Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Training Over Christmas

Training over Christmas is always a bit of a pain. Facilities are often closed, support staff are on time off, training partners have gone home, you are often away at your parents, and you are excited about something else.

Most years, I have managed to make it work. Usually I stay at my training centre until around December 23rd or Christmas eve, then go back to my parents for a few days, do some training there, then get back to my training centre without any problems.

But it is also important to consider the need for a rest. Christmas often falls on about week 12 of my training cycle, so I am usually pretty tired from training, and pretty hungry from dieting. Christmas provides an opportunity to have a few days where I can let off steam. I get a few days extra recovery, some extra calories, and I come back to training a bit fresher and raring to go because of it.

So, for all the pain of having to organise alternative places to train because your training centre is closed (thanks Bath!), I can forget about it all for Christmas day and Boxing day, probably to only time of the year where I have two consecutive days off. And I promise you, I am going to enjoy them!

Monday, 13 December 2010

Things I Have Learnt This Year:

1)    When things aren’t going well, you find out who your friends are.

Obviously, this year was less than successful for me. I ran a season’s best of 10.38, compared to my personal best of 10.14. In times like this, you find out who your friends really are. And so I would like to say thank you to those people who continue to help me work towards achieving my life goals. Here is to a more successful 2011.

2)    Overtraining – It can easily happen.

Potentially, one of the reasons why I underperformed MAY have been that I was overtraining. I am being vague about this, because overtraining is very, very difficult to diagnose correctly, and there is always a grey area between “over-reaching” (which all athletes need to achieve at some point in the training year) and “overtraining’ (which is a drop in performance, and hence negative). I certainly do not feel like I added too much volume to my training programme. However, after discussions with a few Sports Physiologists on Overtraining Syndrome, it appears that sometimes you can overtrain without actually adding more volume. I now have a monitoring programme in place to guard against overtraining, and its something that I am more interested in now.

3)    Eating slightly more calories and having regular cheat meals can actually help you achieve a lower body fat.

This seems counter-intuitative. How can it be that if you eat more on a daily basis, and, once a week eat what you want, and yet achieve low body fat. Well, that’s what I have been doing for the past year. It’s all about not putting your body into starvation mode (where metabolism is slowed down), so you can train harder and hence burn more calories. The cheat meals allow you to control your cravings for the whole week, as you have something to look forwards to. I also assume that the large increase of calories at cheat meal time further prevents your body entering starvation mode. My record for a cheat meal is an XL pizza, tons of chocolate, and a tub of ice cream. It only works if you are still on a calorie deficit for the rest of the week though, and I wouldn’t dream of doing it on a regular basis.

4)    I am apparently addicted to knowledge

I have always been interested in the human body, training, nutrition, etc. However, this year I have gone into overdrive. I spend a large portion of my non-training life reading tons of blogs, reading scientific papers, books, listening to podcasts, and onwards. My girlfriend loves it. Not!

5)    Twitter is great fun!

I resisted getting facebook. Well, that’s a lie. I had it in 2007 for 3 days. However, the social pressure of having it was huge – I got well over 300 friend requests in those three days. I just don’t want people I don’t know knowing stuff about me that I might not want them to know (those pictures of me a 2am dancing on the speakers in a club, for example. Or the picture of me eating a 1kg chocolate bar). However, I am just too nice to reject people. That’s why Twitter is perfect for me – I choose exactly what to put out there. And its addictive – I am constantly checking Twitter on my iphone. Follow me - @craigpickering. Ill try not to be boring.

6)    I might well have a mushroom intolerance

This isn’t really that interesting, but I am putting it anyway. Mushrooms make me ill.

7)    Running technique is very, very important.

Oh, how I used to laugh at those people doing endless hours of technical running drills. I used to think they were neglecting their physical attributes at the expense of trying to run correctly, something which they couldn’t change. Turns out my new coach is very big on technique. Turns out one of the reasons I have slowly got worse since 2007 may well be because my technique has got worse year on year. Turns on I now do hours of technical work every week. And guess what? Doing technical work does make a difference – you can change your technique. Mine is already much improved. So a big apology to everyone I laughed at for doing technical work – I wish I had converted sooner.

8)    I love Christmas

My birthday is October 16th. On October 17th, I start to get excited about Christmas. It builds nicely until mod-November, when I start to get super excited. December is hell; I just want it to be Christmas already. Every day when I open my advent calendar, I get more and more excited. I’m 24. Is this weird?

