Minimalist Shoes

Two years ago, I hadn’t heard of the barefoot running craze. Every article about running that I read seemed to have the same piece of advice: get a decent pair of shoes. If you have to economise, make sure that it isn’t on your shoes.

I eventually got my gait analysed and bought a heavily padded pair of trainers, the ones they recommended in the shop, which were designed to offer lots of support to the arches in my feet.

It turns out that this might not have been a great move!

Over time, I have been seeing more and more articles about “barefoot running”, a catch-all term that seems to cover people literally going barefoot, or runners who have chosen to wear minimalist shoes. (The concept of a barefoot shoe is a work of marketing genius!) There’s a brilliant piece on it in The Runner’s World New Complete Guide To Running and it features heavily in Running With The Kenyans.

There are also two bloggers right here on WordPress who are advocates and whose opinions I respect: irunelite and the runninger

I know I am a bit behind the times on this one but I have finally decided to at least give minimalist soles a try. The idea behind them is that too much cushioning desensitizes the huge number of nerve endings in the feet. And feedback from the nervous system is what your brain needs to subconsciously adjust your gait as you run. Heel striking is apparently just too painful to sustain without thick soles to absorb the shock to the joints.

Advocates claim that by removing the thick layer of padding between your foot and the ground, your body will naturally adjust your running style, making you faster, and possibly less injury prone – if done in the right way. (It will greatly increase your chances of injury if done in the wrong way!)

This seems to make sense but true barefoot is just a step too far for me; I have all the common concerns you would expect: broken glass, dogshit, etc.

So this won’t be happening!

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Instead, I have opted for a pair of minimalist shoes from a brand called Vivo Barefoot. These shoes have ultra-thin soles and no drop between the height of the heel and the toe (the drop on most running shoes is well over a centimetre to a centimetre and a half, further encouraging heel striking).

I have also gone for a discreet style so that I can walk around in them to start off with. I am planning a very gradual adjustment period.

Here’s what the unboxing looked like:

As is often quoted, every individual runner is an experiment of one, so wish me luck with this experiment!

(ps. I have taken a bit of a break from posting for the last few weeks. That is because I have been focusing all my time behind a keyboard on NaNoWriMo – the write-a-novel-in-a-month challenge! I will be back on it in future weeks.)

My top five running tees

#1 & #2

Reading Half Marathon technical tee and finisher’s tee

Signing up for this race really made me get serious about running (well, as serious as someone calling themself The Half Arsed Runner can get anyway). The distance was daunting but I had so much encouragement to enter from my Running Buddy. He wasn’t wrong either. It was a great race!

#3

Parkrun tee

Park run is a great thing, fully in-keeping with the ethos of this blog: laid-back, encouraging, open to all and free. It takes place up and down the UK and is a weekly chip-timed 5k run every Saturday.

I bought the tee to support the event.

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#4 

The South Downs Marathon finisher’s tee

You can read the story behind this one here. This was the glorious failure that made me start the blog.

#5 

Zombies, Run! app merchandise 

There could only really be one number five.

Yes, I bought the T-shirt. What of it?? Nerdy and proud!

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Honourable mention: the photo that accompanies this post – my bro bought this blood soaked wonder for me along with my Zombies, Run! race 

A Halloween Fun Run

A while back, I set myself the challenge of running 100k by the end of October (not all in one go). The project is called Running Down Dementia. The idea is to raise £100 for Alzheimer’s research and run 100k.

Anyway, I got complacent and just a little bit lazy about tracking all my mileage, especially since the website widget didn’t seem to work. (I think they have fixed that now.) So I’ve had to run my arse off over the last week or so.

I ended up on 95k by the weekend and thought a Halloween 5k fun run would be a good way to finish up the challenge.

This race was held in Thames Valley Park, Reading, and I think the organisers put a lot of effort into making it a great event. See just one small part of the display below (a carved pumpkin in a rowing boat):

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And the sea of Halloween pirates below (pun intended):

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It all kicked off at 8pm, to the sounds of sea shanties and Irish jigs being blasted through the speakers, and followed a course through the woods.

Night running can be a really unique experience, especially on a clear night, with the moon visible through the silhouetted trees.

There was another nice touch to be had around the 4k mark- a band of drummers in a clearing. Think intro to Michael Jackson’s “They don’t really care about us”.

