Thursday, 27 December 2012

A Christmas Trail

I have to admit missing my last long training hurt both physically and mentally!

It's the second time the heel has flaired up and both times it's been within a couple of miles of the start on a long run.

It was time to get some help. As said before, I think I started to believe the hype on barefoot and had refused to accept that I could get injured with minimal running and I must be doing something wrong? Even advice on the various barefoot forums was pointing to the fact that I dared to even look at a pair of normal trainers now, let alone still wear them occasionally.

Who is right? All I know is that I'm injured and what I was doing wasn't helping. I started with some sports massage which really helped and took a few days off running to let the pain calm down. I then started to take some anti-inflammatory pills (which I never really do) and set about getting the foam roller from behind the sofa and actually use it!

I sat down and analysed the training and anything I'd changed. Well the only things I'd changed were I'd started actual barefoot training and I'd increased the mileage with 20 mile plus weekly long runs. Well I think I'd answered my own question right there.

I either need to cut back the distances or the attempt to convert to full barefoot. Well I've got an ultra in Jan so cutting the miles was going to be tricky, I'd decided to ease back on the latter for now, while starting a daily routine of extra stretching and massage. Who would think rolling pins would be so useful in running training.

Well it was the Sunday before Christmas and the few days I'd taken off were starting to hurt as I had itchy feet (not literally). I'd decided to squeeze in a cheeky trail race with Katie near Maldon. It was a short 3.5 mile muddy and wet route around a nature reserve and the best thing about it was the fact it was fancy dress with a festive theme and chocolate at the checkpoints!

I dressed in the only costume I had to hand which was Michael Jackson from Thriller, Katie dressed as a Christmas Elf. It was great running round the woods laughing at giant snowmen running past each other in circles.

Back to the important stuff... I'd decided to christen the NB MT110's and Sealskin socks I'd picked up. I still had a little heel pain but specifically ran on the forefoot and it felt ok. The 110's held up well in the thick mud as the sole design was more aggressive than the Trailgloves with defined lugs and the waterproof socks proved awesome as I actually ran through every patch of water that was at times deeper than the tops of the socks and the feet were dry as I ran fast trying not to stand in it too long.

The day was topped off as we both won a fancy dress prize and actually finished reasonabley high up in the results for the short route.

Over the next couple of days I jogged slowly in my Lunas with our new puppy up to about 3 miles. You need to be slow and take it easy with young dogs so I made sure that she only ever walked and didn't full run and this would only be a couple of times.

The heel was getting better and the massage was starting to work. I just wish the rain would stop for 5 minutes lol. Well Christams day came and went and on Boxing Day I couldn't hold out anymore and drove down to the Witham Boxing Day 5.

I entered on the day and decided to wear the Luna Leadville's. I'd not raced that short distance for a while especially on road but taking the chance to probably be the only person running in sandals was too good to pass up.

The only comments at the start were from my own running club members who asked the same old question "are you really running in those?" I was worried about my foot as there was still a little pain but I'd finish even if I had to walk it. After the start I felt ok. Again I purposely ran on the front of the foot and I could feel it rubbing but it actually felt good!

I knew at the start I wouldn't be fast but I was running with a smile on my face. I looked at the watch and I was sub-8 min miles which I was happy with as I'd only be a few minutes off my usual finishing times. I ran with a couple of people of similar pace when after awhile one guy asked if I'd read Born to Run... Classic! He said I was the first person he'd seen wearing sandals to race in! It's great to be a relative trendsetter.

In fact the only issue I had was the large patches of water what I had to run through. My Leadville's  don't have the MGT (Monkey Grip Technologhy) and as a result the sandals would slip and move and the toes would take the strain. Ill try and get another pair soon to test. I know Tracy at Barefoot Britain was looking to get them in.

I really enjoyed the run out and it was a great day with a great crowd, I even saw Mr Potter on the route cheering us on! The only issue was a tiny blister on the front pad of the foot and a slightly sore calf from the change in running style. Not bad at all and a day later I was fine.

Next run could be Sundays 25 mile Stansted Stagger.

Saturday, 22 December 2012

Time to heel!

Last time out I was just about to step out on my latest long training run....

Well after some decent planning I felt confident that this time the planned 25 miles would prove easier than the last time out.

Unfortunitely, as well as confident I also felt I slight pain in my right heel. I'd had this pain before and it didn't end well as I got about a mile into a long run before having to stop and quit.

As I stepped out into the pouring rain wearing Lunas and Injini socks, I felt good. Even when within a few seconds as my footwear were soaked, the feet felt refreshed. For the first few minutes I thought the foot niggle would not be an issue but this was short lived.

As I approached town after about a mile the pain quickly spread and the whole heel area was in pain and I couldn't run anymore. This was exactly like before and I knew I couldn't run it off. I made the quick decision to get back home limped to the nearest bus stop.

When I got back home I put my feet up and could actually see the swelling on the inside of my ankle and it was really sensitive to touch. I always used to suffer from PF and I thought this was the case but he pain was slightly different and the way it came on didn't feel 100% like PF.

By lunch time I managed to walk around town as it had calmed down and I took the opportunity to buy a pair of New Balance MT110 Minimal Trail shoes which were £34 from Sports Direct. I'd thought about buying these for quite a while as the Trailgloves were a little light on grip and these were cheap!

After a couple of days rest I had some light massage on the foot by a physio from my running club Jen Lovelock who works out of Toe Zone Foot Care Chelmsford. I have to admit I'd have sports massage everyday if I could afford it as I think it makes a huge difference when training especially as you get older and the body doesn't recover as quick as it used too.

It was interesting having a chat with Jen about barefoot running and her views on it. She's not a huge supporter of minimal footwear as she feels that it defeats the purpose of proper barefoot running. But admitted that going true barefoot probably was positive.

Its been said that one of the main reasons for converting is the fact that as soon as you ditch the trainers that you never get injured again....

Well that isn't true (for me). As a largish flat footed runner with a poor running style even though I've taken 7 months to get where I am and theres a need to be realistic and take things slow.

Well planning a little jog out tomorrow, ill let you know how a get on.

Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Cold Feet

Today I decided I didn't have loads of time so thought I'd make the best out of the time I had and would try a short barefoot run.

