While searching around trying to find answers to my mysterious illness, I discovered that one common theme kept cropping up. Gut health.
The gut is the way we fuel our body, much like a gas station to a car. But on top of that, the gut has so many more functions. More and more studies are coming out, reporting the links between the gut and many health-related issues. Therefore, everyone needs to maintain a healthy gut, either for preemptive measures or on the road to recovery.
All Disease Begins in The Gut – Hippocrates
Hippocrates knew this over 2000 years ago; for some reason, we don’t hear this message conveyed by medical professionals very often.
One of the precursors to many autoimmune issues is a compromised gut. When the gut is failing to digest, and not creating a barrier from the outside world, symptoms start to occur.
Autoimmune issues are on the rise, with 20% of the US population diagnosed with at least one autoimmunity issue . You probably know at least one, if not multiple people suffering from these issues. Do you know what an autoimmune disease is or how it comes about? If so, you’ll know precisely why the gut is so important, if not go ahead and read my article on autoimmune diseases.
Healing the gut is an essential protocol for dealing with autoimmune issues; it’s crucial to remove damaging foods, replenish the nutrients that are lost, and repair the damage.
To be fit requires a finely tuned body. To achieve a finely tuned body, you must have the ability to recover quickly and maintain low levels of inflammation. Gut health is key to these two points.
Inflammation is a hot topic when talking about recovery from anything. Whether it’s an illness, a long run or just a bad nights sleep, inflammation is always there. I talk about this over at “Is Inflammation Good or Bad for You?“
Gut Health Freebie
Do you want to learn more about gut health and how it can help you along your journey? Head over and download my gut health guide and start the healing today.
Recovering from inflammation is the key to a finely tuned body, and this is where the gut comes in. The body is a highly complex mixture of processes and functions and to perform these functions, the body needs nutrients from the outside world. One of the best methods of obtaining these nutrients is through the gut. If the gut is functioning well, we can provide the nutrients to the rest of our body to reduce inflammation.
Lower biodiversity of gut bacteria has strong links with the causes of heart failure. Eating a diet rich in fiber can help mitigate these effects and more.*
It shouldn’t be surprising that the gut can affect any part of your body. The gut is our internal body’s gateway from the outside world, so we need to treat it with care.
There are many studies linking heart and cardiovascular issues with gut health . The theory is a little more abstract, but it should make sense that our guts have direct access to the bloodstream and thus can directly affect the heart.
When the gut is compromised, any unwanted external pathogens in the gut have the opportunity to jump ship and wreak havoc in our cardiovascular system. At the same time, your body will not be replenished because vital nutrients may not be fully digested. These effects can lead to the hardening of the arteries, damage of blood vessels, contribute to the build-up of plaque. For these reasons, gut health is essential.
Whenand how much should you train? Those question are difficult to answer for every individual. Knowing how to balance overtraining with intense training that produce gains is a tricky balance to maintain. Now throw in the risk of a chronic illness flare up – and your training decisions can become even more critical in preventing illness or injury.
In this post I want to tell you exactly how to train with a chronic illness – so you can avoid overtraining!
Know When to You Should Train
Training plans are usually great for ensuring you don’t overtrain. They also give you the motivation to get out there in the first place. We all love schedules, right? But when dealing with an illness that can creep up at any time, training plans may not always work, especially when you train with a chronic illness.
How do you know if you’re going to feel good enough to run?
What if you push your body too far and further exacerbate your illness?
Are you doing enough training to see the gains?
These are all questions that go through your head every week, and sadly there are no hard and fast rules.
Learn to listen to your body
After dealing with any type of chronic illness over a long period of time, you usually become very in tune with your body.
When you become in tune with your body – you notice the signs or signals it’s trying to give you. For example, signs can indicate when your body is about to relapse or when you should take it a little easier and not push yourself anymore. But it’s vital to understand that this is not an excuse to skip your training session. Instead, it will help you train optimally whilst being mindful of your chronic illness.
Even when you may receive illness signals, it’s important to occasionally test your body to confirm that your illness is flaring or if it’s a false alarm. This can happen. Just take it easy when you are trying to find out. And when you have a good day, don’t waste it! Unless you’ve already trained hard the previous day – get out and enjoy your healthy run.