I have a new running buddy who ran the race with me but he has issues with his knees so has to take it easy. Nevertheless, we came in at 33:14, and that was only his third run since we’ve been training together.

Upon crossing the finish line, we received one of the funnest running packs ever: chocolate coins, jellies, and a fiddle toy. (I would definitely recommend bringing kids to this and letting them do the 2k fun run.)

I finished the event with a tasty post-race cup of pumpkin soup.

Running as a release

This is a response to today’s word prompt: gratitude

By shuffling my way through lots of miles, over a period of a couple of years, I have gotten myself to the point where I can comfortably run a 5k or a 10k and find it a joy instead of a chore. It still takes effort when I’m trying to go fast but I can jog along non-stop quite easily.

This allows me a release when times get stressful. Between my job; my landlord; living in a spiritually and morally bankrupt society; anxiety about the coming zombie apocalypse and worrying about my image on Facebook, stress is never in short supply! (Some of those were jokes but I won’t tell you which ones!)

There’s just something about leaving the house (going into the scary real world where everything is offline) and engaging in physical exertion that hits the re-set button and takes me out of my own head.

I live in Berkshire, near the Thames Path, and I get to run alongside some fantastic greenery. (The featured photo is my favourite taken whilst running and shows Caversham weir at sunrise.)

I am grateful that I have the money to buy decent running shoes and enter events. I am grateful for having the physical ability to be able to run, and I try not to take that for granted. I am grateful for the support of friends and family, and for the people who read this blog.

If you are reading this and thinking about starting running, I hope this post will give you that last push that you need. You will feel better and you will meet supportive people. You will lose weight and get fitter. You will be able to blast music through your headphones and get an endorphine high.

There is literally nothing not to like!

And finally, if you want to run but you haven’t exercised in years and you’re terrified of trying, please consider reading this post.

Zombies, Run – virtual race

I need to start this with a shout-out to my bro.

This isn’t the first virtual race that Zombies, Run! have done but I have always hesitated before to spend the money on one as it is expensive to enter, even when compared to real-world races. That said, I do like ZR and I wanted to give it a go.

I think my brother could sense that and knew I would never buy an entry for myself – so he got it for me as a gift. Kudos!

This is what arrived in the post:

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And here’s what I unlocked in the app itself (you get both the 5k and the 10k, but also two bonus stories for Halloween):

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Admittedly, this does differ from other race events in the sense that you are very much in your own little world. You don’t get the support from marshals or by-standers, or the opportunity to meet other runners. You don’t get water stands either, although for a 5k or a 10k, they’re not as necessary.

Another thing you don’t get is the general sense of occasion. You have to make that yourself. Nevertheless, you are racing on your own terms, at a time of your choosing.

Opting for the 10k version first, I set out on a gorgeous Autumn evening, the time of day when the setting sun casts long shadows:

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But as it got darker, around about the 4k mark, the story started to draw me in. There was a sudden scream in my headphones that really made me jump!

To quote Negan from The Walking Dead, it started to get “creepy as shit”. If you can choose your music to complement an eerie or sinister mood, all the better. I recommend listening to a band like Mogwai, Explosions In The Sky or God Is An Astronaut if you really want to go for the full-on soundscape to enhance the “mission”.

The narrative was played out in fine ZR form, engaging and entertaining, with strong characterisation, and a plethora of pop-culture references to be had – as always, ZR never takes itself too seriously. (There was even something a bit Dr Who about it.)

On reflection, starting out at 5pm may not have been the best idea though, as it was busy in the park and I did miss parts of the dialogue. All I wanted to do was populate the landscape with the constructions of my own imagination, but the outside world has a way of interfering.

Thanks a lot traffic lights!

Stop laughing so loudly little kid – the Zombie apocalypse really isn’t the time to be enjoying the park with your family!

This morning I saw an email directing me towards the worldwide leader board, which was exciting. Apparently 398 people have run the 10k race so far, with the 5k being much more popular. Anyway, I am currently ranked 150th under the username Cornetto (after Shaun Of The Dead). There have been 1266 runners doing the 5k.

I joined them this morning, setting out early after the clocks went back in the UK. This time it was a lot quieter, but with the same gorgeous low sun, this time rising rather than setting:

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This meant that I heard all of the dialogue. (I don’t think the 10k has any extra dialogue, but it’s more spread out.)