I made the choice to run down to Chelmer Park where we hold the Barefoot Beginners sessions. First I put on my Xero sandals but this time thought I'd test out wearing normal socks with them as it was winter and still chilly. Ok the decision was a little "tongue in cheek" and I have to admit a part of me liked the fact people would comment.

Actually the result wasn't too bad. The socks actually fitted well and this would also serve to stop any chaffing too. My daughter loved the look but I don't think the wife will be volunteering to run with me any time soon.

I hadn't run in the Xero's for a few weeks and they felt hard going at first but as I warmed up I got used to them again. After a mile I'd got to the park and took the sandals and socks off to run the first section which is approx. 2 thirds of a mile of grass. The ground was soft but still really cold and the feet were taking time to adjust. Yes the going was easier on the feet but I still had to be careful of twigs etc. from the many trees and I noticed for the first time that I did actively chose my route "on the run".

I got to the Tarmac path and straight away the feet felt like they were burning when running on it. I think a combination of temperature and pebbled finish made the run hard work. I got to the end of that section and decided to put the Xero's back on and run home. I ran half the way home and got to a piece of path that was smooth and flat. Again I took off the sandals and straight away it felt right. My feet were well warmed and the ground though hard, felt warm? Strange how different hard surfaces can feel.

As I began the last section home I noticed also that I was trying to run light on my feet as if I was running on a hot surface protecting the feet, I do think I need to let go of that habit and get used to the feeling. Anyway I was happy with the short barefoot run out especially as I analysed so much.

So what's next? I'm planning my next long run and I've got a route in mind which is a homage to my youth as I plan to run the old disused railway line between Witham and South Woodham Ferrers via Maldon in Essex where I grew up. That's 15 miles but I also planned to run from home to the start in Witham which is an extra 10 miles. After finishing I aim to get the bus home :)

Well I'm also trying to incorporate the lessons learnt from my last long run. I've brought some cereal and chocolate bars and will fill my flask so will will have lunch as I go, so we'll see how it goes?

Wish me luck!

Monday, 17 December 2012

The long and winding road


Arrrrh! That’s better…. (more about that later)

All week I’d been torn mentally between “minimal is best” and “more support the better” camps. In my last entry I’d said that I did my last run in normal shoes as I was still sore and wanted the perceived protection or increased support and cushioning.

I finished that run though with a slight flair up of Planter Fasciitis on my “bad foot” and a painful big toe. To be honest, I couldn’t say 100% that it was the work of the “devil shoes” but the pain was there so I’d see where I was at next time?

I’d done a couple of short runs in the week at work and started getting ready for the  longest run yet. I’d had a route marked out for a while and planned to run 15 miles along a canal then turn around and run back. Well the recent frost, thaw then rain meant that the tow path would be slow going. I didn’t want to waste the entire day so changed the route last minute to a 30 miler on road as I’d be quicker.

I switched footwear back to the Merrell’s as I knew they would suit the back lanes I’d be using and set off. All my pre-run planning seemed to go well. I’d carb-loaded Friday and eaten and hydrated during breakfast. I’d seen this run as the perfect practice for the actual race and a chance to try out some tactics in advance!

I find it easier to break a long run into 5 mile “chunks” and the first 2 chunks went really well. It was mostly all uphill from Chelmsford to Maldon via Danbury and I felt strong as if I was eating up the miles with a smile on my face. Even the next chunk felt ok as I consumed my 3rd carb gel at 15 miles on a little bridge over the canal in Ulting.

This is where the fun really started. Ulting to Little Baddow started to feel harder. The course started to climb Tour De France style with a series of slight hills getting slowly higher and higher. OK this is Essex and we’re not talking King of the Mountains but it was starting to feel like it as I noticed my pace getting slower on the watch.

As I begin to clock watch I was running so slow now that I could even notice the extra amount of time to get to the next 5 mile point. When I did eventually get to the 20 mile point I celebrated this fact by having an impromptu “picnic”, yes you guessed it, another gel but this time followed up by a banana on a road over the A12…. Unforgettable!

By now I’d dropped about a minute every mile in pace as the legs started to feel heavier but in hindsight I think my mind was starting to have a major influence on me. All I could think about now was how slow I was and how it would take to finish.

I couldn’t see how I was going to do another 10 miles even though I knew I could do it physically. What didn’t help either was a decision taken some 4 hours ago in the warmth of my home (which felt a very long way away now) and that was the route selection. I’d taken the decision to combine a couple of long road routes forgetting the very reason I’d got into ultra’s this year, which was to say goodbye to the boring tarmac!

I eventually got to the next milestone of 25 miles and was at a real low point. The weather had started to turn and the warm sunny morning was now dark, windy and cold. I’d hydrated well to this point but in my opinion “man cannot run on carb gels alone” and the addition of a single banana with a couple of sweets wasn’t cutting it.

It was at that point I then realised that my last run was only 18 miles and I shouldn’t push the distance up too much too soon so I took the decision to cut the run short and make the “call of shame” to my wife to pick me up.

We arranged a point on the route where she could meet me and I ran a couple more miles before she rescued me at the 27 miles point. Looking back I’m actually happy with the distance as it was nearly 10 miles longer than last time out and yes 45 miles is much longer but I’ve got to look at the big picture.

I’d hit the marathon point in this run in nearly the same time as my last road marathon race in April and this was a training run. Also whatever the distance, it was time on feet that counted so this was money in the bank! Finally, come race day as an off-road trail type run, I’d be running at a slower pace when navigation and terrain is taken into consideration.

What I did learn on this run was the importance of recognising where my mental low points were and having a plan to manage these next time. I also still think I haven’t found a solution to fuelling on these runs. In a road race you can bang gels only but this format you need to think of the long term and adding some fruit for me doesn’t work. I decided to try and combine the 2 issues into a single solution next time by planning a series of food treats at these low points.

The other massive plus to come out of the run was the footwear choice. This was the longest distance I’d run in the Merrell’s and on a hard surface. Yes the feet were sore and I could really feel it when running but everything felt ok post event.

The road might have been long and winding but from what I learnt, it was well worth it.

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Turning to the Darkside!

Well in my last post I said I was still feeling the effects from my last long run.

I’d rested over the last weekend and instead decided to run this week.

First thing to say was I’ve decided for the next couple of runs to wear conventional shoes…. Shock horror I hear you say! Due to my main issue being an “over use” foot injury I took the decision that I could actually benefit from some increased cushioning (see normal shoes do have a place still).

