Friday, 26 July 2013

Decisions, Decisions!

Goodbye to gels, a Barefoot legend, Herts Hobble, Recce’s and VFF’s!

The long and winding road (well trail)


In my last blog entry I was debating the powers of fig rolls as I’d been keen to stop using endless energy gels and find a natural replacement. Well so far so good. I’ve run a trail marathon and several 30 mile plus training runs on nothing but the famous fruit snack without a small silver sachet in sight!

So what has it been like? Actually fine, no withdrawal symptoms and the only real issues I’ve found is they take up more space to store while running, can be prone to crumbling under pressure (just like me!) and on a hot day they can be a little dry in the mouth.

I need to reinforce the above maybe with some other normal food on the longer runs and even carried a bottle of full fat cola when I need that boost at the end. Generally I’m really pleased to have weaned myself off gels and now just need to find someone that needs a load of them as I have stacks.

Next steps? Well as I said the biscuit part of the fig rolls can at times get hard work so I’m looking at just using figs for my next training run? I might need to carry some other “paper based” provisions in case of emergencies!

The fuel station!

 Barefoot Ted and the big decision:

In my hunt for true running nirvana I’d been using Luna Sandals for a year on and off. Despite what most people say, these are not 99p from the beach shop but specifically designed running sandals. Well Luna Sandals boss and “Born to run” star Barefoot Ted was in the UK to promote the launch of his sandals here and I took the opportunity to meet him at an informal gathering hosted by Tracy of Barefoot Britain.

I drove down to Brighton with Katie my daughter which was an adventure itself as she wanted to visit the famous chocolate sweet shop Chockywockydodah (sp) and I can’t say I was against the idea but we eventually found it and I can recommend their products, no idea if there any good for running fuel but probably!

OMG it's only.... Barefoot Ted

Anyway, it was soon time for the event and as we walked up to the shop where it was taking place I could already see Ted on his Laptop Vehicle unicycle “car” riding up and down the main road like something out Back to the future. There were already a crowd gathering and looking at peoples feet, I’d guessed I was in the right place as there wasn’t a “foot coffin” to be seen. Things started informally and Ted just spoke of his reasons for founding Luna Sandals but also how that has snowballed into changing everything in his life. I’ve hinted to this previously, once you go barefoot and see the advantages you can get then you can start to question other things in your life and wonder if you are actually doing what’s best?

Ted referred to many different subjects including how he got into barefoot running in the first place, persistence hunting and their links to long distance running and also his experience of the Tarahumara Indians from the Copper Canyons all of which linked to “the book” but he also spoke on his ambition to bring personal transportation to the masses. The Solo wheel isn’t his invention but his is heavily behind the project of this gyro self-powered mono wheel.

Ted with his "car" (pic off net)

For most of the discussion I just stood there “in awe” but I did manage to ask a couple of questions… The first was “Are Luna working on a product that will work specifically on UK trails i.e. wetter, more mud etc)” and the second was “I’m only running up to 20 miles in Luna’s, should I take the leap and convert fully to the sandals and not ever run in shoes again?”. The first question was answered quickly as Ted just said “yes!” He recognised that no one product would be perfect for everything but products like the Mono and the soon to be launched Oso would help all UK off-roaders.

My second question was more aimed at the whole group as I wanted to get everybody’s opinion on how they converted to sandals and what distances they covered? The main reason I was asking wasn’t actually because I had this huge desire to run barefoot “hippy-like” through the fields but actually because as I switched from sandals to shoes sometimes I was picking up ankle injuries and I starting to think this might be due to the frequent change of running styles (this might be interesting to those who switch between regular and minimal shoes too?). Ted started by saying how impressed with the miles I was covering and simply said “why not!” He discovered barefoot footwear by accident in his search for pain-free running and like how he found Vibram Five Fingers that were being used as boat shoes I would have to take a similar leap of faith and just do it (no pun intended). I’d gone through the initial transition stage so there and then I decided to “try” and never wear trainers again even of the longest ultra marathons.

Herts hobble:

My next race was an LDWA off-road Trail marathon called the Herts Hobble. I can’t sing the praises of this organisation of predominately walkers enough as they put on some of the best events with entry fees that wouldn’t get you into a normal 5k road race. If you like running off-road and not a member, join your local group right now!

This was a key race for me as it would be the longest I’d ever run in sandals and also the longest off-road race in the Luna’s. I got there with time to spare and said hello to a few people including Mr Darren Coates from the same running club as me and then decided to make a couple of last minutes kit changes back in the car. As I walked back I bumped into James from Centurion Running (South / North Downs Way 50/100 ultras etc). James is a high class runner who had just won the Grand Union Canal ultra. We walked to the hall only to realise that everyone had started! We checked in and I started to follow the instructions for the route.

I soon began to pass people that were walking the route and then I got caught up by James. We ran together for a few miles and I was enjoying the opportunity to shadow a running “celebrity” and as I result took my mind off the directions…. This was at the exact point that James said he didn’t do a lot of these “narrative” type of runs as we both realised we weren’t where we were supposed to be. After running around and tracking back, we found the route and we ran again for another few miles before James dropped a gear and effortlessly sailed off into the distance.

I was following the route quite easily now and I got to a road crossing where I met a large group of runners coming from the oopposite direction, turned out they’d followed the instructions exactly and missed a turning. Anyone that runs trail races will know that sometimes you need to read between the lines at times as it isn’t easy writing the directions and these guys had run and extra 2 miles due to this. I was ok as we’d been sent the directions beforehand and I’d roughly traced the route in my head (probably my military training lol) “always follow the three P’s” (I’ll let you google that one!)