Make an informed decision on the distance and duration of the exercise. Base your decision on the time between now and your last (illness) relapse and how much training you’ve done throughout the current week.
But always remember to enjoy what training or exercise you can do on the day. Do not make comparisons to the past – instead, live in the present.
Using Technology to avoid overtraining
Technology is a great tool to use and can be helpful when making the decision of ‘to train or not to train’. Technology can help you track your general trend and ascertain whether or not you are overtraining.
In my previous post about heart rate variance, I talked about how its a great way of assessing your body without the subjective opinions of your thoughts. But the training method cannot predict the future.
With a chronic illness, you might not know if you are going to be up for 5 miles the next day. It’s important to assess yourself each day. If you need more rest days, take them. That’s ok.
Working out with a Chronic Illness
The type of exercise you choose can have a big play on how your body reacts. If you aren’t feeling 100%, don’t worry. Just cut that planned run down to a walk.
For example, you could use the time you were going to run to instead walk to the store and do your grocery shopping. By doing this, you are freeing up more time to run another day. Two bird, one stone!
If you are unable to complete a workout one day, don’t beat your self up. Instead, find another day where you’re feeling great and make up for it then. Just don’t pack in 8 hours of training on a good day, because you’ll likely be worn out for the next week (or 4) at least!
At the start of the week, I suggest drawing up a rough plan of how many workouts you want to achieve for the week. But most importantly, don’t mark down which day you plan to complete them on. Just do them when you do them!
By not planning each session, this will give you the flexibility to complete them on a day where you feel your best. If you do not manage to finish the number of workouts you wanted due to your illness, do NOT worry! You would have gained nothing by pushing yourself too much when your body wasn’t in optimal condition.
I can only tell you to listen to your body. Be confident when you have great days and get out and train! Be mindful when you have not-so-good-days and turn those runs into useful walks, or just rest. Know that it’s perfectly fine to do what your body needs. Just be in tune with what your body tells you so you can make informed decisions on your training whilst having a chronic illness.
Gut Health For All
In this post we’ve talked about training with a chronic illness. But what else are you doing to ensure maximum health? I believe this is where the gut comes in. Do you want to know more? Signup now for the Gut Health For All freebie, and start you journey to a healthier life.
Do you know how to breathe properly? It sounds like a silly question, doesn’t it? But there’s a mounting consensus that in today’s day and age, we may be doing it wrong. Ultimately, science seems to show that your breathing may be harming your health and the body oxygen level test may be key.
As the book The Oxygen Advantage by Patrick Mckeown alludes to, breathing correctly can have so many benefits for our health and our body. The best part? Breathing is completely free! Who knew?!
How do you know if you have a problem?
Do you wake up and still feel tired?
Do you get out of breath too quickly?
Do you notice yourself breathing out of your mouth doing day to day tasks?
Do you snore?
Do you often sigh?
Do you often get light-headed or dizzy?
If any of the above questions sound like something you do, then you may be over-breathing. Often these can be signs that your brain is triggering you to pull more oxygen into your body.
Drawing more oxygen into the body may sound like a good thing, however, this may be detrimental to your health as seen with Hyperventilation Syndrome.
What is Hyperventilation Syndrome?
The problem of chronic over-breathing (Hyperventilation Syndrome) can lead to several issues in the body, even in areas which seem to be completely unrelated.
Pins and needles in the extremities
Reduced ability to concentrate.
The list could go on, so it’s important that everybody understand this fully!
How to fix your breathing
Luckily there is a way to regain control of your breathing. But the first thing to do is to measure your baseline. To do this, we perform a BOLT.
BOLT (Body Oxygen Level Test)
The optimal time to perform a BOLT is in the morning after waking up.
Take a normal breath in and out.
Hold your breath until you feel the first, natural desire to breathe.
At this point, you will breathe through your nose until you can breathe calmly again.
Your BOLT score is the amount of time you held your breath for.
Patrick Mckeown provides some excellent advice on when to determine the first desire to breathe in the following passage.
Time the number of seconds until you feel the first definite desire to breathe, or the first stresses of your body urging you to breathe. These sensations may include the need to swallow or a constriction of the airways. You may also feel the first involuntary contractions of your breathing muscles in your abdomen or throat as the body gives the message to resume breathing. (Note that BOLT is not a measurement of how long you can hold your breath but simply the time it takes for your body to react to a lack of air.)