I’d conducted a short 4 mile “test run” earlier in the week with no serious results so decided I’d go for it. Well due to wearing non-barefoot shoes for this long run I decided rather than post nothing I’d write a little article on managing long runs into your schedule.

As I’m ultra marathon training, as a result need to fit a long run into my training at least once a week (approx.. 20 miles). Well I serve in the Army reserve and this takes up some of my weekends so I find myself having to be a little creative in my routine.

What I find works for me is running to work. I know this doesn’t sound that difficult but if you work in an office like me then this is actually logistically difficult. I have a large heavy laptop which I can’t really leave at the office in case I need to work from home and this time of year it’s cold and dark early.

I live 12 miles from work so have a couple of options to get my long run in. Option 1 is run to work then run home…. This means getting up at stupid o’clock and getting home late. Option 2 is grab a lift to work and run home. Option 1 gets the distance but in two parts and causes a lot if disruption. Where option 2 is simpler but doesn’t cover the miles required. I chose option 2 but simply added a small loop when I got home.

The other main factors as mentioned were how do I carry back my laptop, getting it back in one piece and the fact it would be cold, dark with snow and ice on the ground. Many people including my wife would say it’s silly even thinking about this and they’d be correct but moving on!

I decided to use my small Inov-8 Race pack as I could fit my laptop in there with not much else which would stop it from moving around too much. I used a waterproof dry bag and padded it out with some warm kit just in case.

The other issue is being seen. Even though most of my route is on footpaths there are many sections close to roads and I’d be finishing in complete darkness. I’d brought a new head torch as some of the ultras I’d entered would be finished in the dark and so I planned to test this on the run.

Below is my complete kit list for the run….

Commuting Winter Running Kit list

Hilly Wool Reversible Hat (Dark one side , Lumi the other)
Generic Technical Short Sleeve T-Shirt (Souvenir of some past race)
Endura Arm Warmers (Didn’t like the idea but worn a few times now and love them)
Ultimate Performance Wind Stopper Gloves (Brought for me by my wife at Running Show at Sandown)
JJB Lumi Windproof Gillett (cheap)
Ron Hill Tracksters (Army Issue)
Wicking under crackers (Army Issue from Afghan)
Cheap Cool Max Socks
Magnum Multicam V-Lite Off-Road shoes
Inov-8 12 Litre Race Pack
Dry Bag
Zinc Oxide Tape (Essential Nipple Protection!)
Alpkit Gamma Head Torch (Probably the best £15 you can spend)
Hilly 600ml Handheld Water bottle (Again hated the idea of holding anything when running, now like it)
3 x Carb Gels
Sub Zero Mid Layer Warm Thermal Top (carried in pack)
Decathlon Gore-Tex Running Jacket (carried on outside of pack)

I decided to show the kit list for the benefit of anyone thinking about commuter running or just longer winter runs.

Probably the most important factor though is route selection. Its easy to forget in the winter that a run in the afternoon can easily finish in the dark and if there’s no street lighting and you’re in the middle of nowhere, then it could be an issue? Also the weather. Its Britain…. You could be running in July and encounter a hail stone storm so who knows what it could be like in the winter, 4 seasons in one day was written about this country!

For route selection I always use an online tool by Ordinance Survey called Getamap. Its £20 per year and use mark out routes and create custom maps as much as you like. You should at least tell someone the route you are planning to run just in case.

Well the run itself went well. The head torch was amazing and is easily good enough for night time trail runs. The snow and ice wasn't that bad either. I used common sense and ran on the roads where I could as these had been treated, just make sure you are visible early to oncoming traffic.

The worst parts were getting home to drop off my laptop where it was nice and warm then heading out into what was now sub-zero temperatures. It was so cold that the sweat I was producing was actually freezing! The only time I'd been as cold as this was marathon training in the Austrian Mountains!

This week I plan to have a couple of shorts runs combined with a single long run Saturday which I’m hoping will be 30 miles! This will have been the longest training run so far. The route at the moment is along the Blackwater and Chelmer Canal from Chelmsford to Heybridge Basin which should be at least flat like my next ultra but with all the recent rain could be interesting.

In the Army they have a phrase “time in recce is seldom wasted”, this is also true for runners!

Sunday, 2 December 2012

Absolute Beginnings

As I was still feeling a little below par, I decided it was a good idea to postpone this weeks long run as a couple of days rest now will save me maybe weeks if I pushed hard now. There's still sometime until I need to have finished my long runs and I decided to move this weeks long run to mid week to cover this and next week as I'm away next weekend.

Instead I planned a Sunday morning Barefoot for Beginners run in our local park. I've started a Facebook group Barefoot Essex and I know there's a lot of runners out there interested in giving barefoot a try. This group and Sunday sessions format will work well as I use everything I've learnt so far combined with how I converted to barefoot, check out the link and join us :)

Well I thought about how and where to start the session and picked Chelmer Park in Chelmsford Essex. The park is pretty quiet at most times and is a mile around the perimeter. Most of the route is grass which apart from the occasional twig is pretty easy going. It features though a decent section of hard surface path which in my opinion offers new barefoot runners the chance to ease into it. I can eventually see people adding additional laps when they get used to the transition and there's even a couple of slopes!

This obviously presumes anyone will "sign up" to do it lol A few people have expressed interest in my journey so far and I know of many people that have taken the plunge and brought minimal footwear. This combined with the running group I started at work where a few of us run at lunch "san-footwear" so who knows?

Well me and my daughter Katie were joined today with the latest addition to the family Annie our new puppy. Today though was baltic! Hard frost on the ground would offer a baptism of fire (fire! chance would be a fine thing). I'd like to say also that my 8yr old daughter is used to running having regularly run up to 7 mile trail races and also junior Cross Country races. I always make sure she's well within her comfort zone and today she would only barefoot run for a few metres, she just wanted to be part of the show!

Special thanks go to my son Ali who is the Technical guru of Essex Barefoot. He designed the logo and edited the video.

Hopefully see you soon.

Friday, 30 November 2012

Pain Related Learning

Well that's what the Army says when you literally need to beat some sense into someone...

You'll be glad to know that in today's modern army that doesn't physically happen but in this case it relates to my constant capability to underestimate and pay for it.

This time as previously indicated it was my decision last Sunday to break in my new Xero's with a long off road run when I'd not run in sandals for sometime due to the weather change instead of the sensible option of a simple short run.

