On form

Twice last week I had people comment on my running form. This wasn’t the first time I’ve had comments, but it was notable that it happened twice in two very different situations in the same week.

The first was at our club hill repeats workout where the comment was “I swear you were floating up the hills”. I credit the forefoot strike for this – being used to that on the flat helps with the uphill where it seems the default position for your foot strike is on the forefoot (or perhaps that’s just me, because that’s the way I run).

The second was at the gym – I don’t usually run at the gym (I run to the gym, but not at the gym), but I wanted to get there early before the Bodypump class to talk to someone about membership options for my wife. It turns out they all happened to be in a meeting so I had a spare 15 minutes and decided to head to the treadmill. I chose to concentrate on thinking about my barefoot form (I’ve been adding short barefoot runs to my regular runs lately) so took off my shoes (would have liked to take my socks off too, but I wasn’t sure how well that would go down) and set the treadmill at a leisurely 10 minute mile pace.

After 15 minutes I got off and put my shoes on, and just as I was done a girl came over and told me she happened to be on the treadmill behind me and thought I had amazing form. She told me she had read “Born to Run” (apparently that’s a requirement for the whole barefoot/minimalist running thing, but I still haven’t read it) and was really keen to change her form. I told her about my transition (very slowly, running only in my Vibrams, taking it back a step if necessary), and about how I’ve been running this way for 2.5 years and that I have successfully increased my distances, got faster, and am preparing for my first marathon.

I hope she manages to achieve what she wants. She did say she would probably go with transitional shoes rather than straight to the real minimalist shoe, but as I have no experience of that, and don’t know anyone who transitioned that way, I couldn’t really give her any advice. Does anyone reading this know of any success stories? Is there a key to success?

I do know that a 100% focus on minimalist footwear made it work for me (to the point where I felt very uncomfortable in my old work shoes), so it would be natural for me to suggest that sort of commitment, but I know that’s not necessarily the right thing for everyone. Any thoughts in case I bump into her again?


Perfect timing

I’m not sure there would be too many people who manage to run the same time at the same race in two consecutive years, but that’s more or less what happened to me yesterday.

The Highland Park Run in the Park 5k is the run that launched me into running 3 years ago. I’d never considered being a runner before then and I’m not sure what made me decide to do it, but afterwards I decided to start running for exercise. I was fit from cycling so thought I would just give it a try and a month later I was out buying new running shoes.

My times over the years have improved, at first significantly – after all I hadn’t run at all before that first one where I did 24:29 – the second year, after actually running pretty regularly, I managed to improve to 21:40. Last year was an amazing race for me and it gave me my best 5k time ever of 19:29.1 (the .1 is important here as you’ll see in a minute) – a time that I didn’t quite get close to again for the whole of the year.

Yesterday my official time was 19:28.6 – a personal best by exactly half a second (if you count the tenths – although I think it counts as a 1 second PR).

My theory on why I can run this particular course so fast is that it starts with a more or less completely downhill first mile. It does then head back up, but I don’t seem to lose as much time going up hills as I gain from going down them, so ultimately it works out well for me (I haven’t been that fast on pretty much flat courses which I feel proves my point).

My splits this year were a little different from last year, and I think it maybe shows a difference in my training. I have been mainly focusing on distance, so my speed may have suffered (although only very slightly, if at all) but it seems I can maintain the speed for longer, so even though I wasn’t as fast in that downhill first mile, I was able to make up the time on the rest of the course.


My 2012 splits.

My 2012 splits.


My 2013 splits

My 2013 splits

So, two weekends and two personal records (again – this is exactly what happened last year in the same two races), although I can only count a single second improvement (or half a second if you want to go down to the tenths in the official time).

One annoying thing is that this race had 10 year age groups (it tends to happen at smaller races, whereas the larger races do them in 5 year increments), so, being 39, I was in the 30-39 age group and despite being 6th overall, I was only second in age group, because the 5th place person was 30 years old. Still, I shouldn’t feel bad because the 4 ahead of him were all of ages ranging from 14 to 21.

