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!

 

 

Longest run in 3 years

Today’s run was long, for me anyway!

A 14 mile run, twice around a 7 mile loop which takes me passed my house. Going passed my house was hard, starting the second loop was a little emotional to be honest!

The run was a power zone 2 run so was intentionally slow, which from a power perspective is ok but oh lord it took so long at nearly 3 hours, it seemed a very long time to be running so slowly. You can see below I had regular stops for water and Trail-butter which I love, along with a couple of extra traffic stops as this was all road running.

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I have also blasted my weekly mileage goal, which is set at 20 miles a week in order to hit 1000 miles in 2020, this week having hit over 33 miles, putting me 34 miles ahead at this point for the year. Bearing in mind my wife is due our second baby in 12 days, I need to get ahead if I want to ensure I meet that target, obviously, it is far more important that I support my wife than meeting the goal, but it would be nice to do both.

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So as you can see above, slow, but done! Whore hey (Jorge) was kind to me and it stayed dry, if a bit windy. At around 9.5 miles, I nearly bailed, strangely, I started feely fuzzy headed and could not focus for some reason. I was not sure what was happening as I have run further than this before with no problems and had been taking plenty of fluids and nutrition. I decided to carry on running and see what happened, knowing my wife would be unlikely to come and pick me up anyway as she was out (also with baby 12 days away, I wouldn’t blame her for not wanting to come searching for me lol). So I trudged on and if you look carefully at the charts from Stryd you will see that my power output went all over the place at around 10 miles, which was me basically battling this fuzzy headedness. At around 11.5 miles I started feeling fine, but it was a real battle during this time. This is something I am going to have to investigate because, it felt like I was bonking, so maybe my nutrition was not at the right levels for a run of this length on an empty stomach.

 

 

 

Slower than a slow thing having a slow day in slow town

Today I was slower than a tortoise in treacle

But I’m ok with that.

Today was a 1 hour zone 2 run, simple, straightforward, nothing fancy. It was a good time to chat with my friend about work and understand more of the politics going on at work while having a nice relaxing run at very low effort.

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We didn’t run far or fast, which was exactly what we had planned. I stayed in mid zone 2, did not break a sweat or get out of breath at all. Slow. Yes, indeed, but I was ok with that because that is what I am supposed to be doing. Running like this brings the joy back to running again which I love, but also it allows me to spend an hour with a friend just talking stuff through, I think we both find that beneficial to be honest.

Screenshot 2020 02 29 at 19 36 53You can see here that I am diligently following my plan, tomorrow is a long run (well, long enough for me at 14 miles). I have a nice 2 loop local route planned and I am hoping that storm Jorge (whorehay!!!??? WTF!! LOL!) won’t hit too hard in the morning and the run will be a comfortable one. Whatever happens, you can be assured that I will complete my target, worst case scenario I might have to run on the treadmill. I don’t mind a treadmill run but for this distance, I am going to struggle with boredom I think, which then means I will end up focussing on the pain. So hopefully, whorehay will be kind!

Screenshot 2020 02 29 at 19 58 08As you can see from my PMC I am now slightly fitter than I was 2 years ago when I ran the London Big Half, which is encouraging because I don’t feel like I have had to train particularly hard to get back to a fitness level where the thought of running 14 miles tomorrow does not phase me, in fact, I’m looking forward to it.

I have found that forcing myself to slow down while running has allowed my body to adapt faster. I am definitely losing weight, at some point I might have to change the name of the blog, but hold on, let’s not get carried away lol! People are noticing my weight loss and my clothes are getting looser, so the 80/20 plan I am following is doing all the right things!

2 social soulless sociopaths bound together in a friendless world

So this post is nothing about 2 social soulless sociopaths bound together in a friendless world, I just heard that phrase recently and it made me laugh, thought maybe it would share a smile!

Today was a rest day so I am feeling fat and heavy, hold on, I am fat and heavy(!), well, more than normal! I have been sat at my computer fathoming out spreadsheets for work all day and cajoling people into doing what they are paid to do, but hey ho, I’m paid too!

