Tag Archives: Life

Oh trainers where art thou?

Am I the only person that gets an emotional attachment to their running trainers?  Surely not!  It was in May this year that I had to force myself to admit defeat and walk through the front door of my local Sweatshop to buy a new pair of trainers.  I felt like I was betraying my old faithfuls, the trainers that had performed so unbelievable well for such a long time.  But alas the time had inevitable come when even my old faithfuls had begun to fall apart at the seams and duct tape just couldn’t repair them.  When I thought about it, my current Brooks trainers had been going strong for 2 years now.

I returned home and took my old faithfuls off for the very last time; it was a teary moment.  As I gently put them away, I was amazed to see they were being put to rest with all my other trainers.   Had I really kept them all, was I a running hoarder?  I stood there looking at these trainers, realising I could track the years going all the way back to 2011.

These are my trainers:

Jan 2011 – Mar 2012

Asics Gel Nimbus 12

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Asics Gel Nimbus 12

Not entirely sure when I bought these but I believe it was early in the year. They lasted me 1 year, 2 months.  Very hard to say how many kilometres I covered in these as I didn’t really document my runs back then.  I moved to London in Aug 2011 and I know I started to run around Richmond Park as well as along Embankment during my lunch hours.  I think it is therefore reasonable to suspect these trainers covered about 400km in the 14 months I had them.  I remember thinking how unique they looked because the laces were at an angle towards the inside of the trainer, presumable to match the contours of the foot.  They were quite a rigid pair of trainers and they certainly felt as if they gave me plenty of support to the ankle.

Briefly brought out of retirement in 2016 when I realised by Brooks Ravenna 5s were about to split open.  Went for a 15 mile run in them and then retired them again as soon as I was home.  They should have stayed retired.  It was only when I wrote this that I realised how old they were.

 

Mar 2012 – 29 Jul 2013

Asics GT-1000 – 100km ultra

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Asics GT-1000

As my running started to progress I bought these in March 2012 and had to quickly break them in for my first ultra in May.  They lasted me 1 year 4 months and I would say a rough distance covered in these trainers was around 500kms.  Although I found these trainers incredibly comfortable, the main thing against them was that they were too lightweight and didn’t feel like they were durable enough.  Given the distances I was running these were just not giving me the support I needed.  They would have been a fantastic trainer for distances up to 5km.

Having said that, these did me proud getting me through my first 100km ultra marathon.  The fact that I had a massive blister at the end of the race was not the fault of the trainers, but more to do with the fact that I had run through so much mud that my feet were soaking.  I had to retire these soon after my ultra, but we will never forget the emotional and very painful 22 hour journey we had together from London to Brighton.

 

29 Jul 2013 – 10 Feb 2014

Asics Gel-DS Trainer 17

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Asics Gel-DS Trainer 17

Having learnt my lesson on my previous trainers I bought these on the 29 Jul 2013 for £90.00.  I spoke to the staff at Sweatshop, had my gait analysed and discussed how far I was running.  After trying on a few recommended pairs, I went for these mostly because they felt comfortable and my loyalty to Asics. Even though they only lasted me about 7 months, I managed to cover around 550kms.  An average of 16.4p per km.  I felt as if the gel cushioning gave out far too quickly, resulting in me getting knee problems and shin splints.  I have been running off and on since I was 11 years old.  As I have grown older I have learnt that when I start to get shin splints, it is a strong indications that my trainers have worn out.  As soon as I change my trainers my shin splints disappear again.  Another thing that was troubling me slightly with these trainers was that the stitching on the side was starting to rub the inside edge of my foot.

 

10 Feb 2014 – 23 May 2016

Brooks Ravenna 5

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Brooks Ravenna 5

I bought these on the 10 Feb 2014 for £105.00 from a Sweatshop in Teddington.  I had always bought ASICS for as long as I can remember, however when I was in Sweatshop they didn’t have any ASICS that I liked or were in my size.  The staff recommended I try Brooks as they thought they would be ideal for my gait and the distances I was covering.  I must admit I was slightly apprehensive about changing brands, but given the minor issues I was having with my last pair of ASICS, I took the plunge and went for the Brooks.  I now know these were the best trainers I have ever had as they lasted me 2 years, 3 months!!! They also covered a staggering 1,400km and the only reason I had to stop wearing them was because the sides were torn and falling apart.  They were so reliable that I called them my ‘old faithfuls’.  Looking at the stats they have been a bargain working out at 7.5p per km.

