Wednesday, July 29, 2020

fast enough to clear the forest, slow enough to see the trees

How you enjoy your running is such a personal thing but what does it mean? It’s even harder to explain or define than why you run as you can at least attribute something tangible to that question, “so I can eat cake” or “to keep me sane”.

I have had it levelled at me that I wasn’t enjoying my running even if I thought I was and that I need to get back to that. Like I was doing it wrong somehow, how could I enjoy my running if I was pushing hard all the time. How could I possibly enjoy running hard or long or both? What do I know!?

I heard a quote some time ago, I think it was attributed to someone from the bike manufacturer Cervelo, it was, “fast enough to clear the forest, slow enough to see the trees”. That really resonated with me at the time and continues to do so, I take that into my running every time wherever I am. That could be the streets around where I live, the hills in the area or a trail or a different and new city or town. Being fit and able enough to cover a distance that will see me able to take in sights and sounds and seeing things that many won’t. Particularly early mornings when I tend to go out, you see a very different city or trail first thing in the morning.

I have a couple of memories that really stand out for me and my running. Moments where had I not been a runner I would never have experienced them and are totally why I love running and what it gives me.  

Majorca 2008
We were on a family holiday staying in Son Cutcut, nearby was a hill at the top of which is the Santuari de Nostra Senyora de Cura, a monastery that has since been converted to a hotel and restaurant. The views across Majorca from the top are stunning. It is a beautiful spot. I had run up there early one morning, no traffic on the roads and when I got there no-one was around. Maybe a caretaker or gardener watering plants. Certainly there were no tourists. Looking out across the land as the morning mist evaporated under the rising sun was a beautiful moment. Whilst I am not a religious person, looking out I found myself thinking that I could see why people did believe in something other than what we know. It was just too perfect to have been an accident of geology. I haven’t changed my views but I can see why people hold them.

The Alps 2013
Staying in Abondance in France, a village towards the foot of Morzine, one morning, again an early start, I ran to the top. Initially on road then on trails and footpaths emerging at the top after seven-or-so miles of uphill running (OK running and walking!). As I made my way up the mountain I was looking across the valley and watching the sun peek through the gaps in the peaks casting long shadows across the valley. At the top the views across the valley were unquestionably and unsurprisingly stunning. The words do not do it justice. But what made it all the more remarkable was there was no-one else around. I was stood at the top of an Alp totally on my own. I am certain there would have been other people in the area but where I was stood and as I looked around there was no-one. Moments like this are why I run. To have that and be able to experience in that way is just such a privilege.  

Paris 2015
I had a similar experience a couple of years later on another family holiday. On our way back from the Dordogne we stopped in Paris for a few days. I had snuck out of the hotel leaving the family sleeping and gone for an early morning run. I made my way towards the Champs Elysee going through the Louvre on the way. As I got to the Louvre I found myself in the area where the raised glass pyramids are that you can look through and see down the underground entrance level. There was not another person there at all. I had it to myself. A place normally swarming with bustle and tourism and I was the only person there. It was eerily quiet, the sun was still low in the sky with the shadows long across the concourse. It was remarkable to be in a city and there not be anyone else around. I have had similar experiences to this in London on early Sunday morning runs.

Those are three moments that I can recall off the top of my head and whilst they are abroad and in new and exciting places they are still runs and let me tell you I really enjoyed them. I have had experiences within half a mile from my front door that have been rewarding in totally different ways. Coming down a hill very local to me a herd of cows galloped down behind me, past me and beyond. Not one of them coming closer than a couple meters to me. They just wanted to play. Seeing deer through the woods and making eye contact briefly until they disappear silently. 

I’ve seen a family of wild boar on the trails in the Forest of Dean, not something you see very often and not as scary as I was expecting having always been told that they are incredibly aggressive.

It doesn’t always have to be an external stimulus to make it enjoyable either. Those moments when you get to or close to a flow state are sublime. No sooner have you started that you’re done and feel great without really much specific memory of the middle bit. Being totally immersed in the physical sensation of running so much so that everything else just fades to a background. The canvas on which you painted your run.  

As I think more about what constitutes enjoyment I realise that it’s completely personal and doesn’t actually need any explanation. Often it will be beyond explanation. It’s a feeling, something deeply personal. I don’t think it matters whether you are a 30minute 5km runner or a quicker than 15min 5km runner there is something that gets you out there doing it, it might be easier to describe it as the why I run but if you don’t enjoy it you’re just not going to do it. 

How you enjoy it is entirely up to you and anyone telling you otherwise is totally missing the point. It’s often said that when someone says something about you it is actually what they think of themselves and I’d suggest this is one of those moments.

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

The Game Changers - a response to the responses..

I have been thinking a lot about the response to the The Game Changers documentary that was released in the last month or two. The response I have seen, as part of the vegan community, is that this is nothing new. It’s almost an I told you so sort of response. The benefits that the hero of the film describes and experiences being what many vegans have experienced and continue to do so. I include myself in that. Anecdotal it may be but that doesn’t make it wrong and let me tell you that to me it those benefits are incredibly real.

