Running in Humidity

Once upon a time, February used to be the humid month in Sydney. You could pretty much guarantee the humidity would be layered upon a hot Sydney summer, bang on February 1st. Then spot on March 1st, the humidity would lift and we’d get back to enjoying our weather again. 

But, over the past 10-15 years, the humidity has spread its wet sticky tentacles all the way out from November through to April. 

I’ve written before about running in hot weather, how it impacts your performance, what you can do to minimise drops in performance, and how to pre-cool before training and events.  All of that is relevant for running in humidity as well, so make sure you check those articles out if you’re struggling a bit running in this weather. 

Why is it harder running in humidity?

Listen to this Hooked on Running Radio episode on hot and humid running

When you layer humidity on top of the heat, it adds a whole new dimension to the discomfort level when you are running, or doing anything more energetic than kicking back at the beach. 

What we commonly refer to as humidity, is actually a measure of relative humidity. It is the amount of moisture in the air, as a percentage of the maximum amount of moisture the air can hold. 100% humidity is when the air is at its maximum moisture capacity. And here’s the kicker. Hot air can hold more moisture than cold air. 

At -40C, no more than 0.2% of the air can be water molecules. So if 0.2% of the molecules that make up the air are water molecules, then relative humidity would be 100%. At +30C, the moisture carrying capacity of the air is 4%. So at 100% humidity, at +30C, the air will consist of 4% water molecules, plus the other molecules that make up air (nitrogen and oxygen mostly)

70% humidity, would mean that the air is carrying 70% of the moisture it is capable of holding. 

How does humidity impact running performance?

Your body sweats to cool down. Sweat evaporates off the skin, providing a cooling effect. At high levels of relative humidity, it is harder for the moisture on your skin to be absorbed into the air. There is a limited amount of moisture the air can hold. At high humidity, it is already holding a lot of moisture, so doesn’t have the capacity to absorb as much from your skin. Hence, the body’s natural cooling mechanism doesn’t work very well when you’re running in humidity. 

And that has implications for performance, and how you feel. Mostly, our bodies operate with a core temp of around 36.5-37 degrees C. If that core temp rises to around 39C, your body will start diverting blood to the skin to keep it cool. That decreases the amount of blood going to working muscles. That means your muscles will not be receiving as much oxygen, (as it is blood which carries oxygen around the body). Oxygen is needed for the release of energy in the muscles, so when your core temperature heats up, your working muscles literally don’t have as much energy, leaving you feeling fatigued, or at the very least, sluggish. 

If your core temperature creeps up another degree or so to around 40C, your brain will start to inhibit the recruitment of muscles fibres, to stop you from doing yourself damage.  Fewer muscle fibres will be available to move your limbs, so moving will feel much harder. 

Why is it harder to breathe when you are running in humidity?

Most people, if not acclimatised,  find it harder to breathe in humid conditions. This is particularly so if you have a respiratory conditions such as asthma. 

A given volume of gas,  at any given temperature and pressure, will hold a set number of molecules. That number cannot vary. Dry air is made up mostly of oxygen and nitrogen. As humidity increases, and more water molecules are suspended in the air, some of the oxygen molecules are shunted out of the air to make way for the moisture. There is less oxygen in air with high levels of humidity, than in dry air, so if you feel like you are struggling to get in enough oxygen in hot humid conditions, you are! 

A study in Nepal compared physical performance of residents living in hot humid conditions at sea level, with that of people livning at an altitude of 3800m. Not super high, but high enough for you to feel it if you are not used to living at altitude. 

The researchers concluded that the hot humid conditions at sea level negatively impacted  performance as much as the low oxygen levels at high altitude. If you’ve been at that level of altitude or higher, you’ll know you have to work a lot harder to get things done, than you do at sea level. 

Here are a couple of videos which show the impact altitude can have on your breathing. The first is me at 4600m. We’d been walking all morning, but had been pretty much at rest for 10 minutes – as much as bossing my husband around and telling him how to video can be considered resting!

This video is that very same husband after running about 100m up a slight rise, at 5300m. You can see he’s struggling to keep his breathing under control whilst he’s talking. 

Impact of humidity on asthma

If you have asthma, you get the double whammy. Breathing hot humid air can trigger airway resistance in people with asthma, as well as triggering coughs. Even if your asthma is generally only mild, it’s a good idea to take some preventative measures before running in hot humid conditions. 

Using dew point, or “feels like” temperatures to schedule your training 

The dew point is the temperature to which the air needs to cool for dew to form. It represents how much moisture is in the air. A higher dew point temperature indicates there is more moisture in the atmosphere, which will influence the way you feel. If you look at the dew point, rather than the temperature or the humidity alone, then you’ll get a better idea of when it will be more comfortable to run.

Have a look at this detailed weather forecast. You can see this info by searching on detailed forecast and your location – eg “Sydney detailed forecast” in the search box on the Bureau of Meteorolgy site.

Best time of day for running in humidity

You can see that it will be 32C at 2pm, with relative humidity of 41%. AT 11pm, the temperature drops to 25C, but relative humidity rises to 70%. The dew point at 2pm will be 17, whilst the dew point at 11pm will be 20. With the higher dew point later in the night, it might actually be more uncomfortable running than it would be at 2pm. I’d put a caveat on that – if you were running in the sun at 2pm, I think you would still find it more uncomfortable running then, than later.

Looking at dew point and the feels like temperature can give you a good idea of when will be a better time to run. Don’t forget to look at the UV index as well. (Though you don’t have to be Einstein to know that the UV index in the middle of the day will be higher than 11pm)

Running in Humidity: Dew Point Comfort Levels

I don’t mind a humid run, but if you really find running in humidity difficult, plan for a race in the less humid months for peak performance. 