 

23 May 2016 – Current

Brooks Ravenna 6

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Brooks Ravenna 6

After the performance of my last Brooks trainers, I went into Sweatshop in Windsor on the 23 May 2016 and automatically asked to see what Brooks they had.  I tried on a pair of Ravennas, Ghosts and Glycerin trainers.  After some debate with the shop assistance, some jumping around, jogging on the spot, ankle flexes and various other silly manoeuvres more akin to a Monty Python sketch, I chose the Ravennas.  Only after I chose them was I informed they were on offer at just £75.00.  I am now hoping the updated model last just as long as their predecessors.

 

 

Injury free running

Every runner dreams of running injury free for as long as possible, but we resign ourselves to the fact that that sooner or later we will be injured.  My time came last year when I sustained an unknown knee injury that ruled me out for 3 months!

The one good thing to come out of having an injury is that you take a long hard look at yourself and ask yourself the question: Why?

I analysed this question in my September 2015 blog and came to the conclusion my running form was really quite poor.  Having read a few books including Chi Running by Danny Dreyer, I embarked on a mission to change pretty much everything I did when it came to running.

Here I am in February having ran/cycle/row 519km so far in 2016, with 190km of that being running. These runs have ranged from a short 3km to a long 50km, outside and treadmill runs, weighted runs and Cross Country runs.  I am amazed that I have had no problems at all so far.  The only issue I had was on my long run when I started to develop cramp in my calf at about the halfway point.  However using body assessment, I managed to identify something was wrong and that the first little signs of cramp were starting to appear.  When this happens you have to think to yourself, what am I now doing differently that is starting to cause this?  No easy task to ask yourself this question in the middle of a run.  In my case I came to the conclusion that I was running too much on my toes causing me to put extra strain on my calf.  I therefore shortened my pace slightly, concentrated on my cadence and tried to ensure I maintained my mid-foot strike, almost to the point of running on a flat foot.  I amazed myself when this worked and the signs of cramp went away.  I eventually reached the end of that run and didn’t even so much as have a blister.

I believe the most important thing I learned from the Chi Running book was to have the ability to self assess every so often during a run.  It can be hard to bring your mind back on track and remember to check your body for signs.  Start with your feet and work your way up.  If you identify a pain or sore, is it normal, how bad is it, will it develop, are you doing something slightly different to cause it, can you resolve it now before it gets any worse.  To be able to do this whilst running you have to understand your body and how running affects it.  Some of the key principles I have learnt are:

1. Form.  Use your core muscles to keep your body straight.  Don’t bend forward from the waist, because that can put a strain on your lower back.  Keep a straight posture and lean forward using your core muscles and let gravity do the hard work for you.  If you lean forward, you will automatically put your foot forward to stop yourself from falling over.  If you want to run faster, lean forward further.

2. Cadence.  I like to run on treadmills from time to time as it allows me to measure my cadence easily.  Ideally you should be looking at about 180 steps per minute, however I struggle to reach this and end up around the 170 mark.  A quick cadence will ensure you keep a short stride because you want to make sure your foot is directly below you head when it strikes the ground.  This is important for protecting your knees and shins.

3. Foot Strike.  I believe a mid-foot strike is generally the best type of running placement.  From time to time I do resort back to heel strike, but this tends to be when I am running down hill.  In the old days of heel strike I always had issues with my knees and shins, when I tried fore-foot strike I had issues with my calves, yet mid-foot seems the ideal balance.  I am now pain free in my knees, shins and calves.  I also believe that a mid-foot strike allows the body to naturally use the foots arch to absorb the load bearing down.

4. Relax.  Easier said than done, but I find it is important to relax your legs.  Allow gravity to pull you forward and your feet to move short and quick and to plant in front of you.  Keep your shoulders relaxed, so that you don’t get a build up tension in your shoulders and neck.  I find looking around whilst running helps to relax my shoulders.  I also try to keep my hands up by my chest, open and relaxed.

