Baby’s Got Back

You probably don’t know what your quadratus lumborum is, and you’ll be much happier if that remains the case.

Lower back pain is the largest cause of work related absence in the industrialised world. 80% of people in the UK will complain of back pain at some time, with 49% of the population reporting pain lasting 24 hours or more.(source) 5 weeks ago, I became a part of those statistics.

There’s still some debate about exactly what happened, but what I do know is that I did a seated box jump in the gym 35 days ago and that was the last proper exercise I did. The pain was instant, and we finished the session with some gentle mobility work before I went home for an early night with a hot water bottle, expecting to wake up fixed. I woke up paralysed. For two days it was taking me 30 minutes to get out of bed and in to the kitchen to get food. I was moving from mattress to front room floor, where I’d lie for as long as I could before having to crawl back to bed. It was only on the third day I was mobile enough to get downstairs to the drugs waiting in my letterbox which thankfully got me back to work a few days later. Since then I’ve been stretching and rolling when the pain allows and in the last ten days I’ve managed a couple of short runs, but paid for it with soreness the following day.

The diagnosis is blurred. Initially it was suggested my QL (quadratus lumborum muscle) had gone in to spasm. This is the muscle that runs down the lower spine, connected from the lowest rib to the pelvis and if it spasms then everything is going to be painful! My physio suggested however that it may be a slipped disc, or more accurately a lumbar disc herniation. Having done lots of reading I’m convinced it could have been either…but also could very conceivably have been both!


One thing that everyone agreed on though is that a key cause of whatever went wrong is the fact that my job has become increasingly sedentary, spending more and more time sat at my desk and not moving for hours on end. The same was true at home, although I was running and training lots as soon as the trainers were off I would be sat again, ending the evening with an hour or two on the sofa.

So I’m going to do a post in the next few days about how to minimise the damage you’re doing if, like me, you have an office job. I’d love your input, if you’ve had back issues or have any advice on how to get moving in the work place let me know.


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3 Reasons Why Running Will Never Replace Rugby

Today begins the Rugby World Cup, right here in England’s green and pleasant land. When the last World Cup in England kicked off I had only just discovered rugby, I was learning the rules at school and working out how to play the game my way. I can’t remember, but I’m reasonably confident that even then I was in love with the game, a love that has endured and saw me playing for 20 years and enjoying every minute.

Since being forced to leave the game I have discovered running, and now I love that almost as much. But running will never, ever replace rugby in my heart and here’s three reasons why…


I’m a member of a running club with over 450 registered athletes, that’s huge! I know a lot of them and count many as friends, they are a wonderfully supportive bunch and I adore them. The turn out of spectators at every race is incredible, the atmosphere at training is fantastic and as a club we have turned in a fair few podium worthy team performances this year. But…

Nothing will ever come close to the team ethic of putting your body on the line for your guys. Not just once, but repeatedly over the course of 80 minutes, you smash yourself in to the opposition for the sake of your team mates. You leave the field battered, bruised and bloodied and you’ve done it for your club…and I promise you it hurts more than a marathon ever will! You also entrust your safety to the guys around you, especially where I used to play in the front row. If those 7 guys you packed down with didn’t do their job and put it all in to every set piece you could end up face down in the dirt and potentially not getting up again. That level of belief in your team mates, that bond and closeness, is something that running will never replicate no matter how hard your training partner pushes you or club cheers you on. If you watch the games in the next few weeks just see how much effort is put in by guys who never touch the ball or score the points, that’s teamwork.

Total trust allows total commitment.

