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  • Writer's pictureKarla

Meet the runner - Nikki Gibson

It's hard to put into words my affection and admiration for Nikki - she's got a heart of gold, swears like a sailor and trains like a demon. Our Sunday runs in Edinburgh are something I still pine after. I spent a great afternoon going through Nikki's answers, laughing out loud and marvelling at her determination. Make yourself a cup of coffee, grab a biscuit and get stuck in!

I’m a Performance Physiologist for the sportscotland institute of sport. Most of my sport delivery is with triathlon but I have senior management responsibilities and commitments out with that too. My job involves a lot of travel, both nationally between Edinburgh, Stirling and Glasgow and internationally too, travelling to camps and competitions. I have a love-hate relationship with the travel and it’s definitely changed as I’ve ‘grown up’! I have seen some amazing things and had so many unique experiences travelling with work… I’ve seen the sun rise on early morning runs in so many different parts of the world including Canada, America, Germany, Spain (about 3 times a year!), France, Switzerland… too many places to remember. But as I’ve got old and domesticated, I really just miss my dog when I go away and it can be a bit stressful. A typical week tends to involve trying to get to watch a couple of training sessions, maybe do some testing in the lab with some of the triathletes and going to lots of meetings. Mid-coronavirus, travel is obviously out of the window (lots of doggo time!) but I’ve been really productive, and really enjoyed working from home. My focus is better, and I’ve ticked off loads of bigger projects that have sat on my to do list for a while. My coach is AC Muir. He’s a one-time GB Marathon runner turned chef-extraordinaire at the best Tex-Mex in Edinburgh. Not only is he generous with his time and wisdom, but he also keeps me pretty well fuelled after sessions! I go to training sessions that are designed and run by Alex McEwan and Garry Robertson from EAC too, and they’ve both had a big impact on my running as well.

The biggest difference from pre-lockdown to now is not being able to run doubles. All my mileage is now done in single runs. It took a few weeks for my body (& my mind) to get used to that but now I actually think it is making me a stronger, better runner. I do two key sessions a week and one long run. All my other mileage is just easy, but with strides at the end. All my easy runs are done at a heart rate of usually between 130-140bpm, but I just listen to my body and go as slow as I feel like.

Monday: 60-70mins AM, 30mins PM (now just one run!)

Tuesday: 3 mile warm up; 10k worth of work on the track with Edinburgh AC; 3 mile cool down

Wednesday: Mid-week long run, usually about 10 miles/90mins. S&C in the afternoon.

Thursday: 60-70mins AM, 30mins PM

Friday: 60-70mins AM, 30mins PM

Saturday: This is my second session of the week and generally depends on what we have done on Tuesday at the track. If I’ve already ticked the ‘tempo/threshold’ session that week then I might do something like 12-15 x 1min on,1min off, or a fartlek like 5,4,3,2,1 minutes with 1 min recovery between efforts. If the track has been more traditional ‘speed’ work (something like 12 x 400m), then I’ll do a tempo/threshold run. Every 2-3 weeks I try to now do a long aerobic conditioning threshold run which is usually about marathon pace for 60 mins. I think this has really helped support my running – I just feel stronger because of it. It’s also what I like to call ‘feel good’ pace, which obviously.. makes you feel good! Then another S&C session in the afternoon… unless I’ve got something better to do on a Saturday.

Sunday: Long run. This is my favourite run of the week. It’s usually 2-2.5 hours and it’s with the Edinburgh girls who I LOVE! The time just flies, and we have the best chat. That’s the beauty of running and training groups… it’s broadened my horizons so much. I have friends of all ages, from all backgrounds who I absolutely cherish. Without running, I’d never have gotten to know them, and my life wouldn’t be nearly as rich as it is now.

Since lockdown, my Sunday run has changed a bit. Paul & James on the Pyllon Ultra Podcast (check it out) summed it up perfectly when they talked about seeking adventure and getting creative with running. For my Sunday long run, I’ve been sitting looking at maps of the Pentlands and trying to link up trails, then going out and running them. It’s been amazing. Not only is it quiet, peaceful and appropriately socially distant, but it’s really satisfying and loads of fun finding now places to run.