I came in at 26:40, ranking 163rd on the leader board (for now – it’s constantly updating).

And here is my medal (which was in the envelope marked “to be opened at end of race” of course):

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And yes, those are massive sweat patches – this is a genuine post-race selfie!

Anyway, moving on, here are some fun stats from the leader board:

  • entrants in 46 countries
  • 3,177,517 collective calories burnt
  • 1289 collective hours spent running (enough time to watch “The Lord Of The Rings” 139 times)

In conclusion, virtual runs cannot replace real events, but they could certainly provide an entry point for people who are not yet ready to run in front of a crowd. This one certainly had its own pluses, and it got me putting in an effort to get the fastest time I could.

 

The (sometimes) insidious influence of the internet on your psyche

I see a lot of blogs where people are being really hard on themselves when it comes to motivation. Whilst a little bit of grit is a good thing, and a solid work ethic will take you a long way, sometimes we need to take a step back and re-evaluate.

If your goal is weight loss, please, please make sure you treat headlines such as “How I lost eight pounds in eight days” with suspicion. I’m not saying that crazy weight loss feats can’t be done, but there’s an awful lot of disingenuous click-bait out there. These kinds of articles are very slick and designed to maximise traffic at all costs. Genuinely helpful content is probably way down their list of intentions. This is one of the reasons I like WordPress: not everyone on here is an expert (I’m certainly not) but a lot of bloggers are earnestly trying to navigate the minefield of information and misinformation out there in order to present their readers with some kind of sensible advice.

Joe Rogan claims on his podcast that a lot of “before and after” pictures that accompany these kind of weight loss articles are actually reversed: ie. they pay someone who is in really good shape to gain weight and then the after picture is actually the before picture

Whether this is true or not, thirty three years of experience of people tells me that it very well could be true. The world, and the portion of the world that has made it online, does not always have your best interests at heart.

So coming back to my original thought, some of the articles selling crazy transformation routines may be having a negative impact by making you think that you’re some kind of loser if you don’t follow a training plan to the letter, even if that training plan would intimidate even a semi-professional athlete.

And this is the kind of thing I have seen a lot of recently – people getting depressed because they missed one work-out, one morning run.

If this is you, I admire your determination, but please consider showing yourself a little kindness. If you have an inner voice that is always critical, maybe allow yourself a break, just this once.

Healthy weight loss takes time. It’s a slow and steady process, but also a rewarding one. Also, by developing good habits over time, rather than following some crazy crash course, the weight loss will probably be more sustainable.

On top of that, weight is not the only metric of good health. Reducing stress is a very important part of overall health, as is getting enough sleep.

Sometimes oversleeping and missing that early morning run is your body’s way of telling you that you’re overdoing it and you need more rest.

Once you start getting into it, exercise should bring you joy and become one of your de-stressors, not be one more obligation in a list of obligations laid on you by your job, your friends, your family, your life in general.

 

Injury Avoidance

I feel spectacularly under-qualified to talk about this subject. I have never been injured. (Yes, I’m touching wood as I write this.) Nor have I ever really done much to prevent injury, apart from making sure that I increase my mileage gradually.

But today the gym was really quiet so I thought I would take the opportunity to do some of my floor work, after a successful HIIT session on the treadmill (sprint four minutes, walk four minutes, then repeat). Normally, I am too self-conscious when it comes to this stuff – I’m not quite sure why!

I started by doing squats on the balancing plate (pictured above). This was recommended to me by a physiotherapist years ago. It helps to strengthen the knees as they have to work harder to stabilise you than they would on a normal squat. My right knee has always been especially weak and I have to take care of them both.

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I also did a simple exercise in-between which basically just involves getting up on tip-toes several times. (You’d be amazed how much it starts to feel like a real exercise by the twelfth time.)

Moving on, I actually did some foam rolling. The gym has quite a soft foam roller so I was able to do the one-leg-over-the-other approach, which normally hurts too much.

I topped it off with some classic hamstring stretches and everyone’s favourite from PE back in the day- touching your toes.

It’s not a perfect routine, but it’s a step in the right direction.

Post Update: the Rutherford Appleton 5k and 10k

This is an update to my original post about this race, which you can read here.

The first time I did this race, one year ago, it was a pivotal event for me: it gave me the confidence to sign up for my first half marathon, the Reading Half.  Since then, I have taken part in a lot of other events, including two marathons (one of which I abandoned) and an ultra-marathon.