Total trust allows total commitment. (Yep, that’s me in the front row)


Running keeps me fit, arguably fitter than I ever was on the rugby field, and although I’ve had a few injuries there’s so far no scars I can attribute to going for a jog. Many would see that as a good thing, but…

Playing rugby demands absolute commitment to training, every time you hit the gym or pitch. Whereas running asks you to be fit at doing the same thing for a long time rugby is constantly asking different questions of your body. In the space of 60 seconds you can be scrummaging, tackling, mauling and then lifting in the line out, running between each breakdown. There are no easy games in rugby, you can’t choose which days to try for a PB and when to ease off and enjoy the occasion, you have to be at your best, strongest, fastest, fittest and most brutal every time you cross the whitewash. The result of which is an intensity and diversity in training that not only makes you good, but makes you look good to! As for scars, too many to count but every one was hard earned and none of them forced me off the field. I’ve seen people walk off a race course because things weren’t going their way and stay on a rugby pitch after having a dislocated shoulder popped back in. I know which I’d prefer to be remembered for.

Never stronger, I wish I could stay this shape and run marathons!

Never stronger, I wish I could stay this shape and run marathons!


We often stop for a lime and soda after training runs on a Wednesday, and the club does love a buffet. I even try and organise a Sunday lunch for after big races, but…

Whoever decided to put all races on a Sunday morning and keep us out of the pub on Saturday needs a stern talking too! That aside, one of the beauties of rugby is that for 80 minutes you go to war, intent on causing as much damage as possible to the 15 men in front of you and it gets heated. Then, the final whistle blows and suddenly you’re walking off the pitch with 15 guys you have the utmost respect for and it’s all handshakes, hugs and new friendships and what follows is normally beer, lots of it! It’s as much a part of the game as the scrum or drop goal; the post match meal with the opposition, the jugs of beer for the captain and then all gathering for Final Score or, joy of joys, an international game on the clubhouse TV. It goes beyond that as well, I remember exactly where I was for Golden Saturday during the Olympics, and it wasn’t on a sofa with 8 mates all wearing the badge and cheering like I will be tonight! Rugby brings us together in the pub, at friend’s homes and especially on the terraces of The Shed at Kingsholm in a way running never will. I still see people I played against and stop for a chat now, I’ve never had someone who also ran a race stop me in the street!

End of season minibus away day. League promotion and silly hats, I miss those days!

End of season minibus away day. League promotion and silly hats, I miss those days!

So there you have it. I love running, but rugby is a part of who I am, and I can’t wait to support my country for the next few weeks. Where will you be watching the games?

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The Breakup

Falling out of love with running can be the most heart wrenching breakup you’ll ever experience.

Everything is fine, it has been for ages, then almost imperceptibly the cracks start to appear. They start small, little annoyances that you can excuse because the whole is so much better than that one run you didn’t enjoy quite as much as usual. But soon the little things start to add up, it gets longer between good runs and easier to turn your back on them completely.

Then one day, without you knowing how it’s come to this, you just don’t want to spend any time in your trainers.

And it’s sad.

Because you miss it, but that doesn’t make it any easier to fix. You know it’s good for you, that if you just reached out to your lycra maybe you could put all this right…

…but it doesn’t happen, because the pain of not running seems less than the pain of risking it all, putting yourself out there and getting hurt. What if you give it a go and don’t love it? Could you ever rescue yourself and have another go?

So suddenly you’re without your beloved, that thing that makes you happy and keeps you going; you’ve lost a part of yourself in the process as well, you’re without that love that has defined you for so long. So you decide to force yourself back in the game, you arrange a date or two…or in my case three, half marathon dates.

And now comes the real heartache, because you’ve given yourself that glimmer of hope, a reminder of how good it can be when you’re relationship is perfect – but the reality is you still don’t love it. You go through the motions when it’s unavoidable, and sometimes it’s all over too quick and sometimes it drags on for ages, but a run rarely leaves you satisfied like it did before and it leaves you empty and dejected, especially the knowledge that you’ll have to do it again soon.

So with less than two weeks until Cheltenham Half, three until Cardiff and Stroud not long after that I need to find a way to inject the spark back in to my relationship with running.

