The Skinny on Speed

AsianTrail illo-Speed (1)As trail runners, we are always trying to get our edge and stay ahead of the pack. How do I shave 10min off of my North Face 100km personal best? What do I have to do to beat Stone Tsang or John Ellis in just one 50km race? Have you ever wondered what physiological traits are the reason for which the top runners are so fast? The world’s really fast distance runners tend to look so small and weedy, as if the weakest typhoon could effortlessly blow them away, yet they seem to run at a pace rivalling that of a leopard. You’re a runner. You have put in similar training hours leading up to a big event, yet despite your tough and gruelling training schedule, you do not even match their pace on a bad day. What factors are to blame for shaming us mere mortals?

Let’s take a look at the Kenyans. When it comes to running, they are hands-down the best. This nation has produced the highest quantity of world-class runners. Two tribes are specifically notable for their exceptional runners — the Kisii and the Kalenjin. I am almost certain that you have heard of the Kalenjins. If not, you’ve probably been living underneath a boulder. The Kalenjins have won more than 50% of all Kenyan Olympic and Commonwealth Games medals. The new world record marathon holder Dennis Kimetto, from the Kalenjin tribe, set the record at 2h 2min 57s on Sept. 29, 2014. The three placing after him in that same race were also Kenyan.

David Epstein, senior editor at Sports Illustrated and the author of “The Sports Gene,” states that, “There are 17 American men in history who have ran under 2h 10min in the Chicago Marathon. There were 32 Kalenjins who did it in October 2011.”

Vincent Sarich, who was an anthropology professor at the University of California, Berkeley, calculated that Kenyans outperform the rest of the world in cross-country running by a factor of about 1700. This means that while the rest of the world has one elite athlete per 20 million males, Kenya has 80 elite athletes per every one million males. There are about 3 million Kalenjins, therefore Kenya will have about 240 elite male athletes at any one time.

So what are the biological factors that make these runners so fast? Scientists and sports gurus have researched all sorts of explanations over the years but have not come to a single conclusion. Is it diet? Altitude? Genetics? Training schedule?

Diet: This is not a big factor. The Kenyans eat lots of ugali, which is maize flower mixed with water and salt. It is a good source of carbohydrates. But we also eat our fair share of carbohydrates, so this is not a significant finding.

Altitude: This can also be ruled out as a factor. Kenya is based at a moderate altitude of 2300m. This altitude has moderate year-round temperatures, favouring year-round training and red blood cell production. In saying this, countries with a similar altitude, such as Peru, Nepal, and Lesotho, have not produced a rival number of outstanding runners — even other Kenyan tribes have not managed to bring forth as many great runners as the Kalenjins.

Talent: Perhaps a possible explanation. These tribes used to partake in cattle raiding. This practice would ensure that the best runners would obtain the most cattle and they would survive the longest by escaping the spears of the recently dispossessed cattle owners. This resulted in the best runners securing the most wives as they could provide them with the most cattle. Therefore, any genes determining running ability would be passed down through the generations as this cattle raiding practice killed off the slower runners while the faster runners procreated. Their talent was distilled. Researchers John Bale and Joe Sang state that because of this, “the Kalenjin men became not explosively muscular, but lean and tireless.”

Some scientists have also concluded that it is the shape of the Kalenjin tribe’s bodies. The Kalenjin tribe has predominantly thin ankles and calves.

There were interesting findings from a study that looked at the anthropometric, gait, and strength characteristics of Kenyan distance runners. These runners all had a low body mass index (20.1 kg.m² ± 1.8 kg.m²), a low body fat percentage (5.1% ± 1.6%) and a small calf circumference (34.5cm ± 2.3cm). This study concluded that the slim limbs of Kenyan distance runners may positively contribute to performance as there is a low moment of inertia, therefore requiring less muscular effort in leg swing. The study also found that the Kenyans had a short ground contact time. This may be related to an efficient gait and running economy as there is less time for the braking force (i.e. contact time) to decelerate the body’s forward motion.

Epstein backs this up in his book, stating that “thin ankles and calves are particularly important in running because your leg is like a pendulum. The more weight you have farther away from your centre of gravity, the more difficult it is to swing.”

