Neil Featherby: Make the advancements in running technology work for you...but remember nothing beats quality training

Kenya's Eliud Kipchoge would be running fast times whatever trainers you put him in, says Neil Featherby. Picture: PA

Kenya's Eliud Kipchoge would be running fast times whatever trainers you put him in, says Neil Featherby. Picture: PA

PA Archive/PA Images

Running expert Neil Featherby talks gels, shoes and clothing but urges runners to remember it’s the quality training that really counts

Running columnist Neil Featherby on a canicross run. Picture: Mark HewlettRunning columnist Neil Featherby on a canicross run. Picture: Mark Hewlett

I recently posted on Facebook some information about a ‘try on’ promotional evening at Sportlink with one of the shoe manufacturers and a specialist clothing company.

Very quickly, someone responded by asking if these products will make them a faster runner.

Whilst I know it was very much tongue in cheek, the truth is that there are lots of people who really do ask this question in all sincerity in their quest to become better athletes.

With the minefield of information out there nowadays, it can be a little confusing to say the least, be it about the latest technical advancements in equipment to that of a simple energy gel for which I will use the best of my knowledge this week to try and answer.

Having been a runner for most of my life and having worked in the sports/running trade for well over 30 years, I have seen some huge changes right across the board, particularly in footwear and clothing.

Prior to the 1980s, training shoes were very basic whereby a runner’s only expectations was that they were going to get some foot protection from the surfaces they might be running on. Aches, pains, blisters and black toe nails were all very much in line with going with the territory and no one blamed the shoes, that is for certain!

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Since those days, running shoe manufacturers have invested large sums of money in to new technological advancements to provide more support and of course comfort.

Has this still led to people being able to run more quickly and efficiently? I think it is fair to say the answer is yes and no.

For elite athletes who still wear shoes for racing, similar to those in the 1980s, then no as they are genetically superior and naturally faster running machines. However, a certain manufacturer did very recently produce a shoe, which they said would help enable athletes of the highest calibre to run a sub two-hour marathon. Whilst this didn’t quite happen, even if it had, I would suggest that anyone capable of this can do it in a race shoe from any of the leading brands.

However and when it comes to shoes used for training, if today’s sophisticated trainer allows for better energy return and more shock absorption whilst reducing the risk of stress related injuries, then you could say the answer is yes.

It could also be said that modern day running shoes give greater protection to those who may have been advised not to take up running just a few years ago.

My personal preference are trainers that are very light in weight as I find the more conventional running shoes a little too bulky for me.

As always it comes down to personal preference, but one even with all this technology, injuries and the dreaded blister can still occur for which it is not always the fault of the product!

Our feet are designed for many things and if we spent our entire lives running around without shoes on, I am sure we would all have stronger bodies and be more efficient when it comes to running. Man must have designed a shoe in the first place for a reason though (comfort)!

Whilst footwear has seen dramatic changes during the last 30-plus years, specific sports apparel up until more recently was pretty basic.

Nowadays the quality of the materials used is far improved with just about every item of sports clothing technically designed to wick moisture and fit our differing body shapes.

We also have clothing which allegedly helps us recover quicker, reduces the risks of injury and even helps us run more quickly through compression. Products in this range are worn by people who take part in just about every sport on the planet for which many are convinced that compression wear is a must.

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However, does it actually do all the things which it is designed for i.e the removal of lactic acid during and post high intense exercise through improved circulation and a reduction in muscle injury due to the support it gives?

There is medical scientific studies stating that it could whilst on the other hand there is also scientific evidence to say it doesn’t.

What is sure is that modern day clothing is advanced on some of the more loosely and heavily fitting garments of yesteryear for which there may well be an advantage. Possibly more to do with the fit rather than the science though.

When running a marathon or indeed for anyone training hard, nutrition really should be regarded very highly.

During such training, we will utilise two energy sources of fuel. Glycogen is stored in the liver and muscles and is basically derived from carbohydrates which in turn are converted into glucose and of course fat which is stored in the body.

The best way to look at it is to imagine that we have two fuel tanks whereby one produces very quick and efficient energy (glycogen), but is sadly limited by way of supply and another (fat) which whilst having a much greater energy yield, unfortunately is not as efficient when it comes to oxidation.

So with this in mind it is so important to eat a diet which matches our needs for energy and recovery by way of eating the right amount of complex carbohydrates, essential fats and protein.

However, and when it comes to fuelling during a marathon, there are many who are absolutely consumed with fear about getting enough gels and other products into their bodies during the run due to the worry of running out of energy.

First and foremost a reduction in the training load whilst increasing the carbohydrate content in the diet during the last few days prior to the race will ensure that the glycogen levels are fully topped up.

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During the marathon, it is essential to stay hydrated whilst also running at a pace which is in line with your conditioning levels.

The higher the intensity, the quicker you deplete your glycogen storage which, in marathon terminology, is known as hitting the wall.

With regards to gels, other than water or electrolyte drinks, I am not too sure that you will see too many of the leading athletes consuming them although they will only be running for just over two hours.

Nevertheless, taking gels sensibly will help boost energy levels during the run which of course will help preserve stored glycogen and for those who are running around the four hour mark, other easily digestible foods like cereal bars, dried fruit, sugary sweets or in Mark Armstrong’s case, cheddar biscuits will also help. Most importantly though, it is what works best for you!

At the end of the day, there will always be new products and advancements to help assist us and whilst these advancements may only be very small, sports people will always look to keep improving.

At Sportlink, we do our very best to advise and educate people whilst using our knowledge and experience as to how products may be of benefit to them.

Just as importantly, if you feel it works for you then that is all what matters. Finally and whilst equipment and supplements are there to help us, it is the training done during the weeks and months which enables us to become better athletes.

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