About a week ago Chris at Barefoot Beginner asked if I would like to contribute to a feature on his excellent blog called “Real Barefooters”
I had read the previous ten interviews and was more than happy to be included…
I had read the previous ten interviews and was more than happy to be included…
On Sunday 2nd June I ran my first ultra marathon……
The warmer weather has arrived very late this year, and consequently all of my training runs seem to have been in snow, hail, rain, wind and if I was lucky, just overcast!
The start of my ‘ultra’ week began with 3 solid days of rain, but by Sunday the climate had finally shifted to normal if not warmer conditions. This meant my first long run in 18°C sunshine, and by long I mean my longest ever run – 35 miles of off road countryside for the “Shires & Spires” Northants Ultra 35.
I originally decided to run an ultra after feeling like I could have run further when I finished my first marathon last year. Thoughts of running a 50k soon after were put on hold with the amount of training time I had already consumed. But several months later when I saw there was an ultra practically on my doorstep I had to put the ultra bug to bed!
Training officially started in mid December, when I broke the schedule up into three chunks; a marathon in March, another four weeks later and the ultra five weeks after that. It was the only way I could get my head around training for 35 miles.
Although I felt in good shape in December, I had an unfortunate (read stupid!) incident involving my soles and 13 miles of frost, resulting in major blisters. Two weeks out was a lucky escape and I found I could run (in shoes) once the blister fluid had been re-absorbed. I took the risky approach of ramping up my mileage quite sharply to get me back on track, which mostly paid off. I did suffer a calf strain after a fartlek session one evening in February, missing a mid week 9 mile run, but was able to drop my pace and got 16.5 miles out of the 20 mile weekend long run done in 4mm xero shoes. At this point I was taking part in a barefoot running study so was keen not to miss any runs through injury. Fortunately this was the only one!
The first marathon was tough, but provided some valuable lessons about nutrition and terrain pacing. The second marathon was comfortable up to 21 miles and although it was a training run I wanted to PB. Without gels this wasn’t going to happen though, and I promptly moved on to some ultra marathon specific training.
For me this involved running to heart rate, something I had never tried before. Being tired, it was great having a valid excuse to slow down or walk when my bpm started to rise. I quickly established 150 bpm as the point to slow on the flats and 155 bpm as a cue to walk the hills. On my final 24 mile long run on the actual ultra course I adhered to this rule, and managed a sub 10 min / mile pace without gels and included three decent hills. Over the final three weekends I ran the entire ultra course, which eased any anxiety over navigation, terrain and footwear.
The race started and finished at the impressive Lamport Hall. I felt strangely calm standing on the start line at 8:30 with the other 116 runners. I had every intention to enjoy the entire race, with no unrealistic time goals or wish to go into a zombie state for the final 9 miles of unknown. My gut feeling several months ago was a 6 hour finish (10 min / mile) but having run the course I thought 6 1/2 to 7 hours was more realistic. Once we got started and the atmosphere and temperature pushed my heart rate zones up by 10 bpm I was prepared for a 7+ hour finishing time!
The first 4 miles were offroad and flew by, and we reached the first check point (Cottesbrook) and I refilled my bottle. I had brief conversation about suitable footwear with the marshalls as I was in my tatty fivefinger bikilas and one had been asked if trail shoes were required, and another had tried some barefoot running on grass. Once done though, I whipped off my shoes and continued barefoot myself!
2 1/2 miles, one big hill and a chat with a running club member/spectator later at Hazelbech, and I put my shoes back on as I knew the road was rough having run it barefoot on a training run. I seemed to lose the group of runners around me for a few miles at this point, but it gave me a chance to relax and get my head ready for the many miles ahead. It was here I realised I would struggle to eat the fig rolls I was carrying and had used throughout training. The heat and my elevated heart rate were a real appetite suppressant, so I decided to use the fruitcake provided at the next and remaining checkpoints along with my gels.