Superior fatigue resistance: A study was conducted comparing a group of black runners consisting of Kenyans, Ethiopians, South Africans, and Moroccans to South African white runners. The participants had similar marathon times and similar VO2 max scores and were set to run a marathon on a treadmill. The study found that the black runners completed the marathon at a higher VO2 max (89%) than the white runners (81%). This showed that the black runners have a much greater resistance to fatigue. Meaning that if the very best black and white runners have the same VO2 max values, the black runners would still outperform the white runners in endurance events because of their greater capacity to run for longer at a higher percentage of the same VO2 max. This hypothesis has, unfortunately, not been evaluated as there are not enough elite white runners in the world to match the performances of the best Kenyans, Ethiopians, Moroccans, and South Africans. What we can take away from this is that, if we know our own VO2 max score, we can train smarter to slowly increase our VO2 max percentage when racing, and therefore increase our performance.

Muscle function and recruitment capacity: The study mentioned above also looked at muscle function and found that black distance runners could complete more contraction/relaxation cycles before they developed fatigue. This makes sense as they would be able to resist fatigue by utilising a higher level of skeletal muscle recruitment, prolonging the onset of ‘hitting a wall.’ Another study found that black African distance runners have more Type II (fast twitch) muscle fibers, and their Type II fibers are more similar to their Type I (slow twitch), particularly regarding their high capillary density and high mitochondrial enzyme content. This high capillary density would ensure that oxygen delivery to, and metabolite clearance from, the muscles is more efficient. Having a high mitochondrial enzyme content would also make the muscles more efficient as they are able to utilise more oxygen as energy.

Slow rate of heat accumulation: All of us have ran a trail race during which our head felt like it is on fire, and there is nothing you can do to overcome this heat accumulation except slow down, thus limiting your performance. This is not a great racing scenario. The ability to slow the rate of heat accumulation when running fast would be highly advantageous. Factors that slow the rate of heat accumulation when running fast are: small size and high running efficiency. These are both characteristics describing Kenyan distance runners. Size can be worked on as you can always become smaller to improve your running performance. Ask most top runners what their ‘fighting weight’ or best running performance weight is and it will always be on the lower end of their scale. Running efficiency can also be worked on by improving the elastic energy return systems of the muscles. The more that the muscle acts as a spring, the less energy it will consume and the more efficient it will be. This more elastic, efficient muscle will enhance performance by slowing down the rate of metabolite accumulation causing fatigue, and prolonging the rate of a rising body temperature. Foam rolling and dynamic stretching can help to improve muscle elasticity.

In conclusion, we can improve what VO2 max percentage we perform at, our overall body weight, therefore size, and our muscle elasticity. So, despite the fact that we will never be as fast as the Kenyans, we can tweak a few factors to make us skinnier, more efficient, and quicker, and hopefully catch Stone Tsang and John Ellis on the trails soon. That is the skinny on speed.


Jessica Phillips is an exercise physiologist and running consultant at Joint Dynamics. She loves trail running and escaping manic city life to explore the many mountains and single tracks that Hong Kong has to offer.



  1. Noakes, T.D., (2001). Lore of Running; Fourth Edition; pg.s 406-408; 433-437., Oxford University Press, South Africa.
  2. Christensen, D.L., van Hall, G., Hambraeus, L. (1998). Food intake of Kalenjin runners in Kenya: A field study. Journal of Sports Sciences 16, 500.
  3. Bale, J., Sang, J. (1996). Kenyan Running: Movement Culture, Geography and Global Change. Frank Cass, London.
  4. Kong, P.W., de Heer, H. (2008).Anthropometric, gait and strength characteristics of Kenyan distance runners. Journal of Sports Science and Medicine 7, 499-504.
  5. Bosch, A.N., Goslin, B.R., Noakes, T.D. (1990). Physiological changes during a simulated marathon in black and white athletes. European Journal of Applied Physiology 61, 68-72.
  6. Weston, A.R., Karamizrak, O., Smith, A., Noakes, T.D., Myburgh, K.H. (1999). African runners exhibit greater fatigue resistance, lower lactate accumulation, and higher oxidative enzyme activity. Journal of Applied Physiology 86, 915–23.