9)    Exercise magazines are all the same.

In my life, I have subscribed to Men’s Health, Men’s Fitness, Muscle and Fitness, MuscleMag, and Flex. I get excited at the thought that I might learn something. I don’t learn that much really. I also find out that they are all very, very similar. And yet I still buy them! I’m strange like that.

10) You can prepare for something all you want, but someone else can cause you to fail

This is primarily the main reason why, as a rule, I don’t like playing team sports. I used to get so frustrated in football or rugby when I could play well, and the team would lose. What I like about the 100m is that it is black or white; you either win, or you don’t. Until the 4x100m relay comes along. In the relay, you have to get the baton around the track as quick as possible. The team is only as strong as its weakest link. This year, going into the European Championships I was running terribly in my 100m, but putting together decent relay legs. We had come second at the European Team Championships to Italy, and then beaten them and France, our two biggest rivals, and a Diamond League race two weeks prior to the Europeans. As far as I was concerned, this was an opportunity for me to salvage something from my season, and win a gold medal. I prepared like crazy for it, and was ready to hopefully do myself justice. Unfortunately in the relay, mistakes happen. I don’t blame the people who make them, as I know that in the heat of the moment things often go wrong. I have been there myself in the biggest competition of all – the Olympics. But someone else’s mistake can cause you to fail in your goals, and that is not something I like.

11) I probably want to become a sports nutritionist

This past year I have been working very hard on the nutritional side of my training and competing. I have thrown myself into it with my usual style – reading everything there is on the subject. As such, I have found that it is something that really interests me, and so there is a good chance that I would like to take this further as a possible career path. Which is positive, as otherwise I have no idea what to do when I finish doing athletics!

12) Fascia is very important

This is something I have come to learn through getting various forms of physiotherapy treatment. Time and time again the physio won’t actually treat the muscle, but the fascia around it. And it makes a big, big difference. It seems that you can treat the muscle all you want, but if the fascia remain tight, you wont see any improvements in the muscle itself.

13) I have learnt loads about shin splints

Unfortunately, I often suffer from shin splints, or, to give the correct name, Medial Tibial Shin Stress (MTSS). After seeing a host of different physios, doctors, and foot specialists, my knowledge base regarding this condition has grown significantly. It appears that mine is due to a multitude of factors, including poor hip biomechanics, poor left ankle dorsiflexion capability, lack of movement through my mid-foot, and insufficient calf strength. I have found the best form of treatment to be deep tissue massage, acupuncture, and standing in a bucket of ice for 10 minutes. None of which are fun.

14) I owe a lot of gratitude to a lot of people

This is something I have never really thought about before. However, on a long plane journey, I started thinking of all the people who have helped me in my athletics career. There are far too many to mention, but obviously my parents have played a big part in supporting me both financially and emotionally. The three coaches I have worked with throughout my career, along with the many physios, massage therapists, doctors, psychologists, nutritionists, osteopaths, strength and conditioning coaches, physiologists, and lifestyle advisors have helped. Whilst it is their job to help me, many of them go above and beyond their job description in order to help me, so that I am truly thankful. My (long-suffering) girlfriend also deserves a mention here. She puts up with my constant travel, dieting, the fact that we cant lead a normal life because of training, and my bad moods when I do badly without moaning. Well, moaning too much anyway! So thank you Claire.

15) Sit-ups are bad

I have been reading quite a lot of Stuart McGill’s work recently. He is a spinal biomechanist, who states that the discs of the spine only have a certain number of flexion cycles in their life time before they become damaged. I used to do literally tons of sit-ups. I have dehydrated discs, and suffer from lower back pain. Needless to say, I very rarely do them now!

So there you go, 15 things I have learnt this year. Not all that interesting, but I thought I would share. What have you learnt this year?

Friday, 10 December 2010


On a weekly basis we meet up with a sports biomechanist, who films our technical running sessions. This is important as you can pick up so much more detail from a high speed camera than the human eye. The biomechanist also provides all sorts of feedback to us, with the aim of overall imporving our running techniques. He was kind enough to give me the videos, and so I uploaded some of them onto my youtube site. You can find them at:


As I get more videos, I will periodically update this page. There are also some older videos of me running and lifting from earlier this year.

