It was in May when I equipped myself with a pair of barefoot-style running shoes and decided to start heading out for short runs on a regular basis. At the time, we were still deep in a Lockdown situation and I was off work on furlough (although that wasn’t to last much longer).
I’ve had a quiet interest in the idea in running for a few years. Below, I’ll delve in to the reasons of why and now.
In The Beginning…
Excluding anything done at school or for football in my teens, the first ever run I went on was in my mid-to-late teens. I want to say that I was fifteen but could have been seventeen, if not eighteen. I was living near Bristol Airport at the time, knew of a local area from having walked the dog on a regular basis and decided to try it, one free afternoon.
I walked, initially; dressed head to toe in a jumper and trousers. Partly through a feeling of self-consciousness; partly for that ‘belief’ that I could swear more and lose more weight! I was never ‘over weight’ but felt I could be fitter and more lean. I was probably sporting the classic white trainers as well.
Over the A38 near Bristol Airport and I began running up Felton Common. From there I followed the quiet road up towards Nempnett Thrubwell… I really don’t remember how far I got or at what point in ended up run. I just remember the aches and pains in my legs for three or four days after this!
4th of May 2020
Almost two-decades later, I headed out with the aim of completing a three mile run. For the most part, it went well. I’d plotted a circular road route that I knew from my local walks. It was easy to follow and I even sprinted across the last field or two. Again, I’d started by walking to and then from a start and end point.
Those somewhat familiar aches and pains had returned. But even with their presence, I was determined to run at least every other day. I’d be up by 7am, I’d have my breakfast (for fuel) and then wait around ninety minutes before heading out (others may prefer to head out early and on an empty stomach). With the freedom of life on furlough, I saw a good opportunity to build a regular routine and really get in to it (to be honest, as a new subscriber, I was beginning to watch too much Netflix).
Where some would follow the classic “Couch to 5k” form, building up their distances over a period of weeks and days; at three miles long, I’d left the couch and was reaching for 5km (or thereabouts) without anything in between!
Climbing the Walls
Another reason I picked this up more recently was because I was going a but out of my mind with so much free time and feeling stuck at home. I haven’t adapted terribly well to leaving village life last year for an existence on the outskirts of a seaside town; hemmed in by the line of the M5 motorway.
Compared to where I’ve lived previously, the footpaths around St. Georges and Wick St. Lawrence are SHIT, quite honestly. There is no woodland. My nearest hill is probably a ninety-minute walk away. Several rights of way have been cut off by the M5 (leading only to a dead-end) and in other areas, the farmers and landowners never reinstate or preserve the true line of a right of way. I have ONE preferred walking route and even a good portion of that follows a road.
Without hills, I wasn’t able to maintain my usual levels of (hill) fitness. With a belief in the importance of ‘staying local’, I wasn’t willing to travel far for a non-essential journey and neither was I keen to start driving back and forth with less money coming in. I wanted to get something more without straying far from my own doorstep. Running adds more intensity to my regular workout.
In July, I suffered a blip of almost two weeks where I didn’t head out for even a single short run. I could’ve severed my ties with the interest right then. But in August, I pulled myself out for what became a personal best of a 4 mile run (without really stopping) and, days later, I would do the same again!
I realised that I was asking a lot of myself to run for 3 miles or 5km every other evening after work. By which time, my energy levels were already depleted and I needed to try and factor in time for dinner (preferably after a run). I was also experiencing discomfort in my right ankle and knee.
I’m still trying to figure things out. Arriving home from work, I’ll have a period of respite before tackling the run. I might eat some fruit for extra energy. If I can do a 4 mile run maybe two or three times a week, I could see a big improvement over the space of a month. Already, within the past two weeks, I’ve lost two pounds in weight. Experts say it takes a month (or 20-something days) to force a new habit. If I can work at this consistently for the month of August, I may then find it easier for the future.
Over the last year, I have become a bit of a barefoot convert. This is partly due to the influence of my friend Dave. I like the wide toe boxes more than anything else. With narrow feet suited to a low-volume shoe, this is a commodity that is rarely available to me. Yet the Merrell Bare Access XTR shoes I’ve been wearing fit more snugly than anything else I’ve known!
Having the zero-drop (where your heel sits at the same level as your forefoot and is not raised) does take some getting used to. But, if you run correctly and do not heel-strike, you can get used to it. I would love to go “full time” with barefoot shoes but, as I need to wear protective safety shoes five days a week (and there is currently no such thing as a “barefoot safety shoe”), I cannot do that. But I do notice the striking difference between wearing barefoot shoes and those deemed to be “normal”.
This is a very recent adaptation to my style and regime. Thanks go again to Dave for informing me about it. Chi Running, as I understand it, means running in a way that reflects how the human body wants to naturally move, after thousands of years of evolution. It is not dissimilar to the intentions of barefoot shoe designers.
While you run, you should be striking on your forefoot and not your heel. Landing on your heel sends a shock up through your joints and can cause other issues. Also, you should try to plant your feet directly beneath you. Reaching forward means you are more likely to heel-strike. Instead, push back with each stride, in a circular motion.
I’ve very recently taken this on board and I do feel it has been helpful for me to run that literal extra mile. I have to remind myself NOT to reach forward and try to rush through the experience, even when I am hot and tired. I can see a side of mindfulness to running that I’ve yet to fully tap in to.
Pains and Complaints
As with any physical activity, pain is likely to feature at some point. After my first few runs, the aches in the muscles of my legs began to subside. I still suffer with pain on the inside of my right ankle. I’ve had trouble with that foot for a few years, even noticeable when walking. It’s possibly a strength issue and that’s how I currently approach it. I believe the knee pain I felt (before discovering Chi Running) was caused by the common heel-strike as I was reaching forward.
From now on, I intend to keep running 3-4 miles for as often as is practical. Realistically and right now, that may only happen two or three times each week. I’m now sure quite how I’ll adapt as winter draws closer and the clocks are reset. I’ll probably pick a different route altogether in the interests of road safety and visibility in the dark.
I doubt I’ll ever sign up for an ultra marathon! Neither do I expect this to overtake my interest in walking. Perhaps I’ll sign up for a 10k one day (whenever they might be allowed again).