people should be targeted and tested on a weekly basis just to keep them on their toes, perhaps slightly scaremonger them into thinking differently and from committing the same error again! I have absolutely no qualms about being tested day in day out, I am all for clean sport but I believe all athletes should be treated equally. Something needs to be done in order to make sure every nation is singing from the same hymn sheet.

Sunday, 7 December 2014

Vo2 Testing

Vo2 testing is not something I have focussed on much as an athlete. The only time I have ever participated in the testings are for pre-altitude camps with British Athletics – although the information does fascinate me. My first ever test was in December 2012 followed up in March 2013 after spending a few weeks at altitude – the difference was quite substantial.

Naturally my body is very good with dealing with lactic and I hardly produce any - which co-insides with a marathon runners profile (supposedly!) - horrible to learn that the marathon is most suited to my physiology. Awful news to my ears.

For those who aren't familiar with what a sub maximal Vo2 test consists of – you are running on a treadmill over 6-8 different stages. I began at 7 minute miles which should be relatively easy for 3 minutes of running. This is then repeated at increasing speeds down to around 4.50 minute miles. A mask is covering your face to measure the volume of air expired along with the percentages of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the expired air. It's a little uncomfortable to run with but necessary for the testing. A heart rate monitor is also used to keep an eye on heart rate zones. After every 3minute run, the lactic in your blood is tested using a prick to your ear lobe.

The Vo2 Max test – takes the athlete to near their maximal limit. In the past, I have done it with increasing speed due to breaking my foot but this time around I did it on elevation – which I found much more difficult. The max tests continues you running on the treadmill at a quick enough speed but every minute the elevation increases by a percent.

My Vo2 capacity was pretty average for an athlete but my running economy was pretty good. (Find some explanations below!) The most unique quality is perhaps that I couldn't increase my lactic level to above 4 throughout the entire sub-max test until the final stage.

Perhaps the most interesting part and helpful piece of information for me are my heart rate zones. The tests give guidelines of what your heart rates should be on easy recovery runs, tempo runs and in sessions. I perhaps run my easy runs a little too slow – averaging 7 minutes or slower but my heart rate is quite low at 143 average – for the time being though – i'll stick to what i'm doing as I find the recovery keeps me fresh for sessions. I have been running my tempo's a little too slow so that is something I will definitely be aiming to improve on over the next few months.

This time around, I repeated the same test from 2012/13 to see what shape I was in coming into these winter months off such an awful summer season. I have been feeling much better since my break with no illnesses or viruses to report which is the first time i've been healthy in around 16 months! My tests came back better than ever – even though I haven't been exposed to altitude all year and have had to miss the first Kenyan Camp due to a heart complaint. So all is looking good for the upcoming indoor season – hopefully I can return to some sort of form and finally break some PB's!

For people wanting a little bit more in-depth stats. Here is the information we are given as athletes:

Lactate Threshold (LT): This is the first increase in blood [La] above baseline values. The speed at the LT is a strong predictor of the average speed that can be sustained in the marathon. The speed and heart rate at the LT are also useful in defining the transition between “easy” and “steady” running (see section 5 below).

Lactate Turnpoint (LTP): The LTP is the running speed at which there is a distinct “sudden and sustained” breakpoint in blood [La]. Typically, this occurs at 2.0-4.0 mM. The LTP tends to occur at ~ 1-2 km/h above the LT (the difference is smaller in longer distance specialists and larger in middle-distance runners). The LTP can also be used to define the transition between “steady” and “threshold” running (see section 5 below).

Running economy: This is the VO2 required to run at sub-maximal speeds. Running economy tends to be better in elite runners (i.e. their VO2 is lower at a given speed) and it is associated with improved performance. A common method for assessing an athlete’s running economy is to look at the VO2 in ml/kg/min at 16.0 km/h and 1 % grade (i.e. 6:00 min/mile pace). The average in well trained runners at this speed is 52 ml/kg/min. Running economy can also be expressed in units of mL O2/kg/km. Irrespective of running speed, the average economy is 200 mL O2/kg/km. 

