Running

New Shoes

I don’t recommend getting new running shoes every time you need pepping up, as it would become rather expensive, but once in a while it is nice to treat yourself.

New Brooks Ghost 14 on the bed
The only time shoes are allowed on the bed is when they’re fresh out of the box!

I normally do that self-love about once a year but what with the world being the way it’s been, my current trainers are nearly two years old and I’m definitely getting to that ‘things are starting to hurt’ stage. It’s actually a good job that I was a lazy sod for a big chunk of last year as I’m not great at picking trainers on-line.

I went to The Runners Hub in Heswall. It’s a great, real-life running shop where the staff (runners themselves) know what they’re talking about and, actually, it’s a good job I went there too. Somewhere between my last purchase and this, my foot gait or shape or something seems to have changed.

I’m not great at the science of these things but I have always used shoes with arch support in the past as it has hurt my feet when I’ve tried without them, but the neutral shoe this time felt surprisingly comfortable.

I know things have changed over the few short years that I’ve been running. When I first started, I often kicked the ankle of my other foot, which was a tad painful and probably looked bizarre to anyone going behind me. Apparently it’s a common thing, and although we think we walk or run in a straight line our legs and feet sometimes do it in a roundabout way.

Partly (possibly) because my leg and core muscles have gotten a bit stronger over time and partly (possibly) because I’ve really been focussing on not landing on my heels first and using those chi running principles, this doesn’t happen anymore. Like I said, I’m not a science person so I don’t really understand the mechanics of it but it is good to know that this, at least, is going in the right direction.

Brooks Ghost 14 are the shoes I’ve gone for.  I had a little look at reviews (after I’d bought them) and one said that they were like the Margherita Pizza of running shoes, i.e. the blandest thing on the menu, yet one of the most popular shoes going! Wow, who knew there were people out there that paid so much attention to trainers!

The reviewer, to be fair, seemed to be very thorough, talking about sole types and uppers, and whether it gives you good propulsion etc. I’m sure there are people who will want to know these details but my main concerns are comfort and longevity.

My normal shoe size is 3.5 (36 in EU, 5.5 in US) but I go for about a 5 (38 in EU, 7 in US) in trainers. That gives me ‘spreading’ room. Not only to let my feet expand with all that pounding but to let my toes spread out as they land.  It has worked as I’ve only once had a toe nail turn black (that is also a common thing).

So these pristine, gleaming shoes have had a couple of short runs out to break them in. And they have been great, apart from a slight rub underneath my big toe, which I’m not too worried as I think that has happened with new trainers before and it quickly settles down.

The long run, or this week’s attempt at it, was going to be this morning but the rain looks constant and it’s just too soon to subject these shiny babies to a torrent. So it will be tomorrow morning that I try it out. Which also gives me another day to recover from trying to keep up with Anne’s family members’ drinking abilities, but that’s another story!

Running

That was the week that was

When so much writing material happens in the course of a week, a consolidation is required.

A corner of the beach with river Mersey behind and Liverpool skyline in the distance
A trip to the seaside on Tuesday.

Tuesday

It’s great to have a mate to go cycling with. Especially when you yourself are not so au fait with bicycle mechanics (I can ‘theoretically’ fix a puncture but I haven’t had to do it in yonks!) or, in fact, decent bicycle routes on the Wirral.

And on top of all that, two is sooo much better than one when you’re contending with some of those who sit behind the wheel of a car. And it’s not always Audi drivers either (not even a joke in my experience sadly). Today a bloke in a Beemer stuck his two fingers up at Gary for cycling in the designated cycle path. The path was fairly new but well-marked and made the road the width of a single car each way as opposed to a wide load. So room for all of us and no requirement to reduce the car speed lower than the official 30mph limit. But I guess there is no pleasing some folk!

However, that small incident aside, we had a great ride to New Brighton and back. A comfortable 20 miles with a coffee break in the middle. Now that the lockdown restrictions have eased somewhat, people can sit outside to drink their drinks in more sociable environs. And the weather was rather glorious for it. The sun was out and it wasn’t quite scorchio, but when you’d worked up a sweat, it was good enough to take a layer off. We happened to spot some other cyclist friends to have the break with, one of whom was 89 and still easily able to knock out a casual 30+ miles on his bike that day! If I can get half of that energy when I’m 89 then I’ll be dancing, hopefully literally!

Wednesday

Good times back at the River Park.

