Running Breakthroughs

Breakthrough

Over the past six years, I’ve experimented with and tweaked my running techniques. Most of the time, change has come incrementally. Sometimes, though, there have been significant breakthroughs.

Here are the three most important:

Barefoot

Running barefoot is the most significant thing I’ve done to change/improve my running, bar none.

My first barefoot run was in June of 2009. I’d been reading about barefoot running for a while, so decided that I’d give it a try. It felt better – much better – than I’d expected. So I just kept on going. My running changed completely because of that. I’m lighter, stronger, and quicker. Running barefoot means running with fewer injuries, so I’m able to train consistently. I feel whole and strong.

When footwear is a necessity (rough terrain, very long distances, or a combination of the two), I wear minimalist sandals. But I always get back to skin-to-ground as soon as I can.

LCHF

This comes a very close second to being barefoot.

Long story short… If you adopt a LCHF (low carb, high fat) lifestyle, and become keto-adapted, you’ve got the fuel you need (i.e., fat) in your body, and you don’t need anything else. In fact, it’s better to run this way, as it results in steady energy levels, with no insulin spikes, no bonking, and no hitting the wall.

The human body doesn’t need carbs at all. I’m much better off without them.

Cadence

Getting my cadence to the optimal turnover of 90 steps/minute (180 steps/minute if you count both feet) has made a huge difference in improving my running economy and enhancing my form. Barefoot running tends to have a higher cadence than when shod, so that’s been a help.

Once in a while, I use a metronome beat of 180 bpm on my iPod Shuffle to check my cadence and ensure that it’s where it should be.

My goal is to be able to hold a 180 bpm cadence over very long distances.

More?

There’ll doubtless be more breakthroughs. I think they’ll come in the course of doing distances over 100K and times over 12 hours.

Skateboard

FootBoard

I recently bought my first skateboard. I’ve always wanted one, but always found excuses for not getting one, as in “I won’t be able to do it,” “I don’t have the time to do it,” and “I’m too old for that sort of thing.”

Excuses don’t cut it anymore. In the end, I figured it was time to learn some new skills, so I took the plunge.

I’d really wanted a longboard, as I think they’re the most beautiful type of skateboard. But I was convinced by two of the staff at Zumiez, a local board shop, that a shorter, lighter, and wider board would be better. So I ended up with a Z Flex Street Rocket.

Street Rocket

The Street Rocket is described on the manufacturer’s site as “Low to the ground and built for speed, the Street Rocket has been the go to board from the ages… Quality, speed, and durability will take you back to the beginning where originality was everything.” (I love the way skateboarders talk.) I also bought a helmet and some cheap Converse sneaker knockoffs to go with the board.

So far, I’ve only had a couple of sessions on the board, on my driveway and on the street beyond it. It’s a scary experience – like slathering your feet with vaseline and stepping onto a sheet of ice. But it’ll come, I’m sure. Next step is to head over to the local schoolyard, where there’s more flat asphalt and no traffic. Eventually, I hope to try out the city’s skateboard park, which is highly-rated among local skateboarders.

As it turns out, my fondness for concrete and my new interest in photography has played out nicely in getting a bunch of images from the local city skatepark.

Skateboard bowl

By the way, the image at the top of the post is a hope for the future. To date, I’ve only seen one person riding barefoot on a skateboard – a tall, young guy on a longboard moving effortlessly along a neighbourhood street. Don’t know if I’ll ever get there – but I’m certainly going to try!

Sugoi Helium

Sugoi Helium

I recently bought a Sugoi Helium jacket. It replaces a couple of jackets I’ve had for a long time, neither of which meets my current needs.

The Helium’s perfect for me – lightweight (85gms/3 oz), wind- and water-resistant, and nicely fitted. Though pretty minimalist, it’s got the requisite reflective thingies, a couple of zippered pockets, and rolls up into a tidy, small package. It’ll serve me well for cool weather runs this fall, and will be ideal for the Race to the Stones 100K next summer, where the weather will be variable and, well… English.

(For a good summary of the Helium’s features, check out the short review of an older version of the jacket by Tom Caughlan for iRunFar here.)

I bought the Helium online from Running Free Canada. Not only was it on sale, Running Free’s excellent customer service made the transaction a pleasure. I recommend these folks highly!

Compression Kit

I’ve recently started wearing compression clothing on my runs. Never thought I’d see the day, to tell the truth. I’ve long been a “less is more” kind of guy – my usual kit has been just a pair of old school side-split shorts and minimalist sandals.

Why such a dramatic turnaround? Because compression kit works for me, that’s why.