Edt: Just spotted this article on Sydney’s record humidity in January 2022- Sydney Morning Herald


European Journal of Applied Physiology. 2012 June; 112(6): 2313-21
“Influence of relative humidity on prolonged exercise capacity in a warm environment”
Ronald J Maughan Hidenori OtaniPhillip Watson

Stitches: What causes them, and how to get rid of them

You’d be hard pressed to find someone who has never experienced a stitch before, yet despite this, to date, we are still not sure what causes stitches, nor how to prevent them. Not what you wanted to hear, I know!

In the literature, stitches are known as Exercise-related Transient Abdominal Pain (ETAP). According to researchers Morton and Callister, 70% of runners experience stitches, and in a running event, 20% of participants can expect a stitch. (2)

What Do We Know About Stitches?

  • Side stitches can range from a dull ache to a crampy stabbing feeling, or a pulling sensation
  • They occur most commonly on the right side in the middle third of the abdomen, adjacent to the navel 
  • The next most common area is in the left, middle area of the abdomen
  • The next most common area is around the navel
  • Around a third of people report non-injury related shoulder tip pain (STP) associated with stitches
  • The prevalence, severity and frequency of stitches decreases with age
  • BMI does not affect prevalence and frequency of stitches, but athletes with higher BMI have reported more localised stitches, and more severe 
  • Men are more likely to report a stitch as an achy type of pain, and women report it more as a stabbing, sharp pain
  • The frequency of stitches seems to decrease with frequency of training, but frequency of training has little effect on severity or prevalence of stitches. 
  • The frequency and severity of stitches seems unrelated to number of years of training and training volume
  • Athletes of all levels, from inexperienced to elites are just as susceptible to getting a stitch, however elite athletes will tend to have fewer stitches


The location of exercise-related transient abdominal pain (ETAP) reported by the combined symptomatic subjects (N = 818) in the studies by Morton and Callister [1] and Morton et al. [2].

What Don’t We Know About Stitches?

Exactly what causes them, and therefore how to prevent and treat them!!


Some Theories on What Causes Stitches

Diaphragmatic Ischemia 

More simply put, limited blood supply to the diaphragm. 

This would account for some of the things associated with stitches like shoulder tip pain. The diaphragm is mostly innervated by the phrenic nerve, which refers pain to the shoulder tip region. The outside portions of the diaphragm are innervated by other nerves which could account for the sharp and localised pain in the region just below the ribs. 

But the evidence against this theory is quite strong. Stitches are reasonably common in activities that don’t demand a lot of the respiratory system, such as horse riding and off road car racing, so a lack of blood supply to the diaphragm is not very likely. 

Also, it is very unlikely that the blood supply to the diaphragm would be limited, whilst blood supply to the working muscles would not be limited. The good functioning of the diaphragm is more important to sustaining life than is the use of the legs and arms for running, so the brain is more likely to shut off supply of blood to the working muscles before blood supply to the diaphragm shuts off – as a working diaphragm is necessary for breathing, therefore life!

Mechanical Stress on Ligaments Associated with Organs

Some of the organs in the abdomen, of note the liver and stomach, are supported by ligaments that attach onto the diaphragm. One theory on the causes of stitches is that there is mechanical stress on these ligaments, causing pain. 

This does explain why you can get a stitch in activities that have a jolting nature but low demands on the respiratory system, such as horse riding. Also, eating and drinking prior to exercise could cause a stitch by the increase in the mass in the digestive system loading the ligaments that support the stomach. Also, when you take in beverages with a high sugar content, you increase your risk of a stitch. Higher sugar content drinks (over about 10% carbs) can slow down gastric emptying, causing the fluids to stay in your stomach for longer, and therefore put more stress on the ligaments supporting the stomach. 

But… this theory does not account for stitches lower in the abdomen, nor does it account for the fact that increased BMI, which would likely put more stress on those ligaments, does not correlate with an increase in the prevalence of stitches. And another nail in the coffin for the mechanical stress theory. Pain arising from these ligaments would be likely to be similar to pain related to organs, which is usually dull, and diffuse. The pain of a stitch is more often localised and sharp. 

Gastrointestinal Disturbances

The main reason stitches have been thought of as a gastrointestinal problem is because they have been associated with eating prior to exercise. But, the pain is also commonly felt when nothing has been consumed several hours prior to exercise. Typical pain of gastrointestinal problems usually results in writhing movement to try to get relief from the pain, whereas with stitches, reducing movement and/or pressing on or massaging the area of pain has been reported to help. So the pain patterns of a stitch aren’t consistent with gastrointestinal problems. 

Muscle Cramp

In a couple of large studies, 25% of stitch sufferers described the pain as “cramping”, which led to subsequent studies which measured localized electromyographic (EMG) activity while a stitch was present. Muscular cramps are associated with high levels of EMG activity . EMG activity was not elevated at the site of the stitch during an episode of the pain, which means the muscle cramp theory is also a no go. 

Pain Causes By Nerves

This one does have some legs. 

It does seem that stitches can be affected by poor posture, particularly in the thoracic region. That’s the mid region of the back, between your neck and your lumber region (the lumber region is the bit above your backside that curves inwards). 

It’s been found that putting pressure on the vertebrae in this region of the back, specifically T8-T12, which innervates the abdominal wall, can reproduce symptoms of a stitch. In one study, a stitch could be exactly reproduced in 8 out of 17 people assessed, and the site of pain corresponded to the nerve root being pressed. 

Other cases of stitch-like symptoms where the nervous system is implicated include slipping rib syndrome which results in trauma to the adjacent nerve, abdominal wall nerve entrapment, and spinal tumours and facet joint cysts which cause compression of the nerves of the muscles between the ribs (intercostal nerves).

Intercostal nerves can also be vulnerable to compression as a result in the reduction of the height of the discs between the vertebrae – something that can happen with the dynamic and repetitive movements of the torso in running. 

Irritation of the Parietal Peritoneum

Stay with me on this one. 

The parietal peritoneum is a layer of tissue that adheres to the abdominal wall. 

The visceral peritoneum are layers of tissue lining the abdominal organs. 