So I very much wanted to see how I would fare second time around. Would there be any improvement, or, worse still, would my time have slipped? After all, I have spent most of the last year working on my endurance and training for longer distances, not speed.

I got round the (relatively flat) course in 57 minutes last year (I can’t remember the seconds) and that set a new PB for me at the time. This year, I did it in 53:02. A lot of this was due to my excellent pacer, my ever-encouraging Running Buddy. All I had to do to improve my time was not let him get ahead of me.

When I say “ever-encouraging”, what I mean is he bullied me up the final hill.

I said “I could walk from here and still get a good time”.

His response cannot really be published but it let me know exactly what his thoughts were about that particular sentiment. Thank you, RB!

Once again, the lack of headphones bothered me less than I thought it would. This is a very pure race experience. When you take away the distraction of music, all you’re really left with is an awareness of your own laboured breathing (often a strangely re-assuring sound).

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Both year’s medals

Something else that was significant about this race was the participation of my fiance in the 5k.

I just asked her whether she would take part in this post and the first thing she said was “it was hard”, with a rather grumpy tone. (She doesn’t really like exercise very much, but she is trying.)

My interview with her follows:

Half: Considering that this was your first serious race, discounting the two novelty events you’ve done (Run for Chocolate and Glow in the Park), how did you find it?

Future Mrs Half: It was a much more serious event. Everyone was running! At the other events, I could power walk round the course and not be left behind, but at this one, it felt a lot more intense. The other races were more fun!

To be honest, I didn’t really do any training. Although I have been going to the gym, I did nothing to train for this event specifically.

My legs hurt for two days afterwards!

Half: Did you find that having high blood pressure inhibited you in any way?

Future Mrs Half: Only in that I was worried about overdoing it. I probably can do more than I realise but I was conscious of it, and possibly put unnecessary limitations on myself.

Half: How did you find the management of the event?

Future Mrs Half: For a low cost event, it was pretty good. The marshals were really positive and encouraging. When they could see I was struggling, they cheered me on.

There was a funny moment on the route, remembering that it’s a science park, when your sister wanted me to start running and I had been showing some resistance to picking up the pace. But then I saw a tank of liquid nitrogen and it made me want to get the hell out of there!

Half: I’m sure it was contained and safe, and it shows that you did have more in you than you thought!

Besides, it was probably the high powered laser you should have been worried about if anything!

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The race takes place in a science park – I would have taken a shot of the fantastic mural they have of Einstein and his equations but I didn’t have time to stop. what with it being a race and all…

Half: Did you like your medal?

Future Mrs Half: I think I know what this question is getting at! On the Glow in the Park race, they fobbed us off with a certificate – really?! A CERTIFICATE – A TWENTY FIVE POUND ENTRY FEE AND ONLY A CERTIFICATE TO SHOW AT THE END OF IT!

Yes, I liked my medal. I also thought it was funny that I got the same medal as you when you had to run twice the distance to get it.

Half: Yes, that was just great wasn’t it?

 

My Running Playlist

I have been using the same shitty headphones for a long time (see above). Sorry Sony, I know you’re meant to be good, but this is a loser-product, barely audible at times and frequently cutting out in one ear.

I don’t know why it took me so long to replace them but I am guessing it’s something to do with the overwhelming range of products available. On top of that, I wanted to take my time and make a better choice.

So now I have a new pair of wireless headphones that I have been loving in my last few gym sessions, I thought it might be time to write about music and running.

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I am into lots of different types of music and when I was younger, I used to have a five speaker surround-sound stereo that I bought with money from my part-time job. I used to be quite anti-social with it. Back in the early noughties, it was still all about stereos, and everyone used to talk about sub-woofers a lot. The i-pod classic was still in it’s infancy.

These days, I try to be more considerate towards both my neighbours, and my long term sense of hearing.

That is, apart from when I go running. It is on runs that I sometimes really let loose and blast my ears.

Which brings me to my playlist. I actually have several, but this is the first one I made for Zombies, Run! about a year ago. The idea behind this playlist is that it’s a soundtrack to being chased by zombies.

And yes, this is a post I would really encourage you to comment on. Let me know whether I could get away with playing that shit in public, as suggested by irunelite. Tell me I’m a philistine, or point me towards a new band.