One thing I will likely post more about soon is that I’ve gone back to running in my Vibram Fivefinger Bikilas – these were my very first minimalist shoe just over 2 and a half years ago, and they’d sort of been pushed to the side when all these other options became available, but in the last month I have found them again, and I love them. My 5k and 10k PRs from the last week and a half were both in these shoes – I like them in the rain because they fit perfectly without socks and I don’t like wet socks. I’m still worried about the possibility they may cause me blisters over longer distances, but I will be testing that out sometime in the next week or so and will report back.

One extra useful thing to note – last year I always made sure I didn’t drink alcohol the day before a race (or even 2 days at times). This year I haven’t bothered with that rule and it doesn’t seem to have made a difference – with a party on Saturday afternoon and one on Saturday night, I didn’t drink excessively, but still had a total of 4 beers over about 5 or 6 hours before going to bed.

An unexpected PR

This weekend was the Newport 10k in Jersey City, NJ. It’s not particularly far from home, but we had other plans in the area for the weekend so decided to check into a hotel for Friday and Saturday night (the race was on Saturday morning).

This was ideal because the start line of the race was literally right outside the front door of the hotel, so no early start to drive up that morning. I wonder if that helped me (I was awake early because I always am, so maybe not as much as I am thinking).

At around 7:30 I wandered down to get my number, bumped into a couple of friends and then took my number back up to the room to get changed (I just threw on jeans and a t-shirt to get the number). A short while later I came back down in time to spot a couple of friends heading out for a warm up. My watch was slow to get the satellites – must have been the tall buildings and extremely cloudy skies, so I didn’t record the first part of the warm up, but it seemed like a faster warm up than I have ever done before, and possibly even the furthest at about 2.5 miles (I wonder if that helped me).

It was around the end of the warm up when it started to rain. There were about 15 minutes to go until the start so I headed back into the hotel to use the facilities one last time (another bonus of staying in a hotel) and then ventured across the street to see the family who were eating breakfast in Cosi (I would have been jealous but I knew there were going to be squagels at the finish so I would be able to get my fix).

As it was getting close to 8:30 the rain was picking up and runners were huddled under trees to keep dry (and as warm as possible) while they towed away a car that had been left on the street in the start area.

I was definitely getting cold from the wet as the start time approached and the slight delay didn’t help, but some jumping up and down on the spot was enough to keep relatively warm.

My approach to this race was not to look at my watch and just do what felt right. There were clocks at each mile, so I would be able to see how well I was progressing. This was probably a good thing, because my GPS seemed to beep for each mile before I reached the clocks (it actually got a total of 6.41 miles by the end – last year by comparison it recorded about 6.3 so there was probably something strange going on).

I was surprised by how quickly I had reached the first mile because I haven’t been as fast in other races this year, and have been working on increasing my distances which has lead me to skip out on any speed work (except one solitary track workout with RVRR). The surprises continued as I hit each subsequent mile – I was sure that at some point I was going to fade, but somehow it just never happened. I was very slightly worried when I felt the pain in my hip (from Monday’s run) with about half a mile to go, but it didn’t seem too bad, and in the end I was able to find a bit of extra speed again for that last mile (the last mile or so is along the Jersey City waterfront overlooking lower Manhattan, so very nice – the Newport Liberty Half Marathon does the same).

These are my Garmin splits:

See what having the GPS show longer than the race distance does to the average pace!

See what happens to the average pace when the Garmin records longer than race distance!

And this is my official timing info:


Last year my clock time was 41:50 and chip time 41:44 (which was my first, and fastest 10k before this – I did 4 in total last year – well 3 really because one got messed up and we only really ran 6.0 miles, and the others were around the 42:50 mark).