The peritoneal cavity is the potential space that separates the abdominal organs and parietal peritoneum. The cavity is filled with fluid to prevent friction between the 2 layers

Increased friction between the two might be a cause of the stitch. This increased friction could be caused by the distension of the stomach post-meal. Also, changes in the thickness and quantity of the fluid in the peritoneal cavity during exercise could cause an increase in friction. 

Poor Functional Core Stability

A 2013 study of 50 runners found that those runners who did not experience stitches had  stronger transversus abdominis muscles, than those who reported experiencing stitches either weekly or yearly (though interestingly, not than those who experienced stitches monthly). The transversus abdominis muscle is a deep muscle important for stabilising the lumbar spine and pelvis. Those who did not experience stitches had significantly thicker resting transversus abdominis muscles. Better core strength and activation of the muscles of the abdomen could lead to the lessening of symptoms of a stitch. 

How to Prevent Side Stitches Whilst Running

Eating and Drinking

Don’t have foods and drinks before your run that are likely to stay in your stomach for a long time. Avoid highly sugary drinks (greater than 10% carbs) and avoid foods high in fat and fibre. If you’re taking gels or other energy boosters, make sure you are taking in water, to reduce the concentration of sugar.

Strength Training

Core strength and conditioning is important for everything we do, so even if it doesn’t stop you from getting a stitch, you should be trying to improve it! But, it does seem that improving your core strength, and improving your posture with stretching and strengthening exercises can help if you are a chronic stitch sufferer.

Improve Your Fitness

The frequency of stitches reduces with higher fitness levels, so getting fitter could help to mitigate the problem. 

Get Older

The prevalence of stitches reduces with age, so you could just sit back and wait!!!

Immediate Treatment For Stitches

Unfortunately, the best way to stop as stitch is to stop doing whatever activity is causing it. That is rarely practical.

The most common techniques to get rid of a stitch reported by sufferers in a large study off 600:

  • The most common techniques to get rid off a stitch reported by sufferers in a large study off 600,:
  • Deep breathing – reported by 40% of suffers
  • Pushing on the affected area (31%)
  • Stretching the affected side (22%)
  • Bending over forwards (8%)

Other techniques include:

  • Breathing shallowly 
  • Forcing out and sucking in between clenched teeth
  • Bracing the abdominal muscles – my personal favourite. It does seem to stop you from feeling the stitch whilst you’re bracing, but once you stop, it has a tendency to come back.



  1. Morton DP, Callister R. Characteristics and etiology of exercise-related transient abdominal pain. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2000;32(2):432–438. doi: 10.1097/00005768-200002000-00026.

2. Morton DP, Richards D, Callister R. Epidemlology of exercise-related transient abdominal pain at the Sydney City to Surf community run. J Sci Med Sport. 2005;8(2):152–162. doi: 10.1016/S1440-2440(05)80006-4.

3. Morton DP, Richards D, Callister R. Exercise-Related Transient Abdominal Pain (ETAP) Sports Med 2015; 23–35.Published online 2014 Sep 3



Why Lockdown is Making You Tired

Why Lockdown is Making You Tired

Photo from: Gorodenkoff/Shutterstock

Change can be tiring and readjusting after such upheaval takes time.

Here is why you might be feeling tired while on lockdown

Sarita RobinsonUniversity of Central Lancashire and John LeachUniversity of Portsmouth

A lot of people have been posting on social media saying they have been feeling tired earlier than usual while on lockdown. Normally able to stay up into the small hours, they are hitting the pillow at 10 o’clock now. Many are wondering how this can be when we are all doing less.

The feelings of fatigue that you are experiencing are more likely to be related to the mental workload associated with COVID-19 rather than the physical burden. Fatigue can have both physical and non-physical causes. After we have completed a 5km run we deserve a rest, or after an illness we can feel run down and tired for a few weeks.

But research has also shown that tiredness can be caused by psychological states, such as stress and anxiety. In the current situation, it could even be the monotony of the situation that causes us to feel tired. Therefore, dealing with the psychological strain associated with Coronavirus could be wearing us out. So how do we go about getting our energy back?

The phases of adjustment

When we look at major changes, such as students starting university or people moving to a new country, a period of adaptation and transition is needed. This takes time and comes in phases.

The first week of adapting involves disengaging from former ways of living and working, and establishing new interactions. These are usually achieved by the fourth or fifth day, after which life begins to become more settled and predictable.

Keeping a journal of your feelings and thoughts can help see how you are progressing.

People in the first few weeks of lockdown may feel low and could be tearful. This is a normal adaptation stage. Please don’t worry too much but be reassured that this will pass for most people and next week you will feel better. Transition to a new environment can be helped by writing a reflective journal. It can be helpful to note down your thoughts and feelings. You can then review your progress and see how you adjust.

Full functional adaptation to a new way of life will happen after about three months. However, there is one period to be aware of that can occur around three weeks after the start, when a person can succumb abruptly to a bout of melancholy and a loss of morale. The worry in this case may be that the lockdown situation has now become permanent. But once this phase has passed these feelings of despondency tend not to return.

Prioritising structure

The next lesson on how to keep your energy up comes from observing people in survival situations. To avoid a drift into a state of apathy and feeling low and unmotivated, it is important to establish a clear structure to your day. Structure allows us to gain some control over our lives. It helps prevent a buildup of “empty” time that could make you very aware of confinement, and cause a growing sense of “drift”. This can make people feel withdrawn and apathetic, sleep badly and neglect their personal hygiene.

One extreme case from the survival world shows the benefits of structure when we are suddenly faced with time to fill. In 1915, when Sir Ernest Shackleton’s ship Endurance became trapped in the Antarctic ice, he imposed strict routines on his crew. He was well aware of a previous expedition ship, the RV Belgica, which had become trapped over winter in the Antarctic ice in 1898. The captain did not establish any routine and as a result the crew suffered from low morale, especially after the death of the ship’s cat, Nansen.

Sir Ernest Shackleton’s ship Endurance.

Shackleton insisted on strict meal times and ordered everyone to gather in the officers’ mess after dinner to have an enforced period of socialisation. These scheduled activities prevented a social monotony that can occur when a small group of people are confined together for significant periods.