The theory behind compression clothing, in a nutshell, is that it optimizes bloodflow, thereby improving performance, enhancing stamina, and speeding recovery. Proving that it actually works is very much under discussion, though. Folks who like compression garments won’t run without them. Folks who dislike them say they’re more about fashion than fact.

That said, my research turned up this study (among others) in favour of compression clothing. (The journey to a decision also involved anti-anxiety garments for dogs and my Asperger’s Syndrome. But that’s a story for another post.) So I decided I’d give them a try.

I’m pleased to say they work for me. They work very well, in fact. I now own two Under Armour compression shirts (one long-sleeve, one short-sleeve) and a pair of 2XU compression shorts.

Long story short… I run better when wearing my new compression kit. Form is better, pace is better, and recovery is better. The shirts seem to enhance better arm swing, and the shorts allow for better hip extension and flexion. I’m better able to hold my core firmly and strongly.

A couple of added benefits are: 1/ Compression clothing keeps me cooler on a hot day. It spreads out the sweat, which then evaporates more efficiently. 2/ Because compression garments move less against the skin than loose clothing, chafing is reduced or eliminated. No more BodyGlide. No more nipple tape. That makes them a very good thing.

A note of caution: If you’re self-conscious about your body image, you may not want to go the compression route. Compression garments are, by definition, tight. I’m reasonably lean (142 lbs/64.4 kgs on a 5’7″/170cm frame), but I felt like a sausage in a too-small casing the first time I put on a compression shirt. It didn’t take long to get used to it, though.

For me, it’s all good. Highly recommended, if you’re willing to try something new.

Bucket List

Once in while, I like to make a list of races I’d like to run. Not saying I’ll get to all of them, but it’s nice to keep them in mind. Here’s my current bucket list:

Race to the Stones

A 100K ultra along The Ridgeway, a 5,000 year old path in the UK. The course passes Iron Age forts and ancient burial chambers, crosses the Thames and the Salisbury Plain, and finishes at the 3,000-year-old stone circle at Avebury.

I plan to run The Race to the Stones in July of 2015.

Two Oceans Marathon

Billed as “the world’s most beautiful marathon,” this is actually an ultra, not a marathon. It takes place in Cape Town, South Africa, and runs 56K from the Indian Ocean to the Atlantic Ocean.

I was born in South Africa, so doing Two Oceans would be a kind of homecoming for me.

Ultra-Trail Harricana

Back to Canada, in Quebec’s Charlevoix region – remote and wild, with rolling terrain, fjords, and wide bays. The Harricana 65K is a true wilderness ultra, featuring 1,800 meters of elevation gain.

This would be my first wilderness ultra.

Lesotho Ultra Trail

Lesotho is a small, mountainous country, completely surrounded by South Africa. Over 80% of Lesotho lies above 1,800m (5,906 ft). The Lesotho Ultra Trail is only 50K in length, but is a Skyrunning Ultra, featuring 2621m of vertical ascent and 2437m of vertical descent. The course consists of dirt roads, jeep tracks, rocky trails (the greater part of the course) and short sections of open grass. Stream crossings and loose rock are also featured.

This one’s The Big Dream.

Coming Up: ENDURrun 30K

ENDURrun 2014

Yes, you read the above dates correctly. The ENDURrun International is a 160K, 8-day, 7-stage event that takes place in Waterloo, Ontario.

Distances range from 10 km to the marathon, on both roads and trails. Runners can participate in the Ultimate category (all seven stages), the Sport category (the last three stages, comprising a 25.6K trail run, a 10K time trial, and a marathon), and the Guest category (any one of the stages). Seven-person relays are also an option.

This year, I’ve chosen to enter as a Guest (though I can see a future attempt in either the Sport or Ultimate categories). On August 12, I’ll run Stage 3 of the ENDURrun, which is a multi-loop 30K cross-country course. According to the event website, it comprises mostly grass and wood chip paths, mostly through forest trails. It sounds interesting and fun, and will give me a chance to suss out the organization and locale a bit.

ENDURrun Stage 3

Looks like I’ll be putting in some trail and hill training in the next few weeks!

Birthday!

1948 Limited Edition

Today’s my birthday. I’m now 66 years old.

Funnily enough, that doesn’t seem old. I’m aware of having lived for a (relatively) long time, but that’s not the same as feeling old. I’ve been through adventures and misadventures, good and bad health, smart moves and some very dumb ones, and I’ve got the scars (physical and psychological) to show for the journey. For all the ups and downs, though, I’ve ended up in a good space. I’m a happy man.

All in all, it seems to me that 66 is a nice number. What surprises me is how much I’m looking forward to 70. :-)