The other response has been to debunk the claims in the film. The tipping point for me was the Joe Rogan podcast (episode #1389) where Chris Kesser spent the best part of 3hrs debunking the claims in the film. I started to listen as I thought I was interested in the counter point. I managed about 20 minutes and then thought why am I listening to this? It’s not going to change my mind and if anything I will just get frustrated by what I am hearing.

You come to a realisation that it’s just a different view point and worse it’s just people arguing a point of view. The objectors to The Game Changers site the lack of scientific evidence or the selective choice of scientific evidence to support the claims that a plant based diet would be better for all. The naysayers seek to debunk the science. 

I am no expert but I am pretty sure you can find a scientific report or reference to justify more or less any stance you want to take (with the exception that the earth is most definitely not flat!). The Game Changers, much like Cowspiracy and What the Health before it, offer a perspective that there is another way. The reality is that many or maybe most people do not realise that.

The other facts are that, particularly in the USA, but the Western world has epidemic levels of heart disease, type 2 diabetes and other conditions labelled as lifestyle conditions. Obesity rates continue to rise and with it health has maybe never been worse.

Whatever we have been doing to date is clearly not working for an increasing number of people.

Considering this further you realise that there are no pro-meat or pro-dairy documentaries. There are millions of pounds of advertising and vast amounts of marketing telling us that milk, meat and eggs are good for us. That we should consume for protein and strong bones and teeth. 
  • that what our pizza really needs is more cheese in the crust 
  • that what we need in our burgers are extra patties and bacon oh and more cheese
  • that milk has calcium that makes our bones strong
  • that eggs are full of vitamins. 
It goes on and on. You then realise that this marketing has existed forever. Or certainly in my lifetime. If you are of a certain age you grew up in a world where consumption of this type was totally normal without there really being a viable alternative.

Where’s the film that describes how a vegan, we’ll call him Jack, who weighs in at barely 9 stone, has a pallid complexion and no energy. He has tried to sustain himself on plants but it’s just not working. He is vitamin deficient, his skin is dry and his hair brittle. Then someone in a white coat looks at his diet and suggests that he starts eating steak and eggs and maybe drinking cow’s milk. Over the coming weeks and months his body builds, his energy and vitality returns and the once barely 10 stone Jack is now a heroic 12 stone of muscle and confidence.

That film does not exist. That film will never be made.

That for me is the crux of the argument. Debunkers want to have their say as they want to protect their way of life and a film like The Game Changers questions that. It shines a light on behaviour that has always been that way. As a culture we grew up on meat and two veg. That was then and this is now. Where are the videos of celebrities and athletes that continue to eat meat telling us that? There aren’t any. Maybe they don’t need to as they consider that normal, it was and has been so for many years, you could argue that it’s been that way almost forever. The Game Changers represents a challenge and shift to that normal.

There is a lot of emotion bound up with food. We use food to celebrate and commemorate. We share our tables with friends and family and commune around food. A small subtle change to that makes everyone question their behaviour whether they want to or not. Then the response is an emotional one, people that continue to eat meat feel they need to justify themselves. That’s what I see the debunking as. An emotional response to something external that actually doesn’t warrant it.

It’s nothing more than choice. If you eat a traditional diet and watch that film and it makes you maybe change your behaviour a little then great. If it doesn’t have any affect on you then move on. The point of view offered by meat eaters is just a different point of view. Their normal is being challenged and they don’t like it.

Normal is being redefined. There really isn’t anything normal anymore.

Thursday, November 21, 2019

Nike running shoes (no not the 'next %')

If you had told me 5 years ago that I would one day be running in Nike shoes for not just road but road and trail I would have frankly laughed at you. I had one experience with Nike running shoes some years ago and it was frankly terrible. That was, truthfully probably more than 10 years ago but it has only been the last year that I have tried them again and that they have become my go to shoe.

It started with a Black Friday deal in November 2018 where I bought a pair of the Nike Epic React Flyknit road shoes. I bought them as they were advertised as being super-cushioned and I like soft running shoes. I assumed that they were the Nike version of the Adidas Ultraboost which I had been wearing for a couple of years and was not too far wrong. Whilst they are similar in terms of cushioning they are very different shoes. They are my go-to road shoe, I love the styling, the fit and comfort. They are also pretty responsive and feel and perform fast when they need to.

