my running adventures – barefoot or otherwise

How to prepare for a long run (or not!), the Strava app and a bit of Biblical wisdom

This morning, my, ahem, lie-in morning, I decided to take my new app for a test run. I left at 6:20am and into bliss – a serenely quiet, still and peaceful world I sometimes forget actually exists in the pace of life.

I’ve been using endomondo for a couple of years now, but Strava was recommended to me by a good friend, so I thought I’d give it a whirl. My only issue with it was that for some reason, it refused to speak to me on the entire run. Yes, it was probably user error, but I think there are both upsides and downsides to this happening. Upside: I just ran naturally, and it felt good, testing, without being uncomfortable. Downside: I had to keep looking every now and again on my phone that is encased in an arm wallet on my left upper arm to see how I was doing. A bit of mental maths isn’t too tough when you’re doing a 10 mile run though I guess!

The main difference between endomondo and Strava is the peer and world competitiveness that appears to be a good motivational tool on Strava. I’ll have to see how I get on with the app on future runs before I can give it a proper review. However, it was nice to see that I had achieved a ‘third place’ on one of the ‘segments’ I’d run on my first venture into the world of Strava – and that, an uphill section of my run after I’d already done six miles.

This past week has seen me enter another race, an Easter Monday 10k race at Wollaton Park in Nottingham. This is a local venue for me and is a race I’m hoping will attract a few of my mates to run in too. I haven’t seen the course information yet, but I’ll be hoping to run another sub 40 minute time if at all possible, given how I feel I’ve improved since my last 10k race back in November.

I’ve also got my eye on the Beeston AC Trent 5 mile run, a Wednesday evening event later on in May, a couple of weeks after the Eyam Half Marathon that a friend and I are hoping to run (and enter, once the entry form is on their website).

Getting back to today’s run, I loved the quiet of the Sunday morning, before most people are awake, before any cars are on the roads and even, it seemed, before most of the birds had decided to wake up to the world.

What I didn’t love so much was the loose gravel surface that has been thrown out on to most of the pathways around Attenborough Nature Reserve. This surface not only made for a clumsy landing with each stride, but also made me sound like an entire herd of elephants. I wasn’t impressed. Psychologically, it was doing my nut in, and I was doing my best to ‘beat’ the gravel by running as lightly as I could. I didn’t win.

When I did hit the concrete again, still in the Nature Reserve, but next to the train line and where Attenborough Sailing Club resides, I decided to push the pace a bit and it felt good to have a firmer footing.

It is only now, having been at Trent Vineyard Church this morning, that the above paragraph takes on more meaning. The talk this morning was about putting on the full armour of God to combat evil in this world. The Roman soldiers, that Paul in Ephesians is using as his imagery (feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace), had better footwear than their rivals and this footwear that included large metal spikes to help them grip and turn. Having the right footwear for the terrain seems to me to be key to running at your best.

The speaker also talked about the fact that Roman soldiers, in their training, used heavy wooden swords, heavier than the swords they took into real battle (the sword of the Spirit, that is the word of God). This brought to mind a saying a friend of mine uses when he’s struggling on a run by himself, ‘train hard, race easy.’ While I’m never inclined to do ‘easy’ in training or a race, I appreciate the sentiment and it does make sense. Perhaps this is why I ran so quickly (for me!) over 5 miles the other night on the way home from work – I’d been used to running in my heavier trail running shoes, and so, when I put on my lighter road running shoes, it made a substantial difference. The talk this morning really encouraged me to sharpen my sword, i.e. to read the Bible more.

This brings me on to another point I wanted to make. I didn’t really consider even going for this run this morning until last night when it popped into my head to do this instead of have a lie-in (we’d gone to bed early, 9:15pm), as I felt I’d have had enough sleep by 6:00am.

I’m glad I took that decision, but not so pleased with myself for not thinking more carefully about my route. I wanted to take in Wollaton Park, having been there on Friday with work for an Orienteering festival, but I doubted whether I could get access to the park before 7:00am in the morning on a Sunday! I thus made up my route as I went along, and as I got to about 7 miles, I changed my mind from ending it at a cosy 8 miles and instead extended it to over 10 miles. I was pleased with the run, but it got me thinking about preparation for a run.

I like to be organised and so, my preparation for a run looks something like this:

  1. Check I haven’t eaten anything substantial in the last two, or preferably three hours.
  2. Check my kit is accessible: a running top, shorts, socks, both sets of trainers, arm wallet for mobile, sunglasses if necessary, jelly babies in a bag if I’m planning on a longer run.
  3. Confirm in my head where I’m going.
  4. Decide on what the point of my run is.
  5. Ensure my wife is at least in agreement about how long I’m going out for.

I guess the main point of this run, in hindsight, was to see how the new app worked. However, I’d not really sorted out point 3 and so this was clouding my answer to point 4.

For point 4, this can take on a whole range of different goals – from a slow, long run to boost weekly mileage, to a tempo run, fartleks, hill training, finding new routes, trying different terrain, seeing how different footwear responds to different terrain…the list is endless, but I think the main point I’m trying to make is to know what it is before you set off. I didn’t today, and so I didn’t perhaps focus so much on whatever aspect I was meant to be focusing on! I think that not knowing my goal clouded my ability to stick to any given route too. This is something I’ll be spending more time thinking about in preparation for future runs.

Finally, I wanted to just give an update on my barefoot running experiment. At the end of my 10-miler, I was ready for a breather. I also wanted to do something on endomondo, so I’ve decided that I’ll use Strava for my main runs and endomondo for my barefoot runs, just because.

I ventured away from the safety and general privacy of the local park for my barefooting and instead decided to brave the pavements along a fairly main route back to my home from St John’s College. This turned out to be 0.72 miles, the longest I’ve done yet. I was particularly proud of this run because it wasn’t always smooth underfoot and I also managed to negotiate my first encounter of broken glass in my way without getting cut!

I did the 0.72 miles in 5:50, stretching my distance by 0.19 miles and toughening up my soles quite considerably. I have to say, I do feel quite refreshed after barefooting at the end of a long run and it is something I’m enjoying. Watch this space for more on the barefooting experience! Despite the run taking place on a fairly major road, because of the time of day (7:45am-ish), and the day (Sunday), there was little chance for me to see or hear any funny comments or looks. Indeed, I knew I was running lightly when I took one lady by surprise as I crossed the road from just behind her onto the other side of the road. She seemed visibly startled that a runner could get so close to her and her not realise!

Have a great week!



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