Well I came off the run bruised and sore as expected but nearly a week later I've missed two training runs so far this week and my long run tomorrow is in trouble as I'm way off full fitness.

The sandals decision though wasn't the only poor choice last Sunday as I ran a series of short runs most of the day. The day started badly when I didn't have my usual porridge breakfast and opted for bacon sarnies. Never change anything in your routine unless you test it first and then only a little at a time.

Well because I ran a number of short runs, I'd again managed to under estimate the required fuel and after 18 miles I'd only had one gel and limited fluids. From 6am till 4pm all I'd taken on was a small sarnie, a gel and limited water and I'd taken part in a Cross Country and 10k Road races as well as running to and from events and racking up nearly marathon distance!

Monday morning my calfs were on fire probably also due to my lack of effort with warm down and stretching. I felt stupid waddling my way around the office like I'd messed myself. As well as this, my big toe that I had the op on earlier had started to ache a tad.

I took a couple of days off running then strangely the toe started to really hurt to the point where I could hardly walk on it something that hasn't happened since the actual surgery. That was Wednesday and its Friday now and I'm still limping slightly on it.

So do I risk it tomorrow? The course I'd planned is a fig 8 of Chlemsford so there will chances to opt out mid run. My heart says go for it but my head says take it easy.

Anyway i'll let you know how I get on

Sunday, 25 November 2012

Running with minimal fuss?

Well it's Sunday evening and I've got my feet up after a weekend of outdoor fun.

Saturday was spent with the family first visiting a Running Expo in Surrey then we checked out Chessington Zoo while in the area :)

I'd heard about the Expo via Runners World and it sounded interesting with the usual large amount of stands featuring mainly manufacturers and running stores so I knew there would be some nice goodies on display but what really caught my eye was this was the first event where there was a noticeable Barefoot Running representation.

There was a small independent store called Barefoot Britain ( and a stand run by a couple that specialise in training Barefoot Runners.
These coaches were also holding a talk on minimal running so I was sold.

The Barefoot Britain stand was run by a nice lady called Tracy Davenport. She seemed to know loads about the minimal running scene and had a stock of some interesting products that included some slip on plastic shoes for general “chilling” but also sold basic DIY style running sandal kits. They were branded as Xero but I later found out they were actually rebranded Invisible Shoe sandals from the U.S. the main competitor of Luna.

I really liked the foot beds as they had a nice tread pattern and seemed to be made from a harder material than the neoprene Luna’s? I actually fancied trying some basic sandals to see how I could get on, I love my Luna’s but because they are the 10mm thick soles I feel I'm missing a little of the true barefoot ride if that makes sense. Well my lovely wife Kelly could tell how much I liked them so offered to buy them for me (love you!). Tracy had already “traced” my feet and she picked out some appropriate sized soles, some laces and even a hair pin and hole punch.... I’ll get back to those.

Later we attended the talk on barefoot running. It went into detail on how the techniques differ but also the physical benefits. My whole family actually attended it and they said they found it interesting. The presenters have written a book on the subject so I might try and track it down. My 8yr old daughter especially liked the talk. She’s getting into running and has already run a large number of trail races and is now into Cross Country. I loved the presentation and was the first to ask a question at the end asking "Does it hurt running barefoot?" The presenters actually took time to answer her question in detail and I was impressed with her and the time taken by the guy’s. Below is a pic of Katie at the talk.

Later that evening I built my sandals up from the kit. They were actually pretty easy to put together and I looked forward to testing them the next day. The hair pin I found was for threading the laces through the footbeds lol.

In the morning, I planned to get in some miles by running to a Cross Country in Little Baddow and back then later taking part in the Chelmsford 10k road race. This should cover the minimum of 20 miles long run for my ultra training.

Well what to wear? I wanted to try the new sandals but wasn't sure if I would run to the XC in them or actually race in them later in my 10k road race?

I took the decision to wear them to run to the XC in Baddow. This meant 6 miles of road and trail with some water and mud thrown in.

So what were the Xero’s actually like? Well to start with they felt nice! They actually felt like I wasn’t wearing shoes (hence the Invisible tag?) But what about running? They were hard to start but this was probably due to the fact I’d shelved the Luna’s for the winter and I hadn't run in sandals for a few weeks and it was taking a little time to adjust.

After a few 100m, I was getting used to them though. I'd managed somehow to get the laces set-up bang on and they actually felt better than the top of the range Luna laces. After a couple of miles I felt at home with the new footwear and even did my first mini review live!

See the video review by clicking the link below:

I got to the race start and enjoyed the statements from the rest of the members of my running club on how mad I was to run in those and loved the shocked look from the other clubs runners. Generally I was really pleased on how the Xero's performed. I'd almost say I liked them better than the Luna’s for now but we’ll see.

Did my feet hurt? Well yes to be honest. Were my wet muddy toes cold? Well yes again to that too but nothing serious and when running the friction warms you up. I'd covered probably the toughest terrain these could handle first time out and I felt ok.

Next up was the actual Cross Country event. I changed into my Walsh's for the XC and took it pretty easy on the course as I knew I was running home post event.

I finished 97th (no idea how good or bad that was), I had a quick cup of tea and a custard cream and changed back into the Xero's to run home.

The run back felt emotional. I was a lot slower and the feet were starting to get sore.

Well I kept going and even though I felt tired it wasn't that bad, well until I thought I'd trod on what a initially thought was a really sharp stone but it turned out to be a long thorn that had gone through the sole and into my foot.

I pulled the torn out and kept plodding on till I was home. I'd by now run about 16 miles and I just had enough time to change into a clean club vest before heading off to the 10k road race.

In hindsight, I should have started with something shorter and a little less technical and I knew I’d got blisters in my heels but that was nothing to do with the sandals and I remember a statement from the barefoot presentation yesterday “if it hurts, you’re doing it wrong and need to change something”.

Monday, 19 November 2012

Get lost!

Well the ultra-training has kicked off this weekend.

After looking at various ultra-training plans and guides I've decided that as I've taken part in regular marathons and races up to around 30 miles that training for 40-50 shouldn't be that different (notice I never said EASY!)

I've also covered 100km in the Trailwalker event previously which I ran/walked but more walked and also covered long distances in the Army even carrying weight and in boots, so I knew that it would probably be painful, mental and slow!

