Back on it

Finally the snow and slush has gone enough to get out and run. Have been out the past couple of nights and I feel much much better.


Wednesday’s run was a bit of a leg loosener having not run for nearly a week. Just over 5 miles at a steady pace throughout. Average pace around 8:39 and felt ok, biggest concern was the cold. Started running with my gloves on, then had to take them off after 2miles as my hands were too hot, they then got cold again. Perhaps I need some gloves more appropriate to running rather than standard woolly gloves, but given that there’s only about 2/3 weeks of the year in which I feel cold enough to wear gloves (benefits of a hot metabolism), that might not be a worthy investment. The good thing was, this run was below my target marathon pace (9:09min/mile to be sub 4hr), and felt comfortable, with plenty of training to come. I think the <4hr target for April may be achievable. The nicest thing was, after running that on Weds, I was able to do a longer and quicker 7mile run yesterday.


Average pace over the first 6 miles was around the 8:33 mark, but I felt good coming up to the last mile, so wanted to stretch the legs out a bit and pushed the pace for a 7:43 closing mile with still a bit of effort to spare. The biggest thing I noticed, was despite me running further, harder and for longer my heart rate averaged 156 for 7 miles and 159 for 5 with a similar pattern for the peak heart rate.

I’ve not fully looked into heart rate and the impact, but it may have just been that I was fitter, and the run the previous day had got my heart going nicely. I’m a bit of a stats and numbers fan (as my wife will attest), so I’ll undoubtedly bore those of you that read this with more heart rate numbers in future. At least I think it’ll be interesting to see how my heart rate changes at different speeds over time, I’ll find a level of ‘effort’ that works well for me at a steady pace and maybe change my target time for the marathon as a result (higher or lower, but hopefully quicker).


Another non-running day

Today was due to be a 5mile run with some hill sessions. It’s not snowed for 2 days here and the snow on the ground had melted into what I thought was a semi-safe to run on slush. My wife and health-and-safety advisor was less keen on the idea (quite rightly), and when it started raining 30mins before I was going to go out, I went and had a quick look at the ground.

photo (30)The picture kind of shows what it’s like on the ground. The nice slush now has a layer of water on top and has turned into a thousand little lard-covered icebergs, just waiting to catch the unwary runner, or even walker as I found on a trip to the post box at the end of the road. That trip of 200 yards I walked over 3 different types of ice on the ground, some parts were clear and fine, others were a solid mass of the above WD40 imbued Titanic-sinkers, and then there was the ‘somewhere in the middle’ patches like the picture above.

I really want to do this marathon in April, and it won’t happen if I injure myself trying to run on a day where it’s probably not the safest option. Instead, I’ll get to the office early tomorrow and see if I can replicate 5miles of hill work on one of the running machines there. Will update tomorrow.

Just looked out the window, it’s snowing again…

Running in the snow (or not)

Britain has once again been hit by a blizzard-like level of snow. On the sunny south coast, we received a massive 4inches of snow on Friday, with a little bit more on Saturday and Sunday. This amount of snow, as always, brings our country to a halt as everyone either stays in or goes out very very slowly. What we have now on the streets where I would normally run, is a mixture of snow, slush, hard packed ice and other random bit of gravel/grit/salt rocks. It’s barely safe to walk, leave alone run as the infrastructure just doesn’t cope with snow due to the rarity of it.

This has meant that I’ve been stuck indoors, and I’ve noticed as I’ve done more running, that on my rest days, I start to feel itchy and feel like I should be out running. Being in a place where I’m fit to run, am due to run, but unable to go out and run is a new situation to me, and just made me glad that we’d bought a cross trainer to use.

Saturday, I was due to do a 5km race for the first time ever. My marathon training plan I’m following suggested that this would be a good time to do a shorter quick race for the experience, and I felt ready. Sadly the snow came and the Park Run was cancelled. I was able to do a good ‘speed’ session on the cross trainer at least, and again yesterday, when I should have done around 6miles of Long Slow Run, I did a little over an hour on the machine. I’m not sure of the relative merits of an elliptical machine compared to going out and running, I know there’s less resistance and less impact, but to me it just felt way less fun.