The rest day is an odd beast, the night before, I look forward to not having to get up early and going out in the rain. Then I wake up early, get up and look out the window, wanting to run! I then proceed to slouch around all day and hardly move.

Normally I take about 13000 steps a day, on a rest day, it’s more like 3000 steps and I really feel the difference.

Anyway, Just a short note tonight to have a grumble about inactivity, looking forward to my run with a friend in the morning!

My Stryd wind pod says I’m balancing my running stress and recovery and my TrainingPeaks PMC says I’m getting fitter (blue shaded area), in fact, fitter than I have been for over a year now so I will trust the data!

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Oh for crying out loud!!! – SNOW

Well, the last couple of runs have been fun!

Wednesday was a ‘power zone 2 run’, which basically means a slow run (even by my standards!) It’s a foundational run in my training plan, being the 80% of all the training. The thinking behind this is data driven, and to cut a long story short, is based upon the fact that elite distance runner athletes spend 80% of their time in low intensity training zones and 20% in high intensity zones. Now, my low intensity zones are, maybe, marginally different to an elite athlete, granted, but the principle remains! So, my zone 2 runs are achingly slow and it gets somewhat dull while running sometimes, this was one of those days. The weather was beautiful, clear, dry, a little sunshine but cold (apparently felt like -3!) although not too bad. I had a nice subtle tailwind while going out, with a frosty headwind on the way back. When I got back home my legs were very red but the run kind of felt a little bland, also being an hour’s run, the distance wasn’t interesting either! Todays run, was a tempo run, I had been looking forward to it, adding a bit of pace, but not too much, to the run is nice. The run consists of 15 minutes warm up in zone 2, 30 minutes tempo run in zone 3 and then 15 minutes cool down back in zone 2 (remembering the 80/20 plan adds 2 extra zones in, so we get Z1, Z2, ZX, Z3, ZY, Z4, Z5). I usually enjoy this one because I know that towards the tail end of the tempo run piece, I am feeling it, and I like that. Today however was not as nice as I had hoped, I woke up and my phone told me it was snowy with poor visibility, I curled back up in bed! After about another 10 minutes I forced myself out of bed, knowing that if I went back to sleep that would be the end of that! I looked out the window and saw no snow, I thought, bloody phone, then, great, let’s go. Got my normal gear on, stepped outdoors into sideways snow!

Well, thanks for that! I completed my run as per the plan but really did not enjoy it, I was cold and the snow was blowing straight into my face for half the run. Happily, no snow was settling on the ground, but it was definitely soggy out there. When I got back I had chilblains all over my legs and particularly my feet as I had worn my normal road running Vibrams instead of my water resistant trail running Vibrams, not a happy bunny! On my way back I ran passed a friend (Emma) who asked if I was cold enough yet, I responded with something like a falsely jovial ‘not yet, haha ’ but actually I was freezing! LOL

Anyways! Not fast, but moving!

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Funny how the runs you don’t want to do can end up being the best ones!

How was todays run?

I slept bad, awakened by my daughter at 4am for some crazy reason which to her made sense I am sure, but to me it was ludicrous, I then got back in bed and spent another 90 minutes (ish) debating if I should just get up and run. When I eventually dragged my sorry ass out of bed and got outside, just as I stepped out the door, it started raining, well thank you very much! That did not improve my mood in the slightest!

But, today was intervals and I just love intervals, I get to have a plod around but also to push myself a bit.

Today was a little different because instead of using data to control my output, I ran by perceived effort, it was interesting because although I was aiming for zone 4 in the high intervals, I was actually running over 3 minutes a mile faster than normal and was easily in high zone 5, yet my effort for 5 out of 6 of these intervals felt great. I felt I was on the lower end of zone 4, although on the 6th interval I definitely felt like I faded (despite the actual power output showing higher!). That said, I am quite impressed with how well I managed to hold my efforts!

