Baring all…

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I have a confession to make: I love to run in shoes with lots of cushioning. The softer, the better; I just love it when my feet feel as though they are cuddled by cotton-candy clouds.

My love of cushioned shoes is so intense that my preferred road running shoe is basically viewed as the embodiment of all evil by the disciples of the barefoot running movement.

Barefoot runners would, at best, argue that my cushioned devil shoes are overkill and at worst would suggest that the shoes themselves would tempt me towards a fiendishly sloppy running form and summon an array injuries upon me.

My own thoughts on this matter are twofold: first of all, as I have pointed out above, I simply feel great in cushioned shoes. And if I’m going to pounce on concrete for 42.2 kilometres, I think that I would be a complete mug if I didn’t choose the most comfortable attire for the job. Secondly, while I am certainly a devotee to good running form, I don’t think that this is directly related to the shoes I wear.

I certainly don’t wear my demonic running shoes in an attempt to prevent injuries. In fact, in ten years of running in diabolical trainers, I have never once experienced a running related injury – bruised toenails aside. (Excuse me for a moment while I do a swift lap of my house, touching anything wooden in the process).

Having said all that, I am always interested in taking a fresh look at my running form and I am open to the possibility that an odd bout of barefoot running could, potentially be somewhat revealing. Besides, I am curious by nature and yes, I may have read Born to Run.

Therefore, last week, I decided to embrace the lingering summer feeling and temporarily hung up my trainers to conduct a personal case study on barefoot running. For my first attempt I ventured into the relative safety of the local park and its extensive fields of green.

I’ll come straight to the point here: the main outcome of my barefoot running experience is that I had heaps of fun. It genuinely took me back to my childhood and I relished the feeling of the dewy summer grass beneath the soles of my feet. Oh boy, I even enjoyed tiptoeing along the road and gravel paths and flashed a sheepish schoolgirl grin at the gardeners who were commenting on my seemingly forgotten attire. In no time at all, the wind had robbed me of all my caution and I was running wild as though it was the most natural thing in the world.

Perhaps it was easy for me. I often walk barefoot around the house. Moreover, I have always been a midfoot-striker, irrespective of the footwear.

Once I managed to tear myself away from my latest “au natural” adventure, I have come to the following conclusion: perhaps humans were born to run barefoot, but surely not on such unnatural surfaces as asphalt or even concrete surfaces. Also, I suspect that extensive barefoot running requires some pretty tough feet in the first place. And given that I have no intention of wandering through my everyday life without shoes (I’m not that alternative!), why would I expect my feet to put up with the most extreme battering I inflict upon them without the protection they enjoy for the rest of their lives?

Personally, I will stay loyal to my beloved and insanely comfy trainers. However, when the sun is out on a beautiful summer’s day, don’t be surprised if you catch a glimpse of a 32-going-on-11 year old skipping around your local park with piggy tails and unashamedly nude below the knee.

After all…

“I only do this because I’m having fun. The day I stop having fun, I’ll just walk away.”

– Heath Ledger

Half a Dilemma

My next half marathon is creeping up on me with the stealthy determination of a lynx stalking its prey. The race is next week, and it’s ready to pounce.

The thing is, I’m ready too. I’m so ready. My training has been going amazing well, I am (as per usual) injury free and I’m probably fitter than I have ever been in my life. If the stars align for me come race day, I could even challenge my previous half marathon personal best of 1:39:56 to a duel at dawn.

So what’s the dilemma?

This is one race I must not, well, how can I put this, race at all. I can certainly run it, but I must not expend more energy than I would do on a normal long run. My first marathon is a mere five weeks away, you see, and it’s also prowling around in the shadows that surround me.

The day after the half marathon will mark the beginning of two of the toughest training weeks I have ever subjected myself to, and I don’t intend to run them while physically recovering from an act of inanity caused by a runaway ego.

