Sixty-six

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So it’s now been sixty-six days since I started my latest running effort of running at least a mile each morning. In fact I moved house and so for the past forty-five days I’ve actually been running 1.3 miles, or 2 kilometers each morning.

So far, so good. My soles no longer feel sore at all, and my musculoskeletal aches come and go; I just run through them. I’m hoping that running every single day will kick start a process called Mechanostat Modelling. Which is the process of bones and soft tissue becoming tougher in response to strain. The strain being enough to trigger this process, but no so much that an injury occurs.

I wrote about this process recently when updating one of the running pages. It’s a useful thing to keep in mind; no growth or strengthening occurs if you don’t push yourself slightly beyond what your body is already used to. It’s the root of the old saying ‘no pain, no gain‘.

I’m also running wearing my Correct Toes. It only took a couple of runs in them before I stopped giving a shit about people looking at them. I’m running shoe-less anyway, and that’s enough to get people to stare. This will just add further confusion to them. They’ll probably think I’m wearing ultra-minimalist shoes of some sort; who cares, they can think what they like.

So, two months in and it’s all going well. Let’s see how my enthusiasm holds as the weather gets colder. Summer is definitely over in the UK now and the dropping temperatures are already noticeable.

Posture

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We all know that good posture is a good thing, or rather bad posture is bad for us. It’s often touted that a benefit of ditching conventional shoes is improved posture. But what exactly do people mean by this? And what evidence do they have of any benefit?

Symptoms of bad posture include:

  • Back pain
  • Shoulder/neck pain
  • Headaches
  • Jaw pain (yes, really)
  • Reduced lung function

Permanent alterations to
your body include:

  • Anterior Pelvic Tilt
  • Thoracic Kyphosis
  • Rounded Shoulders
  • Hunchback

I think it’s hard to notice your own posture improving, unless it was really bad to start with. These changes happen over time so unless you took photographs before you began, it’s a little anecdotal at best.

However this week I attended a training course at RADA called, ‘Presenting with Power & Passion’. It was basically teaching you how to talk to an audience, without PowerPoint or any other props; just you and their attention. It was really quite amazing. Although I’m relatively okay with public speaking, I think there’s always more to learn.

The course centered around how you breath, speak and hold yourself. These three things deciding how much of the content you’re presenting actually gets through to the audience. So the third of these, how you hold yourself, or more correctly, your posture is very important if you want your audience to take you seriously. Also it seems that the right posture, improves your breathing, which in turn improves your oration. Thus the root of being an effective communicator starts with your posture; the foundation of which of course, are your feet.

In a 1-2-1 coaching session towards the end of the day, Johnny, our tutor personally addressed each participant’s posture, voice and breathing. We watched this process as he attended to each of us in turn. One thing that surprised me was that although everyone else’s posture needed correction, mine didn’t. I already had a perfect stance. As posture in this scenario is the basis for breathing correctly and ultimately orating like a professional; it seemed I had an inbuilt advantage. However I see no natural advantage in myself – I see that it’s been three years since I binned all my conventional shoes. That’s the posture advantage I had over my peers. I’ve been walking around without the hindrance of heeled shoes. Heeled shoes that permanently put the wearer off-balance and force the body into a crooked stance to compensate. That’s the advantage I had, three years of walking and standing correctly.

I’d previously thought my posture had improved since ditching the shoes, but this was the first evidence outside my own imagination.

More on Posture…

Thirty-three

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So I’ve been quiet on here for the past three weeks, but I’ve not been idle. I’ve continued to run 1 mile every day for the past 33 days now and I’ve encountered no problems whatsoever. I’ve had a couple of wobbles, but these have merely been landing on a small stone under my 2nd metatarsal head, and the following day’s run being a little tender in that spot. But the following day I got right back on the horse and never felt anything there again.

I also noticed that on days 18-23 my ankles and feet felt like they’d had a real workout. Not pain, just slight stiffness and aching. But I carried on regardless and this also subsided after only 6 days to leave me now feeling strong and capable. I’m not going to hurry stepping up this distance by any great margin. Although I am moving house at the weekend, and although I’m not moving far, I am moving slightly further away from my mile circuit of Clapham Common Westside, so this will increase my daily mile to 1.25 miles (2 km). I plan to do this distance, a quarter distance increase for another month to see how it goes.