I used to hate running intervals, but I have got to the stage in my training, which focuses most of my effort (80% of it) on running slow, so I now look forward to these as they add a welcome variation and the speedwork challenges me to endure the pain, my legs tingle all day long and I often get a rush of endorphins (the runners high), with so much of my plan being low effort, it’s a welcome buzz!

At the end of my run today, I felt absolutely GREAT, note to self, when I don’t want to run, GO RUN!!

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Perfectly balanced, as all things should be – according to Thanos in Infinity War!

Ah the rest day.

I have come to have a love hate relationship with the rest day!

It is supposed to be a time when your muscles mend themselves, building strength for the next time we tear them apart again in some way. I so wish it would feel like strength building!

What I tend to get are legs that want to run, especially when I’m trying to get to sleep! Then my legs feel heavy and I have creeping guilt that maybe I should have run actually, despite what the plan says, I look at my metrics, you will maybe know by now I am a number nerd(!) and I see the subtle downtick in the numbers each time I have a rest day, with this softened by an overall positive trend which tempers my behaviour!

Still, it doesn’t feel good, yet, if you had asked me some years ago if staying warm and dry out of whichever storm happens to be battering us that day, feels good? I would have answered absolutely yes! Nowadays, I just find myself getting itchy to get back out and run, regardless of the weather, or indeed, to jump on my treadmill, but, I heed the plan. Feeling fat, angsty downright grumpy!

On the flip side, I have learned to trust the fact that my body needs rest, despite the part of my brain claiming super human abilities to just keep running like a demented Forrest Gump on drugs, noting that, having recently run along part of The Ridgeway and finding that actually I was more like a very old man ascending a mountain of custard while wearing skates! I find it generally best to have the rest regardless of how it makes me feel. The performance changes are notable during my training plan cycles of high and low intensity, while in a high intensity cycle, the rest improves my performance and perceived effort upon returning to running the following day, in the low intensity, I notice it less, but it’s there.

I try to adapt my plan or non-running activities around the rest days if I can, with varying levels of success, this often creates a little more ease in my busy life while managing a busy job, supporting the needs of a loving family and preparing for a new baby while trying to train for an ultra trail marathon of 62 miles over 2 days. Ultimately, each time, something has to give and sometimes I have to skip a run if something else has a higher demand on me, especially if I have already had a rest day.

I think all runners have these challenges, but possibly it is even harder for people training for ultras as the demand on time is greater and the risks higher. Training for a marathon is tough, when I ran London in 2017, I had not trained nearly enough and on the day, it showed, but I got around and I completed my task. If I miss too much training for the ultra, although this is a well supported one and I’m not going to be stuck out on my own in the middle of a desert somewhere, the effect of missing training will be magnified due to the distance, the terrain and the sheer time on my feet. So my priority is to stick to the plan as much as possible, albeit, I know I have to adapt, the one thing you cannot gain back is time, miss the training and you are too late. Simple as that! You have to move on.

Coming back to rest days, they are important for your body, my view is that if you are training with a specific target in mind, rather than just running for the sake of it, then you should not run every day, be kind to your body and listen to it, most times it knows what it’s talking about! If you must run, I suggest using a treadmill as the impact is reduced, otherwise, find another way to exercise, I hear cycling and swimming is also good for you(!), plus it looks ominously like we will have plenty of chances to swim (at least around here anyway!).

How and why to become a minimalist runner in 5 simple steps (run barefoot!)

Running barefoot is crazy, or so I’m told!

Apparently, I’m crazy to attempt trail ultra marathons in my minimalist running shoes but I LOVE my Vibrams, from Barefoot Junkie.

And yet, here I am, I run everywhere in my Vibrams 5 days a week and I WILL complete an ultra marathon in them. Also, running barefoot is how we were meant to run, I hear the naysayers saying ‘we don’t live in caves anymore’ and I get that, but still, it is natural for us to run this way, not with cushioning so that we cannot sense the ground. 