Anyway, I was actually finding the sandals fine and I was breezing through the Check Points with a huge grin (it couldn’t last). I got to the last few miles and I suddenly noticed that the legs were feeling like lead again and that spring in my step had “sprung”. I’d latched onto the back of a small group and we switched places a few times as we navigated and I tried to stay with them as long as I could. With a couple of miles to go I could still see them and eventually finished a couple of minutes behind but I definitely ran out of steam at about 20 miles.

The footwear had been ok apart from I’d noticed a couple of twinges in my hips that I’d never had before? They didn’t last so didn’t think it was a massive concern. This also marked the first major event that I didn’t use gels and ate the fig rolls all the way around. I thought that the energy drop might be because of this and thought I should look to also use some other food as well as the rolls, overall a good race as I’d run 27 miles in just over 5 hrs off-road in flip-flops.

100 mile TG recce

Next up in the training for me was a series of trips down to Kent to look at the route for the Thames Gateway 100 I was planning to do in August. On the first trip I planned to cover 30 miles from Rochester, around to Gravesend and then along the coast back to Rochester. The first section was ok as I left the car park in Upnor and made my way to the Rochester bridge (past two castles and a nuclear submarine!). Then the next 5 miles were through dark alley’s on industrial estates ending up under the M20 motorway. This is the point where I’d pick up the North Downs Way.

Rochester Castle with the sub in the foreground

I was now in the countryside and as I’d taken the day off it was like I had the whole of the place to myself! Eventually I left the downs and after a couple of minutes looking around the route manage to find the Weldway path which would take me all the way to Gravesend and the Thames. The paths were less defined and more overgrown now and in places in flip flops and shorts was hard going. After what seemed like an age I passed over the landmark of the M2 Motorway and pass the Cyclopark into Gravesend town. Here I left the Weldway and picked up the Saxon Way. Initially passing through some very suspect back streets that looked like a scene from Oliver, I was soon jogging along the river Thames passing old military defences dating back to Napoleon times (very surreal) again I was feeling ok but now as it had begun to rain the mud on the sea wall was making the sandals hard work. Soon I started to struggle and I could barely keep the Luna’s on! It was at this point that I decided that I would need a plan B on race day “just incase”.

The Toesox held up well (so I thought)

Soon I was at the familiar 20 mile low point and as I write this I’m realising that this isn’t a coincidence that this was happening every time at the same point. I don’t think this will ever go but I need to recognise this and push through as it doesn’t last. I plodded on and got to just over the 30 mile point after fighting my way through some of the most overgrown paths I’d ever seen and narrowly avoiding serious injury as I fell knee deep into a badger hole decided enough was enough and this would be where the recce would end. I left the path and walked to the nearest main road. I was still a few miles from the car so decided to try and get a bus back. After waiting a while it didn’t look promising so I walked along the main road back to the car park.

I’d covered approx.. 34 miles (longest ever run in Luna’s at that time) and I was shattered. The tough going really got to me as well as the drizzle which just seemed to kick me just as I was low. But job done and I’d reviewed a large chunk of the route for the race, I just pray someone cuts those trails or it’s going to be a long race! And as for the sandals? They were good but poor in mud, also my hips were quite tender.

Didn't even notiwerehis till the end... oops

Next time out I returned to Rochester as I planned to cover the 20 so miles to a tiny village called Swale (right under the Isle of Sheppey bridge). I parked the car near the train station and after a short struggle managed to find the Saxon Way path through the town. I didn’t realise beforehand but Rochester soon becomes Gillingham as one large town and the route passes back alleys and council estates (not very picturesque). Finally after a while I once again hit the river and some amazing views of the waterfront and I think it’s a shame that this 20 miles will be covered in darkness come race day.
Great views!

The day was absolutely boiling and I was lucky that I was so close to the coast as I always seemed to have a light breeze cooling me slightly and it would have been torture without it. I passed some really nice locations and the route was mostly better going than my last recce so at least come the big day by the 70 mile point the going would be ok. The route had country lanes fields and sea walls and a couple of times the recce paid for itself as the path led to dead-ends and in the dark could be an issue. Finally I got to the coast again and I could see the huge Sheppey bridge towering into the distance which represented my finish point for the day. I got to the end just as my water ran out and next time I really should plan better and as I stood on the isolated platform in the middle of nowhere I hid in to shadow like a small animal trying anything to cool myself down. Luckily the train arrived right on time and I took the simple ride back to the car.

New Rubber:

Due to my comments above I was getting a little nervous on what could happen on a long race if the sandals just got too much? Because of this I’d planned to leave some “normal” minimal shoes in my various drop bags just in case but I had the idea of also carrying a pair of VFF’s in my pack as a back-up at anytime. Well my slick tread VFF’s would be hard work so I did some reading and decided Vibram’s toughest shoe the Spyridon might do the trick? I searched for a pair and luckily my local specialist running shop Run Active Chelmsford had some in stock! (say “Barefoot Ian sent you for special service” lol). Well I gave them a test run on a couple of local short trails and apart from corn fields and toes, no big issues.

Next time:

It’s been a while since my last entry and since all of the above, I’ve now run my first ultra race in sandals and picked up a new set of Luna Monos! I promise I won’t leave it so long!

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