If you have a score under 20 seconds, it’s a sign you have something to improve. It doesn’t mean that you have any severe problems, as Patrick describes, many professional athletes cannot even hit these scores. It does mean that you see massive benefits if you could raise that score to 40 seconds. On my first tests, I had a score of just under 14 seconds.
How to raise your BOLT score
To raise your BOLT score, you need to learn how to truly breathe – beneficially. If you’re like me, with a score under 20 seconds, then things are going to start a little slow, but the most important thing is that we will get there!
ALWAYS nose breathe. This applies to everyone. Be mindful throughout the day to ensure you are breathing through your nose.
While being mindful about your breathing, it’s important to avoid sighing,and taking big breaths. Consequently, if you find yourself doing this, hold your breath for a few seconds after it has occurred, and then continue to breathe through your nose normally.
Equally important, is to wear a little piece of medical tape over your mouth at night to ensure your mouth doesn’t fall open during the night. On average, humans tend to naturally breathe through their mouths whilst sleeping.
Practice breathing 3 times a day.
Place one hand on your abdomen to feel your breath.
Began to breathe normally through your nose until you feel calm.
Reduce the volume of the breath to a point where it is tolerable, and make sure you are still able to control it.
Continue for 10 minutes.
If this practice starts getting out of control, settle to calm your breath for 15 seconds, and continue as before. You will most likely feel a warmth come over your body along with extra saliva being produced in your mouth. This is a good thing! You’re moving your body into a parasympathetic state, much like meditation.
Fixing your breathe
These simple acts above can have dramatic effects on your wellbeing and your health. The fact that you are only changing the way you breathe to increase your health is win-win for anyone.
Ultimately, there is so much more to this subject than this blog post, therefore, I’d suggest reading The Oxygen Advantage by Patrick Mckeown. In his book, he goes over more advanced techniques and dives deep into all the science behind breathing. It opened my eyes to a subject that I previously knew nothing about. Optimal breathing should be the first port of call for people with chronic illness, the average joe, and all the way to professional athletes.
What gear do we actually need when we run? When you ask this question, newbies AND well-seasoned runners get hung up. But what is essential running gear? I want to break it down for you and give you the TWO essential pieces of gear needed for your running regime.
First, let’s tackle the absolute essential running gear. What do you think you need?
Shorts or maybe leggings?
Moisture-wicking shirt and windproof jacket, a GPS App on your phone or GPS watch?
Running backpacks or vests?
Compression socks or armbands?
A hat and sunnies?
This list could go on, and many people do take it a lot further. What if I told you that we could cut this list down to the bare minimum? It would certainly save you time and money.
The most important part of any running gear list is running shoes. They are essential for protecting your feet and preventing injury.
Having worked as a running shoe salesman in the past I’m sure I’m relatively biased here, but I firmly believe this is an area you should invest your money.
It’s important to note that the best running shoe is different for every person; therefore, I strongly encourage you to hop down to your local running shop and find someone to help.
Don’t let the shoes limit you though! It’s even possible to run barefoot, pushing running shoes onto the non-essential list. But even with barefoot running it’s always a good idea to have a little bit of protection like Vibram Five Fingers* or Xero shoes*.
Unless you’re going to be running naked, apparel is probably essential for you. But this doesn’t mean it has to be expensive.
If it’s hot outside, an old pair of shorts and a free t-shirt will do. It’s not ideal, but it will do.
In 2016, my friend completed a 75Km run, and when he crossed the line, it was only then I noticed his thick cargo shorts, and in the pocket, he had his water bottle! It didn’t stop him running, and it shouldn’t stop you.
If it’s a little colder outside layer up with whatever you have. The other day I was running in 15 Fahrenheit (-9 Celsius). I didn’t have any heated gear to keep me warm down to that temperature, so I just ran in my big down jacket. It kept me warm enough and allowed me to do my Saturday run.
Even when it’s warmer, I’ve seen my fair share of men in short shorts, no shirt, and running shoes. That’s about as minimal as you can get, right? They understand what their running essentials are.
I asked my wife this same question, to get a woman’s perspective – What do you need when you run? Her response? “A bra and a hair tie”. Fair enough. I’ll understand the bra, as women might need that extra clothing item for support (or to cover up). Hair ties? I’d like to disagree with her, but I won’t! (And to be fair, she does have very long, thick hair, so I can imagine that wouldn’t be ideal to have it flying all about while running). My point is, even for women, there isn’t much more that is absolutely essential for running.
