Category Archives: Coaching Advice

What The Ladies Can Teach Us About Injuries…

In the second article of an occasional series Dr Andrew Maguire looks at the disparity in injury rates between men and women. What can male runners learn from the ladies?

When I first started to run 15 years ago, I was often the solitary practitioner of this now very popular sports activity. When running on the Queens Quay along the banks of the River Foyle, I now find myself one of many runners taking advantage of what are now excellent running routes that are both safe and picturesque.

There are more running clubs than ever before and these reflect a broad demographic. What is often overlooked, is the number of women who are now pounding the highways and byways. What I have noticed over the years is that female runners tend to get injured significantly less than their male counterparts! Why is this the case?

Well, van der Worp et al. have surveyed much of the research on this phenomenon and come up with some interesting findings in their article on the risk factors between the sexes.

Although running is considered as “one of the most efficient ways to achieve physical fitness”, there is always the ever-present risk of injury (especially lower-limb), and strategies are needed to prevent such injuries in the first place. In analysing the differences in male/female injury rates, van der Worp asserts that “women are at a lower risk of running injuries than men”.

They identified the following factors that placed women at increased risk of injury; older age, running marathons, training on hard surfaces (road & concrete), weekly mileage more than 30 and coming from non-axial (shock impact) sports such as swimming/cycling.

On the other hand, factors that placed men at greater risk of injury were; running more than 40 miles per week, novice runners with less than 2 years’ experience, just returning to running, and previous injury. They found that men have a significantly higher risk of injury than women – especially those under 40 years of age.

However, regardless of gender, 80% of running disorders are attributed to overuse.  And what can be gleaned from their findings is that men tend to over-train in terms of distance and intensity whereas women tend to err on the side of caution. Additionally, it appears that men do not give themselves sufficient recovery time from injury, and even when they do, they increase their training regime too much upon returning.

Even from personal experience, I have often found myself pushing too hard, too soon, in terms of what I am capable of – thus resulting in repeat injury. From participant observation over the years, I certainly echo the findings of van der Worp in so much as men generally adopt a less patient approach to running and ultimately find themselves paying the price of being side-lined for prolonged periods.

Such an approach to a very physically and psychologically demanding sport, can easy result in a vicious circle of injury after injury.  In conclusion, it’s fair to say that male runners can learn a lot from their female counterparts in terms of training and avoiding injury.

Further reading: Maarten van der Worp et al. ‘Injuries in Runners: A Systematic Review on Risk Factors and Sex Differences’, PLOS ONE, Feb. 2015, pp.1-18


Couch 2 5K but then where?

Couch to 5K classes are common place in practically every town and city in Ireland.  A similar Fit 4 Life programme runs in the Republic.  Some of the Couch programmes may last as little as six weeks but better ones go on for maybe ten to twelve. 

Dental Solutions 5K – One of many races at the distance.

Many people have been introduced to running in this manner in recent years and have benefited from the improvement in health and sometimes mental wellbeing that come with exercise.

But what do you do when you have conquered the 3.1 miles distance and put your photo on Facebook wearing that treasured tee-shirt?  A lot of people move immediately on to 10K, half-marathon or even the full 26.2 mile distance.  But is that a wise decision given the lack of background work done by many?  Why not improve at 5K before moving up?


Races over this distance are short but intense. They are perfect for anyone who wants to take part in local races or a parkrun near their home.  One of the benefits of racing 5K is that you recover quickly.  You can get up and go to your work the following morning without have to go down the stairs backwards as is the case after a half or full marathon.


If you want success that you have a plan.  The internet is full of 5K training plans or you can draw up your own with the assistance of a qualified coach. Any plan will have to take into account your own running background, your circumstances and what you hope to achieve. Without a plan you will not achieve your máximum.

In a race of 5000 metres, the energy requirement is met largely by the aerobic system (90-95%).  For that reason, it would be unwise to fill your training programme with intense training and speedwork. Slow, easy running has a part to play in all training programmes and 5K is no different.

The combination of easy running combined with a measure of intense training and adequate rest will help you achieve that desired personal best.


Like all distances, this is the 64 million dollar question and always difficult to answer. For a start, a runner of 20 and one of 50 are very different creatures.  Similarly, there is a gulf in training capacity between someone who has run all their life and a person who has just got into running through a couch to 5K programme.

A distinction has to be drawn between a runner who wishes to be competitive and one who simply wants to improve their time. There is no stock answer.  However with training on 4-5 times per week, it is possible to achieve your goal without affecting your work or family life. On the other hand some people run well on just two sessions per week.


The natural progression is to move up to 10K – unfortunately five-milers (8K) races are not as common as once they were in the past. Again, the time for this move varies from runner to runner depending on individual circumstances such as background, experience and objectives.  Probably the best time is when you feel you can run a 5K without it being a huge effort for your body.

If you are still finishing 5Ks in a physically distressed state and you cannot train the next day, perhaps you should not contemplate a race of a longer distance for the present.  You could also think about your 5K time and if you are not breaking 35 minutes, it might be an indicator to stick to the shorter efforts until you do

Get a Running High on Grass..