Either way, I would really like to hear some opinions on this one (not least of all because this post is little more than a thinly veiled attempt to crowd-source an expanded playlist!)

  • Never Let You Go (Rudimental, featuring Foy Vance)
  • Watercolour (Pendulum)
  • Invaders Must Die (The Prodigy)
  • Mystery Fish (Aesop Rock)
  • Wait and Bleed (Slipknot)
  • Duality (Slipknot)
  • Empty (Garbage)
  • Turn (Therapy?)
  • Vampire Love (Ash)
  • Broken Home (Papa Roach)
  • Too Late (Dead By Sunrise)
  • Sunburn (Muse)
  • Rise Of The Eagles (The Eighties Matchbox B-Line Disaster)
  • How You Remind Me (Nickelback)
  • Mayhem (Halestorm)
  • Not Living  (Coal Chamber)
  • Let Me Know (No Wyld)
  • Silent So Long (Emigrate)
  • Spit Out The Bone (Metallica)
  • Waiting All Night (Rudimental ft. Ella Eyre)

Now I’m off to run a race that doesn’t allow headphones!

 

 

Farnham Runners 5k and 10k

Saturday 23rd September:

My life lately has been both busy and stressful, with most of my stress coming from being on the wrong end of the UK housing rental market (the tenant’s end). But the less said about that, the better.

The point is that I haven’t been very well organised and have been putting off signing up for today’s Farnham Runner’s 10k all week.

So when a slightly pissed-up me still thought it would be okay to enter online at 23:30 last night (well, it was before midnight) I was shocked to see that entries had closed.

And so it was that I came to be sat here eating a slightly over-priced Cornish pasty and listening to a toddler screaming “I want cake” at her remarkably patient mother whilst the first 5k finishers just came in, all with times of less than twenty minutes.

Not that it’s an unpleasant place to be sipping a coffee. The races are held in the Alice Holt forest, three miles outside of Farnham. The course is all undulating trail ground.

There’s a 5k, 10k and a 1.5k fun run for kids. (If you do bring kids, depending on their ages, there’s a Go Ape facility at the same location.)

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I’m here to support my Running Buddy in the 10k and my lil’ sis’, who is running the 5k. (Oh yeah, and I should probably mention that she’s also 29 weeks pregnant.)

In fact, she should be coming in now so I’ll go and cheer her on.

Lil’ Sis’ came in last on the 5k event, with a marshal pacing her and offering encouragement.

Half: How was the race?

Lil’ Sis’: I beat my expected time from training runs. I ran the first kilometre but the marshal said that even my walking speed was fast. She kept telling me to take it easy and was surprised when I said I’m signed up to at least one more race before my due date in early December.

To be honest, I’m just glad that RB didn’t beat my time, since he was running twice as far as me!

Half: Did you consult with your GP, or do any research online, before deciding to enter races during your pregnancy? I know how seriously you take it as you have quit alcohol until the baby is born.

Lil’ Sis’: Yeah, I spoke to my midwife early on, once my morning sickness had stopped, and she said that since I had been a regular runner before, it should be okay if I take it easy. I then signed up to a 5k in Clapham Common, which was part of the Chase the Sun series.

I would also say to anyone who is considering this, it’s sometimes okay to walk part of the race, and the marshal today was really encouraging.

Half: Have you considered getting a running buggy?

Lil’ Sis’: Yes, that would be awesome and would help me to lose weight again quickly after labour, but they seem to start at £250!

Half: Fair point, I just think it’s cool when a parent is managing to supervise their child and get a run in at the same time. I think we can both agree that they’re over-priced.

(We then proceeded to search this on our phones and make fun of an advert in which a guy is stood on top of some mountain with a buggy, as if he would have taken his kid on the three peaks challenge or something. Advertising can really be absurd at times – oh shit, I’ve done it again – there goes another future affiliated marketing opportunity for the blog!)

As for my Running Buddy, he said early on that if I’m posting about the day, I should make a recommendation that the organisers have some scissors around to cut the ends off the tie-cables that go with the timing chips…

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Fortunately no-one tripped over, and Running Buddy has said that, other than that, this race was another win for the Farnham Runners!

(In case you haven’t worked this out, all names given have been cleverly devised pseudonyms, not real names. Lil’ Sis’ really is my lil’ sis’ though.)