Any old clothes. (Probably best not go naked running)
Bra. (For women)
Non – Essential Running Gear
Non – Essential running gear is simple. It’s anything that’s not in the list above. But I want to go through and talk about some examples of our “non-essential” gear.
GPS Watch or Application
Many people are on Strava nowadays, and many people have fancy expensive GPS watches. I’m a big data geek, so I enjoy looking back at my previous runs and tracking the trends across the year. Also, the gamification and the public nature of Strava can kick you up the bum and get you out to train when you lack motivation.
Now we can even connect our phones and watches to a heart rate monitor to grab even more information. BUT with all that said GPS devices are not needed.
If we want to keep track of the miles we are doing – keep an old fashioned training log. Also, breaking that tether to your GPS devices can free yourself to just run.
Run freely without a worry of what your last split was or if you got the KOM on that last Strava segment. There’s something to be said about going “Au Naturel” and just enjoying your run.
Water may be a strange one to see on here (and my wife will disagree), but I feel it’s a point worth making.
If you’re going out on a short jog, you DO NOT need to take water! If it’s blazing hot, above 100 Fahrenheit (38 Celsius) use your judgment and don’t be stupid and maybe just run at a different time of day.
Our body is a fantastic machine and will cope in the short term without water and even in the long term without food. So the next time you’re going our for your 20-minute run, leave the bottle at home.
Everything that’s not in the essential list!
You will always find reasons and come up with excuses not to run. Not having the right gear is usually one of those excuses.
Guess what? I wrote this post to tell you that THERE IS NO EXCUSE! So the next time you hear any “lack-of-gear” excuses – just ask yourself this one question, “How did cavemen and women run?” You mean they didn’t have the new Nike Zoom Fly Pega Nika Boka Glories? Or an Apple Track-everything-I-do-majig? Yeah, that’s right. Get out there and run, my friend!
We all probably know the saying “slow and steady wins the race.” This mantra runs throughout most training plans, including running ones. Gradually building your athletic capabilities by pushing yourself a little further through a carefully curated schedule can be more beneficial for you than maxing yourself out every time. I have provided you with the ultimate guide to successfully navigate your gradual training plan (with or without illness).
Now, if you’re like me and returning from an illness, be it an autoimmune issue or any chronic inflammation, it’s essential to focus on gradually increasing your training (through pacing and distance) ensuring that you do not overdo it at any point.
If you’ve not read my post on Heart Rate training and About Me, I’d suggest moving back and going through these first. The information from these posts will help you understand the basis of how gradual training plans will help you.
The focus of the training plan is not entirely about running. The main point dictates that you have 6 active days of the week with one day of rest, which may sound like a lot, but it’s important to note the intensity of most of these days is not high.
Out of the entire week, I would say that only 1 of the days is strenuously intensive.
The plan caters towards my situation of being static most days due to the necessity of a desk job which is true for many people in this age. Therefore, taking the time out of the day to exercise is very important for physical and mental health. If your job involves physical activity, please adjust your training plan accordingly.
Take note that the distances are set up for someone like me who has a strong running base. Therefore it would be advisable to scale the distances up/down based on your levels or needs.
Strength – upper body
Strength – yoga
BBL Run 9Km
Strength – Lower body
Strength – Yoga
Strength – Upper body
BBL Run 10Km
Strength – Yoga
Strength – Core
BBL Run 10Km
Strength – upper Body
Strength – Yoga
The table above gives you an idea of what the first four weeks of the training plan would consist. My previous post about Heart Rate training goes in depth about the acronyms BBH (base building high) and BBL (base building low), along with the different sessions like intervals and threshold and their indications.
The training plan starts by running three times a week, which to some people may seem like too much, but it’s important to note that these are mostly easy runs.
By easy runs, I mean these runs will focus more on the simple running motion and training the body to withstand the constant pounding of the ground without overdoing it.
As you can see only one run per week is intensive. The workout can be either a threshold workout or interval workout. These types of exercises serve a purpose by building up your anaerobic threshold, building strength and therefore upping your overall pace.