5. Swing.  Seems a strange one but I try to swing my legs back not forward and I also try to swing my elbows backwards as well.  The reason for this is that swinging backwards, helps my core propel my body forwards.  I am sure some science person will be able to compare this to Newton’s 3rd Law of Motion or to the Pendulum Motion.  Even if it doesn’t I find whatever the reason, it works for me.

Knowing all of these principles means that you can self assess and have a good idea of how to rectify an issue before it turns into a problem.  A year ago I would never have given these principles a second thought and would have blindly bounded on.  But as the weeks and months go by without any signs of an injury, the more I believe these principles actually work.

2015 Review

It’s remarkable how quickly the years go by and 2015 is no exception.  Only seems like yesterday that we moved into our new house and I was starting my new job.  But what about those New Year Resolutions that I set, how well or poorly have I done?

1.  Get away with the family on at least one holiday and three short breaks.  This was number one because it was the most important to me and we managed to achieve this target.

a.  North Wales.  We managed to get away for a Long weekend in January in Deganwy, Conwy, North Wales.

b.  St Leonards.  A long weekend in May on the South Coast.

c.  Aldeburgh, Suffolk.  A lovely midweek break in December before the Christmas week was due to begin

d.  Vouliagmeni, Greece.  The family holiday in July was to a baking hot Athens.

2.  Complete ten races at any distance.  I didn’t too badly at this as I managed to get six races completed.  I did interpret this resolution a little differently as I realised getting away to run races was not easy.  I did discover virtual races from my online running twitter community.  You sign up to a race, run the distance when you can, submit your evidence and then receive your medal in the post.  As well as being able to run in your own time, the other added bonus is that between 10-20% of the entry fee goes to charity.

My running highlights included the real race of ‘Hell Down South’ a 10 miles cross country race, the POW Virtual Half Marathon in September and the Poppy Challenge in November.  I was also happy at breaking my 5k PB, although I can’t seem to be able to break the sub 20 minutes.  The down side of the year was having a serious knee incident that required x-rays, MRIs and numerous appointments with my orthopaedic consultant.  After nearly 12 weeks I was finally given the all clear to start training again, with no real answers of what was wrong with my knee in the first place!

If I look at my overall stats for 2015 they look like:

a.  Running:  510km

b.  Cycling:  1311km

If I had thought about it in January I might have set a target of completing 2015km in 2015, in the end I was only actually 194km short!

3.  Read ten books.  I failed quite miserably on this target.  I managed to read five books in total, mostly on holiday.  This is quite embarrassing really.  Just shows we do not devote enough time reading anymore.

a.  Born to Run – Christopher McDougall

b.  Under The Eagle – Simon Scarrow

c.  The Eagle’s Conquest – Simon Scarrow

d.  When The Eagle Hunts – Simon Scarrow

e.  The Eagle and The Wolves – Simon Scarrow

4.  Study and pass my Education Course.  Thankfully I did complete this and I now have a Post Graduate Diploma in Strategic Management and Leadership.  This did come with the unexpected bonus of giving me the post nominals PGDip.  If I can find the time and the finances I may complete my remaining 2 years of study and get my MBA. As with everything it is finding the time and prioritising what is most important.

5.  Publish a post on my Blog on average once a week.  This was somewhat ambitious and I knew that at the time I wrote it, which is why I listed it as the last of my resolutions.  Unfortunately finding the time to write and publish a worthwhile blog is not easy, maybe little  should be the subject of a few more blogs!  Whether writing blogs makes it onto my 2016 list I am not sure, if it does then I will have to be a bit more realistic and make it a more achievable target.

So looking back not too bad, I managed to live up to two resolutions, made a good attempt at another two and failed on the fifth!  Need to ensure for 2016 that I am a little more realistic on what I put down, but then they wouldn’t be resolutions if they were simple to do!

My running self-experimentation: Progress?

It was about 3 weeks ago now when I decided to adopt a different running style. Hopefully I would increase my endurance and reduce the frequent injuries. After all if I could resolve those two issues it would mean I could enjoy my running even more.

So how am I doing?

