Uncover your inner athlete!

Every morning in Africa a gazelle wakes up. It knows it must run faster than the fastest lion or it will be eaten.. Each morning in Africa a lion awakes - it knows it must run faster than the slowest gazelle or it will starve.

No matter if you are the lion or the gazelle, when the sun comes up you had better be running!

Saturday, July 31, 2010

What we do and discover on the road to recovery

As many of you will know, I have been plagued by a touch of ankle trouble and have been sadly only able to do the majority of my training in the pool, gym or bike the last two weeks. This can not only prove to be slightly depressing, but also can foster feelings of self pity.

I have taken a decision not to let this weigh me down and feel in alot of ways extremely grateful for all the things that I have in life. Doing work with various charities and less able bodied sports allows me not only to give back, but to fully appreciate what I have and can do.

Little things that we have like the ability to walk, see and hear as well as having enough to eat are way too often overlooked. As my dad always told us growing up and when we showed any self-pity ‘There is always someone worse off than you’. Looking at life this way often trivialises any whinging I have about a slightly sore ankle or a few sore muscles.

Instead of wallowing, I am adopting the Greg Welch approach of learning as much as I can so that I will have new plans to implement when I return to hard training. After talking to various coaches, I feel it is important to not only have new goals on different courses, but also to try various weird and wacky training programs and events (at least just to keep running interesting, fun and so that the interest does not wane).

A friend described to me how last year he took part in a Santa Claus fun run at Christmas. He was not aiming to be competitive (everyone had to wear a Santa suit), but it was a bit of fun with his mates and they got to help the charity that the event was in aide of. They were able to laugh and enjoy the run and take loads of photos of how silly they looked and yet they were still running and doing something together that they all enjoy.

My collection of running books has come off the shelf and is now strewn around my home and I am enjoying reading and in many cases rereading the likes of Noakes, Pfitzinger, Paula Radcliffe, Jeff Galloway and Lisa Tamati. These books provide me not only with information and knowledge, but also the reassurance that even the best were (and are) at times struck down with periods of injury and having to cross train. This is important for all of us to keep in mind if we wish to keep running into old age.

I strongly believe that if we are sensible and keep mixing up the training that the body will thank us long term and the interest levels will remain high. Another friend of mine (now in his late 50s) epitomises this. He has come to accept that he can only do a finite amount of hard running in a week and so supplements this with riding his bike, walking long and lifting weights to keep his body strong. Despite only doing a maximum of 58km a week of running, he still manages to run a sub 3 hour marathon proving Noake’s theory that there is no correlation between length of time training and end result of the marathon. – Sean Muller

Friday, July 30, 2010

Getting to the line no matter what

It's Friday again folks so I thought I would be a little lazy and dig out another of my favourite motivational videos. This one takes us back to the 1997 Hawaii Ironman ladies competition - Sian Welch and Wendy Ingram. Both ladies giving it their absolute all at the end of the run leg.

I don't think anyone likes to see people suffering like this, but it reminds us of what we are truly capable of under extreme circumstances. As the announcer says - this is absolutely unbelievable.

May you live and love the run this weekend. -- Sean Muller

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Relationships and the long distance runner

Long distance running can be a very lonely sport. It is not for nothing that the term ‘The loneliness of the Long Distance Runner’ is used. By the very nature of things unless you belong to a dedicated running club you can’t always call on the services of a friend or partner to step out with you and run.

I find that the longer the training session, the less enthusiastic friends are about it. A phone call promising the joys of a 2 or 3 hour run on a Sunday morning are more often than not met with less than pleasant language telling me where I can go. Granted these individuals are very often suffering the effects of a night on the booze – something I no longer contend with since I decided not to drink anymore.

So we do what we have to and head out regardless.

But what of relationships and potential life partners?

It is my firm belief that one’s life partner has to either share the same passion as you for an activity or sport, or at least be very supportive of the reasons why you like taking part in said activity.

One of my mates, now in his 40s, who used to run some very quick marathon times in his 20s (PB: 2.25) was talking to me the other night and mentioned that sometimes he wishes he could find the time to train as he did back then and try and get his times back down into the 2.30s (he still runs 2.40 ish on little training). His priorities have changed though and with a few kids and a wife he can’t just up and run as he used to in the past. This is fair enough and although his wife does not run she does let him still run and run a limited amount of races each year which he is happy with.

I know that it can be hard for singles to meet fellow runners outside of a running club (although I have briefly dated a lovely girl I met out running one Sunday morning), but there now seem to be dating sites and agencies actively trying to match singles with similar interests in fitness activities. One of these is FitnessSingles.

