Fail to Prepare; Prepare to Fail!

After using the phrase ‘Fail to prepare; prepare to fail!’ this week, I thought it would be a great place to start when writing my blog. As I’m in the process of training for the London Marathon in 2012 I find myself back in the same mindset as I was as a footballer, not leaving anything to chance and making sure every training run is prepared for properly. It made me think about how others prepare themselves for their sports or just for training in general. I’ve come up with a few questions and tips that might help you train and perform to your best…..

  • Are you eating the right foods before training or the main performance? 

TIP – What you put into your body prior to training/performing will provide you with the energy you need to perform at your best. If you don’t eat right, don’t expect to perform to your best! High carbohydrate foods before hand should leave you with the energy to perform at a good level without feeling tired/drained. I tend to eat foods like, chicken, pasta, rice, bananas, toast and cereal. The size and type of food depends on the time of day I eat it and how long I have before the performance. Ideally, a big meal should be eaten 3 hours prior to the performance or smaller, lighter foods such as toast for anything closer to the performance. Remember to leave enough time for your food to go down and start the digestion process or it will sit on your stomach and make it uncomfortable to run or move when performing.

  • Are you drinking enough of the right fluids before and during training or the main performance?

TIP – Very similar to the tip above, the fluids that you put into your body prior to and during training/performing, will prevent you from becoming dehyrated and will replace lost salts from sweating. Drinking plenty of water before training/performing will help the body be at its best. If you feel dehydrated the damage is already done! It only takes 2-3% of water loss in the body before endurance starts to suffer and your performance also suffers. A little bit more(5%) and it effects the mind making it hard to concentrate and the body continues to suffer with pace slowing down. Keeping hydrated is vital! Isotonic drinks are a good tool during training/performing as they replace lost salts and also have a high concentration of carbs to keep the energy levels up. If possible, try to take plenty of fluids with you during your training/performance and keep drinking small amounts at regular intervals. It’s easier for sports like cycling for obvious reasons that you can connect a drink to your bike, but I’ve been known to hide drink bottles in a quiet place on a route I plan on taking a long distance run, so that I have a drink at certain stages of that run. Don’t neglect drinking fluids and make sure they are the right fluids, not fizzy drinks, tea, coffee etc as they are diuretics and will only dehydrate you more!

  • Do you have the right equipment and clothing?

TIP – This is a very important tip! Having the wrong equipment or clothing could be costly, not just because of comfort but because you can risk injury. Until you know a sport, it’s very difficult to know what you might need, so make sure you speak to the right people and get advice on the essentials from people who perform in that sport or know their stuff. An example: Until running long distances, you might not have ever thought about blisters, chafing, correct trainers for your gait etc, but all of them can make the difference between performing at your best and a very uncomfortable event. Clothing such as 1000 mile blister free socks, lined shorts, vaseline or other lubricants to prevent chafing and correct trainers(sometimes fitted with orthotics if necessary!) are a must. Sometimes it’s trial and error but there are specific sports shops that can advise you if you need help. How about riding up a steep hill on your bike and the gears keep slipping? Again something that can cause an injury if you’re on a road amongst traffic and can really make your ride much more difficult. Maybe it’s about the right foot wear in a football match. Do you have moulded boots for hard grounds and studded boots for soft weather grounds? It’s not just the equipment/clothing it’s also the colour! I have recently been on a training run in the clothing you can see in the picture to the right which looks fine until you know I went out later in the day and misjudged the time. I ended up running in the dark in black clothing without any reflectors on. I rarely make mistakes like this and there were no problems on the run, BUT there could have been and next time I might not be so fortunate. I have learnt from my mistake and it’s a good mistake to highlight as an example of the title of this blog.

So in conclusion, don’t leave things to chance! There are many more tips I could give you about performing to your best but the blog would go on all day, so I’ll save it for another day. The higher the level you perform at, the smaller the margins are. Not drinking enough, eating the wrong foods at the wrong time, wearing the wrong clothing and using the wrong equipment and generally not preparing for your performance could be the difference between being a winner or a loser! What would you rather be?

No Pain, no gain?

Throughout my football career I put on a brave face through many injuries, some minor and some more serious, but in a competitive sport like football, it is important to play through what you can so you don’t lose your place in the team………or is it? I believed, when I was young, that I would be frowned upon from pulling out of training or competitive games because of an injury. Unfortunately, there were times when this was true because some of the managers in football only want one thing……to win! Most only care about what happens right now and don’t really worry about what an injury might mean to your future.

The more injuries I had and the older I got, the more I realised it was up to me to protect my body when it needed protecting, or my career would not last the distance. Unfortunately, the damage was done in my early years, by putting my body on the line one too many times for people who weren’t concerned with my future and in the long run I paid the ultimate sacrifice, an early retirement. The injuries I sustained over the years were just too much to continue playing a professional sport and that is why I am where I am today. Hopefully my experience of injuries and playing through the pain of broken bones, cartilage tears, arthritis to name a few, can help others not to make the same mistake. So, there are times when the saying “No pain, no gain!” couldn’t be further from the truth.

This picture shows a head injury that has left me with a scar across my forehead for the rest of my life! I was also playing with a broken hand!

Recently I’ve had a few people ask for my advice about injuries they are having problems with. It seems that a lot of people don’t know the basic protocol after the initial injury, so this blog will give you all you need, to help you speed up the recovery period of less serious injuries, such as sprains and strains(if in any doubt over your injury, medical advise should be sought).

Here are a few simple pointers that will help speed up the recovery process. When ever possible always follow the PRICE protocol:

  • P = Protection. Protect yourself from injury as best as you can (eg. wearing shin pads etc) but if the damage has already been done, the same principles apply; Protect the injury from further damage by stop playing or using padding to support the area.
  • R = Rest. Being brave and playing on is not always wise! Rest is important to let the injury heal no matter how big or small it may be. This can be the difference between a speedy recovery or making the injury worse and adding weeks or months to the recovery period.
  • I = Ice. Applying ice to an injury reduces pain and inflammation/swelling. It should be performed for 15-20 minutes maximum every couple of hours. Be careful not to ice for longer than 20 minutes as it can damage the tissue further rather than help it. Also, it is advisable not to put ice/ice packs direct to the skin to prevent ice burns which can be very painful! The next two steps can be performed at the same time as icing an injury to aid recovery.
  • C = Compression. Keeping an injury compressed with bandages will reduce swelling or prevent the injury from swelling further, if swelling has already occurred. You can compress at the same time as icing for added benefit. If the compression causes pins and needles, throbbing or cuts circulation as it feels too tight, take the bandage off and compress the area again but not as tight.
  • E = Elevation. By keeping an injured area elevated above the level of the heart as much as possible, it reduces swelling and lets any swelling already built up in the area track away to the nearest glands making the area less stiff and helping recovery. Again, it is a good idea to elevate an injury whilst icing.

This is a sight no one wants to see. One I can't actually remember!

So there is the basic protocol. Obviously more serious injuries will need medical treatment but this protocol will always be used along the line at some point.

Remember, no pain, no gain is not always the answer when it comes to injuries. Pain is your body’s way of telling you something is wrong, so ignoring it can only make an injury worse. Don’t let a pain you have ignored turn into an injury that can cause more serious problems later in life!