Week 1: This was a steep learning curve. I went out for a few runs around from 6-8 miles. The first thing I learned was how much concentration is required to adopt a new running style. As soon as I switched off my technique returned to my old form. Quickly berating myself, I would start concentrating again. Mid foot strike, short quick students, keep foot, knee and head in alignment and remember to use those butt cheeks.

At the end of the first week I felt surprisingly good. No signs of and aches or pains in my shins or knees. The only issue I was suffering from was muscle ache. My calfs and butt cheeks were really aching, but then I was exercising muscles to an extent not previously used to.

Week 2: Unfortunately this was a complete write off due to work commitments and the little one being ill at home. In away this allowed my sore muscles to recover, but I was eager to continue.

Week 3: Everything was going so well. Managed to get out for an hours run early in the week, covering just over 12.5km. Felt really good, foot strike and form were going well and didn’t feel tired at all by the end. Disaster struck when I went out for my next run. I was feeling so good, apart from a little aching in my calfs and glutes, that I became ambitious and went for a HM stroll around the Great Park!

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Totem Pole at Virginia Waters

By the time I had finished my knee was in agony. Having slept on the problem and waking up with little improvement in the knee pain, I wanted to analyse what went wrong. The run started fine, felt good barring the aches and I was really looking forward to it. The scenery in the park was fantastic. At the halfway point my knee was starting to show signs of soreness, I was beginning to feel tired and my muscles were aching even more. At this point I should have probably listened to my body and walked the rest of the way, however my stubbornness meant I kept on going wanting to complete my HM. Another lesson to be learned!

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HM halfway point in Virginia Waters

My conclusion was that my painful knee was a direct result of my failings at maintaining the correct running form. As my calfs and glutes ached before I even started running, my form was slightly off leading to a greater impact on my knee. Rather than a mid foot strike, which would have naturally absorbed and taken the shock away from my knee, I had resorted back to a heel strike. Coupled with fatigue I failed to identify the issue and correct the problem.

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The local wildlife came to watch my run in the Great Park

Moving forward the first thing I need to do is give my knee time to recover. Next I need to address the root cause, which was muscle soreness. If my calfs and glutes hadn’t been aching so much, my running form would not have suffered. Therefore I need to reduce my distance and allow the calf muscles and glutes to strengthen. Once I have done this I will be able to retain the correct running form.

To be continued.

My little running self-experimentation.

Like most occasional runners I pick up the odd injury here and there. Twinges in my ankles, sore shins, aching knees and even lower back ache. Thankfully not all together but at least once or twice in a year I would suffer from all of them at some point. I assumed it was just a hazard of running that you had to accept. Change your trainers often, rest, stretch and don’t over exert yourself and hopefully you keep the injuries to a minimum.

But why can some people run a 100 miles week on week and seem as if they never suffer from injuries? Has luck would have it, I stumbled on a book about running. When I finished reading all I could think about was a scene from the Matrix:

“You take the blue pill, the story ends. You wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill, you stay in wonderland, and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes.”

I felt like I had taken the red pill and my eyes opened. But let’s not get carried away here, this could just be a load of codswallop! (Love that word). Even if it were true it might not be for everyone.

Let’s do a little experiment.

First I needed to look at my own running style. That didn’t go well!  It seems like I am a heavy heel striker, I have long strides, slow cadence, I lean forward and my shoulders wobble! The good news is that I keep my head still!

What do I need to change? Pretty much everything!

  • First I need to concentrate on a forefoot or mid foot strike. A heel strike sends shockwaves from your heel bone and up through your shins and knees. Your toes and the arch of your foot are able to absorb the impact of running so that the shock wave doesn’t reverberate up your leg.
  • Next I need to shorten my stride. By over reaching your stride you are putting an incredible strain on your knee. Instead I need to shorten my stride so that my knee is directly above my foot when my foot hits the floor.
  • Because I am 6ft my stride has always been long and slow. The ideal cadence is around 180 steps per minute. To achieve anywhere near this you have to shorten your stride. This helps maintain a good posture, reduces impact levels and makes you a faster runner!
  • My posture must improve. I need to keep a straight back as this puts less pressure on the lower spine. I often get lower back pain after a long run, which I now know could be a result of me leaning forward far too much. A straight back should also stop my shoulders from wobbling.
  • The last thing I need to work on is the butt! This rather large muscle, especially in my case, needs to be utilised more during running. It will help me keep my posture and also pull my legs back like an elastic band.