This gap in the market will hopefully enable running singles like myself to find someone they are compatible with. These sites differ from traditional dating sites in that people signed up must actually be active in said sports. This alleviates situations where one might go on a date with someone who says they like running or athletics, when in reality the only thing they like is to perve over athletes on television while sitting on the sofa guzzling wine and pizza. – Sean Muller

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The experimental runner

This morning I awoke and decided that it was as good a day as any to head out for a run to test my injured ankle (or rather Tibalis Posterior). You see I am trying to get myself fit so that I can run the Sydney Running Festival Marathon on 19 September. The distance is not a problem, however I would love to get some tempo work done in at least the last 5 weeks.

Having been to see my physio for the past two weeks, she has used the ultrasound on me and initially we ruled out the dreaded stress fracture, although now I am not sure and so am heading to one of the best sport doctors in Australia next Tuesday. Hopefully by then I will know what I am facing.

It won’t be a massive drama if I can’t run it as they offer the chance to defer till next year, but it is the 10th anniversary of the marathon and I would like to take part and make it the past 4 years in a row for me. Still it would be foolhardy to try and run hurt. I am really glad though that this did not interupt my Comrades training however.

The past two years have seen heavy training and racing schedules for me and perhaps this is just the body saying that it wants to have a little time out before the next big one.

You see I just want to know what is going wrong with my body and how I can rectify it. I already know the cause of said injury which was almost certainly a combination of new plyometrics and an intensive speed session a few weeks back. This was too soon after the Comrades and my body was just not ready for it I believe. Also big flag for all, I think while plyometrics are great all round conditioning and great drills, they should be done following recovery runs of about 5-8km and not on the same day as tempo work or speed drills.

We as long distance runners are constantly seeking new ways and methods to make us faster, more efficient and stronger runners. I for one am always willing to try out new things I have heard about. Some of these have agreed with me and some I have cast aside as not working for me. As Dr Sheehan wrote, we are all an experiment of one as runners and sadly no one has managed to come up with the magic formula that will universally work for all of us. I guess this is part of the mystique of long distance running and why we keep coming back for more. It is a game of chess on legs and forces one to alter your game plan not to beat others but to silence those voices and feelings inside yourself.

While my ankle felt better than it has on previous attempts at running in the past week, it is by no means healed and there is work to be done.

My experiments this morning lead me to trying out strapping the offending ankle and then wearing two pairs of socks (I have found two pairs of socks have worked with plantars previously). I have also come across the following video by a sports doctor in New Zealand which may be useful to any readers suffering lower limb pain or weakness. – Sean Muller

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The importance of rest and recovery on the body

To many long distance runners, the key idea of rest and recovery is a completely foreign concept. You see we only seek to run and to rest means less time running.

We fail to see the healing capacity of rest and view it merely as an inconvenience. Heaven forbid that we have to take the prescribed period of at least one months rest following a marathon. You see quite simply many of us train not for specific events but just so that we can train some more.

This is not the best path that we should be following if we wish to run our best. Even the best like Salazar and Rogers said that perhaps they would have had greater longevity if they had sought to rest for at least a solid 4-5 weeks each year.

Other reasons for rest following in particular ultras is that the amount of internal damage caused by a longer ultra has been likened to having a massive heart attack. Personally I believe that those done really slowly won’t ultimately cause as much damage as those run at a decent clip. For example someone going at 5min/km over 100km is likely to cause more damage than someone who will finish 100km in 16 hours or greater.

When in doubt I think that one can defer to the voice of Fordyce when he wrote, ‘If you are feeling unduly stiff or sore rest, if at all in doubt then rest’. – Sean Muller

Monday, July 26, 2010

Why the lack of track?

If we are to believe all the western coaching ideals about distance running, then the roots of every good distance runner are in the track. Quite frankly there is nothing that I have seen that can dispute this theory.

One only needs to look at the marathon world record holders and Olympic champions to see that all of them have very good 5000m and 10000m times. This works for us weekend hacks to. If you are quicker than me over 10km, then if we both train for it, then you should beat me over a marathon, 50km or even 100km. That said though the longer the race the more there is that can (and often will) go wrong.

Again comparing serious training programs for these distances with programs for the marathon, one can see that they are at times almost identical save for the long run at the end of the week being longer in the marathon program.

Why then do we in Australia seem to have so little access to quality running tracks? We do seem to have ample football and cricket pitches in most suburbs, but somehow we seem to have neglected to build athletics tracks.

Such tracks are commonplace around most North American and European football pitches, resulting in an increased section of the population having access to training facilities that unlike a gym they don’t pay to use. Aside from serious runners, many people who are hesitant to walk around their neighbourhood due to safety issues congregate at these venues to get in their daily exercise.

With obesity being ever on the rise in all western nations, one has to ask why the Australian government has neglected to make these simple changes that could have a profound impact on communities?

Aside from the simple benefits to the average man, having these facilities accessible to the youth can only result in increased outdoor activity and eventually more international athletics medals. – Sean Muller

Friday, July 23, 2010

My Favourite Ultra Marathon - Comrades

For a Friday, this clip of the 2007 Comrades Marathon will provide you with a brief insight into my favourite Ultra of them all. I may be biased as I was brought up on this race each May or June.

