Get online – and get out there

There are countless websites offering training advice and logs for runners. Mark MacKenzie hits the virtual highway to pick the winners from the also-rans
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The Independent Online

For most of us, the first step to shedding the pounds after the Christmas break and reacquainting ourselves with the world beyond the kitchen table means taking up running. Or jogging, or walking, depending on just how far we have let it slide. Now, that new home PC or laptop can begin to earn its keep by introducing the aspiring athlete to the mind-boggling number of training resources available over the internet.

For most of us, the first step to shedding the pounds after the Christmas break and reacquainting ourselves with the world beyond the kitchen table means taking up running. Or jogging, or walking, depending on just how far we have let it slide. Now, that new home PC or laptop can begin to earn its keep by introducing the aspiring athlete to the mind-boggling number of training resources available over the internet.

The staple runner's resource in cyber-space is the training planner, or "log". In effect a digital diary, running logs provide athletes with the ability to record and plot workouts on screen. By entering information into specific fields, stored data can be represented as graphs or pie charts, enabling runners to assess and improve their performance over weeks, months or even years. A well-maintained log is useful for identifying spells of both good and bad form, and can be a handy tool for the runner in need of that extra bit of motivation.

When choosing a log, the most important question you need to ask yourself is how much you are going to use it. This is simply a question of cash, because logs are available in two formats: PC software packages for which you pay, and the web-based alternative, which is free.

A good PC-based log will offer sufficiently more for your money: extra features might include a "course-builder" function, enabling runners to store routes of varying difficulty, or a sophisticated "pace calculator" which allows athletes to alter run times and speeds as fitness improves. The log then uses this information to help develop a training regime best suited to a runner's ability.

Web-based logs by contrast, are more basic, offering a simple electronic notebook to the runner wishing to record how far he or she has run and when. The problem with the majority of logs is that, though they claim to cater for all abilities, the reality is that without some prior training experience, you are unlikely to make use of the full range of benefits a system has to offer.

A far better starting point for the beginner is the website of an actual running club. One of the best around is that of London's Serpentine Running Club. It is easy to navigate, and offers advice on everything from choosing the right shoes to how running can improve your sex life, as well as information on how to choose and use the right log. Packed with articles written by successful coaches, the "Serpies" resource was named "best all-round site" in a survey published this month by Runner's World, Britain's leading running magazine.

But subject-specific sites are not without their merits, and the range and depth of information available is phenomenal. Those prone to more than the odd niggle, for example, can visit any one of the thousands of sites dedicated to preventing and treating sports injuries.

It will come as no surprise to regular followers of sport to learn that one of the best comes from Australia. At www.sportsinjury.com.au, athletes can swot up on immediate injury management or surf the site for cures to longer-term problems. The site also has extensive injury advice for the disabled, across a range of disabilities.

Eating the right foods and drinking sufficient liquid is also a key factor to optimum performance for any athlete. Though not running-specific, one of the better resources again comes from down under, provided by the Australian Institute of Sport.

So does this mountain of advice spell the end for the traditional athletics coach? Not according to Dr Richard Newbold, Senior Research Fellow at the School of Biological Sciences, University of London. In his experience as a qualified coach and President of London's Victoria Park Harriers running club, Newbold believes that the deluge of advice available offers as many pitfalls as it does leg-ups to aspiring runners.

"If you followed the advice [of information providers] you'd be changing your training regime every month and would probably end up exhausted, ill or injured," Newbold says. "Even looking at the advice from one single coach can result in 1001 ideas being thrust at you, and these often oppose the ideas of the month before."

Newbold's own advice is to join a local running club. "Shop around and find the club that suits you. If you know everything about anatomy, physiology, biochemistry and nutrition, then as a new starter to running, you will be in a good position to work out what [cyberspace] advice is sensible. If not, then you could be in trouble."

The facts

PC logs
RunLog, www.pegasussoftware.com, $25 (£18)
Athlete's Log, www.athleteslog.com, $25
The Training Diary, www.science-sportsware.dk, $49 (£35)
PC Coach, www.pccoach.com, $64.95 (£46)

Web-based logs
ActiveLog, www.activelog.com
RunnersLog, www.runnerslog.com
Sasha's Free Online Training Log, www.running.sashanet.com/trainlog

UK club websites directory
www.runtrackdir.com

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