Thursday, August 29, 2013

Runner or jogger?

Runner or jogger?

I have seen a lot written about whether you are a runner or a jogger?
A simple question that you could be forgiven for thinking what's the
difference or more likely who cares? But people do. I'd say runners
care, for some reason not wanting to be called a jogger.

Jogging isn't running would be the rationale. Jogging is jogging and
running is running? But what's the difference? A lot of it seems to be
about pace and ability. Runners nailing sub-7minute miles and jogger's
going at a steady 8:30.

I think that's off the mark and the difference, if there is one, is
about attitude. I know a lot of runners and not many that jog. That's
not to say that the pace is different but the attitude is. The runners
I know talk about almost nothing else. In the same way that a
Yorkshireman will let you know he's from Yorkshire within 5 minutes so
a runner will bring the conversation to running in a similar, maybe
quicker, timeframe.

Runners know their PB's because they worked towards them and are, most
likely, focused on breaking them. Kit, races done and coming up,
training distances (talked about as volume) and injuries. Endless
stories of injuries, knees, calf-strains, hamstrings, lower back,
Achilles, etc etc ad nauseum.

A jogger may be someone that "...gets round..." - has no drive beyond
the goal in front of them and is happy to just get around the course,
whether it be 5km, 10km, marathon or ironman. The developments in
training, affordability of kit and increased knowledge of sport means
that someone with minimal training can complete a course. A runner
would not be happy with just completing unless an injury during the
race itself meant that was all that they could achieve.

This state of mind extends further, runners, in my experience, rarely
think of much else. Planning routes, planning the next run. How early
will I need to get up to run or how late will I need to stay up to
run. How far and at what tempo should I run. How much time do I have
and that its never enough.

I'm a runner and for me it's about more than just running. It keeps me
sane. I am like a stroppy toddler if I don't run for a few days, I'm
really not happy. It gives me thinking time, headroom, balance. I'm
not necessarily a good runner but in my mind I am a runner - I have
that state of mind.

I have nothing against jogger's, in many ways what they do is harder.
Punishing yourself with something that you are not necessarily
passionate about takes a different mindset. That comes with no
pressure too though, so who cares if a 10km takes more than hour? A
marathon completed in more than 5hrs is still a marathon completed,
and you could argue that it's harder to do it in 5+ rather than 3'ish.

The more I run the more I want to run. It's starting to feel like the
reason I am me is because I run.

Sent from my iPad

Park Run #27 - A new PB

Thanks to the lovely people at Park Run for updating the #27 results.
My 15th place is restored.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Time to Fly

I have started hearing more and more about a brand of shoes called Hoka One One. Listen to any ultramarathon podcast and there's talk of these shoes and that more and more people seem to be running in them. Particularly over ultra distances. What makes these shoes stand out is that they, seemingly, contradict all the current thinking for minimalist footwear as they have oversized cushioned soles. This is slightly deceptive though as despite a large outer sole they still only have a 4mm drop. It's like running in a platform shoe.

What really made me take note was listening the Rich Roll podcast about how he had crewed for Dean Karnazes at this years Badwater ultramarathon and that he, Dean, was wearing Hoka's. with Dean being the poster boy for ultra marathons this got my attention.

A quick look online reveals that they are expensive upwards of £125-150 a pair. Further research reveals that they have bearing for about a decade and are the creation of an ex-Salomon employee and an ultra runner. Good stock in my opinion.

Over the summer I was in Chamonix and in one of the many sports shops selling hiking and trail running gear saw a pair of Hoka's on the shelf. My first experience of seeing them in the flesh. They were massive but did not weigh anything like I was expecting when I picked them up. I stopped short of trying them on as new that would be fatal but my interest and appetite were whetted.

Returning home I continued sporadic research into the shoes and then tweeted "...someone tell me about @hokaoneone..." A response from a friend in London pointed me to a contact in Churchdown that has a pair, he offered to loan them to me so I could try before I buy. Amazing - how cool is twitter and the running community!

A quick drive to his house and I had a pair in my hands. Big foam filled and light.