There are no losers in this event. Every single person who crosses the finish line will not only have overcome their own personal battle, but have been touched by an event whose magic cannot be described - it must be felt.

After Comrades life is different and you will not be the same again. Well deserving of 'The Ultimate Human Race' title. Go forth and make someone else's life brighter!

Thursday, July 22, 2010

The amazing fad diets

Following on from yesterday, I thought it timely to continue on the path of nutrition and eating plans. I read with interest this morning in the Sydney Morning Herald about the rise of the Paleo diet. This diet focuses on encouraging people to eat only things that our prehistoric ancestors could have eaten and to discard all the modern rubbish that we are bombarded with each day.

This caveman diet has been around for many years and is something that I have experimented with and found success over the past year. The key focus points are to put down any and all processed food and sugar as our digestive systems were just not designed to handle these trans fats, artificial substances and other gunk that has been invented over the past 100 years.

What was good for caveman is good enough for me and my experiments have proven to me that by adopting these changes and by regularly exercising, we hold the keys as the human race to beating the 21st century epidemic in the west – obesity.

I personally hate the word diet as I think it has developed so many negative connotations over the past couple of years. I prefer to think of things as a lifestyle nutrition plan. After all if we are change people for good and turn the corner or heart disease, obesity and unhealthy living, then we quite simply have to change forever. We cannot revert back to our old ways once results have occurred. We must hold strong to maintain or gains.

Many that I have spoken to have said that they could easily embrace this manner of eating which would ultimately send most fast food companies bust while prolonging the life of so many of us.

Others have expressed the desire to even learn the basics of how to lose weight. My answer is that if you don’t buy it you can’t eat it. This goes for anything that is a major cause of weight gain – soft drinks, alcohol, lollies, chocolate etc.

I am hopeful of seeing a world where enough people have walked past these aisles in supermarkets such that these companies either spin off into healthy alternatives or supermarkets stop selling them as the profits are just not there. – Sean Muller

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Running around the world - 'Beyond the Epic Run'

Thought it appropriate to share one of the most motivational clips I have ever seen. This will change your life forever as it changed mine. -- Sean Muller

The no meat athlete

Those that know me know that I am someone who will always seek out new ways of improving my health and of helping with my running and other sports. While my experiments using different techniques and gear etc will be covered in future posts, I thought I would expand abit more on the role of nutrition in our running.

I was speaking to a couple of runners in the local groups that I know in Australia last year and a few of them mentioned that they seemed to be running much easier and quicker once they had eliminated meat (or at least cut back severely) from their daily diets. There was also the customary references to also giving up alcohol and taking up the drinking of more anti-oxidant rich teas like green tea and also rooibos tea.

For those not familiar with rooibos (pronounced ‘Roy boss’), it is a tea grown from bushes that originate in Southern Africa. It is also the tea that contains the most anti-oxidants of all the teas on the planet. Drunk at night prior to bed it has a profound calming effect on one and is often given to young children in Southern Africa to ensure they have a good night’s rest. This calming effect I believe is due to it being naturally caffeine free. I do recommend that those that have not tried it do so at some stage.

Back to the notion of not consuming meat then. I was raised in South Africa, where (as in Australia) meat and red meat in particular was an important part of our diet. My parents had always instilled in us that at meal times it was imperative that we finish our meat first and foremost. Veggies were to be eaten if you had the room for them, but the meat was the most important aspect (this I suppose is because it was the most expensive part of the meal). I don’t recall a single night that went by as kids where our family did not eat some kind of meat. Even my athletics and rugby coaches at school pushed the fact that we would become weak if we did not eat meat.

Naturally meat has always been associated with decadence and a celebration of our power over the rest of the animal kingdom. However the bulk that results from a meat rich diet is not necessarily to the liking of all runners and sports people.

Through my research and reading it fascinated me to learn that some of the best runners on the planet consume either no meat or hardly any meat at all. Here I speak of the East Africans, who we all know to be consistently the best runners from 800m up to the marathon distance.

The Turahumara (or running people) of Mexico are also heavily reliant on vegetables, seeds and roots as part of their diet. This fact has not put a damper on their ability to cover 100 miles or more in one day. In fact during the 90’s these runners from Mexico – with no coach, no training plan and no dietician were beating the best ultra runners that the west had to offer in the renowned Leadville 100 mile endurance race. Those readers that have taken part in the race will know how tough and unforgiving it can be on the body.

Finally the Marathon Monks of Mount Hiei (shown in this video) are also well known to complete their marathons of up to 80km a day for 100 days or longer over a 7 year religious pilgrimage. They survive exclusively on a vegetarian diet and in some parts of their journey they fast completely and also take no rest, such that they are either running or meditating round the clock. This is truly phenomenal and something that western science can’t explain. For the amount of food that they take in, they should be dead by the end of their pilgrimage, yet they show little evidence of weight loss.

