Running on the Limit

This post all started with a 100% effort Magic Mile run on the canal (the towpath part, not the actual watery bit). Immediately after (sort of) smashing out a 5:27 mile, I was blinded by the worst headache I’ve ever experienced. I initially blamed the pounding pain on the glue factory fumes I had unwisely decided to run downwind in, but two weeks later I was still headache unfree (or unheadache free if you will) whenever I tried to push it.

Google helpfully suggested ‘Exertion Induced Headaches’ as the probable cause, but also mentioned a few rather unpleasant alternatives so I thought I’d better see the doc.

Exertion Induced Headaches can be caused by straining the neck muscles coupled with a reduced oxygen intake. The effort dilates the blood vessels in the neck and restricts the blood flow to and from the head. The increase in pressure squishes (medical terminology) the nerves, hence the pain. It is most common in weight lifters lifting too much while holding their breath, or in this case a runner hammering it for a mile in toxic atmospheric conditions.

Googles cure…..two  weeks rest. I had already taken it (ahem) ‘easy’ for two weeks by running over 12 miles barefoot two days after, followed by a 9.5 miler, 6 miler, 8.5 miler, and a couple of runs with the dog (see – no speed work!)

The thought of no exertion for two weeks didn’t sound appealing, it’s not like a regular running injury where I could nip out on the bike or even go for a swim (possibly in the canal by the glue factory.) With a three half marathons on the calendar I wanted to stay in shape. And this got me thinking about my calorie intake and expenditure.

I found a calorie counting app which included a large food database and logged my eating habits over a week, as well as my running and dog walking activities. I wasn’t surprised to see that I crept over the 2000 calories most days, even when taking into account the lunchtime walk, dog walk / dog runs. The days when I had spare calories left were the ones that included a decent run eg 8.5 mile with 300 calories under and 16.5 mile run with 1350 calories spare!

I also wore my garmin heart rate monitor for three days to backup the calorie figures. What this also showed was a low resting heart rate.

After a consultation, the doc agreed with google on the cause of the headaches, but was happy for me to carry on running. To be safe I had a few blood tests and an ECG. The nurse commented on my low resting heart rate – normally a concern, but as I was a runner it was fine!

Thankfully all the tests came back fine, and the headaches subsided over a further couple of weeks – just in time for the first of the half marathons.

I had always regarding the calorie apps as too much hassle to bother with, but in fact it provided me with a good insight into my intake and expenditure. I sometimes found myself wondering if eating something was going to push me over the daily limit. I wouldn’t use the counter continuously, but a substantial change in exercise routine or eating habits would definitely warrant use again.

BMI Baby

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

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 received a comment from Chris on my last post regarding the podcasts I listen to, so I thought I’d post a list of my current favourites.


A podcast about two self-proclaimed geeks who have decided to take up running. Join Jason and Ray each week as they discuss all things running.


 JBST helps you train for Triathlon, Duathlon, Ironman, Sportive, Time-trial and running events. Multisport coach Joe Beer of and guests give training, nutrition and technology advice to improve your triathlon, duathlon, Ironman, running and cycling performances. Each “SMARTcast”  reveals cutting edge tips, research findings and insider news. Ideal for multisport athletes, Ironman racers, time triallists, sportive riders and runners.


The Living Barefoot Show is an exciting podcast exploring the world of, you guessed it, living barefoot. The show hosts, Al Gauthier and Tina Dubois, are dedicated barefooters excited about sharing the multitude of health benefits that can be achieved by experiencing the ground with as little as possible, or nothing at all, between your feet and the ground. The show includes a wide range of topics and personalities: from interviews with businesses that are dedicated to creating healthy products for our feet to exceptional members of the barefooting community, book authors, and other influential members of the community. The Living Barefoot Show includes tips and advice for those just starting out on their unshod journeys or the seasoned veteran barefooter.


All about running. A weekly podcast dedicated to keeping you on the inside track to successful running. Presented by Martin Yelling and Tom Williams.


Marathon Training Academy exists to inspire and empower everyday people to live healthier lives, achieve fitness goals, and reach new milestones by tapping into their marathon potential.


Running From The Reaper

I record this podcast as I run through the Staffordshire countryside here in the UK, mainly along the tow-paths of the canal system we have around here. I guess you could think of it more as an audio blog, where I share my training, races and a few other bits and pieces about my life. I try to share a few laughs along the way and hopefully act a bit if a friendly virtual running buddy for you as you undertake your own training runs or races.



