Category Archives: Running

Minimalist Running: I’m Flying!

Things are going really well in my continued adventures with minimalist / natural running. To begin with, the Inov8 F-Lite 230 shoes are amazing. Absurdly comfortable and light. Well worth the money and I keep eyeing up other shoes in their range!

The transition has gone excellently. I am now comfortably performing my usual outdoor 5k training runs. To begin with, my goal was “Get round the route with no injury; it isn’t about speed”. I realised at the end that I physically had a lot left in the tank, and had set an average time! Not bad for an effective ‘sighting lap’. It was also very obvious that any knee pain was absent. Knee soreness had become a feature of my running in ‘traditional’ running shoes, and was part of my decision to transition.

As my confidence has grown, I’ve started to increase the speed. This has taken a bit of adjustment, as before I would increase my speed by drastically increasing my stride length. Now, I am increasing my cadence instead, keeping my feet below my hips. It has felt a little strange, particularly when my GPS reports that I am hitting quick speeds but it feels like I am just gliding along!

To help with pacing, I performed the Cooper Test on a treadmill. This particular test forms part of my referee promotion in the coming season. I set it for a steady 13.5 km/h, which would equate to a 2700m distance. That’s typically what I was hitting in my old running shoes. I comfortably hit that in the new shoes, including upping the speed at the end to bring it home! Most notable to me was that afterwards, again, I had loads of energy left and no soreness. Wow!

Today I decided to run a 5k but for a good time. I had a strong pace throughout, and the end result was that I beat my PB (set last year) by 25 seconds! And, you guessed it, I had energy left at the end to up the speed for a continued duration. In the old shoes, and with my old style, my legs would have been too sore to do that.

I am really, really happy with how this is working out so far. I have increased my performance and reduced my injury level. Lots more fun to be had here! I am sure that the CrossFit and weight loss have aided this whole process, and long may it continue.

Natural Running: Too Much Too Soon?

I recently took my first steps in natural running. About 5k on a treadmill, to be precise, in order to get a feel for the mid-foot/toe motion as opposed to my usual (very) heavy heel-strike technique. It felt great and so much lighter.

However, the very nature of this style is that the calf muscles and Achilles tendons are having to do more work. They are partly protected in a traditional running shoe as the shoe is taking over! Despite only doing 5k at a gentle pace, I suffered from some bad calf soreness over the weekend which ruled out any further running. Thankfully, it is pretty much back to normal today.

By contrast, my Achilles is just fine and I’m not surprised by this: When I first started football refereeing, I had major problems in that area, even though running was not new to me. Why? Changes of direction and speed. It’s one thing to go out for a jog where your tempo rarely changes. When refereeing, your speed and direction is constantly changing, and my Achilles did not know what hit them! It took a while to settle down, although I did not help particularly by refusing to rest properly. The end result: Strong Achilles.

I need to be more careful with the transition. Today, I intend to do a simple 5k on the treadmill (The weather outside is awful!), but most of it will be in my usual running shoes, with a bit of natural running in the my new Inov8 shoes at the end. A safe mixture. After all, I didn’t get any pain during the previous run: The DOMS came afterwards!

My calf muscles are getting more of a load in other ways too: I’m working on learning jump-rope for conditioning (via CrossFit) and being light on your toes for that necessitates calf-loading!

Natural Running: My First Steps

It’s fair to say that I do a reasonable amount of running. This breaks down into a mixture of football refereeing, so-called ‘normal’ running and sprint / interval training.

Some of this is pretty intensive. In football refereeing, the movements involved include: Walking, jogging, sprinting, running backwards, stepping sideways and combining them all together. This means that the body is under a lot of acceleration and deceleration load. Over recent times, I’ve experienced some knee pain which has been linked to these loads, with normal running not causing a problem. What’s going on?

Firstly, I did put on about 10 kilograms over the course of last season. This would not help at all! Thankfully, I am working on that, with over a stone of weight now lost as part of a strong healthy eating and exercise change of regime. I’m combining that with circuit training, in the form of CrossFit in order to build an overall stronger and more flexible body. My flexibility in particular is REALLY bad and this is always a big risk factor for sporting injury.