Perhaps then it may be a good idea to try and encompass some of these ideas into our diets to improve not only our running experience but also our lives in general. One individual who I came across in highlighted in his own website No Meat Athlete. He outlines how his times for the marathon dropped substantially once on the veggies until he qualified for Boston and is now seeking out new horizons.

With Scott Jurek another of the more well known ultra runners who is completely vegan these days, I can see no harm in trying some of these ideas myself. – Sean Muller

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The dream job - running for a living

Most of us runners will dream of running for a living. For many this is just out of the question as only a small few will have the combination of genes, training and nutrition to succeed on the world stage and to run against others for a living.

What then of the rest of us?

Footman. What springs to mind when you read that word?

We will all have heard of some medieval king or lord who will have had servants to do his bidding – some of these called footmen. The job of these blokes (and I use the masculine term not to get into any trouble with female readers, but just because it is a fact that these people were male) was to run alongside the king’s carriage and to be on hand should he need anything or wish to get out of the vehicle.

Aside from this, they were also used to deliver messages on foot from their master to other people. These messages ranged from invitations to parties to orders to generals on a battlefield. The ability to deliver with speed was highly prized. In fact during the 1700s and 1800s, the gentry began to use their footmen in a manner that was to form the foundations of long distance running (pedestrianism) by pitting them against each other over a set distance and wager. The skills of the most fleet of foot were in high demand and these individuals were traded for large sums between rivals (slavery still being legal in those days).

Apart from the obvious issue of slavery and being beholden to work for a particular individual, were one being paid, then for any long distance freak this would be the ultimate job in the modern world. Who would not like to be outside running around the city delivering letters and parcels? I know you are going to say that we already have this facility to an extent in the form of bicycle messengers and couriers, but being a runner I am biased and think that thought should also be given to our sport in this respect. – Sean Muller

Monday, July 19, 2010

The feel good factor of running

Out of bed, out the door and on to the road or trail. We all are familiar with this routine or something similar. We do this all for the feel good factor associated with being outdoors as our prehistoric ancestors were. Out there in the open we come together once again with the primitive beings that we once were.

By reconnecting with the earth we are able to reenergise our bodies and minds and channel this positive energy into the rest of our lives. This flows through into our workplaces and sets the feel good factor to high for the rest of the day.

Exercise is the most effective way of producing serotonin levels in our brains and hence why we become hooked on our morning run rain or shine. The flow on factors of having energy through the day are really worth the effort. This has been most notable for me over the past week due to the fact that I am plagued with a tendon issue on left ankle. I notice that although I am still positive about life, the level of serotonin just is not up there.

Who would have thought that such a small area of tissue could cause a measure of discomfort? It is only about 3cm long and in the most obscure place imaginable on the inner ankle. I also wonder why something like this did not happen when I was running really heavy weeks of mileage in Comrades training earlier this year. The physio explained that she thinks I just came back too early into training and should have had more total rest. Yeah right – try telling that to us lot.

Now I am listening to what the physio has said and will not be pushing too hard in the coming weeks – may even sit out City to Surf altogether if it persists. I hope this will not be the case as I always enjoy the event even though I will have to run from the green pack this year due to the faster start being sold out in advance.

For all of you running today – may you live life and love on the run. – Sean Muller

Friday, July 16, 2010

The obsessive runner

We are all either ourselves obessed runners or we know of runners who are obssesed with running. This is not a bad thing as every passionate athlete should harbour a love for their sport. This love will help to bring out the very best in them every time they partake in said sport.

What then of those that pursue a goal with such vigour that they become blind to the reason why they entered into the sport in the first place. For one such friend this is the desire to qualify to run the Boston Marathon. For our age category one needs 3.10.59 to get a number. The best he has done so far is 3 minutes slower.

While I have no doubt that he will get that time in due course, my own experience in running my best times has been to merely throw caution to the wind and go hard and aim to enjoy it. This is how I have always performed best and something that I think I should do more frequently. I have often repeated the phrase ‘Don’t die without trying’, but he keeps on in the solid pursuit of this goal and I am fearful that he may be losing the spirit of the run along the way.

Indeed we must have goals to aim for in life to keep things interesting, but I firmly maintain that we should also be mindful of the beauty, spirit and enjoyment of the run as these factors will bring us back and ultimately bring out our best. – Sean Muller

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Rest and rehabilitation – the importance of listening

Like most of us runners, once the sport had captured me, I was thinking about it for large periods of my day and also wanting to get out and about running whenever I could. I would wake up in the morning and go for a run, I would then run to work, run at lunchtime and run home after work.

My goal was quite simply to run as much as I could because I enjoyed it so much. I never really had much structure to a training program other than to run as far and as often as I could. To many other people I was the insane person hooked on running. Workmates could not understand how I would want to run so much.

