Friday, 27 April 2018

Gene Genie - let yourself know!

Do you know your genes?  

And I don’t mean whether you fit into a pair of skinnies… although I do know something that might help you there.  It isn’t just about running or training at the gym and burning calories.  It’s not just about eating ‘healthily’, cutting carbs and having a target with a prescribed training plan based on your availability and work/life balance.  It’s about working SMARTER not HARDER. 

It’s totally in our gift to find out about how and why OUR body responds in a different way, and by that I mean every individual is different.  Did you inherit fantastic speed potential?  Do you take less time to recover from a kilometer interval than your club mates?  Why is that? Have you ever wondered if you would suit longer distance? 

Many runners read inspirational books and go to inspirational talks at Expos and get caught up in the seasonal race entry fever.  I can do that, again and again… it’s a great gift being able to run and who should I thank for that?  I wanted to find out why I like to run and understand more about what might help me improve – by digging a bit deeper.

I approached Fitness Genes (@FitnessGenes) and they sent me a little kit.  A simple DNA test could reveal a labyrinth of information about my personal genetic make-up.  Exciting or what!?  It was SO simple to do.  Just a tiny amount of spit into a vile and I sent this back via the pre-paid pouch back to testing HQ and waited a couple of weeks for the result.  I registered on the website and eagerly waited for an email confirmation.  


My mum and me - I wonder how many of her genes I have inherited?  As my mum is adopted and originally from American descent - I have always been particularly interested in how I am 'made up'.

Results are in!

My analytical side was on over-drive – I even spent a whole day checking all 45 different gene results!  There is a lot to understand and tempting as it is to put together a whole Powerpoint presentation together on it – for myself, I thought I would focus on the key things which might be useful for me to understand as a runner.  The analysis goes into ALL sorts of areas, from how well you metabolize certain chemicals/foods to genes which affect training performance, strength, recovery and how things could change as you age.  

I have summarized just some of my results below... 


More about my genes

I am an EARLY BIRD!  This is good news for most races are morning ones but a lot of my training, aside from week-ends, is in the evening.  However some more early runs aren’t out of the question, although I am surprised as I don’t find jumping out of bed to do a pre-work run appealing in the SLIGHTEST!

I recover QUICK! Another genotype more common with endurance athletes but I have TWO copies of the ‘fast lactic acid clearing allele’ meaning I perform higher intensity exercise without inducing muscle fatigue early on.  This means my rests do not need to be as long.

I have lactose intolerance!  I’ve switched from ordering a cappuccino to a black Americano over the past couple of years and used almond milk in my cereal, convinced milk was causing digestive discomfort as well as flaring up adult acne.  Evidence now that I wasn’t going nuts (well unless you count the nut-milk!) 

I need to watch my blood pressure, as I have a slightly tendency to get high blood pressure, although my diet is healthy so I’m not too worried about this but I should probably avoid stressful situations.

I metabolize caffeine SLOWLY. This is NOT good news for me as it suggests that I should really limit my caffeine intake to reduce the risk of hypertension or a heart attack! 
This could be the result I really didn’t want to see.   

I have two copies of the blue eye allele.  I have the slightly rarer green eyes despite having two blue eye alleles.  Surprising as my mum has brown eyes, as has my sister... it is nice to have my dad's blue eye genes here.  

I need to ensure I don’t overdo it on BIG hills.  My HIF1A gene could explain why my body has really suffered following very hilly races and my breathlessness on high peaks!  I have very recently been prescribed a ventolin inhaler which may help me (doc thinks I have mild asthma.)  I need to look after my lungs though – it is etched on my mind that my dad, a non-smoker, died (young) of lung cancer and I need to look after myself.

I need to try and remain active, as many of my genes suggested an inactive lifestyle could lead to obesity, however I also have a lower risk of over eating.  I have noticed I put weight on quick when carrying an injury from running.  Maybe some alternative exercise options would be useful. 

What next?

This result has really flicked on a green light of hope, which I needed!  This will really help me to amend my planning and approach based on real, absolute data about my body, which is so incentivizing. 

I can now move forward with some suggested training and nutrition plans based on my own gene signature.  I am excited about the untapped potential in my ‘genetic toolkit’, and I’m particularly interested in my predisposition to endurance, in several genetic areas. 

There are nutrition plans carefully put together for me by Fitness Genes and I could opt for as well as a whole library of workout guides for me to choose from.


I’ve avoided the marathon for a couple of years now as I found it very tough setting and actually achieving training targets (paces), as well as dealing with the onset of injury when I peaked and on the day performance.  However, this information has given me some confidence in approaching a marathon with an informed approach as well as the knowledge that I have some real endurance capability.  

I can now put my mind towards improving my running performance and fitness with some careful planning and better nutrition awareness.  

This could be a new chapter of enlightenment.  

I will definitely be continuing on this journey and I would totally recommend anyone who wants to approach their training more scientifically OR even just find out more about themselves - this could really help explain a few things!

Unlock your own DNA and make it happen!

Tuesday, 10 April 2018

Take my Breath Away

Ill-health and injury can play a big part in ruining your otherwise 'well-thought out' race training plan.  I'm sure this is a very familiar tale.

The Berlin Half Marathon offered everything you could want. A fabulous flat course, reliable (proper) Spring weather and a course cutting right through historical landmarks and inspiring architecture, as well as (I would discover) uplifting crowds and awakening drums! So, something had to go and f%$k it all up.