By Jessica Phillips

To Pole or Not to Pole

Claus Rolff_TransLantau

Perceived Advantages:

  1. Reduce impact forces on joints and muscles.
  2. Improve posture and increase propulsion.
  3. Increase balance and stability on technical trails and water crossings.
  4. Improve running rhythm and cadence.
  5. Reduce/eliminate hand swelling.
  6. Scratch legs without bending.
  7. Defensive weapon.
  8. Psychological aid in training after lower limb injury.

Perceived Disadvantages:

  1. Increased energy expenditure, both physical and mental.
  2. Gripping causes increased tension in arms, shoulders, and face.
  3. Safety risk when falling — fractures and new piercings!
  4. Loss of use of hands.
  5. Necessity of gloves due to abrasions.
  6. Weight and ease of storage on pack.
  7. Snag on things with very sudden results.
  8. More gear = more problems.
  9. Potential damage to trail areas.
  10. Becoming dependent on them.


Looking back at videos from the last few years of the Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc, it’s hard not to notice the forest of poles. Still, despite their prevalence the use of poles in races is not universally accepted. Ultimately though, the decision should be personal and involve a lot of testing — and thankfully, there is enough research on the subject to help us make a more informed decision.

Based on the various studies performed, it seems that running with poles does increase energy expenditure but it can help in stability, rhythm, propulsion, and impact reduction. Some research argues that poles work best uphill, others say the same for downhill, and much of the studies were done on a treadmill. Some say shorten the poles on uphill and lengthen when going downhill. I say: If it appeals to you give it a try! Work on the rhythm and cadence and build up the involved musculature. To pole or not to pole? Up to you whether those advantages outweigh the disadvantages, but have fun finding out!

If you are interested in the various researches, please refer to the following for more information.

To begin with, in 1981 Dr. G. Neureuther1 published a study that found that running with poles (RWP) decreased leg strain by 5kg per step — that means tons on a long run!

Researcher Lori Bolt et al. (2000)2 found that poles reduced the knee flexion during the swing phase and significantly increased maximum hyperextension of the hip at toe-off. They believed some of this was due to a counterbalancing force to the added arm movement and weight. They also found that most impact forces were decreased and peak propulsive force supplied by the body was also reduced when RWP.

Also in 2000, Christopher Knight and Graham Caldwell3 did an uphill treadmill study that showed RWP caused a small increase in heart rate and decreased lower leg exertion. This lead to lower stride lengths and a decreased rating of perceived exertion — suggesting that the increased energy output was balanced by the decrease in impact forces.

At a similar time Erich Müller along with Hermann Schwameder (2003)4 found a decrease in joint forces during downhill runs. Michael Bohne and Julianne Abendroth-Smith (2007)5 studied 15 experienced hikers carrying varying loads downhill and found a reduction in some of the forces at the hip, knee, and ankle when using poles.

John Willson et al. (2001)6 concluded that poles allowed people to walk faster with less impact forces. Glyn Howatson et al. (2011)7 took 37 volunteers up and down Mount Snowdon in the USA, some with poles, some without. The group with poles reported a lower subjective exertion rating and their muscles bounced back quicker the next day by both subjective and objective measures.

As usual we see conflict in results from medical science. On a hilly course, Michael Saunders et al. (2008)8 found an increase in VO2 max and heart rate with no perceived subjective exertion. Yet the same year Matthieu Foissac et al.9 found no significant increase in VO2 max and heart rate at a 20 degree incline on a treadmill when poles were used! Foissac’s group also found RWP reduced lower limb muscle activity. However, musculature activity in the upper limbs was up 95%. This tension also led to the tightening up of the face. 2008 was busy as Stephane Perrey and Nicolas Fabre10 compared energy expenditure in 12 volunteers on a treadmill and found that poles did indeed increase energy outlay but only in downhill situations.

Visibly, studies regarding poles are mixed. One would think the added movement involving poles would cost more energy! In fact 2011 Nordic walking studies by Vaida Sokelienë and Vida Cesnaitienè (2011)11 found the added load increased heart rate by 15% in comparison to comparable walking without poles. Milan Kůtek12 found in 2012 that poles increased heart rate by 15-20%. Petr Bahenský13 did similar tests and found the heart rate to be up only 4.5%. Many studies were on treadmills, which, particularly for trail running, are very different from outdoor conditions.