When I went through a relationship breakup a few years ago, my running really took off. I was suddenly running to kill the emotional pain that I may have been feeling at the time. I was also running to fill the void that had opened in my life. Running at all hours – 3 o’clock in the morning. Running just started to consume my life.

I now know that this was unsustainable and something that I would have to change if only for my own sanity. Having not been injured (bar a few sore muscles) during this heavy period of running, I began to get like many other runners who believe themselves to be cocksure and no longer in need of rest days. I felt the master of my universe.

All this came to an ubrupt end in 2009 when training my first 90km Comrades marathon. Six weeks into the training I was struck by what I now know as ITB tightness and strain. When my usual plan of running through any injuries did not cure this one, I knew that it was time to trundle myself off to the physio for the first time.

I did this very reluctantly and was still convinced that I could heal it my way until she stuck her elbow into my ITB and I almost climbed the wall in agony.

After an initial consultation she prescribed some exercises and told me to rest for a whole week. At that point I felt as though I may go insane during that week. However after she reminded me that if I did not listen and do as I was told, I could find that it was permanent damage, I went away and did all the exercises and felt the pain lifting.

The exercises she prescribed for the ITB were as follows:

1. Icing the knee area to reduce inflamation twice daily for 5 minutes.
2. Twice daily rolling the ITB area on the foam roller for 5 minutes each leg.
3. One legged squats (done off a gym bench or chair at home). 10-15 squats each leg – controlled movements and slow lifting and lowering. This builds the quads which are often weak in those suffering ITB issues.
4. Lying down on your side with you knees bent, secure an exercise rubber band around the legs (above the knees) to act as resistence. Open and close your legs in a clam fashion completing the exercises to failure (ie. Not being able to do another one). Getting to 50 should be the goal.
5. Stretch the legs twice a day. This is something that was completely foreign to me but something that I now do a lot of.

The importance of listening on this occassion has sat with me. All too often in the west we believe that our way is the best and are hesitant to take the word of a professional lest they utter those fateful words – Rest and recuperate. – Sean Muller

Monday, July 12, 2010

Converting the beginner

Friends and people whom I used to work with are often asking me how I would go about converting a beginner runner to take the sport abit more seriously and hence invest more in their health and happiness.

My answer is simple. What many people class as beginner runners, I would class as occassional runners. These are people who may come out of the woodwork once or twice a year to complete a signature event in their area or city. For us here in Sydney, the most obvious of these events is the City to Surf, which takes place each year in August.

For those that are not aware of the event, it is the largest single fun run in the world with in excess of 75000 people running, walking or skipping the 14km from the city centre to Bondi Beach. Many of these people do absolutely no training whatsoever (I know this as I did no training for my first such event) and though they complete it, the physio clinics around town tend to make a killing off of people suffering standard first time injuries.

These occassional runners often then just disappear into the woodwork again and are not seen of again until the following year. They often have no idea just how good they could become and how much they could enjoy their running if only they were to indulge in a little more training and perhaps be willing to make some slight adjustments to their diet and lifestyle.

They do not need converting – they are already taking part in various events. What they do need is gentle coercion or persuasion to stick with the sport. Herein comes the job of the veteran/seasoned runner. Encouragement and a willingness to include these individuals in your activities will hopefully produce the desired effect of them wanting to return to running.

In fact everyone in the sport owes it to themself and others to keep encouraging to grow the run. Keep encouraging!

Running together stride for stride on a life changing ride! – Sean Muller

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Running – The great healer

We all know that running is good for our health. Anyone who has looked beyond what western science has told us will know that we were quite simply born to run. We are one of those mammals that have been created with all the correct biomechanical traits to allow us to run.

Long distance running lifts our endorphin levels and fills us with the happy substances in our brain that ultimately lifts our mood. Many people get even happier when they see that their weight is dropping or plateauing as a result of their running – this subject is however probably best tackled in an independent post.

Running has been known to not only repair physical damage that we have done to our bodies (weight gain etc), but also mental and emotional strain. Recently I have been talking to numerous people about why they run and many have listed the primary reason as being so that they would stop thinking about a particular problem in their lives.

The amount of people that are running from the bottle or from cigarettes or drugs is quite phenomenal. These folks have problems with the aforementioned substances, but through using running as a tool, they have either been able to substitute one addiction for another or been able to silence the cravings that they had through lifting their endorphin or pain levels through the long run.

I can attest to the fact that running can take one’s mind off of painful issues. I went through a relationship breakup a few years back and at the time all that I could do to work through the emotional pain etc was to run and run. Admittedly I had cultivated an unhealthy addiction to running in that I was running at all hours and three or four times a day. Quite simply I wanted to run myself to exhaustion. This did not happen and although I saw good results initially, I now know that this is not a good way of training and that structure is much better. Still I am without doubt that running helped me through this period and as I said to friends the other night, I am waiting for the next tough breakup to run those insane distances again. Fear not though as I am single at present, there is no danger of a breakup or any overtraining.