Due to the above I decided to base training around the marathon training format of short runs in the week with long runs at the weekend. For the last marathon though I'd not done any long runs and still did it ok but the key for me is getting the balance right and not over committing. Be realistic and only plan what is achievable.

So the result is at weekends I'm going to try and fit in a 20m plus off-road run and another shorter run back-to-back. This I've heard is the key to ultra-running as you can't do 50m training runs (well I can't), so instead you get the body used to operating when it's already tired.

Anyway, this weekend just gone....
Well I'd decided that I'd run the Chelmsford Centenary Circle which runs around the outside of the city approx.. 20 miles. I'd run most parts of this many times but there were a few legs that I'd never covered and a few places where I'd end up a little confused.

The run started well, I'd opted to carry some kit in my Inov-8 backpack but not use a bladder as I now preferred the hand bottle (strange as I used to hate anything in my hands). I packed a back-up 500ml bottle in the pack just in case. I used this run to test a few minor things with nutrition though.

The main change was the drink. Normally I'd use an Army issue drinks powered which contains lots of carbs and sugar. I used to suffer from minor cramping though and decided to try something different so this time used water with Nuun hydration tablets (Tri-berry flavour). The tablets have no calories so only provide the minerals needed when running and all the carbs come via gels. (think I might try the next run with no gels and just these to see the real effect).

I'd already tested them in the office in my normal drinking water so I knew I could stomach them but I packed some tissues just in case! Also emptied my energy gels into a single Salomon bottle which is a little like a collapsible "babies bottle". At my last race I fell whilst trying to take on some gel smashing my knee and I though this could reduce time opening packs. (Notice I didn't use the hand carrier).

2 miles into the run and I was feeling a few tweaks with my feet etc. (wearing trail gloves) but then something went click in my back and my back instantly locked like a trapped nerve. I'd woke a week again with the same pain but it had gone but now it had returned instantly?

I couldn't turn my head very well and even breathing was a little painful. I seriously thought I'd have to walk home but jogged a little and noticed that running caused no more extra pain than walking or standing still so thought I'd carry on for a while as I could be in pain at home feeling guilty or feel in pain at home after the run. Was it uncomfortable? YES but it actually took the focus off some other niggles so I carried on.

One of these niggles was some minor discomfort in my right foot in the main tendon down the front. I’d first had this from breaking in the new Walsh’s but now it seemed to return when wearing the Merrill’s also my toe joint started to hurt on the same foot where I’d had my op. These were not that bad and I could live with them but I need to remember that it’s the minor things that can develop into something serious when probably running longer 30-40m as its hard to put up with things for that amount of time.

Well the drink went down well with me only drinking 500ml which I think is too little for a 20m run and would normally drink a little more. I noticed later I’d get headaches even though I’d drank lots when home. The gel bottle also worked ok but I’m still not sure as the last bit was difficult to get out of the bottle so will keep looking at that.

Last point on the topic of Merrill grip in mud. I’ve spoken about this a number of times and again in heavy mud the shoes slipped BUT I tried to run through these sections as flat footed as possible using all the grip they had to offer and this did make a difference so will push on.

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Missing In Action!

Well its been a while......

With the autumn and winter upon us the barefoot option is getting a little narrower.

The footwear of choice the Luna Flip Flops were almost packed away for the winter as the last time I wore them they didn't stand up to the wet mud of UK trails in oct/nov!

I'm gutted as with Injini socks the flip flops are ok on warmth but they really don't do wet and mud. Luna have now released all there flip flops with Monkey Grip Technology which is like a non slip footbed. I actually even sent them an email saying do they have plans for a UK winter trail version but to date, nothing heard.

I've instead switched to the Trailgloves which I love BUT even they don't give that grip in the worst that British weather can throw at us. I will stick with these now but have been also using my old Walsh's which I'd promised myself I'd throw out as I'd brought a replacement pair of PB Ultra Extreme's from Pete Bland Sports at this years Fell Relay British championship.

I have no issue using the Walsh footwear in a barefoot blog as these are really basic designs and have little support or drop between heel and front. As said previously though these are very much aimed at serious fell races so I'm still in the market for something barefoot with a little more grip maybe lol

Well for now ill stick to the Merrell's. I've just entered Country to Capital 45m Ultra in January and also the South Downs Way 50m in April so better keep up the long runs!

Friday, 14 September 2012

Sore Points...

Sore Points...

Yesterday look another step toward full barefoot conversion when I did another long run home from work in the afternoon wearing the Luna's.

I've run to work a number of times and it's not a real issue. It's just under 12 miles with most of the route on pavements / off-road. It can be a little poor in low light but it's ok.

The main reason running to work isn't bad is because it's mostly down hill! Well I've also run home before but usually fully off road which can take 3 hours of hard running.

Yesterday I decided to wear the Luna's and run exactly the same route home as I do to work. I average a reasonable pace in the mornings and can 9 minute mile which I'm happy with for that distance (I'm not fast).

Well I start quite fast but soon I hit the first long hill and I look at the watch and I'm 9.30 miling which is frustrating. I get to the top of that climb and I'm still at a slow pace and realise it's because I'm actually being lazy!

My minds completely off running and I've fallen into the trap where I'm coasting along. Well I've had a word with myself and started to push again. Soon the times are dropping and I'm back to 9.20 then 9.15 BETTER.

After about 5 miles I can start to feel certain areas on the Luna's rubbing again. Not bad just a little annoying. The toe strap on the left foot seemed a little tight and I was getting the uaual pain at the base of my big toes on the right.

Again, I just pushed on as I guessed they didn't get any worst. I've now decided that things will hurt and rub.... get used to it! It's your bodies way of telling you which parts are weak and need to "man up".

Anyway, I kept pushing and got faster finishing with 9 min miles which matched the "to work" times previously ran during marathon training. Most pleased.

The Luna's again performed well.

Monday, 10 September 2012

In for the long run

In for the long run

Well post Thursday run, the big toe still had the remnants of the old dried skin attached (nice) and was still a little tender so I wondered what Sunday’s long run would result in?

I woke Sunday and started my long run ritual of porridge and iso drink breakfast. I taped the nipples (top tip!) and checked the blister one last time. I decided to plan for the worst by carrying some plasters and some heavy duty tape to secure them. The plasters were stored in my new ultra running shorts but I kept the spare tape stuck to my chest!