On 3 dates. Oct'14,  Mar'13, Dec'12
VO2max: This remains an important measure of performance capability in middle and long distance running. While factors such as economy and LT/LTP can partially compensate for a relatively poor max in elite groups, entry to those elite groups is still limited by VO2max (i.e. the highest rate at which ATP can be resynthesised aerobically). It should be noted that VO2max tends to be highest in athletes who specialise in events that are run close to VO2max (that is, 3000 m and 5000 m). Other factors may be more important at shorter and longer distances.
The speed at VO2max (vVO2max): The vVO2max can be useful in predicting performance over 3000 m (and also 1500 and 5000 m). vVO2max is simply calculated by multiplying the VO2max (in mL/kg/min) by 60 and divided by the mean running economy determined during the first 4-5 stages of the treadmill test (in mL O2/kg/km).

Training zones: The speed and HR training zones given below are based around physiological landmarks (see explanation to the left) - the precise boundaries are defined according to the thresholds we’ve established today.
When @Sea level: Speed is the preferred option to monitor the correct intensity of your session. When @Altitude: It is important to realise that speed zones wont reflect the actual intensity zone so you will need to use the heart rate zones in this circumstance. Remember - it takes a good few minutes (3 to 5 min) for HR to come up to the level required. 

Friday, 5 December 2014

Friday Fave - Winter Jacket

Perhaps not something I will be going running in but it's definitely keeping me nice and warm jogging to and from training! Absolutely love this bright blue jacket – so much that it's become my winter jacket and replaced my casual clothes! Had a look on the Nike store but can't seem to find it but it's worth the investment!

Another thing that has been constantly attached to my person is my new neck warmer. I don't exactly know what it's official name is but it is like a headband but much much thicker. For running outside in the cold - it has been a dream! Keeps your core temperature much higher and makes me feel a lot more comfortable breathing in such cold air all the time!

Tuesday, 2 December 2014

3 Minute Efforts

I was very fortunate a few weeks ago to join in with a few other athletes for a session of 3 minute efforts. Muhktar Mohammed, Michael Rimmer, Megan Edwards and Nathan Woodward (all 800m runners) were doing similar sessions so we bunched together. That's definitely one of the major positives to living in Loughborough - it is an elite environment. Athletes from all different distances and events are willing to compromise in order to train together and get the benefits of a team effort!

The recovery was extended to 90 seconds in order to allow us all to start the reps together and the 800 guys split the reps up into sets whilst I slogged along and did them straight off! The perks of being a distance athlete.......

It makes a HUGE difference being in a competitive environment. Even just to warm up socially with other people – keeps the buzz of running and makes you remember why you do the sport you love.

I'm becoming a lot more confident running on uneven grass again after breaking my foot in 2011 – it has taken a long time to get some mobility back into my ankle to allow me to run on grass but the benefits are definitely starting to be reaped.

Monday, 1 December 2014

Berry Smoothie

I have become addicted to fruit smoothies especially as a recovery shake after my training runs. Since i've been doing it, i've definitely picked up less illnesses than previously – perhaps it's a complete coincidence but they're also great tasting so it's not exactly a chore to keep up with!

You can pick and choose anything you want to throw in really – that's the beauty of it! At the moment – I just use a general hand blender as I haven't had the time to go out and buy a proper blender!! 

This is one of my favourites. A banana, a splash of apple juice (or any fruit juice), frozen berries, 4 tablespoons of Natural Greek (not greek style) yoghurt bought from Tesco Finest (I'm sure other yoghurts with high protein would also be fine..)

I am not a nutritionist by any means so don't take this as bible.. but we were advised by a nutritionist that it was a good way of getting in some vitamins and micronutrients alongside some protein and carbs for after running. For me, I definitely feel the benefits.