Over the last year or so I have come to accept that my body is not bulletproof. I have also learned that sticking to an all running routine is not sustainable either. With this in mind, and with some encouragement from my partner I have started employing various “body hacking” solutions. These, along with other optimisations and adjustments to my health and routines, are what I hope will lead to better sustainability in my passion for running, improvements in health, and improved quality of life and family time.
Please note that these are all my own, personal experiences (and opinions) that have worked for me. I’m certainly no expert in these areas, so don’t assume these to be correct for you or your lifestyle.
Starting my body hacking journey with the trigger – an overuse injury
I have had an irritated hamstring muscle for about 9 months now. It has been sporadic. It usually feels like a sharp, shocking sensation perhaps a few times on a training run or during a race. Not much on the pain scale at all, but it has been concerning. It hasn’t stopped me from running, in fact I even managed 2 x podium positions last year in my ultra running when it had been bothering me. It has always been more of a psychological problem to me, rather than physical.
Recently I found out that it is actually happening because of a flared up tendon that connects my hamstring to the sit bone. From what I’ve learned, this can be quite common in runners that do high mileage.
I’ve always thought the issue (whatever it was) was overuse related, and after seeing a physio about 9 months back I started to experiement with various body hacks and changes to my fitness and health routines. I guess this was the point I realised all the running I was doing (and nothing else) wasn’t sustainable!
I’ll detail my tactics in this post, and hopefully they might inspire or provide ideas for others.
Note: I didn’t start all of this at the same time. Some of these items have been on-going for some time, and some I have only just recently started.
OK, this one might seem obvious, and longer-term time off running is probably my best bet to get my tendon inflammation down, but I’m not necessarily referring to prolonged time off running here.
What I mean is getting good sleep every night and reducing stress during the day. This is known to improve our moods, maximise the gains we get from exercise, help muscles recover, and reduce inflammation. There are many more benefits of course.
Our brains go through some very interesting cycles when we sleep. These are the different phases of sleep we know of – such as light, deep, and REM (rapid eye movement).
Ensuring we get enough sleep means we can get as many of these good cycles done, which of course will equate to better recovery and well-being. There is so much to understand in this topic, and I won’t even prentend to fully understand or try to go in further than briefly mentioning these cycles.
I have been trying to nail at least 7 hours of sleep every night, and have been trying my best to keep a consistent time for when I go to bed. This allows my body to develop a set habit and ultimately rest better. The general recommendation seems to be 7-9 hours.
Did you know that are brain (in normal circumstances) paralyzes our muscles to some degree during REM so that we don’t act out our dreams? This is something new I learned recently!
Managing and Reducing Inflammation
This is one ‘body hack’ I only recently started paying attention to. My partner and I had started watching the excellent Limitless series with Chris Hemsworth. I found much of it really interesting and wanted to try to employ some of the tactics in this series in my own lifestyle. However, things were busy and I kind of forgot about much of it. That is until recently I read a great post on Dan’s blog (Ultra Dan) about postive changes he has been making toward his lifestyle.
Dan’s post both reminded and inspired me to get a good habit going. I also learned one of these tricks from his post!
Here is what I have started doing regularly:
Tumeric to help reduce inflammation
Thanks Dan for this tip! I started drinking this once a day. I use oat milk, tumeric, cinnamon, vanilla, black pepper, and a small amount of maple syrup. I heat the oat milk first, and then froth it all up, mixing the ingredients. It tastes pretty good, and hopefully the tumeric, (assisted and activated by the pepper) is helping reduce my tendon inflammation.
This is another one bridging over with the Limitless series, and I was reminded via Dan’s blog post.
Every day I now switch my hot shower over to completely cold for at least 1 minute. The first couple of cold showers were difficult. I found myself gasping for air for most of the minute, struggling to keep myself composed. My skin and muscles start to ache. After doing this for a couple of weeks now I handle it a lot better.
Supposedly the shock and ‘cold therapy’ has many benefits for our bodies and cells, with one such being anti-inflammatory. Perfect for what I need right now.
More cold and shock therapy
Taking this a step further, I just started getting into the (very cold right now) pool for a few minutes at a time. On some recent nights it has been iced over. This is taking the cold shower sessions one step further.
I do notice a boost to my energy levels after these sessions, as well as an overall sense of increased euphoria. If not for the anti-inflammatory benefits, these are good enough reasons on their own!