So as it is, my head and heart are trapped out on the battlefield where the armies commandeered by the devil and angel from my shoulders are flashing their respecitve “Run Girl, Run!” and “Slow and Steady” t-shirts in front of each other’s faces. And I fear that this is a mere skirmish, as the real war will not begin until 11am next Sunday.

Right now, I’m still planning on running the half marathon in under two hours. Should I have a really bad day and have to rough it out, anything longer than that is not a disaster, as it’s still a long run that’ll just slot in with my marathon training.

For the first time in my life I will run a race where crossing that finish line too fast would be the real calamity. I have one final weapon up my sleeve, or rather, waiting for me at the finish line. If my ego and I cross the said finish line in under 1:45 (or, heaven forbid, storm into my own history books with a new PB), I have a loyal friend awaiting me with a cold fish, ready to slap some retrospective sense into me.

It seems to me that the duel at dawn will be fought primarily between my head and heart next Sunday. Wish me luck!

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A Tough Run

Forgive me for starting by stating the obvious, but every runner has them.

Sometimes, I think it’s best to just leave the objective measures behind and follow my heart on a run. Sure, there are days when it’s obvious from the outset that the best I can aim for is a personal worst. I simply accept that my splits shall be horrendous, my pace will be so laughable that it might just have entertainment value and my legs feel like bloated slugs at 5 km and my feet will have turned into dumbbells by the time I finish.

But it always helps me immensely to remind myself that as long as it’s tough, whatever the reason, the workout will ultimately only serve to make me stronger. And that, after all, is one of the reasons why I train in the first place.

Besides, any day on which I run is better than a day on which I don’t run.

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National Fitness Day

It’s not as though I need an incentive to get out the door and kick the ground for a while, but today also happens to be National Fitness Day in the UK.

As for yours truly, I decided to pay my old friend the beach a visit today. It’s been almost five days since I last ran on the beach and it was time to replenish the pesky reserves of sand between my toes. Although I enjoy beach runs, I also tend to find them quite tough, both physically and mentally, as they can be quite monotone and there are few landmarks to aim for.

As I rumbled along the waterline, the clouds which had already invaded every inch of sky sneakily called for reinforcement in the form of their bigger and darker comrades, aka the common rainclouds. Naturally, the assembled army of clouds opened the floodgates at the precise moment when I was at the precise point when I was furthest away from my car (which I am sure is in keeping with one of the lesser known laws of nature and sod).

As long as it’s warm, I actually quite enjoy running in the rain. (Hey, I have to keep telling myself that, this is Scotland after all!). I kept my head down – literally, as the rain was mixing with my sweat and running into my eyes – and covered up the evidence left behind by a summer of running in the form of shapes of various sports bras imprinted on my skin by means of rather entertaining tan lines. (And, fear not, this is not the place where I will launch into a soliloquy about the state of my battered feet!).

I still managed to push myself to run a negative split over 12 kilometres, which is always nice. Did I mention that I love this sport?

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Happy National Fitness Day everyone!

“Some people create with words or with music or with a brush and paints. I like to make something beautiful when I run. I like to make people stop and say, ‘I’ve never seen anyone run like that before.’ It’s more than just a race, it’s a style. It’s doing something better than anyone else. It’s being creative.”

– Steve Prefontaine

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Some people cre…

Running Tentsmuir

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Tentsmuir Forest on the east coast of Scotland is, hands down, one of my favourite places to run. It is as flat as a modern TV, but far more exciting. The absence of hills sure is a novelty in Scotland, and as someone who generally does a lot of running on grounds that are anything but flat, it’s a great place to stretch out my legs.

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The area is large enough to not get bored or go loopy on even a proper long run (I have ran a few 25 – 35km runs there), while still being quite overseeable. Most importantly, it offers some great trails and magnificent vistas, from a massive Tolkienesque forest, some charming lochs, open moorland to award winning and seemingly endless beaches. What more could a runner’s heart possibly desire?

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If you ever find yourself in the area, it’s definitely worth a visit. Be warned though, it’s hardly a secret location and can get busy on popular days!