Category Archives: barefoot running

Goodbye old friends ….. confessions of a supinator

Left shoe with the tread worn away from the black pads to the outside of the heel and the ball of the foot and hardly touched everywhere else

Getting in from my run on Thursday I realised it was time to face up to facts. Time to take a tough decision. Time to say goodbye to old friends. Time to retire my favourite pair of running shoes.

There were three things that brought me to this conclusion.

Distance

First, they have clocked through 800 km (500 miles) and conventional wisdom says that running shoes generally have an expected lifespan of between 300 and 500 miles (500 and 800km). As I mostly run on roads and, at 146 pounds (66kg), am not a heavyweight, it’s probably right that I get a good mileage out of them – but they can”t go on forever.

Running form

Secondly, although they appear to be in pretty good shape, I looked at the soles and they tell a pretty clear tale of wear. The wear is almost entirely along the outside edge of each shoe, confirming what I have thought for some time – I am a supinator.

My foot lands with most of my weight on the outside edge but instead of rolling inwards (‘pronating’) or rolling too far inwards (‘over-pronating’), it stays on the outside edge (‘under-pronating’ or ‘supinating’).

All runners know the risks they take on whenever they leave the house. From the lower back to the tips of our toes, even the most technically perfect of runners is putting every joint, bone, muscle, ligament and tendon in between at grave risk of injury (or so it would seem from so much of the internet).

For us over-pronators or under-pronators, the risks are magnified – it appears that for me the risks include devil worship, eternal damnation and the end of civilisation as we know it.

OK, that last bit might have been exaggerated a little – but it is a bit of a surprise that I can still walk given the risks I seem to be taking every time I run.

What’s worse is that the wear on the soles of the shoes show that I run heavier on my left foot than my right. While I may have a mental picture of me running like a gazelle, it appears that I probably look more like a three legged wildebeest.

The fact that I am in a 5% minority of runners who supinate comes as little compensation.

Replacement

These were the oldest of two pairs of these particular shoes – the ‘Puma Ignite 500 Speed’. I ran the Rotterdam Marathon in them in April 2019 and the second pair are only a bit behind in mileage. I like them because they are comfortable, fairly lightweight, low at the back of the heel (good for my dodgy Achilles tendons) and reasonably priced.

I’ve been looking for new ones for months but with no luck – I guess they have been discontinued as all I could find were the occasional random pair in extreme sizes. However, I recently stumbled on a seller who must have some old stock and have bought two more pairs of identical shoes (unadventurous, me?).

It seems that we supinators need more cushioning in our running shoes to make up for the loss of natural cushioning from the usual pronation of the foot. We might also need arch supports to help spread the impact from the foot landing across more of the foot.

How that ties in with the fact that I can run in my minimalist shoes, which have no cushioning or arch support, is beyond me, but at least moving on to one of the new pairs of shoes should restore some extra cushioning. I’ll carry on with the minimalist shoes on a regular basis in the hope that they help to train and strengthen my feet which must be a good thing.

It will be interesting to see if I can tell the difference between new and old shoes. If there is no discernible difference, the old shoes might be reprieved and live on for muddier or wetter runs.

Interesting stuff this week (just wise words as it’s midweek)

African wise words: A man who believes that he can do everything, let him dig a grave and bury himself.

Run, run, gym (first since March), run, run and an accidental trendy diet

Although the bluebells are long gone for this year, I can still picture them when I run round the old hill fort

After a week off running and cycling I ran on Monday. It’s a good thing I wasn’t daft enough to think that I’d run easily, smoothly and strongly as a result of the break – because I didn’t.

I ran in my minimalist shoes for the first time since I hurt my feet running in them on the stoney farm track three weeks ago. I really enjoyed them – except that, to be honest, the ball of my right foot hadn’t quite recovered and hurt a bit.

It felt like very hard work but I did over 10km (6.3 miles) in 58 minutes – 4 hour marathon pace – which was a pleasant surprise.

We walked a 3.5 mile round trip for supper with friends on Monday evening. I wore my Asics running shoes – good shoes but they have a high and snug heel that aggravates my Achilles if I run in them. I now find that they aggravate my Achilles if I walk in them.

The three of us went for a more gentle run on Tuesday morning – about 7km (4.4 miles), ignoring the sore Achilles and the sore soles of the feet, followed by building a brick pier at the end of one of the new walls.