So, not much to do then. Not sure how I am going to remember to do all that as well as run and breathe.

This was 2 weeks ago, so how am I getting on….

I think therefore I run: Why am I the way I am.

Where’s this book been hiding all my running life? I picked this book up because it seemed to touch on both anthropology and running.  It was fascinating that there could be a reclusive tribe in Mexico, but throw into the mix that they were elite runners had me totally hooked.  As it happened any runner, of any ability, should read this book and then sit back and see your view of running change forever.

The book tells the story about a journalist who also happens to be a runner with your typical runners injuries. He goes on a journey to try and understand why he was getting injuries and others did not, especially ultra runners who would put their bodies through unbelievable tests of endurance.  In the process he learns about the almost mythical Tarahumara tribe that live in the dreaded and remote Copper Canyons, a scorched and hilly landscape where murderers and drug runners hide out.

The author finds himself on a journey to find the elusive ‘Caballo Blanco’, a supposed American who turned his back on modern day society and went to live in the Copper Canyons and learn the secrets of the Tarahumara.  Along the way we meet other runners such as Scott Jurek, probably the greatest ever ultra runner, Barefoot Ted and Bill and Jenn the new young party going kids on the block. The journey culminates in the greatest ultra marathon the world never even knew about. The best modern runners in their high tech trainers, modern training and nutrition against the Tarahumara who are naturally gifted athletes that run in sandals.

What I do love about this book is the tangents it goes off at times. Much like my mind tends to do on a daily basis.  But when you look back you actually realise the tangents make perfect sense in trying to understand our own bodies when it comes to running. The chapters on modern day trainers is an eye opener and suddenly makes you stop and question why do we buy expensive trainers? Why do we insist on having multiple pairs that we rotate through? Why do we change them after 500 miles or so? When the shocking truth emerges that running injuries have not really declined with the introduction of modern day air/gel cushioned trainers, why then do we insist on having them?  What benefits do we draw from them to justify the rather high prices we pay?

The most intriguing chapter for me was when the author in his quest to understand his own running injuries looked at the human body and what did it evolve into actually doing. To me, if you explore the purpose of the human body and what certain parts of the body were obviously designed to do, you then get that almost eureka moment.  I do think the author made a slight mistake in this section.  What I think he meant to say was that humans can take multiple strides to one breath, rather than what he actually said which was multiple breaths to one stride.  The former is correct running practice, the latter would feel like you are hyperventilating and have collapsing on the ground in minutes.

I will leave the exact details as a surprise when you read the book, but as you gather from this books title we evolved and were born to run but not how you may think.

The book culminates in the almost mythical race which is a perfect way of ending the book. Who wins? Well you will just have to read the book and by the time you get to the end you will realise that it isn’t really important who wins, it’s about running. The last person in is cheered and celebrated just as much as the first person to finish.

The race was back in 2006 and the book was published in 2009 so I had a quick look to see what has happened to some of the people mentioned in this book. The elusive Caballo Blanco died whilst out running in 2012, which you’ll understand from this book is how he would have wanted to go.  Out in the wilderness doing what he loved.

Barefoot Ted is still out there running all over the world, in bare feet and you can keep track of his adventures at www.barefootted.com or @BarefootTed.

Billy ‘Bonehead’ Barnett lives a quiet life in Hawaii, where he surfs and still runs on occasions. He publishes poetry and photographs on his blog from time to time, www.billybarnett.blogspot.com

The Brujita, Jenn Shelton, still trail runs but now has other priorities in life. @SheltonJenn.

Scott Jurek is still a phenomenal ultra runner and you can follow him at www.scottjurek.com or @ScottJurek.

Finally the Tarahumara continue to be a shy and reclusive people, but the race that Cabello Blanco started still continues and was renamed in his honour to the Ultramarathon Cabello Blanco. It is still dangerous to run, the 2015 race was cancelled due to drug related gang violence in the area. But then the people and the location is what makes this the ultimate race.