During lockdown I’m also doing 2-2.5 hours a week on the turbo trainer.

The reason I run consistently big mileage is science.

I’m a massive running geek. I read loads, both science and anecdotal stories of success. All of them run big mileage. Previously when I’ve done big weeks, I’ve not been ready for it and my speed work or quality of my running has suffered. But now I’m 5 years stronger and more experienced and my body seems to be handling miles and speed sessions.

I also love it. It’s my therapy, my head space, my outlet for adventure.

But it’s not all rosy – I definitely need to rein it in sometimes and that’s where AC helps. How prescriptive he is on a day to day basis varies… at the moment there’s nothing to train for so if I’m not getting injured it’s probably OK but if we went into a marathon block, every day would be outlined, and I would have easier weeks.

My most common niggle is plantar fasciitis. It comes and goes, as PF does. I know exactly how to manage it though… a lot of it comes down to shoes (as well as being a running geek, I’m a huge shoe geek) and I’ve starting to gain an understanding of exactly what I need from a shoe (cushioned but not too soft, no rocker sitting under my arch). I also foam roll (or even use a tennis ball) my calves after every run and stretch them throughout the day. One of my physio pals also recently sent me a little foot strengthening circuit to do, so that’ll help.

The only thing I don’t do is eat dairy. I’m not allergic and won’t have a reaction if I eat something with dairy in it, I just find my stomach is a bit better when running without it. I was vegan for 3 months before Christmas and I found it a lot easier than I had anticipated. I then ate meat for a little bit of time but now I feel too guilty (from an environmental perspective and in all my long runs in the Pentlands I keep seeing the lambs!) so now I’m vegetarian. I’m not saying I’ll never eat meat again and if I want some, I’ll have it… but now I’ve just got the guilt about it!

I do also try to do a bit of training fasted to promote fat oxidisation. So, on a Tuesday night after track I won’t have any carbs in my dinner (just protein and veggies, some yoghurt after etc.) then I’ll ‘sleep low’ and run fasted first thing, then have my porridge. The science behind it is it promotes fat as a fuel source so your body can save your glycogen stores a bit – handy in the back end of a marathon. I also think it makes me a bit more mentally tough. Sometimes I’m out for 10 miles on a Wednesday morning, with track legs, starving, grinding away… it can be a slog.

The list of people who have influenced me could be endless. Alex McEwan at Edinburgh AC for ‘rocking up’ night after night, week after week, year after year in the freezing cold gale force winds – just for us. I love how much Alex cares, and I love watching him come alive explaining the session on a Thursday night when there’s a massive group of athletes all waiting to hear what horror he’s got in store for us. Garry – for just making us do the work and never compromising on his principles on running. AC – for the many, many lessons he has shared with me over the last few years. He’s taught me a lot about different types of training sessions and how to train for different events. He also made me see that you don’t need to be training for a marathon to be a ‘runner’, and that’s helped me in terms of the pressure I put on myself.

There any many training partners over the years who inspire me and many classics from running culture – the book Running with the Buffalos is my favourite. Inside the Marathon by Scott Fauble is also great. Another Podcast shout out to Brady, Brad and Julian from The Inside Running Podcast. They inspire me every week with their training and love for the sport. For sure, one day I’ll run an ultra. Before the Coronavirus, we’d said let’s crack 3 hours for the marathon and then I can do whatever I want in terms of hill running or ultras etc. But this whole situation has made everyone revaluate what’s important, I think. I’m loving getting out into the hills… like I said earlier, the adventure and creativity. I think this situation has made me question why we do what we do, and what you need to do to make you happy.

I’m not sure what my perfect distance is – I have a suspicion it might end up being ultras! My 10k PB is 38:35 and I think I can still knock a bit off that, hopefully under 37 minutes. I think objectively, my marathon is the best. I’ve ran 3:31, 3:04, 3:01, 3:21 (disaster in London round 1), 3:19 (pacing a friend round New York), 3:07, 3:16 (disaster in London round 2!) For me there is still a big weight of disappointment having not cracked 3 hours in the marathon, but I know a lot of people would be delighted with those times.