Daily Habit

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As I’ve learned is the norm with running, or indeed any exercise program you set yourself; nothing ever goes to plan.

My latest effort to get back into running involved walking barefoot or in minimalist shoes for 5k every day for a month. Two weeks into this I started running a 1 mile route, leaving a whole week of rest in between, and reducing that rest period by a day each time. The original goal being to be able to run the 5k route I was walking; which actually morphed in being able to run the 1k route every day, but more on that later. The general aim of trying to achieve an overall distance per week in smaller, more frequent runs. I figured should be better for my feet, and most importantly, should make it easier for my feet to adapt. I wasn’t convinced running 2-3 times a week was enough to trigger the foot adaptations needed, as the activity wasn’t happening enough. But doing this every day must surely flick the appropriate switch in the body to start making my feet stronger in anticipation of this daily mile.

So what went wrong? I think my plan was the problem; it allowed for too much flexibility. I easily reduced the gap between runs to a single day and then kept it there for a while, wondering how to gradually step this up. I couldn’t just jump to running every day in one go. This would double the effort and be an easy route to injury; I’ve been here before and it never ends well. The trouble is, as I’ve proved to myself countless times: there’s a balance to strike between not overdoing it, and not doing enough through fear of overdoing it. If you don’t push yourself, you’ll never progress; push too far and injury sets you back.

What actually happened was I was running in the evening after getting home from work every other day. If I found I wasn’t going home straight from work on one of my run days, no problem, I’d just run the following day. It would probably do my body good to have the occasional two rest days I thought. However it only took a couple of days missing my run and I’d soon lost the habit. Combine that with a bout of illness and being away with work, and before I knew it, I’d not run for three weeks.

Then last Saturday I got up and went for a run first thing in the morning. The following day I did the same. I’ve now ran this 1 mile circuit every day for the past 8 days. The advantage of running first thing is I can pretty much always do this everyday. There aren’t excuses like working late, after work drinks, etc, to stop me. So far I’ve found it easy to motivate myself to get up and run. Each day I noticed my soles get progressively sore. By the Thursday – the 6th run in a row – my feet were really complaining. That was the sorest they’d been, and on that run they felt delicate. I persisted regardless. The following day wasn’t as bad. My feet felt tougher. This morning’s run seems to have told the same tale; my feet felt tougher still. I think I may have passed the tenderness barrier on Thursday, which I’d never have reached running every other day.

Also my calves have been okay. Three and half months ago when I started on this latest running streak, my calves complained afterwards for 6 days. It wasn’t anything silly like the first time I ever ran in barefoot shoes – that time I couldn’t walk properly for a week, having ran just 2 miles. But it was noticeable when I walked and wasn’t exactly comfortable. The next run, 2 days later my calve stiffness subsided, resulted in just two days of noticeable tightness. The next three runs after this it was only the next day, and the one following that I noticed no calve tightness at all. I’ve not done since, until I started going out each day. Although there I could feel it in my calves the day after the first run (don’t forget I’d had a break of three weeks beforehand), and the first few subsequent days. I realise now 8 days in, that I’ve forgotten I’d been monitoring it, which actually meant that it had gone away. I had by then become more interested about my soles and their soreness rating. So no problems with my calves at all. I’m convinced this has been helped by the little and often approach. Submitting the body to the same stresses everyday will activate the body to grown stronger in those regions to protect against and counteract the forces.

I’m going to attempt to keep this everyday thing up for as long as I can. I’ll let you know how I get on.

New training regime

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So it’s been two months now since I wrote on here that it had been five months since I’d last ran. Moving back to live right next door to Clapham Common was just the inspiration I needed to get going again.

Now since I’d had a break, the skin on my soles had become soft and unconditioned. I was starting again (almost) and I wanted to learn from my previous mistakes of overdoing it. So I read back through my blog, and came to the same conclusion I’d come to each and every time before. I’d overdone it. I’d got excited how easy it was to up the distance and simply overdone it. No matter how many times this happened, I seemed to make the same mistake time and time again. It was next exactly the same issue, but overdoing it was the cause every time. This time would be very different.