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Testing Times

Right now I am in week 9 of the training programme. This is the last scheduled week of what is termed the "General Preparation Phase", before we move into the "Specific Preparation Phase". Due to this, we have some scheduled tests to do to see where we are at. For me, it has been a successful week in this regard!

To begin with was a body composition test. This is a test where skinfolds are taken at 8 different sites across the body, and figures of body fat and lean muscle mass are found. My sum-of-8 skinfolds came in at 54mm, which is an equal personal best. I have also put on 2kgs of muscle mass in the last six weeks, which is ideal.

We then had one repetition maximum testing on both the power clean and bench press, which again went well for me. I equalled my PB on the power clean with 140kgs, and got a new PB on the bench press with 145kg.

All in all, it appears that I am in pretty good shape. Hopefully this will enable me to put the last year behind me and have a successful 2011!

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Still going!

Well, nothing exciting really happens in winter training for me to keep you informed about. I'm training, I'm injury free, I'm still dieting, I'm still working hard on my technique, everything is the same! I am just into the rhythm now of wake up - eat - train - eat - train - treatment - eat - sleep.

So, nothing exciting to report. But just letting you know I am still alive!

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Keeping at it.

Good news from the last post I made - no stress fracture in my shins, which is ideal (obviously!). I have had to modify a few training session, as I currently cannot run on consecutive days, as the pain is too much. In sessions that I have to modify, I tend to jump on the stationary bike and do a session on there. The cycle ergo and sprint training are quite closely linked - Obedale Thompson apparently had to spend 2-3 weeks training just on a bike due to a stress fracture in his foot in the immediate run up to the 2000 Olympics. He got a bronze medal there in the 100m, so I am not too concerned about missing too much. I am currently only in the general preparation phase too, so if I substitute a fitness running session for a fitness bike session, the net effect will (hopefully) be the same.

Outside of training, I received a big boost last week when it was confirmed that I would be retaining my lottery funding status for another year. This enables me to be able to train full time (i.e. 2 training sessions a day) and receive top-quality coaching and medical care, so it was a big relief when I found out!

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Hard Times!

I am now two and a half weeks into my winter training, and every day I am learning so much. Its much different here at Loughborough compared to Bath, as the whole centre here is geared towards athletics. I am finally getting a hang on the many different drills we have to do, and I am putting together some good sessions both on the gym and the track.

My shins have been a bit sore recently. This normally happens when I start back training, and I usually don't worry too much about it, but today I had to stop running for the first time ever because of the shin pain. I am going to see the Dr tomorrow, and hopefully it isn't anything more serious than a bit of muscle damage (I don't want it to be a stress fracture!), because I don't want to miss any training just as I start to get going.

Finally, it was my 24th Birthday the weekend just gone, so maybe I am just getting old!

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

Start of the Long, Hard Slog

Currently I am finding it very hard to walk thanks to my friend Mr. DOMS. DOMS stands for delayed-onset muscle soreness, and it is where the muscle fibres are damaged due to encountering training loads that they haven’t experienced before. After the athletics competition season, where training loads are low, and a nice three-week rest, starting back into winter training causes a lot of muscle damage. Its nothing to worry about, and will generally ease in time, but it isn’t a lot of fun at all!

This week I moved up to Loughborough to start training with my new group. It really is a big change. My new coach is big on running technique, something that I have never really worked on before, so training involves lots of drills that I am not very good at. There is also the addition of hurdle drills, again something that I have never done before, and am not very good at. There are loads of new exercises in the gym for me to get my head round, some of which I am not very good at. My new training group are used to all the different exercises and drills, and so they are experts at them. This leaves me feeling pretty inadequate for most of the training session! However, with time I will get better at the exercises, and hopefully start to beat my group at them. This is all part of the reason that I moved; new exercises and a new challenge to change things up a bit. I’m very excited about the changes I am making, and hopefully the improvements I am making, so hopefully next season will be much better than the one just past.

Monday, 27 September 2010

Raring to go!

So, I still have one week left of me end of season break to go. I have had my holiday, and I know feel refreshed and I am raring to go. I have been doing plenty of research, mostly on sports nutrition, and have been keeping a close eye on my diet to make sure I don't turn up to training 8 kilograms over-weight this year (unlike in previous years!). I weighed myself today, and I was 86kg, which is 2kg over my race weight, so pretty decent, although I probably have lost some muscle in my time off.