Would be very interested to hear from others as to experiences they have with regards to long distance running as a healer. – Sean Muller

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Why do we run?

While having drinks with friends last night to celebrate their achievements at the recent Gold Coast Marathon, I got chatting to one of them who had completed her debut marathon and was still on a high one week later.

Now as in my previous piece, many of us can associate with that high for a week or so after a marathon or longer (strangely I don’t seem to feel it after shorter distances even if they are a 21km race).

My friend was very kind in her words to me concerning some encouragement that I had been providing her with during her 12 weeks of marathon preparation. I was quick to point out though that it is great that she completed her goal and did so well, ultimately she did the work herself and I really can’t take any credit for it.

During the conversation, it emerged that she was having some problems motivating herself concerning the longer runs in the training program and fighting a few injuries as well as having other friends ‘telling her how to run', she was only able to make strides forward in her training by following the adage of finding the reason or reasons why she ran.

You see we are all unique in why and how we run. It is no good someone telling you that you should run like them or for the same reasons as them, as we all have our triggers that can set us going. Seeking out that which truly motivates you or ‘puts the word fun into your run’ is the key to ensuring that you not only stick with the sport, but that you truly embrace the spirit of the run.

To run only for victory is your own choice, but by looking deeper into and embracing the beauty of the sport you may find that it puts you in touch with something inside yourself that you never knew existed and that once you have reached that place you will want to go back to it time and again.

Open your stride to open your mind. – Sean Muller

Friday, July 9, 2010

The meditative nature of running

All of us have heard of people banging on about the ‘runners high’ and how great they feel after a long run. I am one of those people who stands by these statements and frequently uses them myself.

Since I came to long distance running, my life has changed in many positive ways. Aside from the fact that I have lots heaps of weight and come down to a low of 6% body fat (currently around 8%), my mental outlook on life has changed significantly.

Whereas before I was content to just move through life along with the majority of people, I now feel that my life has real purpose – I have been able to find that which I enjoy more than most other things on the planet and in so doing reacquaint myself with a spiritual side of my life.

For me the best way to connect with my higher power is to hit the roads or trails on a Sunday morning and run for a good couple of hours. Immediately when I step out onto the road it is as if I am running with the earth and am truly part of the earth. There can simply be no other way of describing it – even if I have a slight twinge of pain, I still find that I am smiling at just how serene and peaceful life is. Running for me is just one of those animalistic inherent tendencies that we as humans have. Contrary to what alot of people may assert, it is just unnatural for us not to be running. We were quite simply born to run!

The gym just does not seem to do it for me and hence why I have been feeling a little claustrophobic over the past few days with the inclement weather that we have been experiencing in Sydney.

Running more so than any other exercise activity has that ability to induce a catatonic state in most people. That feeling of one foot in front of the other the rhythmic breathing and sound of your feet gliding over the ground is not rivalled by any other sport that I am aware of.

Science has proven that an hour into any particular run, sufficient endorphins will have been released by the body to produce that pleasurable experience and feeling which we colloquially call ‘the runners high’. These endorphins will continue to be released through the run and continue to produce a pleasure state for some time. This accounts for the reason why following a marathon race or longer we still bear those stupid grins for a few days.

Now I ask you - if running more than an hour produces happiness in a bottle for free, then why are we not doing more of it as a society? There is nothing left to say except 'Go forth and run!' – Sean Muller

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Happiness Vs Being Good

Being someone who is incredibly fascinated by the relationship between feelings and activities, I was talking to a friend the other day about how people appear when they exercise. I often find myself out and about for a run on my own and happen to randomly chat to or greet other runners as I am running. Most of the time I am running while smiling and enjoying the experience as Roger Bannister described it ‘Man’s greatest freedom’, however all too many people that I encounter either bare a scowl or look to be visibly in pain.

Now I understand that not everyone loves to exercise to the same degree, however I think that we in the western world have somewhere along the line lost touch with linking exercise to fun.

If one looks at East Africans, who are consistently among the best long distance runners (up to the marathon), they seem to treat running and training as more like play. To watch them running as a group is to view a unique social setting. Young and old, male and female all run together regularly ensuring that the community unit becomes tighter and that bonds are formed between old and young and learning is shared. These folks prefer to go for a run at the end of the day, whereas we come home from a day of work and sit down in front of the television.

I don’t think that there is any coincidence that in these communities heart disease and obesity is almost nonexistent. I also think that there must be some correlation between their attitude to running (treating it as play) and the fact that they regularly win many long distance running medals at major international athletics competitions.

Now if happiness means success, then we have to ask the question as to whether they are happy because they are good at running, or are they good at running because they are first happy and content?

