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.