The podcast for runners, wannabe runners and mid-packers of all shapes and sizes who just want to strap on their favorite pair of shoes and get out there!


Caity McCardell introduces listeners to the barefoot runner-next-door as well as authors and researchers in an effort to promote the value of barefoot running. Her goal is to encourage more women to try out the sport while educating everyone about the joys of ditching shoes.


Listen to my podcast at SPIKES

A podcast for those who enjoy a lifestyle with a significant exercise component. The central theme will be around running but the entertainment factor is a little broader than that.


An ultra running podcast bringing you news, reviews and interviews from around the ultra world.


We are a team of intermediate runners who love technology, always hitting the road while plugged in.  iPod, iPhone, Android, whatever…



Trail Runner Nation

Trail Runner Nation is devoted to sharing knowledge and advice to the trail running community – from beginners to the pros! We offer tips and discussion regarding race nutrition, pacing strategy, mental focus and much more from well-respected members of the trail community.


We are passionate about ultra running. Our podcast was created for runners who feel the same about our sport. Reaching your running potential requires access to sport specific information. Our podcast features a variety of qualified experts to discuss nutrition, training, sport psychology, race strategy, injury management, trail gear and many more topics. Now, go out and run.


Please let me know if any of the links or RSS feeds are incorrect and I will update them.

Oh Blister, Where Art Thou?

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!

A Pain in the….Foot

The most common questions I get asked when running barefoot is “Doesn’t it hurt?” and “What about getting cut on glass / stepping in dog poo?”

Well, they’re the most ‘sensible’ questions anyway!
I usually just laugh and say no, but more truthful answers would be “sometimes” and “it’s happened once (so far)”

When starting barefoot running I read that it was best to use rough surfaces, to limit the over exuberance. I misinterpreted this to mean stones and gravel. Without the thickened soles I have now, I soon got bruises and worse still, ended up with two or three small hard lumps under the skin. My best guesses were swelling from the bruising, or worse still, plantar fascia scarring. Either way, I used vitamin E liquid from oral capsules for a few weeks and they disappeared, while I carried on running but on normal roads and pavements.
Also, small sharp stones are a pain (literally) on most runs. But at least it lasts less than a second, and gets easier as time passes. They seem to be more present on pavements by busy fast roads, so I try to run on quiet roads to minimise the possibility.

Dog Poo
My first and only incident was while running along the canal tow path. The tallest grass and weeds had been recently strimmed to prevent the path becoming overgrown. This made a nice soft path along the edge of the stoney track, which I used to its full advantage being barefoot. Little did I know a dog had left a little present hidden beneath the clipped grass. I realised instantly what had happened by the cold gooey sensation, and stopped to rub the worst off on the grass verge and continued my run.

Another memorable injury was stepping on a hawthorn clipping (the bane of many mountain biker). My attention was distracted by a man and boy hastily removing a horse from a field using a car and stick (no horse trailer in sight.) My mind suddenly returned to running by the sharp pain in my sole. At first I thought it was a sharp stone stuck on my foot and I continued for a few steps, waiting for it to fall off. But the pain got worse so I stopped to examine the source. That’s when I discovered the 10mm thorn poking into my foot. I removed it, and a little ‘comedy’ spurt of blood shot out, but the pain stopped instantly. I carried on running, expecting to see little red dots following me like breadcrumbs, but the hole must have sealed quicker than an inner tube of ‘slime’

A recent running injury involved stepping on glass. I do see broken glass occasionally whilst running barefoot, and usually just go around the area or slow down and pick my way through. This time though it was a very small piece (large grain of sugar sized) that half embedded itself into my foot. I should have been paying more attention as I had ran past a skip where a house was being renovated. Thankfully I was able to pull out the glass and carry on, without an actual cut.

I got home from a run to find a perfect star shape on my sole. I never thought of a squished starfish as a hazard but there you go!




Probably the only serious injury I have sustained while running barefoot. This is an over use injury, and to be fair I wouldn’t have got it running only barefoot, as my soles would have blistered way before. Vibrams allowed me to run further than my feet were ready for. It’s happened twice; once when starting out in the vibrams, and once when upping my mileage marathon training. By reducing my weekly running, and going barefoot I was able to carry on running while things healed.