I am heading down to Loughborough on Sunday to join my new training group, and I am really excited for the new challenge. Wish me luck!

Wednesday, 1 September 2010

All Change

After careful consideration and discussion with many people, I have made the decision to change coaches for the coming season. My previous coach, Malcolm Arnold in Bath, has coached many world class athletes over the years, including Colin Jackson and Jason Gardener. I first joined Malcolm's training group in 2005, primarily to train with Jason Gardener, who was at the time the number 1 sprinter within the UK. Myself, Jason, and a third sprinter, Ryan Scott, trained really well together, pushing each other on to new and better levels. The culmination of this was the 2007 European Indoor Final, which all three of us qualified for. Jason won in 6.51, I was second in 6.59, and Ryan was unfortunately disqualified for a false start. For a time in 2007, I was the fastest 60m runner in the World, and outdoors things got went very well too. I won the European Cup in a new personal best of 10.15 seconds, came second at the European u-23s in another new personal best (10.14), made the semi-finals of the World Championships, and got a bronze medal at those World Championships in the 4x100m relay.

Unfortunately, Jason decided to retire after the 2007 season, leaving jut myself and Ryan in the sprint part of the training group. 2008 was another solid year for me, it it was almost a disaster. In February I tore my hamstring quite badly, and missed a large chunk of training as a result. By May I was back running at 100%, until my first competition, on June the 6th, where I re-tore my hamstring, although to a lesser degree than before. With just five weeks before the Olympic Trials, things were not looking good. However, I came back strongly to make the team, and at the Olympics I made the quarter-finals in a seasons best of 10.18.

After the 2008 season, Ryan decided to leave the training group to join Lloyd Cowan in London. This left me without a real training partner, bar my friend Bruce Tasker, a 400m runner who would do my sessions to help me out. The 2009 season was moderately successful for me, with a seasons best of 10.22 (10.08 windy), and 5th place at the European Indoors. However, at the end of 2009, Bruce decided that he no longer wanted to do athletics, and so now I was literally training on my own. The 2010 has been a huge let down, leaving me plenty of time to consider my options. I feel that I work really well when other sprinters are training with me, and so began to consider joining another training group. This led me to think about joining Michael Khmel's training group.

Michael is based in Loughborough, and his training group consists of two 100m runners with PBs better than mine, and a 200m runner with a PB much better than mine. I felt that moving to this group would give me an opportunity to push myself hard every day, and getting a fresh outlook from Michael might also help. Loughborough is really outside my comfort zone though, as I will be leaving all my close friends behind in Bath. The hardest thing though will be temporarily leaving my girlfriend, who I share a house with. She has a full time job, and so it is unfair to ask her to move, and sell our house, before I know if this move has worked out.

Over the last five years I have learnt a huge amount from Malcolm, who has taken me from a promising junior athlete to a good senior athlete. I wish to thank him, and wish him all the best with his current group of athletes, which includes Dai Greene and Rhys Williams, European Gold and Silver Medallists in the 400m hurdles. I'd also like everyone who has helped me in my career at Bath, including the physiotherapists Chris Price and Anna Fisher, and former strength and conditioning coach Michael Johnstone.

I'd also like to say a big thank you to my girlfriend, Claire, for being very understanding and supportive about me wanting to move, and to my parents for supporting me.

Hopefully, everything with Loughborough will turn out well. I am really excited about learning new things, and trying out new training ideas. Watch this space!

Tuesday, 24 August 2010

The Off-Season

So now, because of injury, my season is very much beginning to wind down. At the moment, I am just doing various rehab exercises for my hamstring to enable it to recover, and mixing things up in the gym to keep it all interesting. I will continue to do this for about another week, and then have three weeks off.

The off season is a weird time for me. Its nice to get an opportunity to be "normal", or as normal as possible. I manage to get away on holiday with my girlfriend. This year we are going to Austria, as her family own a house out there. I usually spend one or two nights out with my friends as well, doing a bit of drinking, which again is nice as I don't drink at all during training or competition periods (i.e. October until now). But it is also important not to go too far, and this is where I struggle. As I am usually on a very particular diet most of the year, I look forwards to having my time off so I can eat more or less what I want, which usually results in me turning up to the start of winter training somewhat out of shape! This year, I am aiming to do things more in moderation, having a couple of bad meals, but also having plenty of healthy ones too. I will try and keep fairly active in my time off, going on plenty of walks in and around the mountains in Austria. Hopefully by the time I arrive back off holiday, I will be raring to go again, and can get back into my winter training with a vengeance, ready to make up for my disappointing 2010.