The closest that we in the west have come to replicating this has been through the creation of the running clubs that blossomed following the first marathoning boom in the 1970s. These new bodies created solid units of people who enjoyed running and training together. They ran not for the sums of money that are now on offer, but for the sheer beauty of the run.

Sadly many of these clubs have now collapsed and improvements in marathon times by those in the west have flattened out and rates of obesity and mental illness has grown.

Take the family out for walk or run this evening and buck the trend. Teach the youth that there is another way and that way is activity and fun! – Sean Muller

Monday, July 5, 2010

Giving a cheer for chia

Having discovered the joys of the chia seed and experimented with the making of isikiate and the use thereof with regards to my running and general health, I thought it timely to post a recipe of this mixture for all readers to be able to try their own experiments with.

First things first, if you have no idea what chia is, much less isikiate, then feel free to feed the word chia into Google and you will discover a wealth of sites dedicated to this superfood seed, which can be purchased either on the internet or from your local health food or organic store.

Chia is a seed originating from South America, which the local tribes have long used as a means of fuelling long distance runs or marches. The Aztec kings used to feed this stuff to their troops to fuel then up for a 24 hour death march into battle. For many of these groups, this was the only food that they would consume during the day.

In short chia not only is high in slow release carbs, but also contains more protein than steak, more magnesium than broccoli and very importantly for long distance runners more Omega3 than salmon. All of these ingredients vital to keeping us healthy and our joints injury free.

Chia can be mixed into just about anything- I mix in a few spoons of it into my breakfast oats or yoghurt. I have also been known to mix in some spoons into an evening stir-fry. However the most popular and easiest way of ingesting chia is by mixing isikiate or chia water.

To make up a mixture of isikiate follow the recipe below:


500ml cold water
chia seeds
fresh limes or lemons or lemon or lime juice.

Add four to five teaspoons of chia seed to the 500ml of water. Mix in a couple of spoons of sugar and squeeze in some lemon or lime juice for taste. Shake the mixture vigorously for a minute or two and then place in the fridge. Wait 10 minutes or longer and you will see that the mixture has started to create a gel of sorts. The isikiate is now ready to be consumed before, during or after your long distance run.

I have conducted many experiments with regards to chia and long distance running and find that on many occasions it is far more palatable and I feel stronger after it, than after the conventional sports drinks on the market. Truth be told, it is probably the caveman equivalent of Gatorade or PowerAde.

Now I can conclude that since using it my times over the longer distance have come down, I believe that the isikiate only played a minor role in this and it was also due to different training techniques, dropping further weight and also strength training.

It will not turn you into a superstar over night and I am doubtful of its use in anything under a marathon distance, but if you inclined to run the longer stuff, this may be for you.

That said, chia is so packed full of goodness that it really can do no harm for anyone to include some of it into everyday foods and smoothies etc. I have also been known to mix it with some Gatorade powder and water if I don’t have any limes in the house or for a slight variation.

Go wild with it and experiment. I would be very interested in hearing of different experiences. – Sean Muller

Friday, July 2, 2010

Comrades 2010

Comrades 2010 (the 85th race of its kind. Yes folks only the Boston Maraton is older) was indeed a special time for me, now before I begin my report, I must give a plug to the great work that the Can Too organisation are doing for cancer research in Australia.

In them I have found some wonderful friends as well as a cause that I can identify with (keeping fit while assisting a worthwhile cause). With your help I have in a small way been able to help them by raising money through my Comrades run in 2010. Any form of distance event for me is always a battle of the mind and I find that the best parts of these events (aside from the post event ice bath and pizza) is that you continue to learn things about yourself during the many hours that you spend out on the track. Often times in midst of the pain that I am going through, I attain a sense of perspective and calm about things in my life - during Comrades this is easy I only focus on my departed friends and family and know that the pain they went through in battling cancer is far worse than anything that I will face in any of the events that I do and that my journey will end in about 9 or 10 hours, whereas sadly they could not 'call time' on things that easily.

A few things always remind that I am back in South Africa. The first being the sulphur smell that you get the moment you step off the plane in Johannesburg and the second being the ability to run in parts of the country with baboons and other wildlife either chasing you or curiously looking on as you make your way through the bush tracks.

I was fortunate enough to sit next to another athlete from Melbourne on the plane over to South Africa and through the 14 hours we discussed the race and this helped to build the excitement in preparation for the journey we along with the other 21000 entrants would be embarking on.

Comrades is not something to be taken lightly and your mental state needs to be right to maximise your chances of a positive result. As such on landing, I headed to our coastal flat in the small town of Ballito (just north of Durban) to rest for a few days before the run. Over the next few days I would be catching up with old friends and family that I don't get to see very often, as well as enjoying mini runs through the area (again often chased by a curious baboon or troop of vervet monkeys and sometimes in the company of local children). For me this part of the trip is in some ways more enjoyable than the race itself.