Trying new things motivates me. I love reading about or seeing different sessions on Strava and trying them out… seeing how they feel, see if they add up to the description e.g. if the session was supposed to end up with 30 minutes of threshold work, did I spent 30 minutes in my threshold heart rate zone? I love playing with different sessions and seeing what the different response is e.g. if you change the recoveries from a jog to a ‘float’, or how different running 10 miles at marathon pace feels to running an in/out session of 1km slightly above marathon pace and 1km slightly below marathon pace.. and why, what’s the physiology behind that. Again, basically I’m just a geek.

I also love the satisfaction of pushing myself. About a year ago I started going back to a group track training session at Saughton with Edinburgh AC and I can honestly say I’ve never pushed harder in training. I’ve had those sessions where you are lying on the track at the end, and then I’ve had to crawl 3 miles home at 10min/mile pace. I’ve had the metallic, blood in the back of my throat sessions. I’ve had the 6 x 1-mile repeat sessions where after 2 you honestly cannot see how you can do 4 more, but you do. I’ve come home and literally curled up in a ball on my bedroom floor – I love it. And then I equally love the balance of getting out the next morning, sticking on a podcast and literally not caring if I’m running 10-minute miles.

Pre Coronovirus, I tried to get ‘under a bar’ in the gym at least once a week, with one other session home/body weight based. I mainly focus on things I know are my weak spots e.g. hip and glute mobility/strength and calf work. I’ll also include a double leg exercise (usually back squat), single leg (single leg lunge or step up), and usually a deadlift too. Then I’ll do supplementary exercises like calf raises supersetted with pogo jumps or some sort of run drill. Then some core too.

Without a doubt my job influences my running. Like I say, I love putting theory into practise! I’m also really lucky that I can work flexible hours and most people who work in sport train themselves, so no one thinks twice about you going for a lunchtime run or a 3pm gym session. I couldn’t run the miles I do with a normal 9 – 5 job. My advice for other runners is to practise your fuelling and really research what might work for you. I’ve seen countless marathon PBs been blown by getting nutrition wrong. It’s not easy, and you could get everything perfect in training but still have a nightmare on race day, but it’s much less likely to happen if you’ve tried it out loads. The gut is trainable, so you can start just taking half a gel, and build it up so don’t just write things off instantly – take time to practise them. Different gels work for different people so try different things out too. I’ve implemented a rule with the girls on the Sunday run that we talk about nutrition for at least 3 miles, and the rest of the time can be gossip!! Most of the conversation tends to be Emma’s shock and horror that I don’t eat chips!!!

How often do you see a physio/have massage?

I’ll see a physio as and when I need to but I think self-management is really important. If something’s sore, I’ll do a lot of reading about it. Try out exercises, watch videos on YouTube about how to tape things etc. I’ve learnt a wee bit about different injuries and what the best thing to do for them is e.g. tendon injuries need a degree of loading, where as something else might need rest. I think sometimes people are too quick to think if something hurts rest is definitely the answer – sometimes it is, but not always. Like for my feet, if they get sore I know it’s ice, mobilising my ankles, foam & tennis ball rolling, a bit of tape… good to go. If I’ve got a bit of an iffy hammy, just jumping on the bike and using the muscle in a different way can make a niggle completely disappear in 24 hours.

Massage wise, I haven’t been for a while but it’s more just because I don’t make time for it as opposed to not thinking I don’t need it! In my last London build up I saw Cath Ferry regularly and that was great. I try to foam roll most days to stay on top of things. I do also have a bit of a school of thought that sometimes things are tight for a reason (any physio/massage therapist is probably going to die reading this!) but as an example, my lower back might be a bit tight, but then when that’s loosened off in a massage, on my next run my hamstring goes and I can’t run for 4 days. My back has been absorbing the load, and now it’s been relaxed, my hamstring tries to but can’t and pops. I think you have to accept that unless you have beautiful form naturally, do all your run drills and run 2 miles a week, things are going to be tight sometimes, and that might not be the worst thing in the world.

You can follow Nikki's exploits on Strava and @nikki_edin on Instagram.

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