It was a beautiful clear sunny morning and I set off to meet some people from our running club. The Luna’s felt fine so I relaxed and concentrated on my running style trying to keep as light on my feet as I could.

Just under 5 miles later I met up with some friends and after the usual comments on my footwear we went off. Again there were lots of comments on the Luna’s on the run but it was nice to have some comments from people who had read Born to Run etc. Lots more people know about barefoot running it seems.

Well the miles kept coming and we were switching from roads, paths to trails, grass etc. and even when wet the Luna’s were ok. The only real time they caused any issues was over a heavily ploughed hard mud dry field and even then if you were careful, you could still run over it! I was really pleased.

Towards 14 miles, I could start to feel it as I’d not ran that far for a while and as a result I think my form started the wane. Even then I was ok and kept pressing. I could feel a slight pain on the outside of my heel but nothing that was going to stop me and I knew it was just a pressure blister that I could have had from that distance in any footwear due to lack of miles.

Just under 16 miles and we got to the finish. I thought about running the extra distance home and could have but I planned to do 15 and decided to call it a day and get a lift.

Mission accomplished! I think I can say now that I’m converted fully to barefoot running. I’m also happy to do my longest run in the Luna’s and will stick to these for now.

Finally, today I’m doing a photo shoot at work around the site promoting running at work. I’ll be wearing the Luna’s so will post some pics next time!

Friday, 7 September 2012

Building up the miles....

Building up the miles....

I’ve been trying to slowly build up the miles in the barefoot footwear recently with 14 miles in the Merrell’s and 8 miles in the Luna’s as the max. The Merrell’s have been packed away as I’m going away soon on “manoeuvres” so I’ve been using the Luna’s more.

I’ve also used the non-barefoot Hi-Tec Trail shoes I have and now noticed that I’m getting pains in my lower legs when I use these! I’m starting to think that I might have reached the point where I run “barefoot” more than normal….  This has got me thinking again and I’m tempted to invest in a pair of road running bare foot shoes? Not sure if I need these? But will push on with the flip flops and see how I go? I did 5 miles with the club last night and they felt ok but was left with the large blister under my right toe. This wasn’t painful and I think this was the result of an old blister “giving up”. I’ve trimmed this up and will now take it easy before a 15 miler planned for Sunday. I’m tempted to tape this if it’s an issue in the short term but want to harden this area in the long term so we’ll see.

People in the U.S. are running 100m trail races in Luna’s so I should be able to run 20 miler’s in these? As stated the only issue so far being this toe blister. I need to draw the line somewhere though as I’ll have more shoes than Imelda Marcus soon.

I did something this week at work I promised I’d never do! No not work! I started a 3 mile jog around the site and at 2 miles decided to detour around the test track here and ran the last mile without the flip flops completely barefoot! I have to admit it felt amazing! I did hit the occasionally stone/twig which was eye watering but I even did a few 100 metres of the car park on tarmac. I’ve always said I would NEVER run barefoot totally but this might have to change.

One last update…. As recently described, I’ve been spreading the word re. barefoot running and another person in the club has picked up a pair of Merrell’s…. I should be on commission!

Thursday, 16 August 2012

Racing time!

Well this week marked another first in my barefoot adventure when on Tuesday I took part in my first race in my Luna Sandals!

I'd been talking up the Luna's all week and this 4.5 mile hilly road race was the perfect time to show people what they were like.

This was a very small club race but I still got many comments on why with minutes to go to the off, I still had my "chill out" footwear on and when I was going to change :)

Even at the start line I was asked "you're not really running in those are you?" like I was some kind of sadist...  Well soon the race was on and it was uphill which suited the flip flops well as I was forced to take small short strides and soon I was mid-pack "best of the rest" maybe?

I ran past the first check point and the marshals were looking at each other in confusion as I'm sure some people still thought I was trying to be funny with my footwear choice. But the fun really started as I reached the top of the first climb....

Now I was sprinting fast downhill on tarmac road. The thick vibram soles of the luna's were fine and I was very comfortable and I started to think barefoot and road running really works (it has been said before by better people than me) BUT it was the noise that brought the smile to my face.

Slap, Slap, Slap! as I thew myself down the hill. It felt fine but no matter how hard I tried, I couldn't get any quieter. Maybe it was because I wasn't running right? but it made the marshals smile as they could hear me before seeing me. I later went on to say it was a safety feature!

Three laps later and as I was getting "looser" and more relaxed I did think I was a little lighter on my feet but I still drew comments at every bend from the spectators which was actually fun. Speed wise, I don't think they aaffected me at all. The only thing I did notice was that the rear straps kept creeping down slightly but I could move my foot and they would re-position. I think they need a little rework on the straps as I've been wearing them socially for too long.

Well I crossed the finish line in a respectable time and was asked again by the same club runner for the 3rd time "did I really run in those?"

Yes I did..... and I loved it! I'm going to give road runs a try in the VFF's and see how I get on?


The next day was a very short but steep Fell race. I thought I'd try the new Merrell's as I thought the route was stony paths but how wrong was I!

Oh while I remember......, I'd decided that I'd try and re-sell the original yellow Merrell's off ebay and they were soon snapped up from a fellow club runner so people are willing to give it a go I guess?

Well we set off and soon the path was under a mini lake of deep mud! I knew when most of the start line had fell shoes on that I might be in trouble but too late. I decided speed and aggression was needed so every time I hit a patch of the brown stuff, I went hard, straight and fast. Actually this worked quite well and despite blowing up on the race as it was something like 800ft in 1.5m I had a good time.

I've now not worn road shoes for weeks, maybe months... I little while longer and I should be fully converted.

Next please?

Monday, 13 August 2012

Life’s a beach!

Well it’s the Monday morning back at work after a week of holiday…  Boo! (well It was never going to be great was it!)

Well I have to say following 2 weeks “working” on the Olympics I needed a holiday!

I have to admit running was going on the back burner as I’d spent too much time away from the family but I did pack my Merrell Trail Gloves and Luna’s.

I wore the Luna’s “socially” for most of the break but got up early on the Wednesday for a sneaky 8 mile beach run. I’d always had one eye on a beach run and what better to wear on sand than flip flops! (so I thought). The sunrise was amazing but as soon as I started I noticed my calves were far too tight. I’ve noticed I’ve started being slack on warm ups and cool downs and I really need to start stretching better.