So although it might feel good to have the odd morning lie-in, it is better for your energy levels to set up your day with a clear structure and make time for social activities, even if they need to be undertaken online.

Another non-physical cause of fatigue is anxiety. The pandemic has made people confused and uncertain, and given some a sense of trepidation. All these feelings can lead to poor sleep quality, which in turn can make people more tired and anxious.

To break this cycle, exercise is a useful tool. Going for a walk or doing an online exercise class can make you feel physically tired but in the longer-term it will reduce feelings of fatigue as your sleep quality improves.

Planning ahead and setting goals is now both possible and necessary. Aim for a set future date for release from the lockdown but be prepared to reset that date as necessary. Being optimistic about the future and having things to look forward to can also help reduce anxiety and reduce fatigue.

Sarita Robinson, Principal Lecturer in Psychology, University of Central Lancashire and John Leach, Visiting Senior Research Fellow in Survival Psychology, University of Portsmouth

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

How to Remove Sunscreen Stains from Your Running Gear

How to Remove Sunscreen Stains from Your Running Gear

Ever put your new white running singlet in the wash, only for it to come out with horrible brownish stains on it?

Or do your shirts look like you’ve been drooling your dinner down the front of them after a few wears?

The culprit could be sunscreen… or it could be “scrud”

So How Do You Prevent Sunscreen Stains?

  • Use a sunscreen that doesn’t contain avobenzone to avoid the stains in the first place
  • Use a rust remover, rather than bleach or Napisan to remove the stains. The avonbenzone reacts with chemicals in these products and makes it worse
So How Do You Prevent Sunscreen Stains

What is Avobenzone?

Avobenzone is  a chemical used in sunscreens which protects against the harmful effects of long ray UVA. Which is really good if you want to run outside in the sun, but not so good if you want to keep your running gear free of the nasty orangey stains it can cause!

Avobenzone will react with water that has a high iron content (hard water) and cause rust stains. So you can put an unstained shirt into the wash, which has invisible deposits of sunscreen on it, and hey presto, you can pull a pretty dirty shirt out of the wash!

But, the good news is there are some avobenzone free sunscreens. You can look at the list of ingredients on your sunscreen, or you can see the list I’ve put together below for some avobenzone free screens. Some of those are readily available in Australia, whilst some you would need to buy online.

When looking at the list of ingredients, be aware that Avobenzone is also know as:

  • Parsol 1789
  • Milestab 1789
  • Eusolex 9020
  • Escalol 517
  • Neo Heliopan 357
  • Butyl Methoxydibenzoylmethane

Avobenzone-Free Sunscreens

  • Blue Lizard Sunscreen Sensitive
  • Little Urchin Natural Sunscreen
  • Nutragena Pure and Free Baby Sunscreen
  • Sunology Natural Sunscreen SPF 50+
  • Elta MD SkinCare UV Clear Broad Spectrum SPF 46
  • Biore UV Aqua Rich Watery Essence 2014 SPF50+
  • Thinkbaby Sunscreen SPF 50

Don’t Fall for “Chemical Free”

When it comes to sunscreens (and most other things), there’s no such thing as “chemical free”. In it’s truest definition, a chemical is any substance consisting of matter. So that pretty much covers everything  other than energy, thoughts and gravity. Chemicals occur naturally, or can be man made.

I found quite a few “chemical free” sunscreens when I was searching for avobenzone free screens which contained butyl-methoxydibenzoylmethane, so you do need to read the ingredients list carefully.

Here’s the ingredients list of one so-called chemical-free sunscreen!!

Water, C12-15 Alkyl Benzoate, Dicaprylyl Carbonate, Cyclopentasiloxane, Butyl- Methoxydibenzoylmethane, Isohexadecane, Octocrylene, Phenyl Trimethicone, Titanium Dioxide, Glycerin, Methylpropanediol, Octyldodecanol, Boron Nitride, Ethylhexyl Triazone, Iron Oxide, Tapioca Starch Polymethylsilsesquioxane, Bis-Ethylhexyloxyphenol Methoxyphenyl Triazine, Diethylhexyl 2,6-Naphthalate, Ethylhexyl Methoxycinnamate, Lauryl PEG-10 Tris(Trimethylsiloxy)Silylethyl Dimethicone, Polymethylsilsesquioxane, Saccharide Isomerate, Octyldodecyl Xyloside, Camellia Sinensis (Green Tea) Leaf Extract, Terminalia Ferdinandiana (Kakadu Plum) Fruit Extract, Aloe Barbadensis Extract, PEG-30, Dipolyhydroxystearate, Cera Alba, Menthyl Lactate, Triacontanyl PVP, Zinc Stearate, Dimethicone, Magnesium Sulphate, Silica, Caprylyl Glycol, Silica Silylate, Sodium Citrate, Hydroxyethyl – Acrylate/Sodium Acryloyldimethyl Taurate Copolymer, Alumina, Disodium EDTA, Phenylpropanol, Ethylhexylglycerin, Citric Acid, Phenoxyethanol, 1,2-Hexanediol, Fragrance

Other Sunscreen Ingredients That Can Stain Your Clothes

Whilst avobenzone is likely to react with your washing water and cause brown stains on white or light coloured clothing, the active ingredient in many avobenzone -free sunscreens is zinc oxide. Many also contain titanium oxide.

Unfortunately, these 2 ingredients can cause white discolouration on dark fabrics.

Believe it or not, someone has actually published research on this topic, which you can read here.  It’s only a couple of pages, and does list the sunscreens which perform best on dark and light colours. One drawback of the research was that they only tested cottons.

Anything that is made to remove rust stains and hard water stains should get rid of the sunscreen stains on your clothing, but you might prefer to try to use something less harsh first.

Removing Sunscreen Stains From Light Coloured Clothing

Lemon Juice and Salt

For a far less toxic solution, try lemon juice and salt.