This is a wild one for me, but my partner had great results when she went a while ago, and since then I have had other discussions relating to running where it has been recommended to me. I’m trying to be more open-minded in everything in life, and this is something that I would have traditionally just ignored because of my own skepicism. I go for my first two sessions this week!
Strength and Conditioning
Before my tendon/hamstring issues, the best I would muster up in terms of S&C might have been 15-20 minutes total of squats and push-ups a week.
There is so much more that we should be doing as runners to improve our strength and conditioning.
This work can help improve our running form and speed on the road and especially tricky (trail and mountain) terrain. Importantly, it will also help to prevent injury.
I use a combination approach now as I’m still trying to find a good mix and rotation. Here are some of the exercises I do:
- Sessions recommended during physio sessions for hamstring and glute strength. Bodyweight and dumbell weighted routines such as: lunges, Romanian deadlifts, glute bridges, planks, mountain climbers, etc…
- Recover app (now owned by Strava). I sometimes browse through these and choose S&C sessions to target certain areas. I need to keep focusing on correcting my form. It’s especially important for exercise and targeting the right areas.
- Core and trunk strength. I try to do a 35 minute session once a week specifically for core and trunk strength. It is pretty hardcore and relentless!
- Squat rack bar and weights. I purchased a 20kg bar with rack and weights, and have started doing sessions using this equipment. For example, Romanian deadlifts, squats, “good mornings”, bicep and tricep curls, etc…
Yoga and Flexibility
A severely lacking area for me is flexibility. I have only just started doing Yoga sessions, and have also increased the general mobility work I do.
I now aim for 1 yoga session a week, and a bit of extra flexibility every couple of days. Before running I am now doing dynamic stretches, and after a run I’ll do some static stretching. I need to build these habits in properly!
For Yoga (as well as some of the S&C work) I am trying the SCY app from Carla Molinaro. It’s a little expensive for a monthly subscription, but the sessions are great and I enjoy the fact that she’s currently based in South Africa – it brings back some feelings of nostalgia.
Fasting and Diet
No to meat
I eat a mostly vegetarian diet – actually slightly more vegan focused even. However I do eat meat on the rare occassion, and am not ashamed to say I do. But, I am of the opinion that meat farming is not sustainable for our world and population requirements, nor the environment. This is the reason I very seldomly eat meat.
Personally, I think there are some health benefits to avoiding red, and processed meats. For me this is a welcome bonus side-effect of almost completely stripping it from my diet. I personally believe that processed meats cause unwanted inflammation in our bodies.
If you’re curious about the subject, and haven’t yet seen it, I highly recommend The Game Changers documentary. Here is a quote from IMDB:
A UFC fighter’s world is turned upside down when he discovers an elite group of world-renowned athletes and scientists who prove that everything he had been taught about protein was a lie.The Game Changers (2018) – IMDB
I’m trying a once a week ‘intermittent’ style fasting technique. From Sunday evening to Monday early evening I won’t take in any calories. (Aside from a few trace calories in a simple black coffee or two that is).
The premise is that our bodies accumulate zombie cells (known as senescent cells) which should have ideally already been shed. Instead, they stick around and release inflammatory compounds. Fasting can help kickstart autophagy, where the body gets rid of damaged or harmful cells and proteins.
I did experiment a little with this back in 2017, but never managed to keep the habit. After reading Dan’s post, it reminded me to try this again. The Limitless series also delves into this topic.
Taking a ‘greens’ supplement
I don’t eat enough fruit and vegetables. To help counter this, and improve my general gut health, I take a ‘greens’ supplement every morning – usually first thing on an empty stomach (except on the fasting day). This is probably my easiest and quickest body hacking / diet supplement routine.
Preparation and Closing
Lastly, although much of this is for the longer term benefit, I am more laser focused on it right now as preparation for running the Wild Horse 200 South Wales in April and the Dragon’s Back Race in September.
These body hacking techniques prepare me on one level, but psychologically, I have also run through scenarios in my head where I envision myself feeling and embracing the pain, fatigue, lack of sleep, and even my hamstring acting up during the Wild Horse 200 race.
This is a whole other aspect to delve into sometime – perhaps categorised as “mind hacking”.
I’m in no way finished on this quest. There are many habits to solidify, and much more to improve in various areas. I still have lots of bad habits that would be great to kick. This will be a difficult, but hopefully rewarding journey.
I’m curious to know if you read this and think of any body hacking tips or healthy habits that I haven’t yet mentioned. I’m always looking for ways to improve lifestyle and health. Let me know.