All suggestions welcome…

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Kit Review: Soleus GPS One

Columbo is the pinnacle of Sunday afternoon viewing, and here’s why: they reveal all at the beginning by showing you the murder, then confuse you for a while with alibis and misdirection, before revealing the genius at the end and reminding you you knew the answer all along…which means if you happen to take a 40 minute power nap in the middle of an episode and wake up on the sofa in a pool of dribble you won’t be confused by the telly. You’ll still know the answer!


This review for the Soleus GPS One watch will be a lot like an episode of Columbo, so feel free to snooze in the middle. But first…


I like this watch, there, I’ve revealed the plot. It does exactly what it says on the tin and it does it cheap (around £60). In the category “cheap GPS solution that does just about all you need and is perfectly suited to beginners and improving runners whilst being very within budget” this watch is a stone cold killer, guilty as charged.



This is the bit where Columbo would learn all the reasons the killer couldn’t possibly have done it then unravels them, and it’s where I tell you the shortcomings of this watch even though I’ve already professed to be a fan, and go some way to explaining why they don’t matter.

It is basic, and that is shown up nowhere more clearly than the fact it doesn’t store or record your runs and there is no option to upload them to the interwebz or some snazzy app. During a run you can easily scroll through the info on screen and afterwards your details including time/distance/pace/calories burnt are available to be reviewed until the next time you reset the watch, but then they are gone forever. When I first heard this I winced a bit…surely if a run isn’t online it never really happened? Then I remembered the truth, I haven’t looked at my 4 years of online running history EVER. I’ve uploaded every run, spending hours logging on, uploading, editing names and other time stealing admin and never once have I looked back at my run history. With the Soleus I actually enjoy the simplicity of having a device for the here and now, it tells me if I am sticking to my training plan and then once I’m home it demands nothing more of me. For most beginners and improvers this is enough, even if you might feel you want more.


I did have one or two minor user issues with this watch, mostly revolving around the fact that the device is always on, as a watch when it isn’t a GPS. When you turn the watch to “RUN” mode it works fast to find satellites noticeably quicker than other devices and it never lets them go (unless you run through a tunnel, but it was latched on again within seconds of re-emerging. Impressive stuff!). However, it only stays idle in “RUN” mode for a short while before returning to the battery-saving “TIME” mode where it is simply a stylish watch. In practical terms this isn’t an issue for training runs, you hit a button, get a signal, press start and run while the watch does its magic and tracks your progress. For racing though you have to be smart about when you seek satellites! To early and you risk starting the Bugatti 10k back in watch mode and not getting any data, too late and you’re still searching for satellites well in to the start of a parkrun. There’s really only two mistakes you could make with this, I made them both and learned from it to save you making the same mistakes. James Clay, being stupid so you don’t have to!

I’m also a little confused by the lack of an off function as the instructions suggest not letting the watch battery run down all the way. This hasn’t been an issue as I’ve been using the watch for two weeks including tracking over 40 miles of running and only charged it once (and even then it was on 50% battery when I plugged in). I imagine in watch mode it would last for a very long time, but I’d hate to think if I was laid up and not running for a few weeks it could go flat and that in turn might affect performance. Not a concern as such, just something to be aware of.


So given that it’s basic and has a couple of small issues why do I like this watch so much? Well it’s simple and it’s cheap, and those are both good things. I put it on the wrist of one of my beginner runners and within minutes she was pacing her running better and doing a run/walk session based on distance. I like that kind of “out the box” usability.

It’s given me all the information I need to complete my own training sessions too, including tempo runs, and I can look at the data after long runs to see if my average pace is improving or I’ve earned a doughnut’s worth of calories, and that’s really all I care about.

And then there’s the price, and this is really where the Soleus GPS One gets away with murder. (and in fact the whole Soleus range, there are other watches with more functionality available if you really can’t do without data data data). If you think this watch is missing things then compare it to the other watches on the market and imagine each absent function as a crisp twenty pound note in your hand that you haven’t spent on a watch. Heart rate monitor = £20, 100 run memory = £20, Vibrating alert = £20 and on and on. Before long you’ll be left with a big stack of cash in your grasp…and still have a perfectly usable GPS watch on your wrist that delivers all you really need to be a better runner.