Roll on three days prior to the race and I head with my mum and sister to the race Expo in downtown Durban. We go early to avoid the massive midday crowds and so that we can still walk around and look at all the stalls. I am always blown away by the sheer size of the Expo and also the generosity of the sponsers in the amount of freebies that they provide to all entrants.

Another really great side to the Comrades is the amount of charity work that they are involved in around the world. On arrival at the Expo, I head straight for the charity stalls first and on completion of donations, I go to pickup my number and run into a few old friends - catchup chats done I go off to find my mum and sister and we head home.

Sunday 31 May and the day of the big event: This is what I have been preparing for for the last 6 months and over the next 8 or so hours I will discover what I am made of and whether my preparation was good or not. As we line up in our respective groupings (based on qualifying times), we wait nervously while rock music rings out and African drummers drum in time with the music. I am in the second groupng of runners and hence quite near to the start line. New friendships are developed as we discuss race plans and end times.

Much of this will come to nought though as with lengthy events like Comrades, there is alot more that can go wrong along the way and alot longer time for it to go wrong. As I will later learn it is 70% about what happens on the day. I must admit it is quite daunting knowing that about 20 000 people are behind you as we venture forward.

Following some tradtional african work songs and the SA national anthem, the cock crows and the cannons fire and away we surge into the cool morning darkness. In the ensuing 12 hours, around 15000 people will complete the 90km journey into Durban. 6000 will not complete the journey and for them there will always be the lure of the following year. I am determined not to be amongst this group. I have my Garmin GPS on and am taking things easy through the first 10km so as to ensure I have power later on in the race.

At the 10km mark I turn around and look back only to see a mass of runners coming down the first hill. Now into my stride and waving to the farmers and young kids along the road am careful not to repeat last year's mistake when I tripped in a pothole and injured the knee. 30k in I am still comfortable and after a short strategic walk break I am back into my stride and running with my friend Grant from Melbourne.

10km later we approach the mighty Inchanga hill and my knee starts to get a bit tender and strangely my stomach also is not feeling that great. I slow my pace and see Grant rocket off into the distance. Out of nowhere nine time champion Bruce Fodyce comes up behind me and coaxes me up the 2km Inchanga hill. He makes it so easy and waits at the top while playfully teasing those of us who are taking abit of strain. Onwards we push and I try my best to stay with him as not only has he won the event 9 times, but he has run it a total of 30 odd times and knows the course like the back of his hand.

We go through halfway at 45km and I am forced to stop to get ill - Bruce is gone and that is the last I will see of him until the end. For the first time ever I consider quitting the event after halfway, but after a period of drinking some flat Coke and eating a bit of banana, I decide that even if I walk the 45k to the end I can still finish in the alloted 12 hours.

Onwards I trudge up the next 8k incline. With not many crowds along this section of the race it can be called the graveyard of the race and you see the many wounded from the first half stopping at the physio stations and some giving up all together. Knowing that I have beaten this situation just a few Kms back, I plod on safe in the knowledge that it is only a marathon left to go and that can't be too hard.

I look forward to the 30km to go sign, only to be greeted by the steep declines of Botha's Hill and Fields hill. These follow shortly after one another and if your legs are not yet shattered by this stage, they are by the time you get to the bottom of Fields. Sadly the battery of my Garmin went dead after 7 hours leaving me to run the last 19k blind so to speak. Having beaten the urge to quit I decide to throw it all to the wall at the bottom of Fields and run the last 21k non stop.

This went fine until 8k from the end when I had to walk up the last incline with another lady that I met. She was doing her 8th run and so had heaps more experience than me. We urge each other on and make a pact to finish together. She also has a GPS that still has power and so I get an idea of what we are doing pace wise.

With much of the last portion run on the freeway, it is very desolate and it is like a God send that we suddenly spot the 3k sign and enter the city of Durban. With alot of urging we run these as the fastest of the race to cross in 8.34.

This is not what I wanted time wise, but after the line I am reminded of the words of Tim Noakes when he said that Comrades is not about winning or losing - such trivial matters are reserved for those who have gone to lesser places than we have. The race does definitely change you forever and I could see myself running many more in the future.

In the international tent afterwards I am greeted by my family and many new friends, each of them safe in the knowledge that they have completed an achievement that not many on earth have.

My learning has been that the urge to quit any event comes but once. Once beaten like a coward it will not return. For anyone thinking of completing Comrades in the future, I would highly recommend it. You do not have to be a high quality runner to complete. A strong will and stubborn nature can outweigh sheer talent by a long way on the day. As for me I am sure I will be back... Not sure about next year, but would also like a chance to have more of a social race and possibly attain a different class of medal. Thank you all for your support for Can Too, kind words to me, acting as training buddies and for listening to me ramble on about this event over the past months. -- Sean Muller