The evenings are getting brighter and there is more opportunity for runners to leave the road and enjoy our parks and trails.  Derry Track Club’s Dr Andrew Maguire PhD, a dedicated runner and triathlete himself, shares some recent research on the benefits of getting off those hard footpaths.

Do your legs a favour and get off the hard roads and onto grass this spring and summer.

As runners, we have been told time and again, that running on grass is better for us. Instead of relying on anecdotal chat, here is the science to prove it!

In recent research by Lin Wang & Co., they scientifically measured the plantar (sole) loads experienced by runners when running on different surfaces. Their research was done by studying 15 runners.  These were all male with averages of 23 years of age, weight 63kg, Height 172cm height and UK shoe size of 8.5.

The researchers analysed how the runners’ plantars interacted with various surfaces using insole sensor systems when running on concrete (road/pavement), synthetic rubber (track), and grass surfaces at a running speed of 3.8 m/s that equates to a nifty seven minutes per mile pace.

Although the article goes in to a lot of scientific detail, their overall findings are interesting. One of the first things that they found was that the plantar had a longer surface contact time when running on grass, compared to track and road.

Overall, running on grass showed ‘a lower magnitude of maximum plantar pressure (451.8kPa vs. 401.7kPa, p = 0.016)’ which basically means that there was less pressure placed on the sole of the foot that amounted to a reduction of about 12%. This reduction is quite significant and clearly shows how injuries can be avoided.

Wang also reminded us that the impact force on the foot when running is approximately 2.5 times greater than our body weight and carrying excessive body weight can increase your risk of injury. What the authors also highlight is that running on different surfaces requires different techniques in so much as ‘runners must increase their leg stiffness when running on compliant surfaces (e.g. natural grass) and decrease leg stiffness on hard surfaces’.

Thus, ‘when runners run on concrete, they run with larger ankle, knee, and hip flexion at heel strike’ – flexion is movement decreasing the angle between articulating bones, such as decreasing the inner angle of the joint (for example, plantarflexion is the bending of the toes towards the sole, and the opposite movement to flexion is extension.

So, there we have it folks, we now have scientific proof to back up what many have been saying for years – running on softer surfaces can significantly help in the prevention of injuries. But it is also important that you remember that you need appropriate footwear, but more importantly, an adjusted/appropriate running technique for the surface in question.

(Further reading: ‘Comparison of Plantar Loads During Running on Different Overground Surfaces’, Research in Sports Medicine, 2012, Vol. 20, Issue 2.)


The Benefits of Beetroot for Runners

In the last few years there have been a number of studies that have shown the significant benefits of consuming beetroot in improving athletics performance. The good news for both club and recreational fun runners is that it is not necessary to be an elite athlete to take advantage of the benefits of beetroot. In fact the contrary may be the case.

No matter what the form beetroot is good for your running.
No matter what the form beetroot is good for your running.

The reason that the much-maligned tuber is an aid to athletic performance is down to the high concentrations of nitrates that it contains. Nitrate (NO3) is a molecule produced in only limited quantities in the body and solely as a bi-product of nitric oxide.

Eating beetroot or green leaf vegetables such as spinach can increase nitrate levels in our bodies. Once in the system, it interacts with enzymes in saliva to form Nitric Oxide in the cardio-vascular system that in turn improves the vasodilation i.e. the capacity of the veins to carry blood.

This is achieved by dilating the blood vessels and in that way increasing the blood flow. The consequence of this is a fall in blood pressure at rest and a greater oxidisation of the muscles during exercise.

One test ( found that nitrate supplementation produced two distinct and contrasting outcomes. There was a reduction in the maximum VO2 yet the time to the point of exhaustion improved significantly.

In another study on cyclists (Handzlik y Gleeson) it was seen that a mixture of beetroot juice and caffeine brought about a 46% increase in time to exhaustion point over the placebo group. The increase even without the caffeine showed a significant improvement. In addition, drinking the beetroot and caffeine cocktail gave the test subjects the perception of having to expend less effort.

Studies have also shown that the most positive effect is on middle distance performances in events lasting between 5 and 30 minutes. That is to say, those who will benefit the most are athletes who run distances from 1500 – 10,000m.

In another study (Murphy et al), the participants consumed 500 milligrams of nitrate (the equivalent of 200/300 grams of beetroot). It was found that not only did they improve their times in the 5000 metres but also they felt better in the first third of the race and they ran the final 1800m 5% quicker.

Some improved their 5000m times by 41 seconds! However, it is not all good news. In another experiment with elite 1500m runners (3:56 or better), they found that six of the eight showed no improvement in performance after consuming nitrates. That merely confirmed that supplementation is only effective in events between 5 and 30 minutes.

Results have shown that ideal consumption for a person of 70kgs to be between 448 and 896 grams of nitrate per day. The effects should be seen within two to three hours after which they will start to diminish. Although some have benefitted from a single dose, the investigators have generally fed their subjects nitrate anywhere between three and six days ahead of the tests.

It is believed to be best to take beetroot in liquid form but one well-known sailor achieved outstanding results after consuming a can of spinach when faced by a situation that required a little extra effort.