Thursday

Talking of energy, I was getting a little worried about my running mileage. Although the cycling had felt fine at the time, my legs were now feeling tired, even when sitting down and I’d only managed 4 miles running so far since Monday. I realised that I hadn’t been putting some of those Chi Running precepts into practice. Mainly that I needed to slow it down.

I’m not fast by other people’s standards, but an 11.30 minute mile is getting to be a comfortable pace for me. At the beginning of the year it was between 12/13 mins so I am getting a bit faster. But in order to include my cycling and keep my long runs long, I decided to try going slower again and add around a minute to each mile.

It is actually really hard to drop down from your normal rhythm, and you feel like you’re virtually walking. That feeling, ironically, made me smile – this pace was definitely harder at the beginning of the year. I was progressing then! I managed just over 6 miles in an average 12.34 minute miles, and it all felt good. The real test would be to see if I had enough in the tank for tomorrow’s long run.

Friday

Bev wanted to join me today so I thought we’d maybe get about 9 miles in, as she’d not done a long one in ages, which was okay with me. I would just do a bit more at the weekend.

She hadn’t slept properly the night before, having felt something akin to pre-race nerves. But she’d had her muesli that morning and found some coconut oil as her substitute for Vaseline and I’d dug out some Dextrose sugar tabs for her so she was ready.

The pleasant sunny days seemed to be continuing all week and we both had our shades on (although mine sat on top of my hat forgotten, for the most of the run!). We kept it as slow as I’d done yesterday and found some new paths that we’d not ventured down before.

The wonderful thing about long runs is that a little diverging and exploring is quite possible because you’ve got loads of miles to cover and so you’re less restricted. And it keeps it interesting, especially when you’re clumsily trying to climb over a gate and wondering if you’re trespassing!

We didn’t get too lost though and eventually found our way back to our normal stomping grounds without being chased by guard dogs (that has happened to me before!) but it was fun and made the miles go with ease.

I was feeling it by the end to be sure, but when I pulled my phone out and saw we’d passed the 11 mile mark I was ecstatic! And ever so slightly jealous of Bev that she could knock out such a great run with zero build up!

But, honestly, we were both completely buzzing from the enjoyment of it and the result. And my biggest win was the fact that my legs felt fairly fresh again after a few hours and I could go again for another small one the next day.

Saturday

After a sneaky 4 miler to test the legs with Bev in the morning, Anne and I set about organising the garden for our first (in a long Covid while) hosting event, and I would also get to christen the BBQ that I’d bought last year! Gary, my cycling buddy and his wife, Wendy were already coming over. Then my brother was at a loose end that day so he, his wife and my gorgeous tiny niece came later too. The Barbie worked a treat, apart from a small accidental fire at the beginning that was put out without any trips to A&E.

Oh it was a beautiful day. The wine and beer were flowing, the food went down a treat, and Anne had surpassed herself with an amazing lemon curd pavlova to finish things off. Sometimes you just don’t realise how much you’ve craved good company until it actually happens again.

A lemon curd pavlova with pistachios
Anne’s Scrummy Pavlova

Sunday

Watched the ultimate marathon GOAT (Greatest Of All Time in case you’re not sure) effortlessly wipe the floor with the competition in the NN Mission Marathon this morning. The commentators noted how Eliud Kipchoge looked as fresh in the 26th mile as he did in the first. And then acknowledged how much incredible work went into that appearance.

I was tempted by the man to go out for another myself but held back. I’d managed just under 26 miles plus my cycling this week. Which will do nicely.

Running

Technical Notes #1 – Chi Running

In the UK, back in the halcyon days of the first lockdown, when the weather was warm and Spring was in full bloom and we were all amazed at how quiet it all felt without the cars and everybody who wasn’t harassed by having the kids at home tried a new hobby like baking or macrame, I did a little online course about Chi Running.

I’d heard of it as a thing, but I didn’t really know the nuts and bolts and I just assumed that it was some western attempt at applying eastern hippy dippy terms to running in order to make a load of money from people (okay, as much as I attempt to be non-judgemental and open, the snark does rear its ugly head from time to time).

So in the spirit of exploration and re-evaluation I signed up.

What is Chi?

According to Google, Chi is the 22nd letter of the Greek Alphabet and is pronounced ‘Khi’.

It is also, when I scrolled down further, ‘the circulating life force whose existence and properties are the basis of much Chinese philosophy and medicine’.