Sunday, 15 August 2010

Injury and the Rehab process

The idea of this post is to show what happens when an athlete gets injured, and how they get back to full fitness.

There are two types of injury that an athlete can get; chronic or acute. A chronic injury is often linked with overuse, and it is where a muscle, ligament, tendon or bone has broken down over time, resulting in an injury. Examples of this type of injury include shin splints and stress fractures. Acute injuries are injuries that have no pre-existing condition or warning signs, such as a broken leg from a bad tackle in football. Within athletics, the majority of injuries are chronic. Every day I have to evaluate my body for how it feels. I usually do this as soon as I wake up and move around, making a note of where things are sore. As I warm-up for training, I then pay close attention to the sore areas, making a decision on how bad the soreness is, whether it is an injury or just DOMS, how it will affect training, whether I need to modify training, and whether I need to get physio on it.

Most of the time, the soreness is a result of overloading a certain muscle, and eventually with some short-term management, they go away, with only a small amount (if any) of training modification required. However, sometimes they don’t improve, or sometimes an acute injury (like a sudden onset hamstring tear) might occur. Currently I am suffering from a slight hamstring injury. I am lucky enough to receive lottery funding, and so I get world-class sports medicine cover. In this instance, I spoke to my physio about my injury, who evaluated various things in and around the hamstring to see what the problem was, and referred me to a specialist sports doctor, who I saw within three hours of my initial conversation with the physio. The doctor then used an ultrasound scanner to have a closer look for damage within the hamstring (for bones/more complex injuries, and MRI may be required, which takes longer). From the scan, the doctor recommended that I have some injections. The most commonly used injections are local anaesthetic to reduce pain, traumeel, a homeopathic substance which may (or may not) improve heeling within a muscle, or cortisone, which is the last resort as it requires the athlete to take longer rest. Of these, I had a local anaesthetic, which took a lot of the initial soreness away, and cortisone.

So, that managed the short-term implications of injury. The next step was to look at longer-term recovery, of which rehab plays a large part. My physio again examined various things in my body, and we found that, due to the injury, I had lost some muscle bulk around my thigh and glute areas. To rectify this, I was given some exercises to help activate the muscle, and bring some bulk back. The idea is also to progressively load the injured area so it regains pre-injury levels of strength. That is where I am at right now – I hope to get back to running in spikes within two weeks, then I can have 2-3 weeks off before starting my winter training for next year.

Thursday, 12 August 2010

The Story of 2010

Well, 2010 has been a very disappointing year for me, on so many levels. I started off with high hopes of making both the European Championship and Commonwealth Games teams, however, poor form limited me in only getting selected for the relay at the Europeans. Whilst out in Portugal, at the pre-games training camp, I then picked up a slight hamstring injury. Fortunately, the UKA medical staff are truly world class, and managed to get me into good enough condition to run in the relay, where I was given second leg. In the relay, things were going really well, and we were winning our heat, until the final changeover, where disaster struck, and the changeover was messed up a bit. This lead to us failing to qualify for the final, putting paid to my big hopes of getting a European Gold medal. Sitting in the stands for the final was a very hard experience for me, but one that I felt I had to go through in order to fire myself up for training.

Since returning back from the Europeans, my hamstring injury has worsened slightly, and so as a precaution I have had to withdraw from all remaining races this season. This gives a disappointing end to a very disappointing season, but I promise I will look very hard at what things need to change, and I will come back better than ever.



Hello Everyone!

My name is Craig Pickering, I am 23 years old, and I currently train at the University of Bath in Malcolm Arnold's training group. I am an international 60m/100m runner, and my greatest achievements (not to blow my own trumpet) include:

2003 - World Youth 100m Bronze Medal
2005 - European Junior 100m Gold Medal
2007 - European Indoor 60m Bronze Medal, European u23 100m Silver Medal, World Championships 4x100m Bronze Medal, World Championships 100m Semi-finalist
2008 - Olympic 100m Quarter Finalist

I have been to 3 World Championships, and one Olympic Games, and one European Championships (so far!).

I have set this blog up to keep everyone in the know of how things are going, and give you a bit of an insight into what things are like for a professional sportsperson.