After the race I grabbed some food, joined the family to cheer more people in, then quickly showered at the hotel before coming back out to hang out with RVRR friends. There was free beer, and random prizes – I won a $25 gift certificate to a restaurant right across the street from the hotel which came in handy that night (although it would have been better if we hadn’t also chosen that place to eat the night before).

It was during the prize drawing that I spotted someone in an Essex Running Club jacket that looked like fellow blogger Paige from On the lam(b) as she picked up a prize.

I approached her as everyone was leaving and she took this picture (yes, I stole it, because I didn’t take one myself); this picture is included in her race report.

Paige, I stole your picture.

Paige, I stole your picture.

A pleasant way to end a great morning. Maybe see you at the next USATF team race, or perhaps on an Essex Running Club Run (I may end up trying to sort out bringing some of our club members to join you for a run – if that’s ok with the club – just got to find a time I can do it, so it may not be for a while).

Serious trails (serious enough for me anyway)

This past Monday I took the day off work to head out on another “run in a new place” runs. I have friends who have raved about Round Valley Reservoir so that’s where I decided to go.

For some reason I chose to ignore the warning from the website: “The Cushetunk trail surface is rugged, rocky and steep in places which makes it more suitable for experienced hikers, mountain bikers, and horseback riders.” I still thought I could run the full length of the trail (9.1 miles and then another 9.1 miles to get back because there is no trail that loops the reservoir so the only way back is the way you came).

The morning was overcast, but warm so I made sure I had what I thought was plenty of water; a last minute shoe decision meant I put on my old, pretty worn out, Merrell Trail Gloves (not my new Trail Glove 2s). I made this decision on the basis that these were my most comfortable shoes and I didn’t stop to think about that warning I mentioned above otherwise I would have probably chosen my Vivobarefoot Neo Trail shoes.

I parked in the South Lot as instructed by the website (for access to the trails) and this is the view from the parking lot:


and this:


The trail started off pretty pleasantly, but I think if you look in the distance you can see where this is going:


A short while in I came across what seemed to be a rather steep descent with a quite a loose gravelly surface and this is where I first questioned my choice of shoe – in places these shoes are worn pretty smooth and so I slipped a little every now and then on the way down:


Soon after that the trail got rougher with some quite large stones, and some rocks jutting out of the ground and that was the second time I questioned my shoe choice:


It didn’t help me at all when I got to a steep incline also fairly rocky and I started to realize how much work this was going to be:


The hills got steep enough that I was reduced to walking up them in places which is something I wasn’t expecting, but there were some very pleasant stretches where I could run at what was a reasonable pace and enjoy my surroundings too.


After about 4 miles I started to feel that something wasn’t quite right with my hip – perhaps this was caused by having to avoid rocks all the time, perhaps it was caused by the climbs, but either way I decided it would be a good idea for me to turn around earlier than I had planned (I was also painfully aware of how much climbing I had to do on the way back).

Soon after the marked trail crossed an unpaved access road and I continued up another hill on the other side and then along and back down where I came back to the access road (at least I was pretty sure it had to be the same one) so I decided to head back down that road to where I had previously crossed it and then follow the trail back to the car. At this point I was about 5.5 miles into my run and I had already been going for just over an hour (I don’t think I’ve ever covered so little distance in that time in any prior run).

I soon came across the trail again and headed back. On the rest of the run I tried to keep running as much as possible but with the steep hills and my hip starting to yell at me on those hills there were times when it was difficult to keep going.

As I got closer to the end the sun was breaking through so the views were a little clearer.

This is one hill I didn't let beat me - I kept running the whole way.

This is one hill I didn’t let beat me – I kept running the whole way.

photo_6 photo_7

By the time I got back I had run just over 11 miles in just over 2 hours and 8 minutes – slow! (Garmin import), but this is the elevation chart so maybe I shouldn’t feel too bad about that:


A tough run, but I can honestly say I did enjoy it (despite my hip). Can I say I would run there again? That I’m not so sure about, but I think that’s mainly because I don’t want to cause myself any injury. I should probably try it again sometime, but in different shoes.