  • Rinse the garment in cool water
  • Apply the lemon juice to the stain
  • Spread salt liberally over the stained area.
  • Let sit overnight, brush off the salt and wash as usual. 

Citric Acid and Vinegar

Avobenzone combines with the iron in your water, holding the iron to your clothing to form stains. Citric acid is an iron chelator, so it will bind very tightly to the iron and remove it from your clothing. You can find citric acid in the cooking section of the super market, near the baking soda.

  • Form a paste of citric acid and vinegar
  • Rub gently on your clothing
  • Leave for up to an hour
  • Rinse well and re-wash

Pre-Wash Treatment

Another option is to treat your clothes before they go in the wash. Of course, it’s a bit of a guess as to what garments, and what parts of the each garment you can treat, but if you assume ALL your running gear will have sunscreen around the neckline and treat accordingly, this might work.

  • Make sure your clothing is dry
  • Sprinkle bicarbonate of soda on to the suspected trouble spots. That absorbs any excess oil.
  • Leave for about 30 minutes, then brush of any excess powder
  • Rub the are with dish washing liquid and leave for 5 minutes.
  • Mix a teaspoon of laundry detergent into a bowl of hot water, and soak the garment for an hour
  • Rinse in hot water, and throw into the wash

This may work as a post wash treatment, once the stains are visible, but the point of the carb soda is to absorb the oil and remove as much of the sunscreen as possible. Once washed, particularly if in a warm wash, the oil left in the garment is probably minimal.

Hard Core Chemical Solutions

The white marks which some sunscreens leave on dark coloured clothing is caused by zinc oxide or titanium oxide.

To remove, try dabbing with rubbing alcohol. You can get rubbing alcohol in most chemists.

What in the World is Scrud and How Do You Stop It?

For several years, my husband and I put up with a washing machine that was leaving brown spots on our laundry. Not just running gear, all sorts of things from T-shirts to sheets, undies to towels, and everything in between. It was seemingly random, though it did seem to happen more frequently to sweat wicking, dry-fit type clothing.

Many washing machine mechanics later, and umpteen calls to the LG service centre, and we had to settle with being told the problem was a build up of “scrud” and we should clean the machine with citric acid.

Apparently, scrud is actually a thing. Here’s what Choice have to say about it

“The blotchy marks that are sometimes left on your clothes after you’ve washed them can be caused by ‘scrud’, which is a waxy build-up of fabric softener or detergent in the drum of your washing machine.”

Scrud is more likely to build up

  1. if you only wash in cold water
  2. if you don’t use enough detergent
  3. if you use fabric softener

To get rid of scrud, we were advised to run the machine empty several times on super hot, and also throw in  tin of citric acid into these washes (the contents of the tin obviously, not the tin itself).

I’ve since discovered a multitude of uses for citric acid, including cleaning the toilet, and of course, removing sunsreen stains from clothing.

To avoid the build up of scrud, Choice suggests you

  • Run a super hot wash every now and then if you only wash in cold water
  • Don’t use fabric softener (though we never have used fabric softener and we still suffered a scrud invasion
  • Use a bit more detergent
  • Clean your washing machine dispensers regularly

To Remove Scrud

You could try any of the solutions for removing sunscreen stains, or you could make a paste of citric acid and leave overnight, then scrub like crazy!

Time Efficient Running Workout

Time efficient running workout

When you’re running short on time, there’s no reason to miss your run. You can get a pretty effective workout in thirty minutes. Sometimes you’re going to run short on time, and you won’t be able to get in the workout that you’d planned, but…

Here’s one I like to throw into the mix for my runners from time time time. You might like to have a go over the holiday season.

Word of warning: It can be a pretty intense session, so if you’re not used to speed work, make sure you’re conservative with your pace, and maybe start with just one set of each effort.

Warm Up:

The warm up is the same for each level of runner.

Run for 10 minutes mostly at an easy 3/10 effort on the Rating of Perceived Exertion (RPE). Towards the end of the warm up you can easy your pace up to 6/10.

Main Training Session

For Beginners – If you’re not used to speed work, start at this level

  • 1 x 90 seconds @ 6/10 effort, followed by 90 seconds @ 2/10 effort
  • 1 x 60 seconds @ 6/10 effort followed by 60 seconds @ 2/10 effort
  • 1 x 45 seconds @ 6/10 effort followed by 45 seconds @ 2/10 effort
  • 1 x 30 seconds @ 6/10 effort, followed by 30 seconds @ 2/10 effort
  • 1 x 15 seconds @ 6/10 effort, followed by 15 seconds @ 2/10 effort

Finish the session with 10 minutes of easy running @ 3/10 effort

More Advanced – If you’ve been doing some speed work lately

  • 2 x 90 seconds @ 7-8/10 effort, followed by 90 seconds @ 2/10 after each effort
  • 2 x 60 seconds @ 7-8/10 effort followed by 60 seconds @ 2/10 after each effort
  • 2 x 30 seconds @ 7-8/10 effort, followed by 30 seconds @ 2/10 after each effort
  • 2 x 15 seconds @ 7-8/10 effort, followed by 15 seconds @ 2/10 after each effort

Have a light jog or walk to cool down. Don’t just jump straight into your car because you’re in a hurry!

Speed Demon – If you’ve got plenty of faster running under you belt

  • 3 x 90 seconds @ 8/10 effort, followed by 90 seconds @ 2/10 after each effort
  • 3 x 60 seconds @ 8/10 effort followed by 60 seconds @ 2/10 after each effort
  • 3 x 30 seconds @ 8/10 effort, followed by 30 seconds @ 2/10 after each effort
  • 3 x 15 seconds @ 8/10 effort, followed by 15 seconds @ 2/10 after each effort

Have a light jog or walk to cool down. Don’t just jump straight into your car because you’re in a hurry!

Don’t take off from a standing start at the rate of knots – it’s a sure way to increase your risk of injury, particularly if you’re not used to this type of training. Ease the pace up a little for the last 5 seconds of your recovery interval, until you’re at the faster pace of your effort.