The last run pre vacation was a 22 mile off-road run which was a recce for the Essex Way (82m) run which I planned to run at some point. I wore my Magnum / Hi-Tec V-lite’s as the Merrell’s still felt a little tight but for some reason they wrecked my legs and I was still sore.

Anyway back to the beach! Apart from the pain from the last run, I hadn’t accounted for the movement of the flip flops on the sand and the gradient so the toes were taking a hammering from trying to stay stable. Also even though stones in the luna’s isn’t normally a big deal, there’s stones and there’s a British beach!!!! Every other step was like running on razor blades. 8 slow miles later and I knew I’d been working hard.

Well I took it easy for the rest of the week until the weekend. I decided that I really did need to sort out a barefoot shoe that I was 100% comfortable with so I rang Field and Trek in Chelmsford which is having the longest closing down sale in history and reserved a pair of Merrell trail Gloves in 9.5 Ash colour. My others are fine but these gave me the confidence I needed to increase the miles.

I wore them around the house for the rest of the day then decided to christen them by running 5 miles to Baddow the next day. I decided that “out of the box” they should be ok and even though this went against all the rules of new footwear I threw caution to the wind. I ran slowly to Baddow then ran a 5 mile road race which included a cheeky 50m ford. I then did 4 miles of off-road training and decided to call it a day.

Due to the distance and the heat I carried my small 12 ltr Inov-8 race back pack. This contained 2 litres of energy drink, some wet weather gear and a change of clothes in case we ended at a pub J. Well after I got home I noticed that I had a few more “scars” than I normally had… The new Merrel’s performed great but I had managed to blister one of my op scar slightly (not bad and could of happened with any shoe). Also later I noticed my lower back was slightly sore? I asked my wife to have a look and I had a row of tiny blisters I guess from the pack? I’d worn this pack loads of times over distance and with the same shirt but I think today it decided to raise slightly resulting in the “war wounds”. Nothing too bad though but I’ve decided to try and look for some “all in one” short / vests for use when carrying packs in the future.

Well that’s it for now! I did have another conversation today with some people from our running club on the subject of barefoot running (many who had read “Born to Run”). Lots of people expressing a desire to try it!

Speak soon…

Friday, 3 August 2012

The Next Step?

I’ve now started to “live” in my Luna sandals ever since I got them… Around town, on the beach (well stones), doing the shopping, even in the shower! I’ve worn my flip flops as much as possible. I’m even now at the stage where wearing “normal” trainers feels strange! I feel that my running style has also changed slightly and the best feedback I guess I’ve had so far (apart from not getting injured touch wood) was comment from a friend whilst out for a run who said my running style was really smooth and looked like I was “gliding”…  I’ve noticed that I don’t seem to pick my feet up as much now so I guess that’s what he was on about?

I’d been thinking about what to wear to continue the barefoot trend on the trails in the wet and mud where the flip flops won’t cut it and saw a pair of Merrell Trail Gloves on ebay. As I’ve said, every footwear manufacturer is jumping on the bandwagon which is ironic considering for years they have been pushing arch support and motion control forever! But the Merrell’s had caught my eye.

I’d already been wearing Walsh PB’s for a few years now and these British made fell running shoes have seen me through the small number of fell races I’ve taken part in but also the miles of poor condition muddy off-road races I’d used them for (I even took them to Afghanistan!)  I was happy with hardcore off-road shoes with the Walsh’s especially as they are a basic design trainer but I still needed something for wet trails. This is where the Trail gloves came in. I’d tried these on in Field and Trek so I knew my rough size and on ebay saw a pair only worn once for only a few pounds so thought it was worth the risk.

One of the best things that steered me towards these was the fact they could be worn without socks (for that barefoot feeling) and could also be machine washed. When I got them I gave them a quick wash let them dry then started my usual “race prep routine” of wearing them to work and socially for a week. They fitted well but noticed that my middle toe on the right foot slightly touched the end of the shoe. This wasn’t really an issue but when I took them out in anger for the first time I sub-consciously could feel it.  The next time out I ran with them unlaced (don’t ask why) and they actually felt fine and earlier this week I ran 10k trail race with them laced loose and again they were fine. In hindsight I guess size 9.5 would be better but there you go.

Well that’s it I’m actually up to date on the blog! The only thing to add is the number of people that are interested in barefoot running is on the increase. As soon as you start talking to anyone about any form of running the conversation soon switches to injury. This is when I drop the barefoot topic in to the mix.

Go on, you know you want to!

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

The Album

Here's some photos of what I've been talking about to date....

Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Back to Basics

Well by now I’d worn the VFF’s a few times and even though I’d been initially impressed I’d started to get a little tired of the endless comments, feedback and looks and also a little concerned by the lack of grip on the trails.

I’d invested in a pair of Injinji Performance Midweight Toe Socks as the VFF’s were rubbing the post-op scars a little to the point they were regularly getting infected (nice I know) so I brought these to add a little comfort. Out the box I must say they seam (ha ha) very well made. They weren’t the cheapest buy as they say….. money spent on comfort is seldom wasted. The other main different of these versus normal socks was the fact they have matching toes like Vibrams.

What I didn’t think about until I got them was that these are probably good for wearing even with normal footwear. If anyone has ever suffered blisters on toes surely these can help? Also in the military, if on guard during a cold night, these must keep your feet warmer as each toe is covered? Well I tested these and found them great!

As mentioned above, I was growing a little frustrated by the VFF’s so started to look at other options. By now I’d decided that road running for me was a thing of the past so I needed some true off-road trail options. Since reading Born to Run I’d been fascinated by the running flip flops (huaraches) of the Ramurai and heard that Barefoot Ted from the book had started his own sandal company in Seattle USA. Called Luna Sandals after Manual Luna from the Copper Canyons of New Mexico (also in the book), I had a look at their website and decided I’d try some Leadville’s as they featured the thickest sole that would work with stone trails of the UK and ATS “laces”.

Well what can I say? Simplicity doesn’t come cheap! $100 later the order was placed and all I had to do was wait for them to be custom made. I’d read many reviews on these sandals and as the name of them suggests, they were born from quality ultra trail running roots. As well as the desire to get back to basics with running with the purist footwear before going true barefoot (ouch) another reason for trying them was the fact that they could never rub my scars! Well a few weeks later they turned up with a free t-shirt J. I decided to break them in by wearing them around town first.