You get all the GPS functionality you need and enough left over for a new pair of trainers!

And that is what really makes the Soleus brand a potential giant killer…and at the moment even Columbo couldn’t stop them getting away with it.


Fitbrands were generous/brave enough to send me this watch to play with, on the understanding I’ll always be honest in reviews. Luckily the watch is a genuinely great product, so we’re both happy. If you want more information about the Soleus brand or any of the other fantastic products Fitbrands represent you can email them at


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Running The Bath

It’s been a while since I last blogged…7 weeks in fact!

You’d be forgiven for thinking that may be because I haven’t been doing anything worth sharing, but actually it’s quite the opposite. I’ve done a lot, and I mean a LOT in the last month or two that I’m very proud of, but I’ve been doing so much running, TOO much running, that I haven’t wanted to sit and think about it once the trainers are off and the miles logged.

So here we are with a lot to catch up on, I’ve missed you, I hope the feeling is mutual.

There’s so much to share, going back weeks, but I’m going to start with where I ran just a few days ago. After a long period of intense training, studying times and distances and being totally focused on outcomes, it was nice on Friday just to go out and do a run for fun, for me, for the hell of it.


Tunnel entrance, looks foreboding!


Love taking the train for some run tourism

I’d heard about the Two Tunnels route from friends who ran it recently. Part of the Sustrans network it is a shared use path that stretches out from the centre of Bath and includes two tunnels (hence the name!) which run for over a mile. That’s just the start of the entertainment though, if you follow the full loop you take in rustic villages, canal towpaths, an incredible weir; in fact this run will go down as one of the most scenic and entertaining I’ve ever done.

A mile of underground to run through

A mile of underground to run through


One of the most incredible places I’ve ever run

The tunnels are quite incredible. They’re lit, but subtly so you know you’re underground, and the echoes of your footfall and ragged breath are a fantastic soundtrack to your running. The aural entertainment doesn’t stop there though, in the middle of the longer tunnel a section provides background music from recessed speakers, the haunting strings and electro beats accompanied by a miniature light show. It really is an experience!

I love the sights of the canal, like this incredible mural on the side of a barge

I love the sights of the canal, like this incredible mural on the side of a barge

Once back above ground there’s a mile or two to enjoy past a lake, through a village and down a country path before you reach the Dundas Aqueduct and the start of the canal section of the run. Where the novelty of the tunnels is over, the beauty of the canal is a worthy replacement.

Dundas Aqueduct, perfect spot for a snack and to watch the world go by

Dundas Aqueduct, perfect spot for a snack and to watch the world go by

A short diversion from the canal path is the incredible Warleigh Weir. Easily missed if you aren’t careful, it isn’t signposted so look out for the noticeboard about the Claverton pumping house. I would have stopped for a dip but I had the area completely to myself and was a little worried about getting into trouble with no one near by. (You’ll remember from my triathlon exploits swimming isn’t my forte!)

Warleigh Weir, play safe

Warleigh Weir, play safe

I have no idea how far the route was as I didn’t wear a watch, partly so I could relax and enjoy it and partly because I knew I’d be underground for a while and my Garmin barely works in perfect conditions as it is! What I do know is that the run ends at the train station ready to head home…which also happens to be where Grillstock Bath is located, my favourite post-run treat!


Incredible meats and beats for tired feets – Grillstock

So there we have it, back in the blogging game at long last and with so much to catch up on! Over the next few weeks I’ll tell you all about Edinburgh Marathon, my first attempted ultra, taking running to the classroom and spreading the word about this thing we all love. Lots to share…but I’m not done making new stories yet! 2015 has been incredible so far, who knows what the remaining 4 months will bring…


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