Why do I think more people should become minimalist runners? Quite frankly and simply, it makes you a better runner, not necessarily faster (I will come back to that later) but definitely a better runner from a technique perspective. I look back at photos of me running before my barefoot days and I can see that despite what I thought then, I was a heel striker. In case you don’t know, heel striking is inefficient as each strike scrubs energy from your forward momentum. I am now definitely a forefoot striker and my feet are lifting much higher up behind me especially when in a sprint, much better form, just from barefoot running. The coaching I had pointed me in the right direction, definitely, but the barefoot running took me down the right road (pun intended) so that now I am a more agile runner, much better able to sense the ground beneath me and adapt to it. I know of at least one occasion when I was running that being barefoot has saved me from an ankle injury (due to an unseen hole in the ground).

How should you start with barefoot running?

1. Decide why you want to do it, maybe it is to get better form, maybe to develop better calf strength or even just for the novelty factor (other runners always talk to me about it!).

2. Choose a brand, there are many, do your research and find a brand you can trust, for me, there was no question about it, had to be Vibrams via Barefoot Junkie, great shoes that last forever and fantastic customer service. Whatever brand you choose, be careful on sizing because it matters more with barefoot shoes.

3. Decide if you want toe socks or not (if in toe shoes!), I found that the fit of my shoes are better with my InJini socks.

4. Start running in your shoes but start extremely gently. You will probably quickly notice that your calves really hurt! That’s because you are now using muscles differently, remember how much it hurt when you first started running, no?, well, try doing an exercise you are not used to and see how you feel (seriously though, don’t hurt yourself!!). That’s exactly what you are doing because you will absolutely be running differently, immediately in barefoot shoes, 1 or 2 heel strikes is all it will take to change your running technique!

5. Keep trying the barefoot shoes and gradually extend your range. It took me about a month until I could run my normal distances on the road, it was a month of calf pain but it was so worth it. Take your time and listen to your body, you will soon find that you are running lighter and easier than ever before, keep that in mind, it will come but it takes perseverance. Sometimes I found it easier to run on a treadmill during the first few days as Vibrams actually adapt to the shape of the foot somewhat and the fit gets a little better.

As for running faster, other minimalist runners say that on race day they run in ‘normal’ running shoes and that because all of their training has been in minimalist shoes, they run faster (due to better run efficiency built up), but as I have not done that, I can’t attest to it.

On a separate note, Vibrams will save you money as well because they are no more (often less) expensive than normal running shoes but they also do not wear out anywhere near as quickly, my first pair have now run 400 miles and are barely showing any signs of wear, other normal running shoes I have used have always needed replacing by about 300 miles!

Todays run hurt. 55 minutes of pain (and it really shouldn’t have been!)

So today was supposed to be a nice relaxed run with a friend, I use a Stryd (wind) power meter to help me quantify my effort and analyse my performance / inform my next steps by helping me to clearly understand the inputs and outputs of my running. As a bit of a statistical geek (I’m a lean six sigma black belt so I do a lot of data analysis) I like to have a deeper understanding of the data, the Stryd pod really helps with that.

My training plan said to run a power zone 2 run (that’s almost a walk by the way!) for 50 minutes. How it ended up was somewhat different from a power perspective.

We have a 4 mile route we follow on a Saturday morning, leaving Northleach, going uphill in the general direction of Cheltenham. We are used to the hill, but the effect of the wind was something of a challenge while trotting up the hill. 

A zone 2 run for me puts me in the range of 209-242 watts, as you can see below, there were points when I was at 486 watts, while there were only gusts of wind causing that, the rest of the time the wind was mostly a headwind making it almost (well, mostly!) impossible to stay within the correct power zone while also making the total running time longer than it should have been because we were slowing down dramatically!

Since November 2019 I’ve been training for an ultra run (62 miles over 2 days) but this weekend run with my friend is much more of a social thing and to try to ‘give back’ by helping someone else become a ‘runner’

Tomorrow should be interesting as I have a tougher run planned, I will let you know how I get on with that!

How was your run today? How do you analyse your data?

 


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