At mile 10 the route headed offroad again (Thornby) and I over the next 4 miles I only saw and overtook two female runners. At 14 miles I noticed a couple of runners had missed a turn heading out of a village (West Haddon) so called them back. I was ready for some company at this point and chatted until we reached the 16 mile aid station. This was quite busy with 15 or so runners refueling as it was the only one to offer savoury snacks. I ate two small sausage rolls, another slice of delicious homemade fruit cake, and topped up with water before a group of us set off together, running silently for a few miles. As we inevitably started to spread out, the runners in the lead missed a tricky turning and again I called them back – I had done exactly the same thing in training!
Through the next village (Long Buckby) and it was back on road for a few miles until we reached Althorp and the next checkpoint at 23 miles. I had been looking forward to this one as it was on a stretch of smooth road and was another chance to run barefoot. I only managed about 1.5 miles though as my quads had started to cramp. I was worried I wouldn’t be able to get my shoes back on if I went too much further! I’ve never experienced cramping in a race before, and suspect it was due to the temperature, but found a short walk break stopped it before it became too intense. I was also starting to feel tired at this point, but it was a gradual decline rather than the sudden ‘wall’ I had experienced in the last marathon.
At around 26 miles I realised I didn’t feel any more tired than I did an hour ago, and I became more confident of a happy race. I was always 99% sure I would finish, but didn’t know what state I would be in!
The runners around me were becoming familiar. We had similar average paces, but ran at different speeds on the varying terrain and gradients. It was possible to start a conversation, pause it for a mile or two, and continue when we crossed again. Very weird! One highlight was chatting to a previous Western States 100 runner, who was running this race for the third time. He had also run over 130 ultras and had broke a metatarsal trying fivefingers! When the results were published I recognised his name – I had read Nick Ham’s previous reports on his blog when researching this race.
The remaining miles required concentration as I was beginning to tire mentally. Seeing anyone walking on a slight incline now seemed like permission to walk and the minimal attention I was paying to my pace showed it was slipping. The two big hills sandwhiching the final checkpoint around the 29 mile mark required extended walk breaks, but were a good chance to get it together mentally for the final push. Closer to the end we could also see the pub opposite Lamport Hall high up in the distance, which brought the conversation round to cold beer! That was all that was required for a strong and quite emotional push to the bottom of the final hill. This last uphill walk gave me a chance to compose myself for the final run over the hall grounds and across the finish.
I was cramping like crazy but just about managed a smile and victorious arm raise!
Leaning forward to receive my medal brought on instant dry heaving, but crippling leg cramps soon distracted me from actually throwing anything up! Walking around stopped any further spasms, as did clapping in and shaking hands with the next few runners I had been alongside for the last few hours.
So the race plan didn’t quite pan out as I had envisaged. I had worked especially hard on nutrition, which had meant running two difficult marathons on fig rolls and dried apricots. But I think my body used the five gels conservatively as a result. I felt no sudden drop in energy and think the adrenaline of completing my first ultra boosted my energy towards the end.
The cramping was an unwelcome surprise. I experienced intermittant calf twinges towards the end, which took some concentration to relax out whilst running. I also felt my left foot fail to dorsiflex a few times too, but the worst could be walked off.
The nausea stayed with me and I couldn’t face eating until late in the evening. With 3800 calories used during the race I thought I would be ravenous, but that hunger never arrived.
Out of 116 runners, I placed 43rd in a time of 6:17:19 which I am ecstatic about. Five runners DNF’d and a further 37 failed to start. My garmin recorded a ‘moving’ time of 6:05 but to be honest I am just pleased I made it to the start line injury free, crossed the finish line, and remained injury free inbetween.
I’m also pleased to have run about 4 miles barefoot. Not as far as I’d hoped but better than nothing! It helped start up a few conversations later in the race, and got a tiny bit off awareness for barefooting! I also wore my Barefoot Britain / Brighton race T-Shirt, but with my race number (1 as in number 1 not 1st, as I kept telling spectators!) covering the front, only those few runners behind me could appreciate it!
I would love to run another ultra. If I could minimise the cramping and sort out the sickness afterwards, somewhere beyond 26.2 miles would be my favourite distance! I won’t be running another anytime soon though. Training for these takes serious time, which is not something I or my family have a lot of presently…
But hopefully one day!