Yannick Daviaux et al. (2013)14 found running with poles increases stability and reduces load on the body: “these results support a facilitating effect of pole use for propulsion during level running and for the absorption phase during downhill running.”

The 2012 European Athletics Innovation Award15 went to a paper considering the advantages of running with poles. Its hypothesis was that pole use, by decreasing impact and injury and increasing safety and training effect, would increase the benefits of running while decreasing foot load. The authors found more intensive breathing, more recruitment of chest, arm and shoulder muscles, and therefore more energy used. Depending on speed, the foot can take a load many times that of the bodyweight on each foot strike. They found running with poles showed less impact force, more forward/forefoot strike, and a subjective perception of stability. This paper concluded running with poles “is highly efficient in increasing the physical impact of running but decreasing the leg joint overstraining.”

Doug has been a physiotherapist for 26 years and currently practices at Jardine House Sports and Spinal Clinic (www. This column aims to explain how body parts work and how you can care for and fix them.



  1. Neureuther, G. “The Ski Pole in Summer.” MMW Munch Med Wochenschr13 (1981): 513-4.
  2. Bolt, Lori. “The Effect of Running Poles on the Kinetics and Kinematics of Jogging.” Ball State University (2000).
  3. Knight, Christopher, and Graham Caldwell. “Muscular and Metabolic Costs of Uphill Backpacking: Are Hiking Poles Beneficial?” Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise 12 (2000): 2093-101.
  4. Müller, Erich, and Hermann Schwameder. “Biomechanical Aspects of New Techniques in Alpine Skiing and Ski-Jumping.” Journal of Sports Sciences9 (2003): 679-92.
  5. Abendroth-Smith, Julianne, and Michael Bohne. “Effects of Hiking Downhill Using Trekking Poles While Carrying External Loads.” Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise 1 (2007): 177-83.
  6. Willson, John, M. Torry, et al. “Effects of Walking Poles on Lower Extremity Gait Mechanics.” Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise 1 (2001): 142–7.
  7. Howatson, Glyn, P. Hough, et al. “Trekking Poles Reduce Exercise-Induced Muscle Injury during Mountain Walking.” Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise1 (2011):140-5.
  8. Saunders,Michael,  Hipp, et al. “Trekking Poles Increase Physiological Responses to Hiking without Increased Perceived Exertion.” Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research 22.5 (2008): 1468-74.
  9. Foissac, Matthieu, R. Berthollet, et al. “Effects of Hiking Pole Inertia on Energy and Muscular Costs during Uphill Walking.” Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise 6 (2008): 1117-25.
  10. Perrey, Stephane, and Nicolas Fabre. “Exertion during Uphill, Level and Downhill Walking with and without Hiking Poles.” Journal of Sports Science and Medicine 7 (2008): 32-8.
  11. Sokelienë, Vaida, and Vida Cesnaitienè. “The Influence of Nordic Walking on Physical Fitness of Elderly People.” Ugdymas, Kúno Kultura, Sportas 82 (2011): 45-51.
  12. Kůtek, Milan. “Běhat Sholemi? Rozhodně Ano!” Run6 (2012): 54-7.
  13. Bahenský, Petr. “Comparison of Responses of the Organism to Load Exerted by Running with Poles and Without Poles.” Indian Journal of Research3 (2014):140-1.
  14. Daviaux, Yannick, F. Hintzy, et al. “Effect of Using Poles on Foot-Ground Kinetics during Stance Phase in Trail Running.” European Journal of Sport Science 5 (2013): 468-74.
  15. Tvrzník, Aleš, and Milan Kůtek. “Running with Poles as an Efficient Training Method Eliminating Overstraining of Athlete’s Feet.” Winning paper of the 2012 European Athletics Innovation Awards.

By Doug Tahirali

Mira Rai Found Her Chance

Mira Rai

Photo by Martina Valmassoi


“Everything is bonus here! Free flight, free bus — everything free!” reports Mira Rai by phone from her home district of Bhojpur in eastern Nepal. “Now I am a little bit up here! Wow!” She’s referring to her newly elevated status as a hero of her district, complete with VIP treatment. “Here, network a little bit problem. OK, bye-bye time. Ciao ciao!” and she continued on the two-day journey to her village.