Secondly, how’s my equipment? As mentioned above, I’m okay with normal running, and have some excellent Saucony ‘Stability’ running shoes which have served me really well. No blisters and no pain. This is over a variety of ground from tarmac to grassland. I’ve experimented with various football boots to try and replicate this on the field, and my primary pair at the moment are the Asics Lethal Tigreor 3 ST boots. They have a raised heel which is said to help prevent load, injury and so on.

Am I missing a trick?

For CrossFit it is important to have neutral shoes when working with weights. I got a pair of Inov8 F-Lite 230 shoes, which look, well, exactly like this:

I LOVE THESE SHOES. They are incredibly lightweight, comfortable and breathable. Within moments, I was realising just how clunky and heavy my running shoes were.

Now, these notably don’t have a raised heel. This promotes ‘natural’ running. There’s a lot of material around of this, but ultimately it removes the heavy heel-strike action which is common with running shoes. Here’s a good video to detail it a bit more:

Now, I’m happy to go with neutral shoes rather than barefoot! I started out with a gentle 5k run on a treadmill. I deliberately started by heel-striking for comparison. As usual, there was a constant “THUD! THUD! THUD!” on the treadmill. I then shifted into a natural style, with my weight forward and landing on the ball of my foot. Instantly, the impact was MUCH reduced and, well, it felt more natural. I gently increased the speed throughout the workout, being sure to increase my cadence rather than thrusting my legs further out in front of me.

My calf muscles are still recovering (Nothing serious, just the expected levels of soreness). I am using muscles that I have not used when running before, due to the running shoes compensating. I am looking forward to developing this slowly over time: A controlled transition period is key or serious injury could occur.

How will this translate to football refereeing? Well, classic football boots are relatively neutral. Take the Adidas Copa Mundial, for example:

The heel is not particularly raised. These aren’t as flexible as my Inov8 trainers (not surprising: the boots need to hold the cleats in place) but I feel that the natural running principles are still sound. Weight forward, no heel striking, keep those feet landing under the body! Was just trying to raise my heel in different shoes and boots a crutch to avoid fixing my incorrect form?

It’s always exciting when taking the first step on a new journey, so it will be interested to see how this one goes!

Getting Intensive on the Treadmill

I love High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT). Well, I love it when I’m not in the process of actually doing it! It is a fantastic way of improving sports performance in short periods of time.

I tried out a new protocol today, cribbed from ‘Referee Specific Training’, a presentation by Bryn Markham-Jones. You can find it on pages 17 and 18.

Here is my own summary, and I have put the timings differently to make it easier to follow when actually doing it.

WARNING: HIIT is, by definition, INTENSIVE! Be absolutely sure you are fit to do this. Check with your GP if required. It is also expected that you are fully warmed up before commencing this, as it STARTS with running fast.

Set treadmill inclination to suit your fitness.

00:00 – 18.5 km/h
00:30 – Jogging
01:30 – 16.5 – 17.5 km/h
02:30 – Jogging
03:30 – 16 – 17 km/h
05:00 – Jogging
06:00 – 15 – 16 km/h
08:00 – Jogging
09:00 – 16 – 17 km/h
10:30 – Jogging
11:30 – 16.5 – 17.5 km/h
12:30 – Jogging
13:30 – 18.5 km/h
14:00 – Jogging
15:00 – STOP.

REST 5 minutes. This is ONE SET. Repeat, to make a total exercise duration of 35 minutes.

Fun, huh? I made it through, although I went for a 0% incline and the ‘Jogging’ elements ended up mostly being ‘Walking recovery’ in all honesty. Need to step that up!

My own personal guideline for HIIT: “Do I feel like I might collapse if I do any more? Do I have a sense of euphoria for finishing?” Job done then!

Do you have any favourite interval training routines?

Taking the Fitness Test

Keep on running...

I’ve been intending to take the Surrey FA fitness test for a while. It is not strictly required for the Enhanced Promotion scheme that I am on, but I love a good challenge and also to demonstrate that I am serious about all this.

The core component is the Cooper Test. Very simple: Run as far as you can in twelve minutes without stopping. The required distance to pass is 2500 metres. I had done a few test-runs, mostly on inclined treadmills, and had a good solid pace to hit 2700 metres without keeling over. Oh, and the right music choice to pace myself with!