Watch out for those 15 second efforts! Whilst it looks like this session gets easier as you go along, the reduced recovery can make those last efforts a real killer. 

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What you need to do to run your next personal best time

There are only a few things you need to do to be sure to hit your running goals. You don’t need to worry about whether you have that perfect pair of shoes that only weighs 100 grams. You don’t need to worry about “perfect” running technique. You don’t even need to worry if your fitness tracker is recording your run!!  For most people, there are just four things you need to get right if you’re going to see your running improve.

  • Be consistent
  • Have a good training plan
  • Eat well
  • Get enough sleep and recovery

#1 Be consistent with your running training

First and foremost is consistency with your training. The other three things actually feed into this. Three or four good weeks of training does not a personal best make. You need to be consistent week on week, month on month, and yes, even year on year, to really see the results you want.

I’ve coached many runners to personal bests across a number of distances. Those runners who’ve hit their goals are the ones who have been most consistent with their training. I’ve seen someone knock 5 minutes off their 5k time over nine months this year, whilst hitting a half marathon PB along the way. Another of my consistent runners achieved his goal of running a marathon and running a sub 20 minute 5k this year, another couple have done marathon PBs. I can’t list them all here, but these results are fairly typical of people I coach who can get some good consistency with their training.

It takes commitment, and it takes wanting to get faster more than you want the other things that could stop you from being consistent.

#2  A good training plan that suits your fitness level and your life-style

If you don’t have a training plan that suits you, then you’re putting yourself behind the 8-ball as far as getting consistent goes. Get a smart, realistic training plan that’s optimised for you. Whether you have a professional coach design a plan for you, or you design one for yourself, a good training plan will:

  • Start you at a point that suits your current level of fitness
  • Advance you at a pace that is not too hard and not too easy. Yes, like Goldilocks, it needs to be just right.
  • Have some recovery built into the plan
  • Take into account the amount of time you really have to train. If you can only run 3 days a week, your plan needs to reflect that. Don’t plan to run 4 days a week, then miss 25% of your training when reality sets in
  • Vary your training to keep it interesting
  • Include a base training phase before becoming more race specific

Having a coach can take care of all of that for you, and it can definitely help to get you to the next level more quickly, but whether you choose to use a coach, or whether you design your own training plan, just having a plan to follow will help you to be more consistent.

A word of warning if you are designing your own training plan. Be a little conservative when you’re advancing your training. If you overdo it, you’re risking injury or burnout. Either way, you can kiss a PB goodbye if you’re not able to train due to an overuse injury.  If you don’t give yourself enough rest time, your training could actually lead to a decline in performance. So make sure you construct a plan that works for you, build in training that advances you at an appropriate speed, and allow some recovery time.

#3 Eat well

If you eat well at least 80% of the time, your running is likely to improve. Eat whole, unprocessed foods, lots of vegetables and 1-2 pieces of fruit a day. “If it comes in a pack, put it back” is a great mantra!

You can eat not so well the other 20% of the time – though a 90/10 ratio would be better. That’s more than a whole day a week when you can eat junk. Viewing it that way can make it a little easier to steer away from stuff you know is not good for you most of the time. The more whole food you eat, the better you will feel. If you feel good and have more energy it’s much easier to train consistently. Your body will function more efficiently – and you’ll run faster.

#4 Sleep and recovery

Sleep has a restorative effect on the human body. It’s true. Unfortunately, sleep can also be illusive for some of us, particularly as you get older. If I had the answer to the sleep problems of the western world, I’d be a very rich woman. Sadly, I don’t, and I’m not, so I’m not going to attempt to try to address sleep issues here. Suffice is to say,  if you do have sleep issues, it’s important to try to do something about it.

Sleep is important if you want to run faster. It’s important for your race performance, it’s important for your training. It’s important for injury prevention, (and it’s important so that you can be a nice person).

When you’re sleeping, your body restores and rebuilds. It’s super-compensating for the stress you’ve been putting it under. Your body makes itself stronger, in expectation of the next load you’ll subject it to.  If you don’t get adequate sleep, and if you don’t build recovery into your training plan, your body will struggle to get stronger in response to your training. And if you’re not recovering well and feeling a bit under the weather most of the time, you’re not likely to leap out of bed every morning to go for a run.

What type of running training can you do to get faster?

Let’s say you do have these basics covered. How do you know what type of training will help get you faster for your next race? That’s a big question, and difficult to answer on an individual level here so I’ve set out some general guidelines and tips below to help you  figure out what you need to do.

One of the things I will say about recreational runners is that we do find it quite hard to fit in all the running we need to do to get faster. It’s pretty common that recreational runners’ times get proportionately slower as the distance gets longer. It’s just much harder to find the time to train for a marathon than it is to find time to train for a 5k. And it might take a few years of training, consistently, before you get good at marathons.

Assess your strengths and weaknesses by using the age graded percentage tables

The first thing to do is to assess your strengths and weaknesses.

You can discover a couple of things about your running using the age graded percentage table. 

  1. What distance you are naturally better at- which event you have the most potential in.
  2. What distance you are better at right now, and therefore where you need to focus your training for certain race distances

How to discover which distance you are naturally better at

  1. Go to the age graded percentage calculator
  2. Select a race distance and enter your time as well as the age you were when you did that time.
  3. Calculate your age grading and make a note of it.
  4. Do the same for each each distance you have a race time for

For this exercise to be really meaningful, you have to have been well trained for a particular  distance at the time of running it. The fact that you could only manage a five hour marathon but your 10k PB is 40 minutes may be more of a reflection that you were under trained for the marathon, rather than that you are not suited to it.

And conversely, if your 5k PB was hit when you were training for a marathon, it’s likely your potential in the 5k could be even faster, as you would not have been doing 5k-specific speed work when you were training for a marathon.

But, assuming you can enter some times for races where you were training pretty well for that race distance, this can give you a general indication of what you’re likely to be better at, shorter or longer distances.

