my running adventures – barefoot or otherwise

The long run before the long race – scary or not?

Last Saturday (16th February), I undertook my longest ever run in preparation for tomorrow’s 15 mile Belvoir Challenge in Leicestershire (yes, I’m excited!). My training run was 15.65 miles and took in lots of interesting areas that I’d never been to before, despite so many of these places I’d mapped out being so close to home. Who needs to fly anywhere when there is so much to uncover and discover in your own local area? Well, this is what I keep telling myself in the current state of affairs as a holiday to sunny climes abroad would be wonderful, but not responsible…have you seen how much a holiday cottage costs in the height of summer…for just a measly week? In this country (England)?! Sadly, one of the many perks of my job as a teacher, the holidays, also guarantees that premium prices have to be paid to go anywhere nice!

I ran around Toton Sidings, along the canal near Trowell and around parts of Stapleford I didn’t know existed. It all began at a fiendishly early (for me) 6:20am as I left the house into the darkness. Not only was it dark, but I felt like the mist was wrapping itself around me, saying ‘you’re mine now, mwah ha ha ha!’ – OK, I admit it, I was a tiny bit scared, but mainly only because the only sounds I heard were natural ones, the only lights I saw were lamppost lights and the only smells I could smell came from, well, let’s not go there shall we?

While atmospheric and my senses seemed heightened to a state close to heart attack I’m sure, I don’t know if I’m cut out for running at this time of day, simply because my over-active imagination assumes that every noise, smell or light has something to do with endangering my life. I even took a detour because I wasn’t sure I could find my way in the darkness, but that was equally down to safety and not breaking a part of me a week before my much anticipated race.

I had to keep stopping to check my route in the early part of the run because it was unfamiliar to me and if I got it wrong at any early stage, I’d be paying for it with a much longer run than I needed to. I got to six miles pretty easily and despite the slower pace, I was really enjoying the discovery of my journey. I lost count of the number of little detours I took as my curiosity often got the better of me and this probably put paid to a quicker overall time.

I was pleased too with my body’s reaction to the jelly babies I took with me – there wasn’t one. I’d used them when I did the Robin Hood half marathon and it went really well, so I was pleased that again on a long run, things went fine. So, jelly babies will be in my new bum bag belt I just bought this week specifically for this race. My reasoning behind having a bum bag belt is that on a muddy and possibly slippy course, I’m going to want my hands free. Also, holding a bag of jelly babies and a water bottle all the way round the Robin Hood half marathon drove me nuts, so I’m hoping it will enable me to focus more on my form and the ground in front of me, than how I’m holding stuff and remembering not to let go of it! It also means I can keep my car key safe with me and fold up a map of the course in there too – it is a very countrified route from what I’ve managed to glean from forum posts and the like. We’ll have to negotiate a bunch of stiles, farmers crops and electric fences!

Anyway, back to my training run – I completed the 15.65 miles in 2:02:27, meaning I got a time of 1:57 for 15 miles (I use the endomondo app on my smartphone to track my runs at the moment). Overall average speed was 7:52 per mile. This is significantly slower than my road running speed (approx. 6:30—6:45), but I decided to go mostly off-road in this run to replicate anticipated conditions tomorrow (yikes, when I keep referring to race day I come over all excited!), which is likely to be muddy, and 90% of it is off-road. I’ve therefore committed myself to blowing the time out of the water and am blindly aiming for a time of 1:50 for the race. This should be a tough challenge, but if I pull it off, I’ll be really chuffed with myself.

Why 15.65 miles? Well, the 0.65 could have been anything really, as long as it was more than 15. There are two schools of thought on the subject of distance training. Personally, I’m in the camp that says if you can do the distance in training, it’s just a matter of the time it takes you come race day. You know you can do it, it’s just a case of applying that knowledge to your mentality on the day and trying to better your time, or adjust your time target based on conditions and terrain. The flip-side of the argument of course is that it can be better not to have done the distance yet, so there is a challenge and sense of elation and motivation in going further than you’ve ever gone before. I understand that, but psychologically for me, I like to be prepared and know what to expect as far as distance goes. I’m a pretty competitive sort of guy (with myself as much as with anyone else) and so my motivation in running a race is often to beat previous personal bests, or to beat goals I give myself that are always pretty challenging.

At the end of the training run, I took off my shoes and socks and ran for 3 minutes and 9 seconds on a tarmac and (some) loose gravel path. It felt great and very freeing once again. This time though, my feet didn’t tingle as they had done before. I consider this a good sign that my feet are adjusting to being set free and are perhaps toughening up a bit. I have to keep saying to myself ‘pick your feet up’ and ‘lightly’ and this really helps my form as I go.

I try to stay barefoot round the house as much as I can, or just in socks if the floor is just too cold (we keep having unreasonably cold snaps where our laminate flooring just conducts the cold straight through the house!). I think this is all helping my feet to acclimatise to being unshod and to feeling the ground.

In my next post, I’ll explain my thinking behind having a 6 mile run just two days after my last long run and 4 days before the Belvoir Challenge race, tell you how different my barefoot running experience was when the sun came out and let you know how I got on in this much-hyped race (though I think Mo Farah is going to get a few more column inches about his run tomorrow than I will!)

Keep running smooth and light,


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