On the Run! · Training and motivation

Form-ula Run*


Blimey, it’s been a little while, hasn’t it? A lot’s happened since we last spoke – tomorrow I start a brand-new job (So I’m a spike of excited-nervous energy); H and I’ve started the hunt for somewhere new to live (that isn’t an airing cupboard); there’ve been Mont Blanc-style highs and some real sadness to take on, so a busy old time. A lot of life admin filling in the gaps, all necessary and ageing. But the house is less scruffy.

Anyway, I’m digressing before I’ve even begun, because I am here tonight to fill you in on the merry dance I’ve been having with that e’er elusive runner’s idyll; the runner’s very own Room of Requirement –

– Yes, I’m talking about the imperfect search for the perfect running FORM.

Type ‘running form’ or technique into your search engine and you’ll find lots of articles on the subject with swathes of differing advice. In short, the more you read, the more confusing it becomes to know what you should be doing.

My particular fixation, along with many others’ I know, stems from reading Chris McDougall’s awesome book, Born To Run (check out the TED talk here.)

Born to Run tackles the gulf between Westerners’ fixation with costly motion-control shoes to support a wince-inducing, inherently ‘bad’ running habit, and the seemingly natural-born runner, embodied by the Rarámuri or Tarahumara people of northwest Mexico. Their kit? Leather sandals, love, a belly full of Chia and (at times) some home-brewed tequila. If that’s all these guys need for a 48-hour dart, McDougall writes, how are we making such a meal of it?

I’ve had my own fun with ‘form’. When I first started running nearly 4 years ago I wore my mum’s old squash shoes with no issues. Then I got some neutral actual running shoes, began upping my mileage, which lasted a good while. When time came to get my next pair, I paid a trip to the local running specialist, who took one look at my (unmoving) feet, and told me what I needed, to treat their diagnosis of ‘overpronation’, was the most supportive Asics on their shelves (circa £100+ a pop). These too, were fine; great even.

But when injury or illness stopped me from cracking my first half-marathon a third time, I decided to pay a visit to a podiatrist for a second opinion.

My funny legs are part of our family legend. The story goes that when my concerned young parents took me to the doctor as a toddler, worried that one of my feet were turning in more than the other,  the doctor’s reply was simply, ‘That’s just how she is’. So that’s just how I’ve been. It’s not something many people notice, but it’s there.

So when the podiatrist concluded one of my legs was longer than the other, and overpronation wasn’t the thing, things fell into place. Suddenly my shin splints, odd back aches while standing, and antipathy towards high heels made sense. I started wearing a slim orthotic in one trainer, and was hopeful things could change.

Then I discovered the arguments championing barefoot running and forefoot foot strike – that again, the Western fixation with ultra-supportive shoes is counterproductive for forcing us to land on our heels, when the most efficient, injury-free technique, is to ‘glide’ on your forefeet, bringing your knees up under your torso.

So over the last three weeks I’ve ditched my ultra-supportive shoes for my neutral pair, and hoiked myself up towards my toes. At first my calves felt the burn, and my pace slowed – but my strides per minute increased by 10 to 180-185, which I hear is a sweet spot to aim for. I’ve also read it takes a while to build pace and distance back up after making such a stark change – so maybe not the wisest move with a week to go ’til the Great West Run. Especially as I found, experimenting with fore-foot landing, that in certain shoes, my toes felt really bruised, and my shins, tender.

But I do feel lighter in my running, which has got to be the key, right? On my sage triathlonic uncle’s advice, I’ve also started foam rolling before I head out on the route, and it’s helped instantly.

Then today, four weeks after making the change; after four weeks of confusion, tenderness and tenterhooks, I glided. And I was me-quick. Whether it’s the start of a tough glide to marathon distance? Who knows. I hope.

*sorry. It had to be done.

On the Run!

13.1 miles = The Peroni is miiine!

crop peroni and protein bar

Run date: Friday 2 September 2016

Set-off time: 12.24pm

Pace: 10.24 mins/mile

Distance: 13.11 miles

Total run time: 2 hours, 16 mins, 28 secs

Terrain/landscape: One of my many, er, ‘second homes’, the Taunton to Bridgwater canal path…

Weather conditions: Like running in a giant sweat box (although no burning sun to burn it off, which I was mightily glad for); then humidity turned to sprinkler. Pretty darn nice.

The route: I Got It Like That:


Music of choice: Mary Anne Hobbs on my usual haunt, BBC to the 6 to the Music. Notable highlights included… hmmm. A fresh Jamie T breaking his mould, and I can’t honestly remember what came in between in my runner’s reverie (yes I went there). But all that matters was that it ended with this. Sublime mind explosion.