So, barefoot might not be the antidote to running injuries after all!

The Moving the Goal Post – Post

I have a couple of friends who, after having completed their first marathon have pretty much stopped running. I guess the level of commitment to training meant running became less enjoyable, and a short break easily turns into a long one.

From early on in my own marathon schedule I had decided to start training for a barefoot half marathon as soon as my ‘A’ race was over – something to look forward to while I was on those long, cold and wet Sunday morning runs!

So two days after my marathon I went for an easy 2 mile barefoot run with Fergus (our family dog); the beginning of two to three months of sole conditioning I believed I needed to get up to 13.1 miles.

Three and a half weeks later I go and run the half marathon distance barefoot! I didn’t set out to do this, I just never got round to putting on my vibrams on a long road run. I will say the last two miles took some concentration, and the final half mile required the use of some front lawnage! But no blisters, etc on final inspection, and I my feet felt fine walking Fergus barefoot a couple of days later.

I will need some further conditioning before I enter an official race, as the ground surface will be an unknown factor, and I want to feel more confident in the final miles. But this process has happened a lot quicker than I initially thought, which I’m ‘sort of’ pleased about.

So I’ve had to rethink my running plans for the next couple of months, and the outcome is….to train for a mile – the fastest mile I can run!

A rather enjoyable 3 x 1 mile interval run on Saturday gave me the inspiration to aim for the faster pace.

This should also fit in rather nicely with where I am at the minute:

1. Shorter training sessions – to free up some time.
2. Barefoot warm ups and cool downs – to continue conditioning those feet.
3. Mix up the running – anaerobic runs after all that aerobic stuff.
4. Become faster at the longer runs later in the year.

Also, having looked into local-ish halves during late June to Early August, it seems there’s not many scheduled. The only two suitable races have been cancelled this year, so it looks like September or October will be the earliest half available.

As fortune would have it, Marathon Talk should start the “The Magic Mile” (link from 2011) campaign in a few weeks. I would have liked to have taken part last year, but I was training for my second half marathon, and was also transitioning to vibrams.

I’m really looking forward to trying this and shall be posting my Magic Mile progress over on dailymile.

To Run Or Read?

I’m not a big reader, but the books I have read over the last couple of years have been about running. I have listed these below but I’m not going to give a review as there are many more professional efforts to be found online than I could write!

What I Talk About When I Talk About Running – Haruki Murakami

A strangely captivating read, more about the author’s perspective on running than running itself. With some interesting stories and accounts of races, I finished wanting to read more, with the impression Haruki Murakami would be a very interesting person to meet.

Born to Run: The Rise of Ultra-running and the Super-athlete Tribe – Christopher McDougall

Requires no explanation, other than I hadn’t heard any of the hype before I ordered this book. It wasn’t until I reached the later chapters on running shoes that I became really gripped, as that was soon after I started in vibrams – by sheer coincidence.

The Long Run – Matt Long (Audiobook)

One of my favourites to date, the heart wrenching story is told in parallel between Long’s life before his horrific accident, and his personal and often graphic recovery afterwards. I read an article in Runner’s World, and was in awe at Long’s determination some time before starting the book. The narrator’s accent (Matthew Del Negro) added nicely to the setting.

Bounce: Mozart, Federer, Picasso, Beckham, and the Science of Success – Matthew Syed

Recommended via Marathon Talk, this book changed the way I viewed professional sportsmen and women. Rather than natural talent, Syed argues that any skill is the result of ‘chunking’ maneuvers together into pre-programmed blocks. This is achieved with practice; 50,000 hours of meaningful practice, and includes several examples of successful sports people, including himself.

The Complete Book of Barefoot Running – Roy Wallack, Ken Bob Saxton

A fantastic book for anyone starting out barefoot running, with some great tips listed in detail. The book includes the history Ken Bob Saxton’s barefoot journey, and gave me the confidence that going barefoot was a worthwhile venture.

Once a Runner – John L Parker (Audiobook)

A cult classic, and originally printed in limited supply. I have yet to make any headway though.

The Perfect Mile: Three Athletes, One Goal, and Less Than Four Minutes to Achieve It – Neal Bascomb (Audiobook)

Not the easiest read but well worth persevering with. The ending is a full gone conclusion, but this doesn’t detract from the suspense as the four main contenders edge closer and closer to the perfect mile.