Rai’s spoken English has its own system of grammar, in which ‘Wow’ and ‘Ha ha’ serve as punctuation, but it also conveys happy disbelief in her still-unfolding fairytale, a zero-to-hero story with a fast-paced plot line.

In the fall of 2013, Rai was prepared to go to Malaysia to work in a factory, but at the last minute, her former karate instructor invited her to come to Kathmandu and train for track and road racing. Bearing in mind her strength and endurance, he suggested 10,000m might be her best event.

The venture was not entirely successful. Unable to afford the small fee to train at the stadium, Rai phoned a coach for training plans, and was often prescribed a counter-productive slog along the heavily polluted ring road around Kathmandu. She improved this regimen by running up a hill to a scenic viewpoint most mornings. She’d never heard of trail running, or “hilly up-down running,” as she called it.

By March 2014, with just 20 rupees left, Rai was ready to quit Kathmandu for home, when, on her viewpoint morning run, she met two other runners who invited her to a ‘game,’ a race, that Saturday morning. She showed up for the tough Himalayan Outdoor Festival 50km in a cotton t-shirt, tracksuit pants, and $3 running shoes. Nine hours, a hailstorm, and a washed-out trail later, Rai was the first and only female finisher. She accepted prizes of $80 and a pair of Salomon shoes, and her trail-running career was born.

Fifteen months later, Rai won the prestigious Mont-Blanc 80km in Italy, breaking Emelie Forsberg’s course record. The finish-line photo showed Rai, beaming, holding the Nepali flag above her head.

“I was thinking if I could win that race, while my country was crying [due to the earthquake], I could bring a small bit of happiness. I believe the timing was important,” she said. She was right: Rai made the front page of the national daily newspapers, pushing tedious politics aside. “She did something good for Nepal,” said a shop owner in Kathmandu. “It is very good.”

“After my birthday, this is the best day of my life,” she said of the Mont Blanc race, her longest effort yet. “I was running with Hillary [Allen], just staying behind. I took it a bit easily. Really enjoyed. Wow, checkpoints they have fruit, everything, to eat,” she said, making a mouth-filling motion with both hands. “You can drink so much you have to spit it out! Near every checkpoint — ‘Allez allez,’ ‘Dai dai,’ cow bells tung tung tung. I am ‘Hello, hi everybody,’” she laughs. “At 65km, I said, ‘Let’s go, Hillary,’ and started a little bit fast. First sister [Anna Comet Pascua of Spain] was walking hands on legs. I am just walking normally, and passed her. I met Greg [Vollet, of team Salomon] at 70km. ‘Wow Mira, you are very strong,’ Greg said. OK, I will try. Bye-bye Greg brother, then I am going, and I ran hard.”

Tite Togni, a trail runner who has hosted Rai in Italy the past two summers, said this about her sponge-like aptitude: “She’s a fast learner, adapting very quickly to situations, which I bet comes from her practical schooling (agriculture) — not too much theory. In Italy, every morning before training she watched Kíllian [Jornet] videos to learn.”

The trajectory of her trail-running career has been as steep as some of the trails. Just over 12 months from her first competitive race found her challenging reigning champion Emelie Forsberg for the Skyrunning World Championships at the 109km Ultra Pirineu in Spain. Rai finished in second place, just 4min back. “I started the competition too soon,” she said at dinner a few hours after the finish. She passed Núria Picas, caught up to Forsberg, and took the lead too early in the race, which gave Forsberg a chance to recover and launch her next attack. “Next time, I will do it better,” she said.

Rai is small — 48kg, 160cm — and strong, built for endurance, but the key to her success is not merely physical. She uses the word chance frequently, as in, “Wow, good chance I have.” Her climbing friend gave her comment context, describing the life of a woman in a remote village as “enduringly monotonous.” Rai’s first chance to escape this bleak future came when she was 14 years old, and the Maoist army came recruiting towards the end of their 10-year insurgency. Fully aware of the limitations of village life, Rai was always on the lookout for opportunities, and was driven to make those opportunities work. The Maoist rebels represented an opportunity, a chance to do something different and disprove “the feeling that I am inferior to other people.” Telling her mother she’d be back in a week, she joined the Maoist rebels for two years.