I considered that there were two things I needed to start to recondition. The musculoskeletal makeup of my leg, and the planter surface of my foot – my sole. So I started on one at a time. Initially I didn’t do any running at all, I started walking. After work each day, I walked (in barefoot shoes) the 5k route around the perimeter of Clapham Common – which is my initial goal to be able to run. I did this for ten days. Then, while continuing to walk this 5k each day, I started running. My initial run is a small offshoot of the Common called Westside. It’s about 1 mile around. I ran this mile once, then didn’t run again for seven days. Each day I still did the 5k walk.

Then after seven days I ran again, the same mile route, while still walking the 5k every day. Six days later I ran the mile again, five days after that I ran again, four days later I ran again… you get the idea. I decreased the rest days from running by a day each time, so that within 4 or so weeks, I was up to running a mile every other day. Once I reached this stage I stopped doing the walk. This wasn’t by design, I just feel out of the habit. I had planned on doing these walks barefoot once the weather go warmer. I still think this is probably good preparation for longer runs, but we’ll see.

So I’m currently running every other day for a mile. The idea is that little and often will produce a faster and more consistent response from my body in terms of toughening up my feet, the soles and the musculoskeletal bit. I believe that trying to up the distance but only running twice a week is not enough to get a proper response from your body for change. My plan is to increase to doing this mile everyday. I’ll try and take another month to get up to this frequency. Once there I can experiment with increasing the distance on only one run a week, and up that upped frequency in the exactly the same way I introduced the initial run in the first place. This is the slowest conditioning I’ve ever tried, so I really hope I complete it, injury free. We shall see how long it takes to move all this up to a complete circuit of Clapham Common everyday.

Performance Paradox

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I’m constantly asked, “if it’s so good, why don’t I see professional athletes running barefoot”.

It’s easy to assume that what professionals do in competition is what we should also do. However we never see these professionals in training, and for most runners, that is effectively all they do – train. So we really should take our cue from what the top athletes do in training and not be sidetracked by what they do on the track.

The original running shoes – racing flats – have spikes under the ball of the foot, and modern cushioned running shoes have rubber soles. Both these allow for increased friction between you and the ground. In turn allowing greater acceleration than bare feet alone. Therefore even the most ardent barefoot runner, will gain competitive advantage being shod in competition.

This advantage is more pronounced in shorter races. Short races involve sudden bursts of acceleration and sometimes quick direction changes, which the extra grip helps with.

The advantage diminishes in longer races. In long races it’s all about endurance; acceleration doesn’t come into it. If anything, the barefoot runner now has the advantage. Their running gait (even shod) is impact-free, unlike the constant pounding the shod runner experiences – 5,000 impacts an hour.

However, this is where we have the paradox. For a runner who trains barefoot and only wears shoes in competition, they will have the advantage over the always-shod runner. The barefoot runner’s feet are stronger and able to withstand more. Even in shoes the barefoot runner still runs in a barefoot style, taking full advantage of the more efficient bio-mechanics involved.

As a runner myself, I’m actually not interested in entering any competitions. Not 5k, 10k, half marathons, etc. I used to think I was interested in those events, but that was only because others did it and I felt the need to follow the crowd. It was what you did, wasn’t it? Well, no, that’s not what I do now. I run for my own fitness and pleasure; nothing else. So the idea of worrying about my times, personal bests, etc., is laughable to me now. Who the hell cares how long it takes me to run a certain distance? I don’t. I can still record this to monitor my progress, but I couldn’t care less if my time would be faster in shoes.

The paradox of increased short-term performance, at the expense of your overall long-term performance and foot health is an interesting concept,. One that tends to overshadow the benefits of running without shoes.

Five Months Off

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So I’ve not run at all for five months. Mainly because I became obsessed with a novel I’ve been writing and ended up spending all my time on this, at the expense of everything else. And also because I moved to Putney and just never continued the habit I’d built up in Clapham.

But on Thursday I moved back to Clapham. One minute from the Common, so I’ve no excuses not to take up running again. I actually think it will be interesting to see how long it takes to get back into. I’ll attempt to chart that progress on this blog.

Watch this space.

Explaining Barefoot Running

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I gave a presentation recently at my work, to explain barefoot running; what it is and what it isn’t.

Bareshoes-Presentation-Thumbnail-display-smaller

Obviously the subject is too complex to completely cover in a 30 minute presentation, so this was tailored to give an overview, and hopefully interest people enough to do their own research into the subject.