The other two weekly running sessions focus more on base building. Base building helps you by enhancing your muscular and skeletal makeup, thus improving endurance. These two runs conservatively build-up throughout the 4-week training plan.
Around once a week there is a block named active. Active is where you can incorporate some cross-training. Again, it’s not about having an intensive session, but just introducing another form of exercise and diversifying your workouts.
Training diversification ensures you work on and focus on the muscles and parts of your body that are underutilized during a training program for running.
My cross-training usually consists of some form of cycling, as this diversifies my training and I enjoy cycling. To further clarify, the cross-training sessions will only include a fairly gentle cycle in and around town, which will help build up leg milage but reduce the impact on joints.
Strength training is a significant part of this plan. Many runners neglect the strength, believing that getting out for an extra run will benefit them more.
Sadly, the extra pounding on your feet will more than likely result in an overuse injury.
The strength training will focus on creating mobility and stability to sustain long distances runs. To achieve overall body stability the strength routines should focus on different areas of the body, to ensure a full-body make up is accounted for and we do not neglect any part of the body.
Rest means rest. It does not mean, sit all day, but it will undoubtedly involve a reduced workload. Rest can include walks around town, but be mindful not to overexert yourself. Rest is one of the most critical parts of your training. Without rest, your body would never repair. Rest.
To fully repair your body, resting must include getting a proper night’s sleep. Sleep and a generally healthy lifestyle are so crucial to your training plan (and any life plan, really), do not burn the candle at both ends!
Stretching and more
The last thing to touch upon in this plan is stretching. I would not suggest stretching before a run, but instead to do some gentle stretching at night, especially after a running day.
Flexibility is key to staying injury-free, especially for runners! Head over to my fellow blogger’s page on flexibility to learn more. And whilst you’re there learn about another interesting cross-training possibility to fit into your plan.
Other great tools to incorporate into your stretching sessions include using foam rollers* and massage balls* to ease any painful areas. I feel this is important to ensure you keep a good range of motion and also to help you listen to your body a little more. Check out RuNation for more information on foam rolling!
Through stretching, you can feel where your body is tight which is an excellent indication of future problem areas that could potentially cause injuries. I can’t stress enough the importance of knowing injury symptoms.
The problem/painful area is more often than not the cause of any pain issues or injuries. These problems can be linked further up the chain. For instance, knee problems can be due to tightness in your hips or glutes. Many hip flexor strains are often related to poor core strength. It’s all related!
If these issues occur, I would highly advise you to consult your physio and talk through any pains or niggles you have. You can also ensure you have a proper stretching and strengthening plan with them.
If you pay attention and listen to your body, as I have learned to do, you get to know your body and warning signs so well that you will know what the issues are.
Adjusting for illness flare-ups
Please please please do not overtrain. If you feel signs of your illness coming on take note of it and modify your training plan. If you push too hard, you always risk the possibility of illness flare-ups, which will likely set you back to where you started.
I often miss workouts due to “off” days, but I do not feel guilty for it. Working with chronic illnesses can be a tricky situation, but you will learn how your body works and feels. From here you should rethink and readjust the training plan to suit.
Sadly you may not be the resilient runner you used to be, but it doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy it still and use training plans successfully.
As explained in the About Me page, I often find I push myself far too much in my training runs, resulting in overtraining. Every training run turns into some challenge, whether its upping my average pace, running my fastest kilometer or the demon that is Strava segments. You can’t tell me that when you post a segment near the top of the leader board, you aren’t proud. But this all becomes part of the overall problem. Most of your training should not be completed at a consistently intense pace; it should be a balance between slower runs and your maxed-out 100%. I want to tell you how to address this issue by using one method to avoid overtraining.
There are various methods of regulating energy output during a run. Monitoring pace, breathing, mentally perceived expenditure or even something borrowed from the cycling world, power output. All of these are excellent practices, but I want to look at something different.
I decided to explore a tried and tested method of heart rate (HR) monitoring while running. I’m not saying this is better than any other methods out there, but it offers you the opportunity to break down your energy output in numbers that will guide you. It also gives hard and fast rules to ensure that you do not over train.