Sometimes on a run we make a bad decision….”of course I can overtake that runner in front”, or “shall I just just have a quick explore down that track”, or even “that probably isn’t really a bull in that field.” Usually they cost us a breathless few minutes, a telling off from your better half for getting back late with muddy shoes, or a surprise sprint out of the bull’s field.
At the start of December I made my worst decision (so far) when out for a run. It cost me a day’s work through not being able to walk, two visits to the doctors, a fortnight of no running, and worrying my family. And I think I got off lightly!
I walked the dog as usual before my Sunday long run, and thought “wow, it’s really cold and frosty. If I run barefoot today I must be really careful.” The reason I was even contemplating any barefoot miles was to hit my final goal for 2012 – 500 barefoot miles. I was currently at 443 miles so my goal was just about achievable.
Within the first quarter mile I ran over a few patches of thick, crunchy ground frost with slight discomfort. But once the blood got properly circulating my feet warmed up and I settled in to the run. At mile 7 I felt a new sensation at the back of my heels; almost like coming out of a numb state. I stopped and checked my feet but they looked and felt fine.
Another 1.5 miles over really hard frost and I was back in town and a mile from home. However, this was a 13 point something mile run so I carried on for another half loop. At 10 miles I made the decision to carry on barefoot, rather than slip on the xero shoes I was carrying. I wanted those 3 barefoot miles to add to my goal. Bad move Bob!!
Most of the frost had melted by now so I was also running on very wet roads, although towards the end I began to feel cold, but I put it down to the wind. At exactly 13 miles I reached a patch that had been dried by the winter sun, and within seconds I could feel something wasn’t right. Something felt vague, almost mushy. I stopped and found large blisters on the balls of both feet. Bugger! At his point they were only partially filled with clear fluid. I popped on the xeros and ran a quarter mile, before having to walk the last quarter mile home. The last few hundred metres became progressively painful, and when I got home the blisters had become fuller and had turned pink.
My partner insisted I saw the out of hours nurse, who diagnosed frostbite. I had antiseptic pads and bandages applied, and she advised not to pop the blisters so as to maintain a sterile environment for the skin to heal. The blisters had filled with blood now, which indicated damage to the blood vessels underneath.
I could hobble around for the remainder of the day, but when I woke up the next morning the blisters were so full I couldn’t put any pressure on them, making walking too painful. After a day off work with my feet elevated, walking was bearable using the outer edge of my feet. My partner wanted me to see the doctor for a checkup, and this was a good call as he put me on antibiotics due to the redness and temperature around the right blister, indicating a possible infection.
Another few of days shuffling around, and the fluid in the blisters started to become absorbed, until slightly over a week later there was just dried blood under my thick skin.
Things stayed like this for three weeks until the Christmas holidays, when I ran off road almost every day. Due to the flooding, my shoes and feet were sodden for hours at a time which softened the skin allowing it to peel away. The new skin looked very healthy and pink, but is was baby soft!
When I did my first barefoot run almost four weeks later, the rest of the skin on my forefoot also started to come away, so it had been damaged by the cold too.
I took a series of photos and video clip over the initial days and final weeks of the healing process. So as not to offend any the casual browsing folk they can be viewed by clicking here or on the top photo.
So although I had made a mental note to be careful before my run, I completely ignored this and ran for almost 2 hours over frosty surfaces. I should have been checking my soles regularly. The very last point at which I should have stopped barefooting was when I started to feel cold, as that is when my core temperature dropped and the blood supply to my feet wasn’t adequate enough to prevent frostbite.
Happily, my feet suffered no long term damage and I only lost a couple of weeks running (and that was being safe). However, a lesson was well and truly learnt!
This year I set myself a couple of running goals:
1. Run my first marathon.
2. Run one thousand miles.
I ran the White Peaks Marathon in May and really enjoyed it. Plus, all those long training runs certainly helped achieve the second target, which I hit much earlier than I anticipated.
And then I was goal-less.