I’m due a run tomorrow, I’m hoping the icy sludge on the floor is gone.

Free Shoe Test – Brooks Pure Project

I saw a link on the Runners World forums today to a Brooks website. It seems that between February 21st and the 28th they are offering people the chance to test out some of their new Pure Proect series of shoes. I quickly signed up and confirmed that in just over a month’s time. I will be testing out a pair of the lightest and most flexible of the more minimal range, the PureDrift. If you want to join in, you can sign up here.


“Experience the next thing to naked feet with the hyper-light PureDrift. Spread those toes with dual Toe Flex splits that allow your forefoot to flex through its three functional units, creating natural balance and a springy push-off. An anatomical last mimics the shape of your foot for a closer fit and the hardly-there upper provides just a little more coverage than a birthday suit. When you really want to feel free as a bird, remove the sockliner for a zero drop experience. No-seam construction keeps it comfortable and a soft platform mellows impact. Feet, meet feel”

I’ve never worn a pair of Brooks shoes before, but am excited about the chance to try out some new shoes in a proper running environment. They seem like they meet all the requirements I have (They’re super light and have a 4mm heel-toe drop with the insole in and 0mm without the insole) for a running shoe, but with the adequate cushioning I need for pounding the pavements of Southampton. I’ll give an update on them when I’ve had a chance to really try them out.

Running Naturally

I mentioned on a previous post that I bought a pair of Vibram Bikila toe-shoes and then shortly after read the excellent “Born to Run” book by Christoper Mcdougall. Interestingly, I realised that I had done it the unusual way round of shoes first, book second. Most people read the book, get inspired and decide to run more ‘naturally’ and go out and buy a pair of ‘barefoot’ trainers (there’s an oxymoron for you), with the goal of running as close to barefoot as possible. In my case, Becca and I had already been recommended the toe-shoes by my brother-in-law as a way of running differently and potentially injury-free. It was once I’d tried the shoes that I went and did some further research, which is where the book came in.

I won’t wax lyrical about the book, that’s been done enough on many blogs and websites in the past. If you haven’t already read it and have a passing interest in running, please go read it. Sadly, I bought it on the Kindle so don’t have a copy of the book to pass around to my friends. Some people say it’s propaganda for the minimalist/barefoot running movement, and in some ways it is. What it has definitely done though is inspired a movement towards people taking time to consider what they put on their feet.

I have a pair of Nike Zoom Equalon 4 running shoes I bought after putting them on in a shoe-store, walking up and down the aisles a bit, bouncing up and down a little and feeling the lovely springy cushioning in them and thinking that the feeling of walking on clouds was what running shoes were all about. Admittedly not the most thorough way of testing.


My ‘old’ running shoes.
On reading the book, and then doing further research I realised that big, cushioned shoes are not the way forward. Running shoe manufacturers know exactly what they’re doing making shoes feel like they’re made of marsh-mellow when you test them on in a store. They want people to buy more shoes after doing the briefest of tests, as I did, and it works.What the extra cushioning does do is make it possible for people to run by landing on their heel first, and this, it seems, is not a natural way of running. To test this out, watch children running around before they get to wearing shoes, they’ll land on the front of their foot before letting their heel land. Watch the fastest human being ever to walk the planet, Usain Bolt, and other sprinters, their heels barely even touch the floor. Test it out yourself, take your shoes off and run just 10 yards (do it somewhere safe), you will naturally and instinctively run on the balls of your feet.
The above graph is from a Harvard study on the bio-mechanical differences between the different types of foot strike. The comparative graph for a runner landing on the the front of their foot or mid-foot is a much smoother single curve and a more balanced load of the body weight along the duration of the running stride. The impact of this continuously over the average 150-180 strides per minute can add up and make a runner more prone to injury. The other key factor of heel striking is that the point of impact tends to be further ahead of the body (shown below) meaning the impact force is actually pushing back against the direction of movement.
I could go into more detail, but the study above gives the information more accurately than I ever could, and sites such as the Barefoot Running University also give some fantastic insight if you’re after more. The end result of me doing my research was that I was firmly convinced that running naturally and focusing on a forefoot strike was the way forward for me. Having been running now for over half a year, I believe I have transitioned well to a mid-foot strike rather than heel or forefoot. It may be that over time I transition even further forward, but the mid-foot strike, with my feet landing underneath my body mass as I run is really working for me. My calf injury of last year from trying too much too soon has gone completely, and I feel happy running and am getting quicker, even over distances approaching 10miles

As much as I’d love the idea of running entirely barefoot and feeling every step I run, the streets and climate of Southampton and the UK in general are not conducive to going all-in for the barefoot movement. Against my wife and my bank accounts’ better judgement, I have already tested out a few different types of running shoe to try and work out what feels best for me and settled on a minimalist-with-some-cushioning end of the spectrum rather than trying to get as close to barefoot as possible. I’ll discuss my shoe collection in a later post I’m sure.The four things I feel are important in a running shoe are the following:

  1. Level or minimal heel-toe drop, meaning that any cushioning/sole below the foot should be as close to the same width as possible the whole way along the shoe. A raised, excessively cushioned heel is not an option as this gets in the way of a natural midfoot landing.
  2. Flexibility along the sole (or last) in all directions. My foot bends naturally in multiple directions and so should my shoe.
  3. The sole shouldn’t be overly soft or overly thick for two reasons. Firstly, more cushioning simply weighs more, and it’s easier to run with less weight on the feet. Secondly cushioning makes it hard to feel and respond to the floor, what is known as ‘proprioception’ or ground feel. If you can feel what is under your feet better, you can respond quickly to unexpected changes in the surface you’re running on.
  4. Wide toe box. I don’t know about you, but my foot naturally is not the shape of the end of a pair of shoes, I like walking around the house barefoot and my toes naturally splay out to support my body weight. I want to be able to do that in my running shoes too, for stability and responsiveness.

Top two pictures are of a person who has never worn shoes. The bottom two are of a person who has.
The above picture speaks volumes for the effect of tight fitting or shaped shoes. I plan for the rest of my life to remember that image when buying shoes for any type of activity, not just running. My goal is to run as close to naturally as possible and run as far as possible, this may require some padding below my feet as I adjust to first running for 26.2miles and then further. The thing that sticks in my mind the most came from my older brother when I first spoke about the toe-shoes and why they make sense his response was “You mean, God designed us right in the first place?”.

The Great South Limp

Weather Conditions on the dayThis was the run that was meant to be my target ‘race’ between starting to run in June and the 28th of October. The race is over 10miles of the Portsmouth/Southsea coast and is the only 10mile run in the world to be classed as an IAAF Gold Label event with an estimated 25,000 runners. Quite the event!

My preparation for this was to literally get out and run, when I felt like I wanted to. I had no plan, no guide, no real experience and would just go out and run. I was running mostly in my Vibram Fivefinger Bikilas (weird toe-shoes for those that don’t know, I’ll expand on them in another post at some point) that I got in America and really enjoyed the ‘feel’ of being connected to the ground in a minimal cushioned running shoe. Being able to feel every lump and bump of the ground made me far more aware of every step I took and the experience made me want to run more. A good start.

I quickly worked my way up to doing a nice 3 mile loop of the area I live in, entirely on the pavements. I’d sometimes mix it up with an alternative 3 mile loop in the other direction (the two together would form a nice figure 8 once I was ready to go up to 6 miles) that went out on country roads for the first half and pavements again for the second part. The pace I was going at wasn’t particularly fast (9min miles) but I found myself wanting to run faster and increase distance at the same time. My ‘building up’ to 3 miles went – 0.59 miles – > 0.94 miles -> 3 miles. I’d read that you’re meant to only increase your mileage 10% a week, but felt because I’d run in the past, even if it was a couple of decades ago, I’d be able to do it quicker. Mistake!I ran 11 times in June, for a total of 26 miles, but realised that two things didn’t feel right.

  • Pain on the base of my left foot just behind my 2nd and 3rd toes starting at around 1.5 miles
  • Really tight calves. Particularly the right calf, which felt like it was cramping up around 2 miles into a run.

I’ve since realised that the pain behind the toes was due to the Bikilas being too tight. They fit like a second skin, really comfortable to walk around in and when I start running. What I hadn’t account for in the sizing was that my feet would swell up when running, making them too tight on my left foot (which is half a size bigger than my right already), particularly behind my 2nd toe, which is longer than my big toe so was reaching the end of the toe-box, causing the pain in the soft tissue at the base of the toe. To combat this, I changed shoes and ran in my Merrell Barefoot Trail Gloves, which, as the name suggests, are designed for off road running, but make for a very good comfortable minimalist road shoe with plenty of toe room!

The calf pain on the other hand, would not go away. It was the same level of pain in both calves at first and I put it down to learning to run on my mid-foot rather than landing on my heel, which is necessary in minimalist shoes but caused more load on the calf which in turn causes them to feel tired. However, after a month, the pain in the left had gone as it had adapted, but the right was getting more and more sore, causing me to be unable to run at all after about a mile of running. I tried resting it, and only ran twice in July and 4 times in August. September came, and the pain hadn’t gone away but I realised that I really needed to be able to finish 10 miles in October as I had raised over £500 for charity by this point. So I tried to run through the pain, some days were better than others and I was able to get up to 5 miles.

The Sunday before the race, I went out for an intended 6 mile run, got 2 miles into it and had to give up and walk home. I could barely put any weight on my leg at all. Monday morning, the pain was still there, it had never really lasted after I stopped running for longer than 30mins, being in pain 24hrs later was entirely new. Tueday I went to the local Doctors and saw a Nurse Practitioner who told me it was Achilles Tendonitis and strongly advised me not to run the 10 miles. When I asked if I could walk it because I’d raised over £800 for charity that I didn’t want to refund, he said he wouldn’t recommend it but understood if tried, but advised me to stop if it started hurting on the day.

Loo Queue

The big day came, and I made my way over to Portsmouth with my hugely supportive (and concerned) wife, and my brother-in-law who had not only come from London to support me, but had brought his P.E. kit in case he needed to sub in and run the race for me! I’m very lucky to have family like that. I made my way to the start line, and felt pretty good. On the Thursday before the race I’d been out for a slow jog and realised if I kept my pace really slow, and my stride length much shorter, it didn’t hurt as much and I managed 3 miles at 12mins/mile pace. So I figured I’d run as far as I could before stopping and walking the rest of the 10 miles.I set out running, forgetting all about the planned 1hr30min target time I’d thought I could hit back when I started running, 9 minute miles were not an option at this point. I’d re-adjusted with the idea of being over the moon at being able to limp across the line in under 2hrs. Somehow, I kept running, despite having to stop twice to adjust shoe laces (was originally too tight, then when I loosened them, it came undone). At the 6 mile point, a man with a fridge on his back overtook me rapidly and was suddenly 20yards ahead of me and I kept running. I don’t know how it happened, it could have been adrenaline, or the sound of the crowd all around me. I didn’t have my headphones in so had no idea what time I was on course for or what pace I was running, but I did know I didn’t want a guy with a fridge on his back to cross the line ahead of me. So I tried to go a little faster, whilst monitoring my right calf. I reeled the fridge-guy in with 2 miles to go and kept going to the finish line.

Somehow, I’d made it, running the entire way, having only done a maximum of a 5 mile run in training, I’d run the whole way round with a dodgy, and seriously painful, achilles tendon (ibuprofen helped with that as much as adrenaline I think!) and wearing my trail running shoes. My finish time was just over 1hr42mins, I’d managed roughly 10mins per mile almost the whole way round. Each of my last 6 miles was progressively faster and I limp/ran the last mile in just over 9mins. My finish place of 11154 even put me in the top half of finishers.


So that was it. The run I’d planned was done, I was quite seriously injured (after the run I couldn’t walk without a limp for nearly 3 weeks) and needed physiotherapy, but I’d got the running bug and wanted to keep at it. Something about it felt good and natural, and when my friend Gary asked if I’d run the Brighton Marathon with him in April for his friend’s charity, I agreed with the proviso that I wouldn’t risk my health or my calf (I’d been advised by a Doctor by now that it was Achilles Tendinopathy and could be 6-8months before it was back to normal). So now I have my next target to aim for.

Why Running?

Last June (2012), whilst at on a weekend away with my wife, Becca. I felt challenged to be more active and get out and ‘do something good’. Life had been too sedate, and despite being relatively healthy and sporty, I’d not really done any sustained continuous physical activity since leaving university where I had played football 2/3 times a week. I realised that even when I did that, it wasn’t the best physical shape I’d been in. I had to go back nearly 20 years to when I did cross country running at school in my early teens and was running 3/4 times a week and doing competitive races at the weekend that I found the period of life in which I was my most healthy.

In fact, looking back at that period, I was actually quite good at Cross Country and longer distance running, being comfortably in the top 10 of my age bracket in the large and competitive county of Yorkshire. I even ran in the English schools championship finals (the pinnacle of school cross country) a year under-age and finished in the top half of runners despite having an asthma attack half way round (incidentally, the only asthma attack I’ve ever had!). Yet when we moved home from Yorkshire to Worcestershire I took the chance to get away from running and spent more time on sedate sports, like Cricket!

So for the above reasons, the idea of running to get fit and healthy really got stuck in my head and I couldn’t even wait to get home before parting with £40 to enter myself for the Great South Run in Portsmouth in October that year using my iPhone. I knew that I needed something to aim for otherwise I’d go out for a few runs, get bored and give up. I also knew that even with the event being months away and having plenty of time to prepare I wanted some accountability and wanted the run to achieve something more than just getting me fit. So I decided to raise money for Great Ormond Street Hospital Charity as they had done so much to help the daughter of some very good friends of ours.

I’d well and truly thrown the gauntlet down. To myself. I had to do it.

Fat Matt

The weekend away also came soon after we’d returned from two and a half weeks visiting friends and family in the USA. We ate out a LOT, and American portions tend to be larger than British. We also wanted to experience as many culinary delights (and non-delights) as we could whilst over there, including American super-sweet potatoes, cheese fondues, corndogs, steak, cheesecake and much much more. I came back from that trip weighting 93.7kg (4lbs short of 15 stone!). I knew I had to do something about the weight before it got really unhealthy. In fact, whilst in the states Becca and I ordered a Cross Trainer/Cycling machine to arrive just after we got back so that we could keep fit and lose weight.

Luckily, whilst in the USA, I stumbled upon a ‘new’ type of trainer called Vibram Fivefingers and a book called “Born to Run“, both of which got me thinking that just going out and pounding the pavements in ‘traditional’ running shoes wasn’t going to work for me (I’d tried it before but only ever managed to keep it up for 2/3 weeks at most). There was much more to it than just going out and running, and I needed to get my head round that if I was to hit my target of completing 10 miles in the Great South Run.

The more I read and researched about running, the more I realised those 10miles was just going to be the start. I’m now training for the Brighton Marathon in April and if that goes well, I’m going to run even further. Hopefully nearly twice as long, I have my eyes set on a 50 mile run later in the summer. This blog is hopefully to keep a track of that, share some of the cool things I’ve found out about running, and give me some of that ‘accountability’ I like and need. I will also share some of the stuff I’ve already done, including the training (and injury) of the Great South Run and my recovery from that.