Gone with the wind?

Yesterday could prove to be a crucial day in my preparations for my first marathon.

Storms across the UK played havoc with my race schedule.  The Deal Half Marathon, which should have been this morning,  was cancelled three days beforehand due to the forecast of exceptionally strong winds (which turned out to be correct ).   I had swiftly entered another half marathon, about 2 hours drive away, noting that refunds were available if you withdrew with at least a couple of days notice.  However, when I noted that the race began at 9.00 am,  and thought about the ridiculously early start to the day (or the expense of a hotel room)  I decided against this, and instead resolved to do my own Deal Half Marathon.

Yesterday (Saturday) was the last in a brief series of bright sunny days, with little wind, that we have been enjoying lately.  So I resolved to do a time trial over the race route (which is local to me), the only snag being that I was working until just before dark.  So I donned my hi-viz shirt and put on the glowing armband that I had bought in the morning, and set off.

Once I got going, I felt that I was running reasonably well and keeping a good pace, without feeling unduly fatigued.  I was wearing my barefoot shoes, even though I had resolved to wear more substantial shoes a week ago.  I had changed my mind because I had developed a very sore blister on my heel (through wearing spikes with only ankle socks during interval training), and felt that the barefoot shoes would not dig into this sore as much as a traditional running shoe heel.  This worked, and I had no problems in this respect.  However, I did start to get very sore calves as I progressed through my run.  At one stage, I felt it was getting beyond stiffness, and I would probably have to stop. But I was more than five miles from my car by then, so tried to ignore it and push on.  I also believed that I was running well and heading for a good time, perhaps one that might threaten my pb from the race two years previously.  Thankfully it didn’t get any worse, and the pain in my groin that I had felt after my last race was still there, but not bad enough to warrant stopping.

The whole run was in the dark, which took me back a bit, as I often used to run on the roads at night, but rarely in recent years, as the roads around where I live are not very conducive to doing this safely.  I had to slow down a little for cars, who all spotted me and slowed done themselves (most slowed down significantly, but other hardly at all).   Though almost all the run was on unlit country roads, I was rarely running in very dark conditions, due to a lovely full moon, and somehow the run seemed to go by quite quickly.  I finished reasonably strongly, but not so strongly that I could accuse myself of taking it too easy, and it was with great anticipation that I stopped my watch and moved under a streetlight. The display read 1:40:59, which was disappointing to say the very least.

If I allowed about thirty seconds for the  few occasions when I had to slow or stop briefly to allow a vehicle to pass, this time was still about eight minutes slower than I ran in the race two years ago.  Here is list of possible or likely causes of me running slower than in the race two years beforehand:

  • I am two years older
  • I had no competition
  • My calves and my groin felt a bit sore
  • I went out for a meal the night before and drank over half a bottle of wine, plus a glass of beer.
  • I was tired from working, and perhaps hungry having hardly eaten anything since breakfast (though I did have an energy gel before and during the run).
  • I wasn’t sure where the precise start and finish line was, and might have erred on the side of running very slightly too far rather than too short.

These reasons might explain why I would be one, two, three , four or even five minutes slower than  in the race a couple of years ago. But I believe that the single biggest factor was probably the barefoot shoes.  The fact that I ran a strong race in the mud at Parliament Hill a couple of weeks ago, one that was perhaps not quite as good as my effort there two years previously, but certainly within a minute or so, suggests that loss of form shouldn’t have caused more than a couple of minute time lag compared to my 2018 half marathon.  The wine and possible fatigue and muscle stiffness  (balanced by the fact that I felt reasonably good in myself during  the run) could perhaps account for a two or three minutes, but no more.

Farewell for now

So its seems that my barefoot running experiment, at least in terms of performance on the road, has not been a success.  Even if I am overestimating the degree to which the minimalist running shoes are slowing me down, I am pretty certain that they aren’t making me any faster!  Perhaps I tried this change too late in my running life,  and perhaps it would come good given time, but with my marathon debut fast approaching , I think I need to re-acquaint myself with traditional running shoes.  I feel that this will give me the best chance of getting through the training and the race injury free and perhaps completing it in a time under three and a half hours.  Two days ago, I would have said that this was my minimum target and I was really hoping for something closer to 3:15, but after my run yesterday, I realise that I should be delighted if I completed the full marathon in something close to 3:30, and  proud of running the distance, whatever the time.   

Welcome back!


Foam roller exercises for runners


I find that foam roller exercises really help me to recover from stiff muscles after training sessions or races.  For me, foam roller exercises, especially focussing on hamstrings, calves and quadriceps, have a much more positive  effect than stretching routines.  But I had never heard of a a foam runner three years ago.

Ben Nevis minus the mist

I had just completed a particularly tough parkrun at the end of our holiday in Oban, on the wet coast of Scotland, and took the excellent opportunity to wade in the cool Irish Sea to help assist my recovery and enjoy the beautiful view.  This was particularly needed as we had walked up (and more significantly, down) Ben Nevis  only a few days before, and my legs were still fully aware of it, a point further encouraged by the rather undulating but firm nature of the out and back parkrun route.

Another athlete, about the same age as me, had the same idea.  As we were  motivated to do this for similar reasons, we got talking about how best to recover from workouts, and he mentioned that he regularly used a foam roller for massage.  Now this guy had finished a considerable distance ahead of me in the race, and indeed was very highly placed in spite of being in the over 50 category, so I thought that he must be doing something right.  Convinced,  I actually ordered two rollers, as I wasn’t the only one in the family who was in on this conversation and I wanted to avoid potential clashes.

Of course I haven’t consistently kept up with using the foam roller for the past three years, but as I have stepped up my marathon training programme, especially as I have built up the more intense workouts such as hill sprints and interval training, I have begun to use it after almost every training session.

Here is my (very) basic routine.

Foam roller calf exercises 

Sit on the floor with your legs out in front of you and rest your calves on the foam roller, lifting your backside off the floor with the flats of your hands.  Then cross your legs so that all the weight of your legs is focussed on one calf, and roll up and down for 30-60 seconds before repeating for the other calf.   If it hurts, it probably means that its doing some good. If it really hurts, you might want to try rolling both calves at the same time to halve the pressure.

Foam roller hamstring exercises 

Method same as the calf exercises, but rolling the hamstrings.

Foam roller glute exercises

Your “glutes” or gluteus maximus muscles are basically your backside muscles, and these are done similarly to the calves and hamstrings, but you will need to lift your opposite knee up to help with balance as you roll each set of glutes.

Foam roller quadriceps exercises

I tend to roll my quadriceps (or thighs) in pairs, and adopt a position that would be akin to doing press-ups (at least that’s the polite description) but with the thighs sharing the load with the hands  rather than the feet.  You can extend this of by lifting or crossing over one leg to create more pressure, as with the calf and hamstring exercises.

There are of course a huge variety of exercises that you can carry out with a massage roller, but I am happy at the moment with the above basic routine, as I feel it gives a good benefit to time spent ratio.

There are plenty of sources that will give ideas regarding the exercises you can do with a foam massage roller, including this one, which gives clear photos and explanations.


Second thoughts on barefoot racing

In my earlier post  What is a proper running foot strike? I explained how I was seriously considering actually wearing barefoot or minimalist shoes not just in training, but in the actual half marathon and marathon races.  However, I am now having second thoughts on this, following an hour’s recovery run on the road a couple of days ago.  Recovery was needed as it followed a training session the evening before that involved a tempo run consisting of five laps of about 800 metres, each including a sustained sprint for about 150 metres, all on tarmac.  The calves were a bit stiff from this and I felt that the (not especially steep) downhill sections of of my undulating route were particularly jarring and required me to really slow down.   This may be fine in training, but it clearly could have a negative impact on my race performance.

As the half marathon was just a week away, I needed to act quickly.  I didn’t want to go back to wearing my standard trainers, having hopefully adopted a forefoot strike action that that doesn’t suit them, but the compromise could be to obtain a pair of low drop running shoes, and this is what I did.  The pair I bought apparently have a drop of 5mm.  This means that your heel is just 5mm higher than the ball of your foot (regular trainers usually have a drop of over 10mm), so hopefully these will suit my forefoot running action, whilst giving me some cushioning for the downslopes.  I will be trying them out on a longish training run on the road tomorrow, so watch this space.