This second definition is, I suspect, closer to the purpose of this running method but it still felt a little bit ‘what?’.

So let’s just sack off the name for a minute and look at the things that I learnt. In succinct bullet point form they are:

  • Nose Breathing
  • 80/20 Rule
  • Use Gravity
  • Small Strides
  • Tempo

Nose Breathing

The thinking behind this is that you get more oxygen through your nose, the air is cleaner as your nose filters it better and it builds up your respiratory strength.

This is something that I struggled with and have attempted on and off. Off at the moment because in the winter when I run my nose is a dripping tap and it just would not be pretty. I know that it requires patience and practice and apparently you can build up your speed and still keep your gob shut. But patience is not something I’m liberally endowed with.

However, when I was doing the course, I did have more of a go and found that when I went super slowly, as in a pace only slightly faster than walking, I could keep my gob shut for at least the first ten minutes. This did force me to slow right down and actually made the rest of the run more enjoyable, let me go further, and helped me stick to the 80/20 rule.

80/20 Rule

This is their recommended ratio of how to pace your runs. So 80% of your miles in a week should be at a slow, thoroughly comfortable pace, and only 20% should be juiced up. That  doesn’t have to be sprinting all the time. It’s anywhere between breakneck and raising the heat so you can’t talk more than the odd word or phrase while you’re pumping the legs.

So if, for example, you did 10 miles a week you can either have one 2 miler at a gallop or tag on a fast bit at the end of each run. I preferred this second way as I felt fully warmed up to get cracking for a sprint finish.

The reason for generally keeping it slow is to build your muscles and other internal body bits up more gradually before you start tear-arsing it and causing yourself an injury. This rule suits me down to the ground because I am a slow plodder rather than a speed freak and I prefer to enjoy the scenery.

A faraway sparrowhawk in the sky
Always stop to watch the sparrowhawk hunt (i think it was a sparrowhawk!)

However, I have read that even short distance runners advocate doing the majority of runs at a really slow pace for that physical strength building and injury reduction. And apparently the great man Eliud Kipchoge runs most of his weekly miles at more than half of his race pace, which is still faster than my best. So if it’s good enough for him, it’s good enough for me, I think.

Use Gravity

This one sounds like ‘use the force Luke’ and it kind of is.

You know when a baby learns to walk they’re basically sussing getting that leg out in time will stop them leaning over and falling. This is what the ideal Chi runner does. Okay, hopefully we’re at a slightly more sophisticated level of bipedal locomotion but the essential idea is the same. From a tall standing position lean your whole body forward until one of your legs comes out to catch you. That lean, which is a straight line from your head to your ankles, is around the position you want to be in so that you’re tapping into gravity to help the momentum.

 Small Strides

Which leads very neatly on to small strides because you want to land your feet beneath you. If you start doing a Penelope Pitstop you’re then having to pull your whole body forward to catch up and so you’re working against the force and the jedi master unhappy is. But if you keep it small then it feels like gravity is doing the pulling. It will also mean that you’re more likely to land on the middle of your foot instead of the heel which is loads better coz all the little bones in your toes help to dissipate the impact instead of it shooting up the leg and causing all kinds of dodgy stuff. My anatomical knowledge is very sparse and I may have made that last bit up but it totally makes sense to me so I’m sticking with it.

Tempo

Chi Running reckons you should aim for about 180 strides per minute which on the metronome sounds like a clip. 

I wouldn’t worry about counting really, if you have a running app it does a good guesstimate for you. But if you practise that short stride thingamabob then you’ll naturally be quite quick.

He-man runs on the spot

Well how do you get faster or slower if you’re always keeping the 180 tempo? It’s apparently to do with that ‘lean’ again. If you lean more your leg stride will be a bit longer and therefore you’ll go further, and conversely, the slower plodders like me will be a teeny bit more upright. I’m not talking horizontal like He-Man up above, just a gentle incline. We can see Eliud here, (coz who better to get running tips from, than the master), doing a little one step. Because his legs are in motion you see the lean from his back knee to his head and his front foot lands beneath him.

One step of Eliud's running form

So that, basically, is Chi Running in a nutshell. Or, more specifically, the bits that I remembered from my course, which I actually really enjoyed. So if this is interesting, it may well be worth reading more on the subject, or taking one of their courses, as they did seem like nice people.

Some more visual tips via Eliud