You may see a trend here – you might have a tendency to have a higher age grading over the longer distances – say half marathon, or even a marathon, but not be so great at 3 or 5 k-ers, or vice-versa.  The event where your PB yields the highest age grading is the event which you are likely to be naturally better suited to.

( I’d probably leave off a marathon time unless you are a reasonably experienced marathoner, as it can take a bit of time to get good at them!)

Discover what you’re relatively better at right now, and what you need to focus on

  1. In the age graded tables, enter in recent times over different race distances, along with your age.
  2. Make a note of your age grading for each race distance

This will give you an idea of what you’re currently better at, relative to other distances. This will most be likely the distance you’ve been training for. The distance with the highest age grading is the distance you are relatively better at right now, but is not necessarily the event you have the most potential in.

If you’re like most recreational runners, your age graded percentage is likely to get lower as the race distance increases. Often this can be put down to not enough running, or not enough of the right kind of running.

Adjusting your training focus

Do you need to adjust your training for your chosen distance?

Using the second method where you enter recent race times into the age graded calculator can help you to train better for your chosen distance. Looking at what you’re good at now can help you decide where your training can use a boost. Focusing on what you’re not good can really boost your performance, even if that seems a little counter intuitive.

Here are a few  examples:

Goal distance: 5k
Best age graded percentage using recent race times: half marathon

Focus should be speed work to get a faster 5k time. You will probably have a pretty good aerobic base if you’ve recently done a half marathon, so you can drop the mileage a bit and introduce some more speed work into your training. You’ll still want to make sure that around 80% or your training is easy. This number may decrease by a few percent as your goal race gets closer.

Goal event: Marathon
Best age-graded percentage: 5k

The focus needs to  be on building an aerobic base, and teaching your body to burn fat for fuel. You can find out more about how to do this by downloading our free booklet on long run pacinghere.
You can include a faster workout once a week, but the focus is on building your mileage. Around 90% of your running will be easy runs with the aim of gradually building the distance of a long run to somewhere over 30kms. (Exactly how long is dependent on how your training has gone)

Goal Race: Marathon
Best age-graded percentage: Marathon

Focus. You could do with building  a 6-10 week block of 5-10k training into your schedule. Shifting the focus onto a shorter distance for a while can help with some running specific strength gains, and will place the focus on a different energy system for a short period of time. You need to shake your body up from time to time and place different stresses on it to see improvements continue.

Or… you could simply focus on what you don’t like doing

Often I find the training that people like doing the least is the type of training that will give them the edge when it comes to setting a new personal best. For example, some of our marathoners could run long, slow runs every day of the week and never get bored. Some have a real aversion to shorter races, and yet, a 6-12 week block of training for a 10k could be just the thing they need to get faster over the longer event.

Conversely, if you want to run a half marathon and you find anything more than a thirty minute run is too much, preferring to churn out 200 metre repeats, you’re going to need to focus on building an aerobic base. You’ll need lots more slower running over longer distances.

Choosing a distance where you have the most potential

Look at the age graded percentage for all your personal best times. The distance you have the highest age grading for will be the distance over which you have the greatest potential  (as long as you had trained appropriately for each distance when you set your best time).

Lots of factors come into consideration when you’re choosing what distance to train for of course, such as what you enjoy the most, how much time you have, whether you have any susceptibility to injury that needs to be taken into account, as well as the type of challenge you want to set yourself.  But… if you’re really keen to get as good as you can be, choosing the distance you’re best suited to and training the house down with a distance specific training schedule, should see some good improvements.

If you’re wanting to get faster, keep it simple. Don’t focus on the small stuff. Go for big ticket items. Getting the basics covered is something that many  runners can lose sight of. Those four basics are crucial if you want to step your running up to the next level, as is getting a bit more strategic about your training.

If you’re happy not to be striving to be faster (and there’s nothing the matter with that), you can get away with not being so on top of training strategy, but, the way I look at it, you’re going to be spending time running, so you may as well be doing the type of training that’s going to help you reach your goals faster.

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Should you run when there’s a lot of bush fire smoke around

Bush fire smoke can cause major health issues

Edit- 15/01/2020: I can hardly believe some two months after writing this article concerns about air quality in eastern parts of Australia are still relevant. When I published this article, I did not expect that days of poor air quality would turn into weeks and months. The acting Chief Medical Officer of Australia, Professor Paul Kelly, had this to say about it on January 10th 2020. “I think what we do know at the moment – and this is very good news – is for those places where the return to normal very good air quality is likely to be the case, that the effects of bushfire smoke on health are reversible in those situations”

I think what we do know at the moment – and this is very good news – is for those places where the return to normal very good air quality is likely to be the case, that the effects of bushfire smoke on health are reversible in those situations.

In the healthy population bush fire smoke and other pollution can cause:

  • Respiratory symptoms – it may feel harder to breath in a smokey environment
  • Temporary reduction in lung function
  • Inflammation of the respiratory system
  • Itchy or stinging eyes
  • Sore throat
  • Nausea

Those people higher risk include:

  • People with existing heart or lung conditions such as asthma and emphysema, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and chronic bronchitis
  • Pregnant women
  • Older people
  • Young children

Why does bush fire smoke effect us?

Bush fire smoke (and other pollution) contains fine particulate matter with diameters less than 2.5 micrometers (PM2.5). It also contains other contaminants which are less likely to affect you if you are away from the immediate surrounds of the fire.

This particulate matter is so small that the individual particles are not visible to the naked eye -in fact they are about 1/30th of the width of an average human hair. They can bury themselves deep down into the lungs, and also enter the bloodstream. This can cause inflammation, and issues with circulation. With short term exposure, these effects appear to be temporary. “Healthy adults generally find that any symptoms they have developed during a bush fire event clear after the smoke disappears.” (1

The impact of bush fire smoke is especially relevant to runners. We rely on lungs which function well!

When you exercise, you inhale at a much faster rate than when you are at rest. Your tidal volume (the amount of air you breath in per breath) can increase from 0.4 L to 1 litre at rest, to 3 litres during aerobic exercise. 