Bunion Derby: The 1928 Footrace Across America – Charles B. Kastner

I first heard of the race in a Runner’s World article. Much like life for the competitors though, this book became monotonous as day by day accounts informed of winners and runners failing to finish. Just as characters began to stand out, unfortunately I found it difficult to return to, and have yet to finish. My opinion may change if I can pick this one up again.

Recently Added…

Just a Little Run Around the World – Rosie Swale Pope

From its sad origin, Rosie’s run around the world becomes a tale of strength. Battling nature and weather, the determination Rosie shows is rewarded by kindness and friendship. Soon after reading this, I spent a week in Tenby; hometown and start of the expedition, and I could imagine Rosie’s training runs on the hilly coastline.

The Ghost Runner: The Tragedy of the Man They Couldn’t Stop – Bill Jones

John Tarrant’s relentless battle against the athletics bodies lasted for decades. He was a world-class runner, denied a UK and then worldwide licence for £17 expenses as a teenage boxer. His childhood was unhappy, but shaped his entire adult life with wanting to be accepted – as a runner. His long list of race victories were never acknowledged as the events were gatecrashed and run without a number. Tarrant’s too short life ended just as sadly as it started.

Last Edited 3rd July 2012

White Peaks Marathon….My First 26.2

Photo credits: plodding hippo (2011 race)

Last Saturday I ran my first marathon…..and I loved it!

The White Peaks Marathon is organised by Matlock Athletics Club and run in parallel with the half marathon. The full route uses a dis-used railway from Thorpe to Cromford Meadows following first the Tissington Trail to Parsley Hay, then the High Peak Trail to Cromford.

A small event with around 200 runners for each race lends a friendly, local feel. Very different to the city races I have completed.

The reviews I had read mentioned road shoes were suitable for the compacted limestone and cinder tracks, so I was confident my vibram bikila’s would cope. I hoped my feet would too, after smashing my left foot into a mooring ring at the end of my final long run, a week before the race!

After a 30 minute coach ride from registration to the trail start, we had half an hour wait before the 11am start. I fueled up with a banana and flapjack (I would be running though lunchtime!) and chatted to a few local runners about the vibrams. The general theme was they had thought about trying them, but were yet to take the plunge. Hopefully I showed enough enthusiasm for at least one runner to try them out!

After a long announcement, which I couldn’t hear at all, we were off!

I trained with a ‘complete not compete’ attitude, aiming for a sub 4 hour time. My last couple of long training runs felt too slow at this pace though, and I decided in the final week to run the first half at around sub 3:50 pace and see how I felt for the second half.

The first 7 miles were up a steady but gradual incline, and into a constant head wind that kept my 8:40 mins / mile pace in check. The trail then levelled out for a few miles but unfortunately the wind remained. The next 9 miles seemed to pass quickly though, engaged in banter with a fellow runner. Space was tight running in twos, due to the narrow trail and a few large puddles from about 8 hours rain overnight. This meant we had to use the uneven grass verges now and again, and not the racing line! As we reached halfway we stepped up the pace slightly to 8:30 mins / mile, hoping for a negative split, and helped by a partial tailwind.

At mile 16 I was running solo again (fellow runner / call of nature!) but I kept my pacing, and a few more inclines meant I overtook 12 or so runners

I knew this race included three steep descents during the last 5 miles – but I wasn’t expecting anything on this scale! I believe trains were lifted up the slopes by winding stations. The first was 0.5 miles long, the second was 0.75 miles and the third was 1 mile long totalling about 260 metres of vertical descent. The last drop ended in a tunnel and then onto a canal path for a 0.75 mile final effort and another two overtakes before the finish line.

My first marathon was a great experience – my pacing went to plan ‘A’, my final position was 65th and I beat my ‘ideal world’ time by 1 minute with a 2 minute negative split.

The marshals were the most friendly and encouraging I have run past, especially considering the remoteness of the trail, and the cold and windy weather on the day. It took about two miles of running for my feet to lose the numbness from standing around at the start!

I’m not sure when I will attempt my next marathon (or maybe 50k) as I plan to up my barefoot mileage over the next few months, training for a barefoot half. I know I can run faster over this distance though, as this wasn’t an easy route. The wind, long uphills, steep downhills, a couple of closed gates, stop-start turn around, and puddles all added time. But I wouldn’t have changed a single one of them!