Wednesday was spent on a trip up to London to do some work on our sons’ flat and to pick up post and meter readings from ours – and no time for a run.

On Thursday I went to the gym for the first time since they were allowed to reopen last week – and my first time since early March. It wasn’t busy, the equipment had been well spaced out (taking over a foyer area and a squash court) and was being cleaned very regularly by the staff.

It felt pretty safe (given the circumstances) and I was pleasantly surprised that I could lift the same weights as in March – although I eased off by 5kg here and there to give myself a slightly gentler reintroduction. A very enjoyable hour.

I timed my return home badly. I got back from the gym just as my wife and our younger son were heading out for a run – so I joined them. It was only 5.5km (about 3.4m) and taken gently, but coming straight after the gym it felt as hard as anything I’ve done recently.

A rest day on Friday featuring a long lunch with friends in very hot weather. I planned to run late afternoon on Saturday after a day in the garden, but we were invited out for drinks. Strangely, I opted for the drinks rather than the run, but we all ran on Sunday morning – nearly 9km (5.5miles) with laps around Badbury Clump, minus the bluebells.

Talking to a friend, I’ve realised that – without any conscious decision – I’ve slipped into a regime of 16:8 dieting. I’ve got to this position simply by failing to follow the old ‘breakfast is the most important meal of the day’ adage and rarely eating anything before lunch (and often not eating lunch either).

That gives me at least 16 hours of fasting most days and it seems that the fasting period is said to help in several ways, both for weight and health. Best of all, I appear to be lucky in that it just happens to be the way I tend to eat, rather than being an artificial diet approach. Accordingly, it isn’t very hard to do and nor do I feel very tied to it – if it doesn’t suit me at any time I abandon it without even the merest twinge of guilt. Of course, the ‘no breakfast’ approach completely disappears any time I stay in a hotel.

I’m wondering how long it will be before the wheel turns full circle and breakfast again becomes the most important meal of the day.

Interesting stuff in the news

1. A Canadian brewery has apologised for unwittingly naming one of its beers after a Maori word that is commonly used to mean pubic hair.

2. African proverb: A man who plants grapes by the roadside, and he who marries a pretty woman share the same problem.

My apologies that African proverbs are not always appropriately PC.

Minimalist/barefoot running, thoughts so far: really good, but …

After using the Merrell minimalist shoes for several runs over the course of a few weeks, and reading and thinking about ‘barefoot’ running, I’ve reached some tentative conclusions.

Of course, they are only really relevant for me because running shoes are a very individual thing, but I thought I’d record them anyway.

I run mainly because I enjoy it and it helps keep me fit. Beyond that, it’s motivational to run fast (by my own low standards of ‘fast’), I enjoy running with others and it’s another source of challenges – and I’m a bit addicted to challenges

The minimalist shoes certainly fit with my reasons to run – other than them not the best way of running faster. Their lightness is a bonus but I doubt they are the fastest shoes out there by a long way.

Of course, there is a huge range of ‘normal’ running shoes and my barefoot ones are probably better than many of the bad ‘normal’ ones – but they are certainly not likely to be as ‘good’ (ie fast) as the top-end shoes which have technology for ‘energy return’ from the layers of foam making up the sole (or the carbon in the sole). I must ask Mr Kipchoge what he thinks.

I think the minimalist shoes do bring really useful things to the party in terms of improving running form, strengthening the feet and lower legs and helping to avoid heel-striking.

Originally, my concerns were more about wear and tear on my ageing body – I guess the lack of cushioning must put more stresses on my hips, calves, Achilles’, knees, feet etc. Presumably, there’s a delicate balance between strengthening all those and putting too much stress on them. Starting the minimalist experiment at nearly 65 might not have been the best timing in the world in terms of my body’s ability to adapt to something so different – but I’m pleased I did.

I expect those concerns are probably valid to some degree – but the biggest drawback I’ve found with the shoes is that they are not at all good on stoney tracks. My one run with them down the farm track beyond Puddleduck Lane was very painful indeed and the soles of my feet were (literally) and I was (metaphorically) bruised by the experience. I suppose there will be minimalist shoes with thicker or more rigid soles – but that would seem to miss at least part of the whole reason for running in shoes like this.

I’m sure there are many people who run on minimalist shoes all the time and I applaud them – but at the same time I don’t think I will be one of them.

I think the minimalist shoes will become part of my regular running programme with ‘the minimalist shoe run’ taking its regular place alongside the hills session, the long slow run and the intervals. That should keep keep reinforcing the learning from them in order to constantly take it back to running in more ‘normal’ shoes.

I’ve been trying to work out how to think of the minimalist shoes – I keep coming back to a skiing analogy.

My ‘proper’ skis are Black Crows Vertis 170.3cm – but I have a pair of Salomon 90cm snow blades. The blades are tremendous fun – quick to turn but not as fast or as stable as ‘proper’ skis and mainly suitable for a day’s pure entertainment on the slopes – partly as a break from ‘real’ skiing.

Beyond the entertainment factor, there is certainly some benefit from the blades in that they do remind you to keep your weight forward, which is also a key aspect to skiing on full length skis.

For me, the minimalist or barefoot shoes come into the same category. They are really good fun to run in (I don’t know why but perhaps it’s the sense of foot-liberation) and I believe that they will help in tuning my running posture, avoiding heel striking, and in strengthening my foot and lower leg – all of which will be useful for when running in normal shoes.

However, just as I don’t use my snow blades all the time, I don’t think I’ll be using the minimal shoes for every run – and certainly not the runs on the sharp, rough stuff.

African proverb: A monkey walking behind another laughs at the other’s tail.

Run, run, cycle training, run, run and ‘Would sir like the soles of his feet beaten with a lump hammer?’

How could anything called Puddleduck Lane lead to such pain and suffering?

Another week, another run – Monday morning’s with my son and was almost 7km (4.3m). Not pushing too hard but just enjoying running for the sake of running.

We had friends over for lunch – the first time we’ve had people in the house since the start of the lockdown in March. It felt odd having people around the dining table but not sharing serving spoons and giving ‘air kisses’ at a 2 metre distance, but it’s good to restore some sense of heading (albeit slowly) towards a bit of normality.

On Tuesday it was back to the pointing of the new walls we have been building. I am still incapable of not using my hands in addition to the trowel but at least I am now taping up various fingers before I start so I have reduced the cement-induced pain considerably.

On the plus side, nothing has yet fallen down but, equally, I don’t think there is any danger of anyone asking for the name of the person who did the walls because they are so impressed by the high standard of workmanship.

I ran with my wife on Wednesday – 6.4km (4 miles). I ran in my minimalist shoes and they were great – to a point. We ran along Puddleduck Lane which was fine, but the residential village road turns into a farm track of compacted stone – with loose stone on top (more loose stone on top than I’d realised).

When I first got the shoes I’d wondered how it would feel when landing on a stone on such a thin and unpadded sole and now I know – it really hurts. The soles of my feet feel like they have been beaten, repeatedly, with a lump hammer. The ‘trail’ shoes are great for roads and trails that are grassy paths or bare trodden earth – but they are no good at all for stoney trails.

Thursday was spent hobbling around the garden with bruises to the soles of my feet, preparing for the removal of a large tree stump. It’s a fir tree that came down in high winds a few years ago – it remained anchored in the ground and ended up suspended over the conservatory, supported by the branches that were against the ground. It was big enough that when it came down the roots broke up the concrete base of a path.

Now, with four sections of wall reasonably well advanced, a chap in the village will bring a JCB next week to pull the stump out so we can start on section 5, an ‘L’ shaped wall by a rear garden gate. We’ve exposed some hefty roots that I’ve cut with the chainsaw and have been sorting out the best stone to use (the pressure is on as this is the bit of wall most open to view).

My feet were still sore on Friday as a result of the stones on Wednesday’s run. If there is a ray of good news I suppose it is that it’s the balls of the feet that are most bruised so I guess I’m not heel striking to any great extent.

I took a (socially distanced) training session at the cycle park later in the morning and then back to excavating around the tree stump looking to unearth and cut roots that might cause damage when the stump is removed next week.

I ventured a run with my son on Saturday morning with ‘normal’ running shoes with good padding to protect my damaged, but improving, feet – nearly 8km (just under 5 miles).

We went out for lunch to a village pub a few miles away – I suppose we do feel that we should be helping local businesses back on their feet but it is a nice place with very good food so it was hardly a great sacrifice on our part. My wife and I visited some friends in the village in the evening for drinks which was great – we are bordering on having a social life again.

The three of us ran on Sunday morning, another 7km (4.35miles). Although the soles of my feet are still a bit tender if I walk around barefoot, they are OK running in normal running shoes.

Over the last couple of months we’ve taken over 30 seconds off my wife’s average km time so the personal trainer in me feels pretty happy. My own running isn’t really going anywhere – a bit under 18 miles for the week is just ticking over in the absence of any events. Nothing I do now will be of much help for the ultra marathon that’s been postponed to next July so I’ll carry on running with my wife and son for the simple pleasure of running.

Heading out for a socially-distanced garden supper with friends on Sunday evening will finish a very reasonable week.

Interesting stuff this week

1. African proverb: No matter how low a cotton tree falls, it is still taller than grass.

2. BBC website: Bolivian sex workers using raincoats to keep ‘safe’

Many sex workers in Bolivia say they’ll return to work using gloves, bleach and see-through raincoats.

My guess is that flights to Bolivia are not fully booked

3. BBC website: Repentant Nigerian bandits offered cows for AK-47s

2 cows per AK-47 is the going rate in this imaginative initiative which attempts to encourage bandits to give up crime and return to a more normal life. I can’t help but think if the chap with the AK-47 really wanted 3 cows for it, he could be quite persuasive.

4. Andean condor birds ‘flap wings just 1% of the time’

Apparently, flight recorders found one bird flew for five hours, without flapping, covering about 172km (107 miles) just using air currents.

Run, run, walling, Bournemouth, run, London

After Monday and Tuesday’s ‘barefoot’ runs, I rested on Wednesday in case I was putting tendons and muscles under new or increased stresses that might cause problems.

My younger son and I checked the dry stone walls and decided that they had to be ‘glued together’ with mortar so we set about some pointing. I know that mortar needs to be applied by trowel (and have two perfectly useable ones) but within minutes I was using bare hands – simply because my trowel skills leave so much to be desired.

Our first morning session of exposure to the cement left me with nothing worse than fingers wrinkled like I’d had a 3 hour bath. Sadly, the second mortar session in the afternoon saw me with three cut fingertips – and getting cement into cuts is an altogether different proposition.

On Thursday we drove down to Bournemouth for some more gardening ahead of our older son and his girlfriend going down there at the weekend. It is the first time since the lockdown started that they will be allowed to spend a night away from the London flat they share – and have both also been working in. I really hope they enjoy the space (inside and outside) and being outside London.

I resisted taking my running kit. I love running along the seafront but the promenade is a bit narrow for social distancing and it was a flying visit. We got back to the walling on Friday, I was unable to do any more mortar sessions (because of the damage done to my hands on Wednesday) but our younger son and I managed a bit more wall building.

I ran with my son in ‘normal’ shoes on Saturday – 7km (just over 4.3miles) at a little better than 6min/km, which seems to be my standard pace at the moment.

We had a friendly sprint to the finish where the Garmin recorded 4.04min/km for a few fleeting moments. With nothing specific to train for, that’s plenty good enough for me. It felt good after three days off running and the legs were fine but I think I’d benefit from a stretching regime.

What is sobering is the realisation that my finishing sprint was over a minute slower than Kipchoge’s average for the marathon. Intellectually, I know the sub 2 hour marathon was a spectacular achievement but that just underlines how wonderful it was.

In the afternoon we drove up to London so our son could check his flat and I could do some work in ours, fitting a dishwasher (unexpected complications – only part 1 of the job was achieved). It is said that the ‘R’ number in London might have crept back over 1 – country folk like us are a bit nervous about that so it, and a sore knee, meant I didn’t run. A good trip but happy to get back to Oxfordshire.

Big(gish) news – next week will involve some cycling!

Interesting stuff this week

1. Boris Johnson’s newt-counting claim questioned

Investigative journalism at its best, fact-checking the Prime Minister’s claim that wildlife investigations hold up planning applications

2. Peas are a big hit with tadpoles

A wildlife photographer turn his lens to the garden during lockdown to address yet more key issues of the day

3. Coronavirus: PM urges people to be sensible as England lockdown eased

Fingers crossed that people listen – but I fear, with some, he might as well be urging the grass not to be green

4. Outrage as Indian judge calls alleged rape victim ‘unbecoming’

The judge said “The explanation offered by her that after the perpetration of the act she was tired and fell asleep is unbecoming of an Indian woman,” the judge said, adding that it was “not the way our women react when they are ravished”.

What?

‘Barefoot’ in the park – first experiences of minimalist/ barefoot running

Minimalist v normal running shoe. Less is more … or perhaps less is less? They have a sort of camouflage colour scheme – but so far I’ve been able to find them OK.

I have to admit that buying the minimalist running shoes was, quite possibly, a bit of badly-judged nonsense. I’m not sure I can explain it – but it felt something of a necessary rite of passage.

My achilles tendons hurt every day for more than four months training for the Rotterdam Marathon last year and one of the things that is prescribed in such a case is a running shoe with a bigger drop from the heel to the toe, to reduce stress on the tendons.

The minimalist shoes have pretty much zero drop (perhaps 1mm?) so they do not appear to be very Achilles-friendly and do not seem to be a wise choice. However, when was I likely to be sensible when it come to this sort of stuff?

Beyond that, they are against almost everything we know about running shoes … no gel inserts to cushion the shock, no multi-layer, multi-density foams to maximise energy return, no need for gait analysis to decide whether you under or over pronate so you can buy the necessary corrective shoes or supportive arches …

Well, perhaps it’s wrong to say minimalist/barefoot shoes are against what we know about running shoes – perhaps it would be more accurate to say they are against everything the running industry tells us is important in running shoes. The industry wants to differentiate and sell products so can we always take the claims on face value?

On the other hand, if the products don’t work as they should, we will find out so the manufacturers should be kept honest by that. If the gels and foams (and, dare I say it, carbon-infused launchpads) were just Emperor’s new clothes, wouldn’t we know it?

It’s all very confusing – and if you like interesting questions, could Kipchoge have run his sub 2 hour marathon without his Nike Vaporflys?

Anyway, back to the minimal. It might sound weird but when you put them on they make your feet feel a bit over-exposed and vulnerable – the biggest reservation I had was how the seemingly thin sole and the absence of any cushioning will protect my feet when landing on a sharp stone. I think the issue would be pain and bruising rather than penetration through the sole (but I’d not want to walk on a nail in them).

The shoes I have are supposed to be trail shoes (I take the fact that they are called ‘Merrell Vapor Glove 4 Trail Running Shoes’ as a clue) but that just emphasises the stone point.

Being from the east of the Atlantic, I would prefer ‘vapor’ to be spelt correctly – but I may be able to forgive Merrell the missing ‘u’ if the shoes are good.

Monday saw the start of the minimalist experiment. The morning’s physical stocktake revealed a slightly tender left calf and Achilles (addressed by heel drops) and the usual cranky left knee. I wore the shoes for a fairly short run on the road – just under 7km (about 4.2 miles). They felt great – light and comfortable and the run felt easy and pretty fast (for me).

I may just be deluding myself by feeling that the run was easy – I could just be thinking that to justify my purchase of the shoes but I guessed the proof of the pudding would be when I woke up the following day and saw how the legs were. The rest of Monday was spent out in the garden tackling an overgrown hedge (and removing nettles, brambles and ivy – again). It was very windy and we had a power cut in the afternoon which lasted until about 10.30pm.

On Tuesday the physical stocktake was just the same as Monday’s – no new aches or pains and nothing worse than usual. I’ll take that as a victory.

Accordingly, I ran in them again on Tuesday – tame trail running doing laps of Badbury Clump (about 7.7km – 4.75miles). Yes, you can feel stones and sticks through the sole of the shoe but no problems so far and they were a joy to run in.

On Wednesday morning both calf/achilles combos were a little tight and the knee was as cranky as usual. It could just be two consecutive days of running, it could be the shoes or it could be nothing much at all – but it will be a day without a run.

I think I’ll go back to the old shoes for the rest of the week – I doubt the new ones need ‘running-in’ but if they put extra (or different) strains on my muscles/joints/tendons/ligaments/psyche I guess that it’s me that might need to be a bit cautious in attuning to them.

So far so good – I like them a lot but it remains to be seen if they like me …