I had been running barefoot twenty-five percent of my total mileage, and so decided to up the longest distance from about 8 miles and try for a barefoot half marathon – Goal three!
Training went pretty well, and I got up to the distance by the beginning of June – the first attempt at a barefoot long run! But I carried on running 13 or so miles barefoot most weekends, even managing a 16.5 mile barefoot run a couple of weeks ago on cherry picked roads and a sensible pace. But it took until this weekend to finally run an official barefoot half marathon!
I got a little carried away with the pace, as I had intended to relax and enjoy a 1:54 hr race. This time would have equaled my first half marathon in traditional shoes. My 1:44 hr actual time is less than 3 minutes off my PB from last year in vibrams.
I put my unexpected time down to the number of long barefoot runs I did while waiting for race day, and enjoying overtaking the shod runners! I was aware of passing a lot in the first few miles because I started between the 2:00 and 2:15 hr markers. But the runpix system reports me overtaking 328 runners in the second half alone, while only being passed by a single runner!
I also realised there was another barefoot runner on the course from a few spectators comments of “There’s another barefoot runner!” Two barefoot runners out of 3431 finishers isn’t a bad ratio – Our numbers are definitely exploding!
My eldest daughter surprised me a while ago with her interest in vivobarefoot shoes. Her friend’s family had all started wearing them, and it was a topic of conversation on a 45 minute drive we took with them to the local park run event. When the next email offer arrived in my inbox, we snapped up a pair of Aqua Lites in grey and crimson (50% off and free delivery!) My daughter has been really pleased with them and wears them for her athletics club and much of the weekend.
When I asked if she minded me going barefoot while we walked the dog this weekend there wasn’t any hesitation in her reply, “Nah, I don’t mind” – This was very different to her answer just a few weeks ago!
My other daughter surprised me even more this evening when she asked if she could go barefoot whilst walking the dog. As her mum wasn’t around to ‘be sensible,’ we hit the pavement! I did carry her shoes just in case, but we happily covered three-quarters of a mile at a leisurely pace. She enjoyed feeling the different surfaces, and discovered a few pointy stones on the way round, but quickly adapted her stance without even breaking sentence.
I am not too worried about a soft, slow conditioning of my children’s feet to a more barefoot lifestyle. The don’t wear shoes in the house, they wear thin plimsolls at school, and both do ballet and gymnastic dance. If they grow up with strong feet and good form, and knowing they don’t need big cushioned trainers or orthotics, I’ll be happy.
It’s been a couple of weeks since my last post, the delay being due to a weeks holiday in Brittany, France. I had hoped to write a post towards the end of the week about my running experiences, but an unfortunate accident sidelined any plans for the last few days.
After a sunny afternoon on a small beach, a relative cooked dinner for us all on a portable bbq. Afterwards, he attempted to safely dispose of the hot coals by digging a hole in the sand and tipping the bbq contents in. Unfortunately he stepped on the super hot sand the bbq had occupied. After 25 minutes with his blistered foot cooling in the sea, the ambulance took him to hospital, where they had to remove the entire skin from his sole, as the hot sand had embedded in. Four days later he was allowed out hospital, but it will take weeks to heal.
As a runner I appreciate my feet, and as a barefoot runner I especially appreciate my soles. As a non runner, my relative…. treasures his soles just as much. I wish him a speedy recovery.
Back to my original post subject though. We holidayed in the same area last Easter, when I was starting out in vibram fivefingers. Last year I returned with tendonitis from a few 6 mile runs. My first holiday run this year was a 13 mile barefoot run, during which it struck me how far I have progressed.
This run included 5 miles along a flat beach, perfect for running, shod or otherwise. But there were no runners! In fact I hardly saw anyone running all week. Five runners tops. I see more than that on an evening run back home.
What I also struggled to see were ‘large’ people. Young and old were between average or slim, and it was refreshing to see. But this seriously hit home on our first service station stop in England, where the opposite held true.
I quick search revealed the following table: (clicking on the image should open the original source pdf)
The bars show the percentage of adult population with a BMI greater than 30, ie obese. USA tops the table at 33.8%, with the UK in 7th with 23%. France is towards the bottom of this list with 11.2%, roughly half that of the UK.