I’ve been running regularly, both for fitness and when refereeing, so felt confident I would do okay. Especially with the extra adrenaline boost on the day.

On the day there were five candidates. It was a good atmosphere as the test was being held on a proper athletics track, which was being used by some other people too. With just five candidates, there was no real ‘pack’ to run with, so I was glad I had worked on pacing! In the end, I nailed 2700 metres so my ‘game plan’ worked successfully. I could have edged that up a bit but wanted to ensure I saved energy for the sprinting test…

The sprinting test is also simple: Run 50 metres in 7.5 seconds or less, walk back, and do it again. I’ve always been quite proud of my sprinting speed so this presented no issues. No record was kept of my exact time, which is a shame, but really the important thing is that I passed and that no injuries were sustained.

Now to keep working on my fitness and, of course, the healthy eating! I’ve set a benchmark to beat next time round…

Garmin Forerunner 410 – First impressions

I have had a few heart rate monitors over the years. I started out with a Polar RS200. This was a simple enough device which tracked HR and had good feedback for which training zone I was in. Sadly, it decided to die recently.

I also owned a Garmin Forerunner 305. This had the additional bonus of GPS tracking which allowed all sorts of geeky analysis. One downside was that it felt a bit like something out of Star Trek when worn due to its bulk. This one didn’t die. Instead, I lost it years ago. Oops.

It was time to get a new one and I elected for the Garmin Forerunner 410.

There have been a few different models since the 305 which have passed me by. In that time, the design has improved a lot and although the 410 is a little bit bigger than I would like, it will certainly do! I am a little bit disappointed by the strap as it is a bit clunky considering the price of the device.

The bezel on the watch is used to control the menu system. This works…okay… although is not really as responsive as I would like. I feel a typical watch interface would have been a bit smoother. That said, I really like how the core options can be accessed VERY quickly, and the backlight and locking options are very simple to access. Previous models had reports on rain and sweat triggering the menus and so far this has not happened to me.

The chest strap is very soft and comfortable although I’m not sure if I like how the transmitter unit needs to clip on. One more thing to lose! Plus if you forget to unclip the transmitter, the battery is going to run down overnight…

Used in anger when refereeing last night, everything worked great. I adjusted the display so I could see the items I cared about (loads of options here!) and just left it running. Annoyingly, ‘Auto Lap’ was on by default so I soon turned this off. Along with ‘key tones’ which have to be one of the most irritating default options on electronics around!

Data is easily transferred onto a laptop and into Garmin Connect via the provided ANT+ USB stick. This detects when a watch is in range and you pair it, much in the same way as with Bluetooth. It is all very seamless which is perfect. Once the data is on Garmin Connect, all the geeky data is there for review. Perfect!

One small note here: I exported the data from Garmin Connect to import into RunKeeper. At some end of that process it got truncated so ended up shorter in distance and time. Something to chase up.

So far, I am pretty happy with it. It works well and is providing a lot of interesting information!

Alice Holt 10k 2010

Nearly there...

Time for another 10k! This one was the Alice Holt 10k as organised by Farnham Runners. The forest is just up the road from me and I had been doing a few training runs there. Another link is that the speed training sessions that I have been doing recently have been with the club.

I was back to regular refereeing and had even managed 10k in training so my fitness levels were better than last time. This was good as I was disappointed with my performance at the Hard As Snails 10k and knew I had to do a lot better!

The weather was wonderful. The course was certainly easier going than the Hard As Snails event so I suppose in a way I was well prepared (despite my lack of hill training in general…again!). It was perhaps a little cruel of the organisers to put the same evil hill at both 4km and 9km though due to the looping nature of the route.

I certainly welcomed sponges being made available at the water stations as it tends to be over-heating that hampers my performance before my cardio or muscles start to give in. One of those little touches that makes all the difference to an event.

My chip time was 52:19 which ranked me 210th out of 428 runners. More importantly, it is my all-time PB. That said, I have a long way to go to get the sorts of times I would be proud of. My style is burst running which suits refereeing perfectly but I still want to be much faster!

Now, by way of comparison, here is me before the race:

… and here I am finishing, not quite as fresh faced! I am bouncing after the sprint to make sure I land on the timing mats properly!