Heart rate zones
In most literature, HR training is broken down into percentage zones of the maximum HR. Training runs are then based on these zones to give the correct intensity for the activity. Breaking down the activity helps planning your training immensely because it makes the analysis and energy expenditure agnostic to the environment you are training in, although this is disputed – I will talk about this later. Pace should no longer be a figure to analyze during the activity, which is great because then you minimize the possibility of overtraining, a problem I often had. Although comparing your pace over time can give you some indications of fitness, it is still subject to abnormalities such as terrain, climate, current health, etc.
The first thing to do is to work out your heart rate or each zone. There is no easy way of doing this, but there are simple approximations we can use.
First, find your resting heart rate. Over a couple of days, take your heart rate right after waking up and before you start rushing around for the day. The average of this gives your resting HR. Mine is about 50 bpm which is relatively low – so do not be alarmed if yours is higher than this. On average people have resting HRs of around 60 – 100 bpm. The resting heart rate is also a useful metric to keep track of as it is a relatively good indicator of fitness and health. The lower your resting HR the fitter you are. Always be aware of other serious heart issues causing a radical change in resting heart rates and also illness based changes.
Now we need to find your maximum HR. A crude example of this is to do 211 – (0.64 * your age). Therefore mine is :
211 – (0.64 * 30) = 192
We can use the calculation to work out the HR zones, but it’s just a bit easier to jump onto this website and enter your information. HR Zones (I have no affiliation with the site)
Now we have our zones lets see what this means. I’ll use my figures as examples.
Percentage of Max HR
My HR (bpm)
50 – 60
Warm up / Cool down
121 – 135
60 – 70
Aerobic exercise fat burning
135 – 149
70 – 80
Aerobic to Anaerobic Crossover
149 – 164
80 – 90
Anaerobic Carb burning
164 – 178
90 – 100
Full tilt 10 – 20-second max
178 – 192
Previously, when I was consistently becoming injured, I was pushing myself into zone 4 continuously. Always pushing my body caused a lot of stress on my body on a regular occurrence – and as you can imagine, this was not great for my body. Zones 4-5 can take time to recover from – not to mention the inflammation on the joints, muscles.
Keeping a steady pace and not pushing too much becomes even more critical when fighting any chronic illness since inflammation is a typical reaction and will likely be a large part of your life down the road. Adding more to this “inflammation pyramid” is not wise. So ensuring that we mix up our training zones are a must for long term fitness. The following training runs are defined to help schedule your running log.
I split this term into two categories. Base building low (BBL) and base building high (BBH). Mostly this is restricting yourself to zones 1 and 2, but I split this even further to say I will concentrate on staying towards the crossover of zones 1 and 2 for BBL and towards the top end of zone 2 for BBH – dependent on the distance. Base building training does precisely what it says; it is building your base. Building your base is priming your body to run longer distances, increasing the muscle memory of running and improving the efficiency of your fat metabolism.
A threshold run is designed to improve your anaerobic abilities. We can achieve this by just dipping into the anaerobic zone, which is towards the top end of zone 3. The anaerobic zone is used for those short blasts, when you are practicing at near race pace, but without the big adrenaline kick.
There are many names for this, but intervals seem to be the best name for it – since as you are, well, running fast, at set intervals. There are lots of configurations of intervals, but they all consist of pushing into zones 4 and 5 and then dropping back down to zone 2 intermittently. The variable pacing will improve your anaerobic abilities along with building a little more strength into your runs, which is essential when wanting to add pace into your running life.
Now you have a much better way of defining your runs in a way which is agnostic to your environment. You can now decide to do a BBL 10km one day and be more confident that you won’t be too fatigued the next day and, maybe, you can even throw in an exercise the next day. It would be advisable to be relatively sedentary for the rest of the day and also take it easy if you have any activity planned the next day. Adversely, we now know if we do a 5km threshold run we will likely push our limits too far and ultimately need rest and recovery for days after.
Heart Rate Drift
One thing I notice when I first started to use this method was that throughout my runs – my HR began to drift, even though my perceived effort and pace was still stable. Because of this, I decided to keep track of my HR percentage over the first 10 minutes of both my BB and threshold runs. Doing this will confirm that you have reached a stable state, and you can then attempt to keep the same perceived output throughout the remainder of the run, (or keep it at roughly the same pace). I’ll be honest I am not entirely sure that this is the right idea, but it is what is working for me right now. More information on this can be found here.
Now that we have a good knowledge of types of runs based around the HR monitoring method. We can go forward and create a training plan, so be sure to check that out.