As you can see, they are a traditional “toe” design flip flop and to those not in the know would probably think they were 99p from a beach shop! Well like the 99p items, I was initially concerned that my toes would be soon a bloody mess and I wouldn’t be able to run anywhere. I needn’t of worried though as they were very comfortable from the start. I decided the time was right to give them their first run so I took them to work for a 4.5m jog around Laindon Hills Park. They felt great with nice off-road grip thanks to the Vibram soles and the feeling of being almost barefoot brought me back to my childhood (almost). The only down side was on road they did sound a little silly as they “slapped” along but I’m sure that will change when I fully convert to forefoot striking.

Later I wore the Luna’s at least once a week with 6.5 miles being the longest run yet. I have to admit they are my current favoutite shoes with the only down side now being in the wet they are a little slippy on the footbed and on uneven surfaces the foot does move, but in the dry on trails they are awesome!

Friday, 13 July 2012

The Daisy Age

It had been 5 weeks since the op and I’d decided I can’t wait any longer. I’ve been riding the bike for a week and even though that’s great, I need to move up a level. Today was the day I tried to run.

I’d been thinking about what to do first time out…. 500m on grass? A 2 minute jog around the block? Then there’s what to wear! Road shoes, off-road shoes or even the Vibrams!!!!! I packed my kit for work and decide whatever I do it would have to be short and easy, so I packed the VFF’s and decided to try a mile on a treadmill at work. Come lunch time I had to fight my way into the gym (literally as it was packed). As soon as I pull the VFF’s out the bag people are looking at me. This is something that you need to get used to BTW when you start wearing these. People will at first stare in amazement and shock then finally they will have to ask you what the hell are you wearing and WHY! (get used to it!)

I do a couple of light stretches and climb aboard the treadmill feeling like some kind of “aquaman” freak of nature. I start slow and I can instantly feel an old niggle I had in the injured foot. A burning feeling in the ball of the foot called “Metatarsalgia” (google it). It results from weakened ligaments in the toes etc. which cause pain, mostly in ladies wearing heels (go on say it!) I carry on anyway as this is no worse than I’ve had previously and I guess to be expected. I’m starting to feel good when in the gym mirrors I notice that people are looking again… This time it hits me why. Above all the music and grunts from the power lifters, all that could be heard was “slap, slap, bang, bang” with every step I took. I tried to be as light on my toes and in the end stopped caring.

After a mile and a half, I decided to call it a day. It felt quite good and I didn’t want to push it. What I did notice was my running style. Due to the lack of heel on the VFF’s, mid/front foot striking seemed to happed naturally without thinking. I also tried to stand upright and increase the number of paces taken (whilst making them shorter) as this is supposed to help the transition. Well the first time out went well and I was more than pleased with the VFF’s. I’d give it a few days of rest, then try again.

Well one day rest to be exact! I’d been trying to get my children into running for years and after a few runs out few my son, he soon became more interested in all things computers so I switched focus the my younger 7 year old daughter. Katie was far more eager than Ali to run so I decided that I should introduce her to a trail race. I’d walked 7 miles plus across country with her on several occasions so thought that she could cover the distance even if she ran/walked. So I picked a 6.5 mile trail based in Tiptree Essex for first baptism of fire! We spent a small fortune on pink running gear and she was bursting with excitement, then we were off! 30 mins later, that excitement had some what waned and she was walking most of the time and had also ran out of water (it was a little hot but I later found she had used the water to rehydrate the flowers on the route!). As well as Kate’s first race, there was also a first for me as I chose to wear the VFF’s!

They actually felt nice as we skipped through the cornfields as you could feel the ground under your feet and your toes could actually grip on the ground as you ran feeling like you were moulding around every rock etc. It’s hard to describe how it felt but for some reason it almost felt like running as a child barefoot in the garden (if that makes sense?) What wasn’t so great was the occasional rock which considering you only had 2mm of neoprene between you and the ground felt a little sharp but generally not too bad. After managing to take a couple of wrong turns, 6.5 changed to 7.5 but by the time we took the last turn and saw the finish Katie was smiling.

So overall, the VFF’s were actually quite good. To sum up… They did lack a little grip when it got very muddy and wet but even then in road shoes you would have slipped so not bad at all, also in road shoes you don’t get the added benefit of various plants including daisies getting stuck in-between your toes “hippy style”. Would I wear them again yes (despite the looks).

Peace out!

Thursday, 12 July 2012

On your bike!

Well 3 weeks had now passed and I was growing increasingly frustrated with my lack of movement from my seat but now it was time to step it up a level (did you see what I did there?) This was due to last week the doctor had giving me the all clear to start cycling. I just about squeezed by swollen foot into a trainer (minus footbed) and did 20 mins on the exercise bike in the gym at work as a tester. This was low impact and the only real issue I had was the toe strap rubbing a little so I decided I was good to go in the real world.

I dug out my Trek Hybrid bike and rode around the block…. All good! The next day I thought “what the heck” and in the rain, shot off on the back roads to Danbury and back, it felt great. I’d not been on my bike for months and the sense of finally breaking free of the arm chair made it seem all the better. Nearly 10 miles later and 20mph plus downhill left me soaked through but wanting for more.

One ride was also all it took for me to decide that I needed a new bike! The hybrid was ok but I also had a full suspension Specialized MTB and I needed to clear some room and down size so the obvious choice was sell both and buy something sweet! After a couple of days advertising the old bikes they had gone. I’d been looking around and decided that I fancied a hard tail MTB that I could also ride on slicks if I wanted to ride to work etc. Well one walk around Halfords was all it took. I walked past the Boardman bikes stand and a hard tail sold forked MTB took my eye…. No thrills and little weight, this was old skool baby.

The deal was done and I arranged to pick it up built a few days later (big mistake!)  During the ride home my handle bars came loose and I almost ended up under a truck on a huge roundabout. I check all the hardware when I got home and none were to torque with some barely over hand tight! NEVER buy a bike from Halfords unless you have too.

As you can see from the pic, the solid carbon forks and skinny slick Conti rubber made it the perfect commuter bike and in the next few weeks I indeed started to ride it to work and back (approx. 24 miles). I’m still trying to do this at least once a week but it’s a little difficult as you need to plan so much.

Anyway, one more week and the trainers could be back in anger!