Her climbing instructor, Niraj Karki, noted another advantageous attribute: “Mira doesn’t overthink things.” She has Rai logic. Pre-race nerves? “No,” she said, “I have training. If I had not done it, then I would be nervous. If I run according to my training, then it’s OK. No need to be nervous.” Is she upset if she comes second? “No, the other guy was stronger. Now I know what I need to do next time.” Is she usually happy? “Yes, of course. Every day I am happy, why not? It’s important!”

She’s also bold in new situations. Often out of her comfort zone in new places with new people and limited language skills, she forges ahead with sunny optimism. Giving an interview on Spanish television? “No problem, I will try.”

Rai is a role model for young people in Nepal. Her story has been featured widely in national dailies, on the BBC world service, on websites like, and even a 500,000 circulation women’s fashion magazine. She’s depicted in murals in several cities, has 14,561 likes on her Facebook page, and is the subject of a documentary film, to be released in early December. The impact of her success has been felt in the worldwide trail-running community, and close to home: Rai reported that the schoolteacher in her home village organised a 4km trail race, including her parents’ house as a checkpoint along the course.

“My hope is to help sisters and to influence Nepali women, to say that we have power as well, and we can do anything. I want them to know that,” Rai said.

With money from prizes, sponsors, and fundraisers from proud Nepali organisations, she’s become one of the few athletes able to survive on sports income alone. But she realises that she must prepare for the future, like other young Nepalis who look up to her, and continues to pursue her education, as well as training.

Rai plans to spend the remaining months of 2015 resting before gearing up for next year’s demanding race schedule. She’s been invited to the very competitive Zegama trail race in Spain, and is considering races in China where the prize money is attractive. If it looks like a good chance, she will try and make it work.

It’s been said that champions will find a way to be successful, no matter what. Rai demonstrates that determination: “If I’d not found running I would have done something; I wouldn’t just be idle. I would be searching for other chances.” She’s found her chance, and has started to change the world a little for others.

Richard Bull lives and runs in Kathmandu, Nepal. He organises stage races in the Himalayas and a few ultras in the hills around the Kathmandu Valley.


Side Bar

  • Name: Mira Rai
  • Age: 27
  • Nationality: Nepalese
  • Sponsor: Salomon
  • Running résume: 1st in MSIG HK50 Sai Kung (Asia Skyrunning Championship), 1st in Mont Blanc 80k, 2nd in Tromsø Skyrace, 2nd in Ultra Pirineu. Rank No. 2 in 2015 Ultra Skymarathon Series.
  • Typical training day: 1-2 hour of stretching and run before breakfast, and another 2 hours in the afternoon. For longer training sessions, she will run three hours in the morning and three hours in the afternoon. Rai also has to study English at the language center six hours a day.

By Richard Bull


Recovery Between Races

Asia Trail Recovery Between Races

With the number of great races available on the racing calendar today, a question I am often asked is “I have two big races six weeks apart, how can I speed up my recovery from the first race so I can run well at the second one?”

With six weeks between races there is indeed enough time to recover, train, and taper again. With only four weeks, it’s more about recovery and keeping the legs ticking over before the next race.

Preparation for the second race starts the second you cross the finish line of the first event. At this point, your first priority is nutrition. Consuming a drink with both carbohydrates and protein in approximately a 3- or 4-1 ratio, within the first hour, will start the recovery process.

Next, put on some compression tights as there is plenty of research showing that they may have a positive effect on recovery, and none demonstrating that they have a negative impact.

In the first hour or so after finishing, try and keep moving around rather than collapsing on the bed. This will keep your blood flowing to the muscles to help remove waste products from the race you just finished. I wouldn’t recommend ice baths, or anything similar, as there’s research suggesting these practices block training gains. If your race was taking place the very next day, ice baths may help, but if you have 4-6 weeks, then you want to maximise the training benefit of the first race so you go into the second event even stronger and fitter.

Sleep is when all recovery happens. It’s when the body repairs all the damaged cells, so getting as much sleep as you possibly can in the week after the first race is extremely important. Sleeping the night after a tough race can be fitful as your legs keep twitching and your are buzzing with post-race adrenaline, so grabbing naps in the first two days to optimise sleep can help. Don’t underestimate the importance of sleep in recovery — it’s likely to have more of an effect than any of the other recovery modalities I discuss below.

During the first two days after the race, go for several walks, 15-20min is plenty, and you are better off doing 3-4 of 15-20min walks rather than one longer one or a short run.

In the initial days, light massages, helping to stimulate blood flow to the legs, will improve recovery. Alternating heat and ice on sore muscles will have a similar effect. Also, try a few minutes of heat followed by a few minutes of applying ice, repeating this 2-3 times once or twice a day.

I would avoid the foam roller until some of the soreness has resided. After a week the foam roller may help work out the last layers of soreness. Whilst the research on foam rollers isn’t conclusive, there is enough support to make their use worthwhile in the recovery process.

Good nutrition throughout the first week will ensure your body can create the right building blocks to repair your muscles. Though I don’t believe any particular foods have any special benefits, I do think making sure you consume a wide variety of vegetables and good sources of fat and protein with every meal is important.

Continue walking regularly each day until the legs have recovered enough to go for a short 20-30min run. This may take 1-3 days depending on the event and how well you trained for it. If you are very sore, don’t worry about forcing yourself to run. Brisk walks several times a day will give you a much better recovery effect than an easy run, and you aren’t going to gain any fitness benefits from a very short, slow recovery run.

Once you are up to running again, build slowly. Fatigue occurs on many levels and even though a 60min run feels great, you may find weariness setting in as soon as you go longer or push harder. In the first seven days, I would stick to 60min runs, or less. In the second week, begin to increase distance but without much intensity at all. By week three, you should be able to resume more normal training, although I would avoid running hard downhills, and stay away from any long and hard tempo runs, as the load on the legs is much higher in these kinds of runs.

By week four, you should be able to do a normal hard week of training before you start tapering off during the two weeks prior to the next race. Even though the legs might be feeling good at this stage, and you may think a two week taper is too long, keep in mind that there will still be some fatigue at a deep level even after four weeks, one which you’ll probably only start feeling late into the next race — so it’s better to have a good taper to give yourself the best chance of racing well.


By Andy DuBois

Andy is an award-winning personal trainer and elite endurance athlete specializing in ultra running. You can find more useful info on his ultra running coach website (


Photo credit: Assaf de Courcy Arbiser

Step Your Game Up During Winter Months


With the weather finally cooling down in Hong Kong, many of you are hitting the great outdoors for a 10K or fun run. However it involves more than just lacing up your runners and programming the perfect playlist. After long summer months of water sports coupled with your favorite summer BBQ and beer, these simple steps will get you on your feet again — the safe and healthy way.


Fuel Up

Skipping meals should never be part of an exercise regimen, but eating right should. Fuel up with whole-grains like whole wheat breads, pastas and rice two hours before your workout to give you longer lasting energy to get through your runs. Foods to avoid include anything high in added sugars such as jams and jellies, cookies, cakes, pies and doughnuts as they tend to give you a quick burst of energy, and lead to a drastic drop in your blood sugar subsequently.

Drink Up

Always go into a workout hydrated. Not only does it help to prevent muscle tears, it might also help you perform better during the workout, especially in the heat. Water is good enough if the run is under 60 minutes, but sports drink might be beneficial for runs more than an hour as it helps to replenish electrolytes and carbohydrate utilized during the prolonged workout.

Warm Up

Warm up and cool down are often overlooked but they are in fact important components of the workout. Creating a smooth transition from the warm-up to the high intensity workout is a great way to prevent injuries. Try squats, forward lunges, or the soldier walk, before your workout next time.

Rest Up

After a long run, muscle fibers are torn microscopically. As such, it is important that you allow your muscles enough time to recover and heal.  Either a day of rest or get on a bicycle, get in a pool, do some strength training or core work such as yoga, so you can give those muscles a chance to heal and rebuild.

By: Michelle Lau of Nutrilicious

Michelle is certified nutritionist (MSc.) and nutrition expert who specializes in sports nutrition, weight management, pre-post natal nutrition. For more health and nutrition tips, follow her blog: instagram/facebook @nutriliciousss.

Photo credit: Sunny Lee