That night I did try them on and actually wore them to walk the dog. The first thing I noticed was the rocker, you really can rock from front to back just stood. It feels pronounced as is so different from every other running shoe I have worn. They are also incredibly comfortable, incredibly soft on the outer sole but not clumsy. Although they are big and soft they do not feel like clown shoes.

I ran in them the following morning, 5.25 mile route that is pretty flat and mainly on asphalt although does include some field and trail type path too. 

The first 1/3 mile was difficult. I am a forefoot striker and struggled to get the feel of the shoes with that pattern. Once that settled the felt great. They were a bit heavier than a normal shoe but you quickly adapt to that. 

One stretch of the route is a length of road, Grovefield Road, that is slightly down hill, sweeps round to the right with then a slight incline. I absolutely flew around that bend, really motoring (as a Strava PB on that segment testifies) and my feet and legs felt great. It's not steep but I would say that I was really letting go with my running style whereas normally I run within myself particularly downhills. I rarely, if ever, extend my stride so that I am gliding or flying. I did I these shoes though and it was largely unconscious - it happened because it could. 

When I finished the route I looked at my garmin and the time was 37:45. That route normally takes me around 40minutes with a pack (as i had on that morning). 

So was it the new shoes?

It has to be to a certain extent. The first point is that they feel fast, they perform like a racing shoe. Despite the cushioning they're not spongy and don't roll. Responsive and fast. The rocket probably helps with foot turnover even as a forefoot striker, you can feel that although I should stress its not unnatural. The outer sole enables you to cruise over any terrain without losing that feel that you need to be sure footed.

There was one final test that I wanted to do before begrudgingly returning the to their owner. The Cheltenham Park Run. I did it a few weeks ago in my Brooks Pure Project shoes in 19:40, a decent time in minimalist shoe with minimal drop. 

So Saturday morning I rocked up to the 27th edition of the Cheltenham park run wearing the Hoka's but forgetting my barcode. That meant any time was not going to be attributed to me on the website. 

Setting off quicker that the last time the pace was high with some very fast runners in attendance. On a flat course with a mixture of grass, dry and wet Tarmac the shoes felt excellent on all but the wet Tarmac where they noticeably slipped a little. This was consistent and a little disconcerting but ultimately not a problem. 

I finished the course in 19:26 and 15th place. A PB by some 14 seconds. 

Was it the shoes? Not solely but the important thing is that they didn't slow me down. I went fast in them than in a minimal shoe that is known to be fast.

I am very impressed by these shoes and will be looking to get a pair when my road shoes I am in currently need replacing. As I look forwards starting my ultra training in November this year ahead of the Born to Run ultra in Wales this will put my feet in safe hands.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Rate your run - Summer 2013 - The Alps

This summer we went to the Alps on holiday, we stayed in Abondance in the French alps near the border with Switzerland. When we planned the trip i did toy with taking my bike as this would be an opportunity to cycle the Alps however as my running was picking up i decided against it as thought it would be better, for me, to run. Part of this thinking was that bang-for-buck running gives more. You need to cycle a long time to get the same benefits/rewards from a fitness perspective and basically i am just more of a runner.

I managed four runs while we were in the Alps. The first i just ran on the road up the valley turned around and ran back. The hill was long and i could have continued for another 3-4 miles uphill easily before running out of hill. It was easier than i was expecting because while long the gradient was not too harsh. My mph/kph was slow but consisten and it felt good. The run ended up being 7.5miles at 8.20/mi pace.

The reward was the view across the valley as the sun came over the mountains. Dawn had broken but being in the valley the sun was not yet high enough to drench it in sunlight and warmth. I did pack my arm warmers at the last minute and was glad as i definitely needed them at the start of the run. It was stunning being on a quiet alpine road watching the sun creep across the valley floor.

My second run i decided to run to the top; the top of the road, top of the Alp and the France/Swiss border. This was a tough run; it took me just over an hour to run to the top. A long steady climb through La Chappelle and La Chatel. Past the many sports shops packed with Salomon goodies, past the bakeries and patisseries whose early morning aroma's wafted into the streets making it very difficult not to stop. Thankfully i was not carrying any Euro's otherwise i may have just stopped somewhere in a pastry haze.

As the top got closer there was a distinct absence of buildings and the switch backs started. This was excellent running, it was starting to feel difficult but the top was almost visible. Reaching the top, the view was, like so many we saw on this holiday, just breath-taking. The sun just peeking over the top of the mountains, rays of light cutting through the dewy morning in the valley. Bright blue skies overhead and so many pine trees standing to attention.

Turnaround at the top and then a run down. This was really difficult. My quads were feeling bad and i really struggled to get any sort of flow on the downhill. That much downhill on asphalt was not ideal.

I was marginally faster coming down but there was only about 5 minutes in it which for the effort involved in getting to the top was not what i was expecting. This got me thinking about the difference in running hills compared to flat. I listen to a lot of podcasts that talk about the elevation gain and loss on long runs in terms of thousands of feet. Back home the hills top out at just under 1,000ft which is nothing. I realised that on holiday. It also means that you need to factor that into your thinking. A mile on the flat in 6-7 minutes is great, make that mile cover 500-700ft and time is irrelevant. It's also evident that there is a definite skill to running downhill.

My third run was the most normal run. Pushed for time and wanting something a bit easier i ran the 2.5 miles down to the nearest village along a tow-path then turned around and ran back on the road. A flat course that was, actually, on completion a little disappointing, when i got back i felt like an opportunity had passed. I should have run up hill somewhere.

The final run was the best and actually proved beyond doubt the skill and technique involved in running hills and trails and how little time matters. I drove to La Chatel and then from behind the cable car station picked up a trail towards the top. My plan was to run to the top of the Alp on the trails and then come straight back down. We had done this the day before going up in the cable car and chair lift and then walking down.

The trails heading up were a mix of paths and single track. The early part was pretty technical crossing a dry river bed and the negotiating lots of tree roots on the single track. As i broke through onto the trail (which was a wide dirt path with gravel and stones) there was a chap just ahead of me. He slowed and we said hello and then ran together. He was a french man also on holiday and was only running part of the way up. We ran together having a pigeon conversation (his English was excellent whereas my French is merd). We parted and i continued. The first point of note being Super-Chatel where the cable car stops. From there it's a chair lift to the top or in my case some steep trails.

There were a number of trails in all directions including ont that took you into Switzerland and pointed out that you needed a passport to continue. Tempting as this was i wanted to get to the top. The path under the chair lift looked really steep but was the only way up. As i got closer i realised that it was initially steep but becoming a series of switch backs.

I arrived at the top. I was the only person there. The cable-car and chair lifts were not operating as yet and so there was no-one. Not even the employees who operate the lifts were around. Looking around the view (there it is again) was probably the best ever. Snow capped mountains in one direction, sun-drenched Alps in the other and, of course, the valley. I have had experiences like this before, notably when cycling in Majorca where i have felt that i could understand why people would believe in a god. When you are faced with something so serene and peaceful and you are there alone it really does feel quite spiritual.

What goes up must come down and so i started to make my descent, coming down the way i went up. I then spotted some different trails down and came down through a wooded section. I started to see runners and hikers making their way up. All carrying and using ski-poles which made me envious as i love kit and the Salomon pack that i was using for the first time (having bought it in La Chatel the day before) had holders for poles.

Arriving in La Chatel the plan was that i would stop at one of the bakeries and buy breakfast before heading back to the apartment. A selection of crossaints and pastries including a stunning vanilla custard tart were bought - probably the best breakfast on holiday!


There was time for one more run on holiday when we were in Paris on the return journey. Having been out for the day we went back to the hotel to have some down-time and relax before going out in the evening for dinner. I'm not very good at doing nothing so grabbed my kit and headed out for an hour. We were staying in Montparnasse, a business district to the (i think) south of the city. I looked at a map and decided to get onto the river bank, run to the Eiffel Tower and then back. What i forgot was that i have a lousy sense of direction and while the road names on the map made sense once i was out they may as well have been in Greek. Not to worry i though - if i keep going in one direction i will eventually end up somewhere scenic. Not So!

I ran for just over 30 minutes in one direction and never saw a thing. Lots of bars, shops and people but nothing recognisable. It was, frankly, like running through Birmingham. I would have thought it was impossible to run for an hour in Paris and not see anything yet that is exactly what i managed to do.