Fuel? Well. Today’s been weird-as, as far as fuel goes. Harry’s been enjoying partaking in my almond milk, chia seed, banana and blueberry milkshake phase most mornings this week. It’s sweet and fills lightly, and I’m really enjoying the symbiosis with my readings about the Tarahumara runners (who really make chia a super food). Hoping some of the shine will rub off on me.

But then, there was the small matter of my waking up completely shattered after a restless night, to contend with. My dreams have been more vivid and bizarre than usual, lately. One of which involved my getting rapped on the knuckles for causing political chaos by issuing a press release about Jerry Corbyn having a spare room he wanted to let out. In this same dream my office was a tiny scrappy cardboard affair reached by a twirling rickety staircase that was also made of cardboard. Who knows what’s going on in there.

ANYWAY, what this meant was that I accidentally asked for a 100% mortgage at the bank today (which apparently they’re reluctant to give out) because of my dazed sleep-deprived confusion. I then drank all the coffee, wandered a bit quakingly with furrowed brow into Superdrug to buy hayfever relief, and what shall forever be known as a manbar, because I’d got to the point where I had decided the only thing that was going to get me through was one of those mutant laboratory PROTEIN BAR creations I’ve always steered clear of. I was not feeling good. Yet I had set my mind on doing a long run, dagnammit. So I crammed the protein bar into my mouth, nabbed a bottle of vitamin water, and found myself a new, leopard print (ooh la la) Nike sportsbra in the sale! at Tony Pryce, and didn’t buy some amazing running shorts with stag beetles on.

Awful as it was (the manbar, not the run), between the manbar and stubbornness, I made it through my second ever half-marathon.

To sum up: The Peroni is mine!! Mine!!!!

On the Run!

Fffrrrrrrrmmm road runner: 22.08.2016

Run date: Monday 22 August 2016

Set-off time: 7.23am

Pace: 8.47 mins/mile

Distance: 3.11 miles

Total run time: 27 mins, 21 secs

Terrain/landscape: Pavement, gravel, grit and grass

Weather conditions: On the cusp of muggy, white cloud

The route: My Monday love, a 5k round Longrun to start the running week:


Music of choice: A veritable mash of Rudimental (1st album, awesome running accompaniment I used for the first time running in the summer in Croatia along the seafront, so figured it would be good pep) and some Craig Charles on the ol’ BBC 6 Music blower.

Fuel? I wanted to try for a quick one (for me, anyhow), but I was really struggling to get out of bed this morning after my week/weekend antics. So nu-thin’.

To sum up: I was fast! I think I’m going to make Mondays my bust-a-move days from now on. Building myself up to Fartlek so-called “speedplay” training: a prospect as alarming as the concept is hilarious.

Also, I’m shattered and starving – following a 10.2 miles on Saturday, three more runs between 3 and 7 miles before that, and too much general excitement, methinks.

On the Run!

“Rio’s that way love…” 13.08.2016

Me being stylish in the shoes

Run date: Saturday 13 August 2016

Set-off time: 10.59am

Pace: 9.53 mins/mile

Distance: 7.1 miles

Total run time: 1 hour, 10 mins, 17 secs

Terrain/landscape: Pavement, gravel, grit and grass

Weather conditions: Misty! The sort that collects on your face and gradually leaves you drenched in a thick slick of sweat and, well, mist.

The route: My well-worn track, and my legs felt so heavy. My right thigh has been uber tight for a good three days, and pummeling, foam roller-ing and swearing hasn’t yet helped loosen it up, so I thought doing seven miles might. It was enjoyable to finish, but fairly hard going, and my mile pace certainly slowed towards the end. But, a day on, I’m feeling much more loose. Phew.


Music of choice: Not a jot, because I need to stop forgetting to charge up my bluetooth headphones… which I will go and plug in now before I forget yet again…

ALTHOUGH: I did get heckled, twice, I think both times by old farts. One, a rowdy “Look at her go!”, and the second a sharp as nails, “Rio’s that way love”. Now maybe when I was just starting out it would have been enough to have me blush under my crimson hue, but now, I really don’t give a monkeys. If anything, it spurs me on! So er, thanks boys for the impromptu rallying. Peace out.

Fuel? I actually did this! Three hours before was: mini Shredded Wheat, milk and blueberries (so very super), a cup of tea, and then some of the scary ZERO X’TREME drink when I was out and about. And it must have worked, despite all the leg protests.

To sum up: All good really. Especially as I got to wear my new great good deal Asics! Which I plan to write more on shortly…

On the Run!

Lamlash leg: 10.08.2016

Me from Goatfell

Run date: Wednesday 10 August 2016

Set-off time: 8.20am

Pace: 10.16 mins/mile

Distance: 5.33 miles

Total run time: 54 mins, 44 secs

Terrain/landscape: Pavement, road, an elevation of 237 foot, then flat round the bay

Weather conditions: Perfect; a veritable mill pond.