That’s a lot more air you’re taking in when you’re exercising, and if you’re exercising when there’s smoke about, a lot more PM2.5’s you’re sucking up. 

Apart from taking in more air, you’re also most likely breathing through your mouth rather than your nose when you’re running, so you’re bypassing the nasal hairs which will filter out some of the particulates. 

Runners can have symptoms such as chest tightness and shortness of breath, which can reduce their ability to get air in and out efficiently.

Other Pollutants

Bush fires will also increase the Ozone levels (O3). O3 is also produced at ground level when exhaust from cars mixes with direct sunlight. It is often responsible for coughing, wheezing, headaches, nausea, and eye and throat irritation. Ozone concentration is at its highest in the summer  (pretty much the same time we’re likely to experience a bush fire so you get a double whammy) and during high-traffic times of the day.

Your cardiovascular system is less efficient in pollution. Carbon monoxide (CO) is the most detrimental pollutant in this respect. Oxygen is transported to the muscles by bonding to haemoglobin. Four oxygen molecules bond to each molecule of haemoglobin.

The affinity between carbon monoxide and haemoglobin is 210 times greater than the affinity between oxygen and haemoglobin  (2) , so when carbon monoxide is present, the haemoglobin will prefer to bond to carbon monoxide  It impairs performance by bonding with hemoglobin and preventing oxygen from reaching muscles. As much as 5 per cent of red blood cells can be flooded with carbon monoxide in heavy smog, which leaves fewer cells to transport oxygen. Carbon monoxide is not generally found in high concentrations in bush fire smoke. It’s more prevalent in the air beside busy roads. 

Will running in polluted air effect me long term?

Yes – but not as you might expect. 

Some of our runners have reported nausea and respiratory issues when they’ve been running under smokey conditions, and it stands to reason that if you can avoid running outside when the smoke is thick in the air, you should. 

Given the short term detrimental health effects of exercising on days of high pollution, you might expect that if you regularly exercise in areas of high pollution, it would adversely affect your health long term. Some studies indicate this is not the case however. 

Some of the benefits of running counteract the adverse effects of air pollution. Air pollution causes oxidative stress, which reduces the body’s ability to keep toxins at bay and also causes inflammation of the lungs. Aerobic exercise reduces oxidative stress, and also to combats inflammation. 

Some of the benefits of running counteract the adverse effects of air pollution

There are a couple of studies that demonstrate that, on a long term basis, if your choice is between exercising in polluted air, and not exercising at all, you should exercise (providing you are healthy, and not in a high risk group with respiratory or heart problems). 

A study in Brazil, published in Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise  (3) looked at the effects of long term aerobic exercise on the lungs’ response to diesel exhaust particulates. The study was conducted on four groups of mice:

  • A sedentary group who did nothing
  • An exercise group that trained five times a week
  • A group that was sedentary and inhaled diesel exhaust particles
  • A group that trained five times a week, and inhaled diesel exhaust particulates

The results found:

  • The highest levels of oxidative stress among the mice who didn’t exercise and were exposed to pollutants.
  • The levels of oxidative stress in the other three groups didn’t change significantly.
  • There was no difference in oxidative stress levels between the mice that exercised whilst inhaling polluted air, and those who exercised in fresh air. 

The researchers concluded that the running protected the mice from the damaging effects of pollution. 

A study on people

A Danish study published in 2015, confirms that long term, the benefits of exercising outweigh the negative effects of exercising in polluted conditions. The study looked at data from more than 52,000 people, (yes, people, not mice) and found that “over the long-term, exposure to air pollution while exercising did not seem to reduce the beneficial health effects of physical activity on mortality risk.”(4)

The researchers were expecting that the small damages to the heart and lungs which were shown in short term studies would accumulate over time and reduce some of the beneficial effects of exercise. But, they found the opposite. 

Lead author of the study Zorana Jovanovic Andersen  says exercise seemed to offer a protective effect. And get this, even those study participants with a high exposure to air pollution showed a reduced risk of overall mortality by 25%. “So we think that the damages [to heart and lungs] are probably transitional,” she says, “and maybe they are improved by exercise.”

On average, exercise is more likely to extend your life, than increased exposure to pollution will shorten it.

On average, exercise is more likely to extend your life, than increased exposure to pollution will shorten it. Some low intensity running on high smoke days from time to time is probably going to do you little harm, unless you’re in a high risk population.

It’s not a smart thing to head outdoors for a hard workout when the air is thick with smoke day after day after day.  Be sensible, be aware of the weather forecast and also the air pollution forecast, schedule your week so that you’re hardest workouts are either on days of low pollution, or indoors. 

How can you limit the effects of high pollution when you’re exercising?

  • Exercise inside if you can. Hit the gym, the indoor pool, jump on the dreadmill. It’s only short term. 
  • If you can’t exercise inside, try to run in the morning, when bush fire smoke and other pollutants are less likely to be hanging in the air. Night is also okay, but avoid running in the afternoon. 
  • Monitor the air quality near you. This link will take you to the NSW government Air Quality Index (AQI) sight. The air quality is reported as an average figure for the last 24 hours, so it’s not going to give you a reading for how the air quality is right now unfortunately. If the air quality has dropped considerably in the last few hours for example, the average figure will be skewed by the good hour in the preceding 24 hour period. 
  • This link will take you to the air quality forecast for the next day. 
  • Try to run well away from main roads to avoid high levels of particulates. We’re susceptible not only to car exhaust, but also to micro particles of tar that are liberated by the friction of car tyres on the road. 
  • Reduce the intensity of your run on high pollution days, but don’t increase the duration of your run. This means you can’t really swap out a speed workout for a long run. Whilst you won’t be breathing as hard during a long run as you would in a speed workout, and you therefore won’t be taking in as much air with each breath, if you run for longer, you’ll be taking more breaths in total, and most likely the same amount of air, or more!
How to minimise the effects of bush fire smoke




(2) Carbon Monoxide Poisoning. Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine