My favourite running gear – pt2

Ok, so quite honestly I thought these were a bit of a joke when I first heard about them. I mean underwear for runners, called Runderwear! Why? Just stop it!

Well, as it turns out, for really good reason, at least for some of us in my view, and definitely for me.

I have been running for about 10 years now, essentially I started running because I realised I couldn’t run half a mile to the shops to buy a packet of cigarettes.

I gave up smoking and started running, then quickly found it hurt for lots of reasons. Not least of which being my thunder thighs rubbing together and chafing badly. There have been times when it has been painful to walk for days after a run and my skin has been so chafed it has bled.

I had tried all different types of shorts, ones with inner shorts built-in, very long shorts, very VERY long shorts, very short shorts, none of which really resolved the problem, I then tried things like Skin-glide, Vaseline or any other type of skin lubricant I could find, which all had varying degrees of success of course but I always disliked the process!

I came across Runderwear and gave a pair a try, chafing quickly became a thing of the past and I never ever run without these on anymore. I currently have a pair of their latest Merino wool boxers which are great and currently about £22, which is a bargain!


WMens Merino Boxer Angle 2xhat I like the most about these is clearly no more chafing but they are also supremely comfortable in all the right places 🤐!!

The fact that I won’t run anywhere, any distance now without these is why they have made it to second place on my favourite running gear list.

Since Runderwear started, they have improved their design, materials and range and I cannot recommend them highly enough. If you have any chafing or find the need for Skin-glide etc consider checking their range of products, you might just find a solution here.

My favourite running gear – pt1

So I’m going to start a mini series of reviews about the gear I use. As with so many other runners, I obsess over data, but again, as a runner, I obsess over running shoes even more, so I am going to start with my running shoes.

I have been through many shoes in my time as a runner, I used to be a huge fan of Saucony shoes, primarily because they are just so damn comfortable, starting with Saucony guides then moving on to Saucony Freedoms, replacing my shoes roughly every 5 months or so. Last year though, I tried Vibram V-runs, a minimalist pair of running shoes after reading Chris McDougall’s ‘Born to Run’ and being inspired to try something new with the hope that it would improve my running performance. I had bought a pair of Vibrams, some years ago, on a bit of a whim while in the USA on holiday, they never came home with me, there was so much about minimalist running that I didn’t know and I just thought they were bloody painful to wear!

Last year, when I finally had read a lot, learned a lot and taken the decision to buy a pair, I finally got the Vibram 5 Fingers V-Running shoes:-

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I needed about a month to adapt to running in minimalist shoes.

It hurt.

A lot.

I have done an earlier post on the adaptation process I experienced, might be useful for you if you are considering it! But suffice to say, do not rush this, it is not worth it.

So, what do I think about these shoes, that I have been running in 3-5 times a week for around 13 months now? Well, let’s explore!

Lets first think about value for money (I can be a bit flinty!). When I purchased these they cost £120, not an unusual price for a good pair of running shoes, a pair of Saucony Freedom 3 shoes could set you back £140, so not a lot in it. I also needed to buy a couple of pairs of Injinji toe socks so that more than made up the difference. The big difference I am going to shout about is that with my Saucony shoes, I would have to replace them frequently because they wear out and manufacturers recommend replacement (my cynic is shouting “well of course they do you idiot!!”), oh, and this is not just Saucony, this is every running show I have ever worn. I have historically replaced my running shoes around 3-400 miles, mostly because they look more knackered than me, but with my Vibrams, I am currently at 736 miles and they are going strong, just starting to show a little wear on the soles but not of concern. The reason for this of course is that in (lets call them) ‘normal’ running shoes, you have a layer of foam or gel or whatever to cushion your heel strike, obviously this wears out and you can end up causing more harm than good to your body and your running technique. With Vibrams there is ZERO cushion from the start, so it can’t wear out and you adapt to running in a way your were ‘Born to Run’, ie without a heel strike.

From a styling perspective, lets just say that these are fairly unique! I usually get comments from other runners (or at least used to when running together was ok at places like ParkRun) asking how they are and do they make me faster (I’ll come back to that) also sometimes a little banter about looking like I have gorilla feet lol. But to me they are functional and work perfectly.

The quality of the shoe is undeniable, well stitched, machine washable and they dry quickly, I have absolutely no issues with their quality.

The effects of using these shoes for over a year now is interesting. The first thing I notice is more flexibility in my feet, particularly my toes, (not so much one of my big toes because I recently broke that, not running!) I can flex my toes much more than before and have far greater individual control of each toe. I had heard this before starting using minimalist shoes but disregarded it thinking it was hokum, but its true! I also notice far greater muscle definition of my calves, which makes sense seeing that you end up using your tendons and muscles as springs when running in shoes like this. But I guess the burning question from many runners is, do they make you faster, and I have to say, no, if anything, I am slower. I don’t know if that is down to the shoes, my training plan, age, beer etc, maybe a combination of all of these but I am slower than I used to be, but I’m ok with that. So, don’t expect to put these on and get magically faster, they simply make you run the way your body is meant to, without any carbon aids or springy foamy gel stuff. If you stick with the shoes, you will become a forefoot striker, widely recognised as the best way for a distance runner, other than that and the incidentals I noted above there is no other benefits to minimalist running that I can see. That said, these are great benefits, from just a shoe!

In a nutshell, I love these shoes and run in nothing else except a pair of Vibram V-Trails which I use if I know I am going trail running. I did, one day, try running in my Saucony’s (which I now use around the house) but they felt awful, unnatural, heavy and cumbersome. I had to stop and get my Vibrams, so I guess that proves it for me!

So, next up for my reviews will be clothes, giving you my views of the tops, shorts and underwear I use 🙂

 

Flow

 

My running volume has reduced over the past 3 weeks, primarily due to the fact I badly stubbed my big toe on my right foot. I don’t think that it broke, but it was pretty bad and dark purple! I took almost a whole week with no running, then started back again, just running gently and short distances to test the injury.

I notice a few things change when I stop running or reduce running volume. From a physiological point, for sure, my metrics go the wrong way. Vo2 max drops quite quickly, which I guess is a fair reflection on fitness loss during inactivity, and my weight piles back on and I start eating poorly (or is it the other way around?!). Apart from the physical changes and metrics, my general mental state changes too, I find that I am more snappy and irritable a lot more, generally much less tolerant and less engaged with normal life.

When I start running again, I notice that, although the initial runs feel harder, after a few outings, I can run a little faster, I guess this is due to reduced running stress on my body. My Vo2 max starts to pick back up, albeit very slowly. Weight and eating habits, of course, change even slower, it is amazing how much a small injury can affect my overall wellbeing.
After a running break, while I am running, even a short distance like a 5k, I can feel the positive effects on my mental state, I can process some stuff and, throw it away or come to a conclusion. I can relax and start to enter almost a meditative state, helped by the rhythm of my steps and breathing. Some runners call this ‘flow’ and I can understand why, when I’m there, I don’t have to think about what I’m doing, I can focus outwardly and enjoy the countryside, I don’t feel stressed or in any pain, I can feel my body working and the effort it takes, but I don’t mind. This is the state when I feel like I could run all day and night. More importantly, when my run finishes, after being in this ‘flow’, I am relaxed, calm and ready for whatever is next.

I know a lot of people talk about the mental health benefits of running, but I think this is what it really brings for me, much more than the physical benefits, sure, they are there, but the mental benefits are much more important to me, especially with my busy work where sometimes I am up at 04:30 to start work and other times still working at 22:00.
Getting to ‘flow’ while on a run, is something I can’t achieve every time, I haven’t quite figured that out yet, I don’t think there is an instruction booklet for it(!), but it is something I often consciously try to achieve and other times, it almost takes me by surprise when I’m there. If you have experienced it, you will know what I mean, if not, then maybe you are reading this thinking I am talking crap, I used to think that too, when every run is an internal battle of voices shouting stop/keep going it is difficult to even conceive that you can run almost without effort, letting the body do its thing while the mind relaxes and enjoys the ride! But it is there and when you experience it, it’s like gold!

Short and sweet this time, for my next article, I plan to review some of my running gear, I also plan to get this done soon!

 

 

Running for me

If you’re a runner, by that, I mean you go out and run regularly, no matter how far or fast. You will know that everybody has their own reasons to run. For some time now, since COVID-19, I have struggled to motivate myself because all my races have been postponed. Sounds like a bit of a lame excuse maybe, but the loss of motivation was not a conscious choice, just a result that I experienced. I have been battling this by registering for virtual races but tbh, they really have not motivated me!

After some time doing some unhelpful comparing myself to other runners it becomes clear that, while I will probably never stop doing that because I am just a bit competitive (!), that I need to ensure I keep it healthy. I went through a stage of having a lot of negative thoughts about myself and self-doubt.

How to stop myself having those negative thoughts and self doubt, I’m not quite certain just yet but I am starting with the title of this post and just running for me. Not for a race, not to compete (even in my own head) with others, just to enjoy the running and the feeling I get after a run.

From a practical perspective, to help me with this, I am going to revert back to my training plan which is focused on running 80% of the time in Power Zone 2.

This forces me to slow down. It seems odd to do this but I have seen performance improvements since taking up this strategy.

It is often really difficult to run slow and of course all the metrics go the wrong way in every app (presumably because they expect you to be trying your hardest to run your fastest all the time?) that I have.

But it feels better, and as I say, I have already seen big performance improvements. The other part of this is that if I know I am sticking to my plan, I won’t care when I see other runners on strava running much faster than me! While some people actively mock my 11 minute+ miles, I know I am doing it for a reason so screw them!

I also have to remember that I am a ‘big bloke running’, I am in my 50’s and a cancer survivor which still impacts my day to day life with constant pain, and so I need to sometimes just cut myself a little slack and be kind to myself (just a bit of self coaching here!).

On a separate subject, maybe I can ask for some advice from you?!

I have noticed in my data something that I can’t explain.

Sometimes my heart rate falls if I run faster!

I can’t explain it when combined with any other metric. I first thought it must be hills, but that didn’t tally, then I thought well maybe my running form was better when I run faster but none of my other metrics (cadence, GCT, vertical oscillation, leg spring stiffness, power, temperature) seem to align. While of course some of these do look slightly better as you may expect, my heart rate can drop from the 180’s to the 140’s! I also often note that on those same runs, the run feels easier.

So I was wondering if other runners see this or not? It doesn’t happen all the time, but it’s becoming more regular. I was wondering if it is a result of my slowly improving VO2 max, would that make sense?

Let me know your thoughts, and thanks in advance!

Lockdown treadmill app reviews

Should have published this before but it slipped when I was unwell.

Firstly an apology for taking so long to write this but I have been unwell (maybe corona, who knows(!)) and then really busy with work and family life. I actually wrote most of this over a week ago, just finished off now.

Peloton Digital

Even without paying all the way through your nasal cavities for a Peloton machine, you can use the app for guided running or cycling workouts. Is it worth it, let’s see.

The app is as you would expect for £12.99 a month, pretty well jam packed with guided training content, including everything from running through strength training to yoga and cycling. It’s a pretty slick app that is well designed but the real strength of the app are the instructors, they’re proper gym bunnies / rats that know their stuff!

The app does not connect to my Bluetooth devices (footpod or Garmin) so, without the actual Peloton equipment, it’s a dumb app, which is a real shame. The workouts are tough and it would have been great to be able to compete with others.

During a workout the instructors are really good at motivating you to go faster or harder up the hill etc, I actually found myself working harder than I normally would, which is interesting. The music is good in the app, shame you can’t use your own though, it is also sometimes a little louder than the instructors so you can’t hear what you are supposed to do, it often sounds like they are talking in code that I felt I might understand if I had a Peloton treadmill? That said, I have had a few great workouts using this and would recommend it if you want that ‘gym session’ feel.

Ratings

App design 9/10

App connectivity 2/10

Workout 10/10

Value 1/10

Do I recommend 3/10 depends on your use case

Conclusion

Will I continue to use it? Probably not, it’s pricey and clearly aimed at the peloton treadmill users, which is fair enough. But it’s not for me, I have a training plan already which is based upon power. These workouts are based simply on relative changes to incline and speed, which is a little too unscientific for me. I enjoyed the workout, and I’m sure if I had a Peloton treadmill it would be perfect, but I’m not willing to drop thousands of pounds plus an ongoing subscription for that pleasure.

Treadmill Trails

Here we have a very different offering. This app seems to aim at simply letting you ‘virtually’ run in the most beautiful places in the world. No coaching, no metrics, just the trails and your music (if you want it).

A still image from a trail

I have to be honest. I like this app, I can just zone out and enjoy the views, although there is a lot that could be done to improve it.

Starting this app, the menu is a little dated but functional. You can download the sample video which is snippets of multiple videos, giving you a free 30 minute run. I have subsequently downloaded a couple more videos, they range in price from 99p to £1.99 and once you buy, are yours to keep, which is nice.

Using is as simple as playing a video on your iPhone or iPad, I airplay to my Mac from my phone, which works fine. Then I start my Garmin and treadmill then simply run, zone out and enjoy the views.

Ok this is nothing like actually trail running, but while in self isolation it’s as good as I think it could be without travelling (following guidance).

Ratings

App design 3/10 it’s functional

App connectivity 0/10 no connectivity

Workout 8/10

Value 10/10

Do I recommend 8/10

Conclusion

This is a nice simple app that does what it sets out to do at a great price, it allows me to zone out and enjoy my run. Clearly it’s not being outside, but it’s as close as you can get I think! Will I continue to use it, definitely, especially during lockdown and our shabby winters here in the UK.

Time to pick it up!

It’s been a strange time hasn’t it!

Races cancelled or delayed, goals shifting, social distancing, no ParkRun, exercise limitations and the list goes on and that’s even before we start talking about pay cuts, furloughs and so on. If you add to that a new baby in the house, which, don’t get me wrong, is wonderful, but oh my, it’s difficult to keep running with the combination of being demotivated, working harder for less while getting slowly more and more tired every day from broken sleep.

Now though, now, it is time to start picking things back up, stop, well, let’s say reduce the alcohol and focus on improving my health. Now, I’m not a fast runner and never have been, never will be, I’m a big bloke, not built for speed! But, I am determined when I decide to do something, this particular something being to run an ultra, specifically, The Race to the Stones which has been delayed to next year. I won’t complete it fast, but I will complete it, so in order to do that I now need to start upping my weekly mileage which has recently been less than 20 miles a week every week.

My running over the last few weeks has been a challenge, I used to get up early, follow my plan and get it done but the passed few weeks, I wake up tired and demotivated then go back to sleep more often than I should, sometimes I get out but because I overslept I only have time for a short run. This past week, I have made the decision to start making time for my running again, if I get up early, I will run in the morning, if not, I will use my lunch break to run, even if for a shorter time, either way, I will run, I will increase my resilience. So this week, I have run every day, even when I did not feel like it, even when my legs were hurting, even when I wasn’t feeling it, so this week is the first time since lockdown that I have run over 20 miles.

That makes me proud.

It’s not easy, but it’s worth it, just getting out there freeing your mind for some time every day, this is where I’m really starting to find the value. Now I love running, have done for a few years now, but the difference I am finding since lockdown, is that it is definitely helping my state of mind. Here we are, coming out (slowly) from lockdown, we have a young baby (our beautiful little girl, bless her) and I have just been promoted at work while I can’t even go there to make an impact and with previously reduced running hours, all things add up to higher than normal stress. I found my reactions to situations have been off balance sometimes, when I reflect on this, I feel worse, but what is interesting is that as I have run more this week, my reactions level back out. This is cause and effect and I love it, it’s simple, relax and exercise, get fresh air, life gets easier.

For anyone who may be struggling, put on a pair of trainers and get out there.

Not running can be ok.

I had plans for my weekend. Same as most other weekends, they involved running. Lots of running.

I have been following a plan since November 2019. Things have been going well, predominately anyway. This weekend was part of the ‘rest’ cycle, with only 2 hours of running planned. So easier than most other weekends.

Threshold Sports have recently postponed the Ultra marathon I was taking part in, being pushed back to 2021. Milton Keynes half marathon has been postponed to September, the only other event in my calendar is a trail 10k, which I am also anticipating to be postponed.

I seemed to have lost my running mojo a bit with all the postponements, self isolation, new baby, work challenges.

You might think it’s an excuse I guess, but I am very goal oriented, if I don’t have a real and tangible goal to tackle, I find it hard to get motivated, I easily get sidetracked (cider, over sleeping after a broken nights sleep, home projects, maybe not all at the same time though!).

This weekend’s distraction was lifting a concrete slabbed area in our back garden, smashing up the concrete below and preparing the whole area for turf. I must admit, I actually felt like I had run a half marathon when I was done, but it’s not running, doesn’t show on my metrics and doesn’t improve my running. It does however mean I am improving our family home, so that has to count right?

Today I spent a bit more time getting a big tree root out and levelling the soil some more. I will have to carry on levelling and clearing big stones over the next few weekends but at least the worst is done now.

So I think that sometimes it’s ok not to be running, although I feel like I can hear the weight going back on!! I need to watch that!!

Also, with all the idiots around the country who are not obeying the law and going out without good reason or going out for longer than is truly required, maybe I’m best not going out anyway and if I run at all, use my trusty treadmill. Maybe I should try to set a positive example, I see so many cyclists out on the roads, I’m certain they aren’t out for only 30 minutes, also, a lot of those have turbos they could be using. So if I’m thinking like that, then I should take my own advice and use the treadmill.

Just need to find my mojo…..!

Eerie silence

I love running, you probably guessed that by now. The increased heart rate, the endorphins, the challenge of pushing myself further and faster than I ever thought I could. But right now, things are strange.

When I run, I focus outwardly, I observe nature, practice gratitude and generally turn my mind away from the pain of running and the normal negative thoughts (stop now, slow down, that’s far enough, I can’t do this etc).

Normally this means I notice a lot of activity, such as traffic levels, walkers, other runners, wildlife (some beautiful birds of prey around here!) and of course other people carrying on their life. Although I live in a small village in Oxfordshire, there is usually plenty of life around here to keep me distracted from my internal struggles on my runs.

Since this madness has all started I have only been out for 2 runs, opting more for my treadmill instead. This is mostly because we now have a 2 week old little girl to look after so I have stayed close to home. Now as life is starting to settle down somewhat I am going back outside for my runs and looking to getting back into my training programme.

It’s a bit eerie out now though!

On both runs, I have seen nobody at all. Ok, I am running early in the morning, but I usually do, it’s my way. Today I only ran for 30 minutes because I stubbed my toe badly last night (thought I had broke it, but I haven’t!) and honestly, I felt like I was a sole survivor of some virus pandemic, wait, oh, well I’m glad not all of that is true!!

It’s very strange being out and seeing nobody, hearing no human life at all. Makes me realise how much we need each other, even just for the small things, a ‘good morning’ or simply a nod from another person makes a difference.

When our scientists find the way to beat this virus and we return to some form of normality, I pray that we ‘take a breath’, give rightful recognition to the people who have been supporting us all (couriers, lorry drivers, manufacturing, nurses, doctors, firefighters, military, shop workers, midwives etc) and someone does something to improve their status in our world. Pay them more, appreciate them, improve their working conditions, give them the respect they deserve. Yes, we need the scientists, politicians, business leaders and so on, these are the groups that will deliver the vaccine. But they are not the ones keeping us alive now and keeping the wheels of society turning right now. But not only this, I pray that we learn to appreciate each other on a more basic level, that there is less hate in the world, pipe dream I guess though and probably not for a running blog!

Although, running helps to relax me and focus outward so maybe there is a tenuous link? What do you think? Does running help you in the same way?

Running in this eerie silence of lockdown, brings an acute awareness of solitude, I don’t like it!

Our new normal?

So. Exciting times eh!? I saw a post on LinkedIn recently and the author who is a highly regarded business guru was talking about ‘as mankind reaches the end of our golden age’ and I thought that it was sensationalism. Maybe, maybe not!

Either way, times are strange right now. We didn’t bulk buy, we don’t have all the toilet rolls, or all of anything else for that matter, preferring to buy what we need when we need it, as normal really. Going shopping now of course makes me a little nervous when it becomes a struggle to find the basics.

Today I ended up paying probably close to twice the amount I would have expected, not that the retailer was ripping me off, more that I ended up in a farm shop where they are just normally more expensive. Even though they are more expensive, there was a huge queue outside when I left, nice to be thanked by the staff for not stockpiling.

If you saw the government update today, the British Retail Consortium is saying that in the last 3 weeks people have spent a billion pounds on food more than normal! That is crazy, please stop it!! Anyone who has seen any apocalypse films or played the games knows it doesn’t end well for the preppers!

Anyway, running! Well, not a lot of that at the moment to be honest. With our new baby settling in and all the excitement of recent days, the most I have managed is a couple of treadmill runs.

I’m waiting to see if the ultra has been postponed or cancelled while Threshold delay their decisions. To be fair, the planned date is July and I think they are hoping everything will be calm by then. My half marathon has been postponed to September, I might defer that to next year now, I guess we have to see how this all pans out. Those are my two main runs this year, and if they are both postponed then I guess I have plenty of time to make back up my fitness losses from this passed week. I am also thinking I am going to have to get used to using the treadmill more again!

I normally use Zwift for running which is ok, I have explored some others but I think now could be a good time to review those and give you my thoughts! So over the coming few weeks I will try some platforms and write some reviews, starting with Zwift!

Talk soon, please stay safe and keep your distance from others!

No running but I’m smiling big time!

So no running for a few days (into day 6 now), I’ve had a lot of ‘restless legs’ going on but a lot more smiles having this little one to cuddle!

I’m hopeful that today I will be able to get on the treadmill for a short run. Maybe just 15 minutes to stretch the legs and then over the next couple of weeks I should be able to get back out there again and run, clearly though family comes first.

With all the news about corona virus and the amount of races being cancelled, I am hoping that The Race to the Stones will still be on this year, but if not, I will just keep repeating my plan. The exercise is never wasted as my health will just keep improving so nothing lost really as my real purpose is to stay healthy.

That’s why having a purpose to your exercise, bigger than immediate goals is so important! There are so many variables in life that it is critical to ensure your purpose is fundamental so that all of life’s distractions and complications can be handled in ways that do not create extra stresses for you.

For example, if my purpose was to complete an ultra marathon in 2020 or to complete a marathon faster than my last one, these goals could be completely derailed by life’s changes (or a pandemic being (mis?)-managed by our government!)

But, as my purpose is to stay healthy so that I am around my family as long as possible, challenges to training become merely bumps along my journey. The (possible!) cancellation of an ‘A’ race becomes a nuisance rather than a disaster!

Again, just another short post to prove I’m still here! As my training restarts, I will post further updates on how that goes, thanks for taking a few minutes to read.

Adam