Nike Epic React Flyknit
Things I like;
  • Styling; I always associated Nike with street wear rather than technical specification and while these shoes have both they really do have great styling. The first ones I had were the PRS ones designed for the Paris Marathon, then some light coloured ones for summer and now some grey black ones with the weather changing.. the style is a personal thing but you can go as basic or as funky as you like with these off the shelf and that’s without NikeID where you can personalise them. For me the black sole unit looks awesome and I like that the outer sole is in pieces rather than covering the whle underside of the shoe adding weight. There is heavier sole protection around the forefoot and the heel.
  • Comfort; I wear a size 9 running shoe and these are no exception. I find the fit really excellent but I do have narrow feet. If you had wide feet you might want to try a pair in a store rather than buying online as not sure how that would work out. The lacing system is perfectly fine and doesn’t add any pressure to the foot at all. The upper is knitted and really sleek with no seams or edges to catch your toes on. It’s the sole, though, which is really the clincher. Its soft enough that I can run in them every day without that residual fatigue that you get and that I have had from other shoes.
  • Durability; I am all about shoe-durability! I want value for money so I am looking to get the top end of the recommended 500miles shoe life. In the two pairs I have retired I have got to closer to 550 miles in each of them with at that sort of wear my left knee, it’s always the left, starting to feel it. Of course durability is good but vfm is determined by what you paid for them
  • Cost; when these shoes came out they were advertised for £129.99 – pretty steep but commensurate with a lot of running shoes these days. As much as I wanted to try them I wasn’t going to spend that money on a trial when I was a little unsure. Black Friday it was where I paid around £70 for a pair. My thinking being that even if I didn’t like the I hadn’t wasted too much money. Out of the box I knew they were awesome and wasn’t disappointed. I mentioned above that I am now onto my third pair and have not paid more than £70 any of them. They end to have them at Nike Outlet stores and provided you can fnd a colourway you like the shoe is the same. That’s value!
  • Downsides? I don’t really think there are any downsides. At full price they are quite expensive and some may be put off by that but then look around and you will pay closer to half the book price.
  • Verdict; this is a 9/10 shoe! For me it ticks all the boxes I care about, comfort, style, durability and price.

When I found myself shopping for some new trail shoes I looked at what I had and why I was looking for new. I have some Adidas Terrex that are a couple of years old (low mileage) and whilst a good, sturdy shoe it feels exactly like that. More a shoe than a trainer. I keep them but will use them for dog walks up the hill rather than any actual running. I also have some Salomon maxi-cushion shoes, I forget the model. They were awesome but I find that on long runs they rub my feet a little. Never in training, only in racing. Thinking at how much I liked the Nike road shoes I looked at the trail offerings and saw that the Wild Horses were getting a fair bit of attention and good reviews. Based on that and added that I liked the styling I thought why not?

Nike Wildhorse 5’s
Out of the box there were two things that struck me;
  1. The styling and colourway
  2. The size of the toe-box
I did think that I may have picked the wrong colour as they are predominantly white and they are a trail shoe. They look good though and rule 1 is that you have to look good isn’t it? I liked the toe box without trying them on because I was a little concerned that maybe they had put some aggressive tread on the road shoe and seen how it goes. That was patently not the case.

I have worn these shoes on a number of trail runs now with a mix of terrain and they are really a great. They shoe comfort is excellent, the farthest I have run is a little over 20 miles in a race and there were zero issues, no rubbing, no hot spots and no blisters. The shoe is probably not as grippy as others out there the tread being reasonable rather than aggressive. I have used them on lots of terrain types from wet leaves and mud through gravel and sandy trail and they can handle all of that without issue.

In terms of my criteria;

Styling; awesome! Bold and brash – better than a lot of their competitors. With so much kit being just black and red why not a pair that are white? Love them and they look even better now they are a bit dirty.
Comfort; excellent, soft foam upper, good solid rubber outsole and knitted shoe. Protection on the, very wide, toe-box for stones and other debris.
Durability; I get good vfm from trail shoes as most of my running is on road. With more events planned for 2020 I think I will probably be giving these a sterner test than I have many of my other trail shoes.
Cost; the retail price for these is around £105 but I have seen them for £88. You could argue this is cheaper than the current market for similar shoes. I bought mine from for £105 a few months ago.
Downside; I guess the colour could be considered a down side but ‘m not sure that’s enough. Much like the Epic React Flyknit I cannot see a negative. I am like this though, if I like something I don’t really see the negatives and these are no different.
Verdict; so far so good. I have run around 70-80 miles in these. They are grippy, tough, I like the toe box and I love the styling. Quality shoe.

I have said it before but when I review products I am generally really happy with them. If I am interested in something new then I will research it and get a physical look at the product before buying. By the time it arrives I am a little bored of it already as I know a lot (everything) about it. This applies for everything and anything whether it be running socks or a race vest. That said my experiences are not false and that I really like these products and have invested more than once in them speaks volumes.

The Epic React Flyknit is my go-to road shoe. I use it as a workhorse for most of my road running. This can be anything from 2.5 miles through to 20 and beyond. The shoe is just comfortable and on the occasion where I demand more performance it can respond and give me what I want. That’s not to say that there may be better shoes that are more specific, a racing flat or a workhorse for commutes, but for a workaday shoe that you can race in or put down some speed this is that shoe.

I set my half marathon PB some 10 years ago, at Tewkesbury, with 1:27:15. Earlier this year I ran the Cheltenham half marathon finishing in 1:27:48 (this was for the course I actually did 1:27:01 for the half marathon distance) the point being that I am 10 years older and whilst I am generally in better shape and better trained I am still 10 years older and still ran a similar time. Oh and I was wearing a pair of Epic React Flyknits.