So how come I saw so few runners in France but the obese percentage is half that of the UK’s? Our holiday location was very rural, but the nearest city, Lannion, had very few fast food ‘restaurants’ or take-aways. My home, Market Harborough, has a huge choice for a small town. Could this point to a cause? Maybe, but I’m sure there are many more reasons beyond my understanding.
An interesting site to calculate a BMI value is http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-18770328
My result of “You have a lower BMI than 96% of males aged 30-44 in your country! The #BBCNews body fat calculator says that I’m most like someone from DR Congo” saddened me. I believe I should be around 65-70% if the health of the UK population was ‘normal.’
I decided to start doing some walks barefoot with our family dog towards the end of May. Since then I’ve logged just over 30 miles; not quite as much as I’d hoped but it has been an extremely rainy couple of months.
When I started I remember even a soft heal strike sending an upwards jolt, even though I wear minimalist shoes for work and weekends. I thought this might be resolved either with a change of gait, or with the pads around the heal thickening. My gait has definitely changed to a forefoot landing when walking at speed, but it’s probably a bit soon to notice any physiological change.
Another change I noticed recently was when I stepped on sharp stones. I now do not tense up, and try to shift my weight to bear on another part of the foot. I had read previously how feet can ‘flow’ around an object, and I believe this is the same process. With over a year of barefoot running, I hadn’t achieved this, but I think the foot landing phase for running is too short to ‘learn’ the method.
This wasn’t the intention when I started barefoot walking, but I’m pleased it’s happened. And with the warmer, drier weather, I’m enjoying walking Fergus barefoot more and more.
This Saturday we visited Conkers in Ashby–de–la–Zouch.
Conkers is a hands on nature experience including an indoor adventure playground and learning zone, a pretty tough outdoor assault course, fairy labyrinth and a barefoot walk!
The whole site is fun and educational, but what I look forward to most is the unique barefoot walk. A sign at the start of the walk describes that going barefoot can alleviate many musculo-skeletal disorders, but almost everyone skips that, rips off their shoes and jumps straight in!
The first three sections of the 450m attraction are pools with different floor textures. Other areas include; rocks, pebbles, coal, wooden logs, straw, cobbles, railway rails, rubber shards, slate, wet clay, and finally, deep gloopy mud!
I love going round with my daughters and hearing them describe the different textures, feelings, temperatures, and pain levels! Sadly I haven’t seen many grown ups attempting the intriguing experiencing, just because it involves a bit of dirt (or getting their feet out in public)
Part of my barefoot routine now includes walking the family dog unshod. My share of the weekly dog walking quota involves a couple of early morning and evening walks, and hopefully a run at the weekend..
I’ve recently noticed the evening walks feel much easier on the feet than the early morning ones.
Or to put it another way, the morning walks feel less pleasant.
I don’t know if this is down to form, skin sensitivity or even surface temperature..
Thinking about this, I remembered a post I made about a year ago on dailymile regarding an early morning barefoot run with a similar observation: Local Loop
Going out for a barefoot lunchtime run my soles feel ‘normal’ again. My limited internet searching hasn’t revealed any clues; most results point to foot pain and plantar fasciitis whereas this is more of a sensory filter not kicking in.
Maybe a permanent barefooter has some insight?
l finished a two mile lunchtime run today and to my surprise found an ‘old’ blister. There was no pain, no fluid, just a patch of separated skin.
As far as I can remember, my last barefoot session where my form was off was two weeks ago. I recall a hotspot sensation after the run, but couldn’t find any evidence of a blister, so though I had got away with it. Could today’s blister be something ‘surfacing’ from the hotspot from two weeks ago? The delay being due to the thicker, tougher skin?
Blisters are a great way to let a runner know somethings not quite right, but if it takes two weeks for the blister to appear that’s not so useful. At least I felt the hotspot so knew my form had been off.
I may be way off with my theory, but I am going to pay more attention next time I think I got away with only a hotspot!