Ros' top lessons learnt at Berlin;

1. Just Say No... to overly challenging races just 2 weeks before an A-goal race. Even if it's not a marathon... the Cleevewold 14 in hindsight was a bloody stupid idea (albeit a mega accomplishment).

2. Take care with tough sessions.  In the same week as you can't even walk down steps for two days following (point 1) race, don't attempt a brutal interval session... with long rests standing in torrential cold rain...especially when you've previously had chest issues.

3. Listen to your body and your mind, especially when you are run down mentally from other exhausting life events. A week of considerable work-related stress did not help. Give yourself time to heal mentally as well as physically.

4. Recover as seriously as you train. Even eating all the fresh fruit and veg in the World with maybe some Easter chocolate.. as well as 'resting' will not resurrect your health to perfection. Repeat point 3. about listen to your body.

5. Plan stress-free travel - Lufthansa 4, Ryan Air NIL.  The German Airline totally rocks with FREE snacks and drinks (inc. wine)! However, top tip, if you're transferring at Frankfurt, save some energy to manage the transfer across the vast airport(!) Who knew - it's the third busiest airport in Europe!

6. Get to the Expo as early as possible! 
Tackling the Expo on the Friday was a good shout.  Berlin's Expo was held at the Flughafen Templehof, the former airport and a historically protected landmark, one of the few remaining Nazi era sites as well as a symbol of freedom due to the airports role in the 1948-9 Air Lift.

7. Break-in your trainers - properly! That means, run more miles in them than just a Parkrun, a club circuit and maybe a couple of other short runs/walks. Also, after getting them soaked through in puddles, then drying them out on a radiator - wear them in again!  #crispy

8. Stop at every water stop and take every energy gel on offer!  Especially when it is unusually warm!  However, expect anything (especially abroad!) A small cola gel handed to me was thick and unpleasant tasting like warm liquorice! Yuk!

9. Open-top City bus tours FTW!  I wholeheartedly recommend an open top bus-tour - especially the day before a race.  You can sit, relax and explore so much - then when you race, you can remember the stories behind the sites.


10. Don't treat the week-end as though your Race depends on it.  As long as you stay well-hydrated and you don't exhaust yourself too much the day before, certainly don't deny yourself any treats!

Race day
I'd spent couple of days feeling very achy and tired with a strained chest and voice, but I was taking regular paracetamol (following the docs advice) and I was eating very well.  The splendour of the City and the excitement of participating in the race, clouded my judgement though and having collected a number and memento T-shirt, it didn't feel right to not even try.

My race number pinned on my new club vest and the chip was on my shoe.  Surprisingly.  The jog to the start from the hotel was a good indication of whether I could actually cope with this. It was warm and I was excited but anxious as we passed the steady flow of runners along the wide and traffic-free Unter den Linden.  My feet were in some discomfort though, warm and encased by my crispy new Asics, resuscitated from a very wet Parkrun!

Tim was happy to run with me at my pace as his main goal is the London marathon, so this was just a very scenic easy long-run for him.  Luckily his pace is not too different to mine.

Following a teary wobble in the start pen, made slightly better by a cuddle with the big fluffy race mascot fox 'Friddolin' Frink' (I fondly nicknamed 'Fiddlin' Frank)... I decided;

- The first mile would almost pass close to the hotel, I could retire if in trouble.

- If I pulled out later on, I had a travel pass in my pocket and could make my way back at the hotel.

First Half
Following the start of the in-line skating race to a very rocky AC/DC chiming bells countdown and guitar/drum intro. which made me grin, our start pen moved forward.  Our pen had some quite serious looking club athletes...so I fully expected them to stampede ahead.  However, I felt comfortable as we moved out, in the warmth of the sun along wide, flat roads, lined with well-wishers.  I thought to myself "just get to halfway, just count down the kms."

We soon passed the Berliner Dom and moved out west along the long, wide Unter den Linden to the Brandenburg Gate.  It was then onwards to the Victory Column with it's bronze 'Victoria' sculpture visible straight ahead at about 5km.  Uplifting beats of drummers and the crowd support was typical of a big vibrant City. There was a tunnel with birdsong pumping out on speakers and green glowing lights!

Second Half
We approached the Charlottenburg Gate and its larger-than-life bronze statues of King Frederick I of Prussia, and his consort Sophia Charlotte of Hanover, then made a left turn, and another left and back east!  As we headed back towards Potsdamer Platz, I felt reassured that I could finish, but the pace slowed considerably, so an energy stop came at the right moment!  However, it came in the form of a thick, 'cola' gel and was revolting! However this was soon forgotten as we turned at Kochstrasse and went right through 'Checkpoint Charlie', the historic border crossing between East and West Berlin that permitted foreigners passage.

Onwards through the final crowds to the corner of Karl-Marx Allee and I could see the Finish in sight - at least the roar of the crowd was increasing.  Having not even checked my Garmin once, for fear of demotivating disappointment, I was relieved to see on stopping it, I was only a few minutes over my London time (a month previous).. 1:56:59. Greeted with a medal and a cup of luke-warm sweet tea - the finishers moved past a long bar offering pints of refreshing alcohol-free beer.  We collected an official certificate and returned our rented chip devices.



Main lesson learnt, don't cram 'tough stuff' just before an 'A-goal' race. We only found out about the planned attack at the race via some BBC alerts which flashed up later that day.  I certainly felt very safe with all the armed police officers visible around the City, but at the time I didn't think anything of it and took it as that was just standard.  It's always sad to hear these things but you just cannot let these things worry you and put you off.

I'll visit Berlin again - possibly even tackle the marathon, but with much better planning! Now rest.