The presentation went down very well, so I thought I’d share it with the world.

Sex, Drugs & Barefoot Running – a presentation on running without shoes.

NB Heros – UK book launch

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Last night I attended the UK launch of Christopher McDougall’s new book, “Natural Born Heros”.  In his last book, “Born to Run”, he examined the lost art of running; most humans today being locked into a perpetual injury/purchase cycle of running technology fueled by clever marketing.  This time round McDougall expands on the natural movement of running, into all areas of natural movement.

Galahad Clark opened the evening, forgetting to introduce himself; I guessed it must be him, when he started talking about also being involved in the launch five years previously in the same venue, Conway Hall in Holborn, of Born To Run, the book that popularised barefoot running (or rather natural running, Chris never advocated barefeet or bareshoes).  Galahad Clark incidently if you didn’t already know is of the Clark shoe dynasty, but started trying to fix what his family broke (not intentionally) with the creation of VivoBarefoot Shoes.

I realised in Chris’ opening address that the concept of Natural Born Heros wasn’t something that you could distill into a couple of soundbites.  It takes some explaining and Chris and his co-collaborators spent over an hour doing just that.  A hero in the definition of the book is not say when a firefighter rescues someone, or when a parent risks their own life to save their children.  In the first case they were trained to do this and in the second they have an evolutionary imperative that’s impossible to dodge.  No, Chris’s heroes were ordinary people who seem to have be in the right place at the right time and steped-up to do something extraordinary.  They themselves completely disregarding any notion of them being a hero.  What he’s looking for is what is what makes ordinary people apparently put their own lives at risk to help others? Something that the rest of us consider to be an heroic act?

Surprisingly being a natural born hero is all about natural movement and whether or not you’re used to performing the 10 natural human movements.  As most of us lead a sedentary life these days the answer is usually – no!

Parkcour

There was a Parkour demonstration by Parkour Generations.  I wondered what the hell this had to do with a book on heros until I started to get with the program on the points Chris was making.  The movements of Parkour are not unnatural movements; far from it, they are totally natural human movements that we’ve all forgotten. Dan Edwardes discussed the ten years he’d been involved in Parkour in London.

There was also a talk by Tara Wood of Wild Fitness.  Her take on this is that modern exercise concentrates on singular muscle groups and doesn’t take a holistic approach.  Creating large muscles doesn’t mean you are super human and probably wouldn’t ensure you were any good in a situation a hero was required.  However someone who regularly performs all types of physical activities, such as her company Wild Fitness encourage, would probably already have stepped forward.

You’ll have to read the book for yourselves to fully understand this, I’m only at chapter five, but I did only get my copy at the launch yesterday.  I hope this has given you a bit of a taster.

Check out VivoBarefoot’s review of the night. You can see me in the crowd, the bottom of the ‘T’ in Thank You is right over my face. 🙂

Small Stones

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I noticed today out running that I’d stopped noticing small stones.  They are pretty much all you notice when you first removed your shoes and go running, or walking.  Our feet have become so used to wearing shoes that our soles are so delicate that detect and find uncomfortable the smallest of stones.  And they are everywhere.  On the paved street and pavements of our built-up world there are painful tiny bits of stone left over from the various roads works that have gone on over the years.  Landing in the wrong spot on your foot really hurts and is the biggest off-putter for running bare.

It gets worse.  Running past a driveway that’s been gravelled was the worst.  Some of the gravel is inevitably spilled out from the drive onto the pavement.  Landing on one of these right in the middle of your pad would not only hurt, but could actually damage my sole.  This happened a few times and could lay me up for a couple of weeks while it healed.  I used to actually wince as I ran past these drives waiting for the pain to come.

But today, and the few runs before that, I noticed that this isn’t happening anymore.  I just don’t notice the stones anymore.  I must still be landing on them, there are too many and impossible to avoid.  So the only conclusion I can come to is that my feet are now used to it.  I also used to keep getting small stones stick to my soles, so that I had to stop to flick it off, rather than repeatedly keep landing on the same stone.  I don’t remember the last time that happened, I’m not sure the reason for this.  Maybe my feet are less sticky now.  Who knows.  But it’s good.

Currently doing two miles three times a week.  Going to step this up in a week or so to three miles which will be a lap of Clapham Common.