The route: After conquering all 2,866 feet of Goatfell at decent speed, with the T-shirt to prove it – and an impromptu fell run which Harry humoured stoically – my ambition of running the hilly 6 mile+ route to Brodick and back was p’raps always going to be overly ambitious. So I started the up, enjoyed the puff, then flowed back down the hill to run the length of Lamlash. All was calm beauty: Holy Isle looked regal ‘cross the water, and there were seals along the shoreline, lots and lots of seals. Pretty damn near perfect.


Music of choice: Nothing, again. I decided that being musicless is the best way to get to experience new running lands. And I’m coming to like it; especially now I can actually hear and appreciate the camaraderie of my fellow runners, morning hikers, togs and twitchers, and cyclists, all out to take the air.

Fuel? Nothing. But I took a bottle of water out with me, and followed it up with a hearty mugful of mini Shredded Wheat, milk and banana, and later, one of the Arran Cheese fingers. YOM.

To sum up: My run may have suffered slightly after The Goat, but it was worth it. I at the very least did what I always set out to do: add an Asics-clad touch-down on a new island to the tattered running log.

Lochranza Castle

On the Run!

Legging it round Edinburgh! 05.08.2016

Arthur's Seat

Run date: Friday 5 August 2016

Set-off time: 9.56am

Pace: 9.52 mins/mile

Distance: 5.85 miles

Total run time: 57 mins, 46 secs

Terrain/landscape: Pavement, parkland, road, flat then UP, flat then UP

Weather conditions: Warm/cool, drizzling

The route: An almost 6 miles of erratic routing, running small loops in many different directions, realising taking wrong direction, Google Mapping to Arthur’s Seat (pictured) and charging round…


Music of choice: Nada! But my need for distraction was circumvented by my new TomTom Runner 2 GPS Watch, which I took for its second outing. I love the ease of simply being able to glance down at my wrist without the rigmarole of having to laden myself up like a donkey with my various bits of kit. To quote 10cc, I don’t like it… I love it.

Please let me also take this opportunity to explain/apologise for my absence these past few days. I started feeling very droopy and leaden on the day of the canal-side 8 miler, thinking maybe I’d been too cocky, jumped too high (a la Malleus Maleficarum), and worn myself out in a fit of pique, like an overexcited five year old who’d been exposed to a week of birthday parties. My newly-hewn, detonsiled throat felt especially sensitive and swollen, like it was due to crack. So I sulked for a good week, bought uber-strength throat lozenges, and after seeing Harry’s own fits of sneeze, came to the conclusion that it is probably hay fever.

Fuel? Nothing, but the night before we had a perfect balance of salmon, sweet pots and steamed green veg.

To sum up: The hills got the heart a-pumping, the face a dashing crimson and the improv-nature of the route was probably good for the soul. A solid 7/10.

Me in Edinburgh

On the Run!

Moonshadow, Moonshadow: 28.07.16

me under the canal bridge crop

Run date: Thursday 28 July 2016

Set-off time: Around 10.30am

Pace: 9.4 mins/mile

Distance: 5.4 miles

Total run time: 51 mins, 15 secs

Terrain/landscape: A largely undefined towpath, like a flat trail run

Weather conditions: The coolest of the week, cloudy, rain/sun/wind-free

The route: Straight up the towpath, then a 2.5 mile walk back for a warm-down and slightly crazed catch up with Leah. My Asics app GPS wasn’t playing ball but I managed to work out my pace with my phone’s pedometer and my old cheapy Casio timer, which the internet then corroborated.

My heelMusic of choice: None! But I could have done with the distraction from my lacerated heel – caused by a combination of my Asics shoes and running socks getting to the end of their time on the 8 mile the other day. Youch:

Also since we’ve been spending the last few days on Moonshadow, our bargey beast, I’ve had the same triad of moon-related earworms buzzing round my head: ‘Moonshadow’, by Cat Stevens (obviously), Savage Garden’s ‘To the Moon and Back’, and ‘Moon Dance’ by Van Morrison. And quite frankly I’ve had my fill of all of them.

So as I ran on I forced all my concentration energies into a shuffled replay of Amy Winehouse’s ‘Back to Black’ in my head, which kind of worked.

Fuel? A bowl of Mini Shredded Wheat and some dried fruit an hour before, and a cup of tea. Last night I also necked a venison steak, which seemed like a solid choice. But there was also the Pinot Grigio, which I am avoiding today.

To sum up: It felt like it took a little while to get going, especially with the painful heel, but it seems it was a fairly swift effort, even with having to slow down for gates and stiles.