My Running Goal for 2017

2016 - what can I say?  For me, and the rest of the world I daresay,  it was defined by a fortune cookie I opened years ago which said, "May you live in interesting times."  According to the sliver of paper tucked into the sweet treat, it was purported to be an old Chinese curse but actually isn't per my research, but let me know what you think by sending me an email or direct message via Instagram or via Twitter.

Upon reflection, I did not achieve my goal of improving my half marathon time in 2016, but I didn't expect to due to a recurring piriformis injury throughout my training period.  Yes, a real pain in the hiney, let me tell you.  I have since been more diligent about stretching and strength training, which is probably not a bad thing in the greater scheme of things.

For 2017, I have been contemplating signing up for the Great Ocean Road Marathon in May taking place between Lorne and Apollo Bay.  I love this part of Australia and I am glad to be within an easy distance of it.  Yes, it will be hilly, windy, and everything else in between, but it is so very beautiful in this part of the world that I may as well attempt it at least once in my lifetime.  My butt may not thank me for it but you gotta dare a few things now and then, right?  And I can avoid my overly enthusiastic neighbourhood magpie friends come late winter/early spring too, when breeding season comes around again, by signing up for an autumn marathon.  Sounds better and better already.  Honestly, how to prevent and/or avoid magpie attacks/swooping is worthy of a separate blog entry in itself (don't worry, my shredded nerves have recovered and my opinion of their lovely birdsong is unchanged.  They are just super grouchy during breeding season).

Please share your running goals for this year.  Trying a new distance?  Or have a different health goal in mind?  Would love to hear about it!


The Dos and Don'ts of Minimalist Running for Beginners

If you're anything like the other would-be minimalist or barefoot runners out there who have just finished reading Christopher McDougall's Born to Run and are just raring to get out there and be one with nature, you need to stop, calm down, and read the following tips before you proceed any further.  You and your body parts will thank me and there's also a good chance your wallet will too.

My first, ill-thought out plans to begin minimalist or barefoot running began with purchasing a pair of name brand minimalist shoes from one of my favourite specialist shoe stores in Melbourne (hey, they were on sale) and thinking I would be okay if I took things slowly enough.  Oh boy, was I wrong.  My mind and body have since readjusted but looking back I wish someone had taken me aside and told me to take things a lot slower before taking the big plunge.

My trusty Inov-8 shoes!

My trusty Inov-8 shoes!

(1) Do your research first and lots of it.

After totally butchering both of my feet and achilles tendons after one training session in my enthusiasm, I was out for about a couple of weeks and decided to go back to square one to give my body and bruised ego a break.

Luckily, my local library had Runner's World Complete Guide to Minimalist and Barefoot Running which I finished reading in record time as I was feeling sorry for myself.  The book is nice and short, offering the right amount of technical and practical advice as well as testimonials from other runners who have made the transition.

Go read it or, better yet, buy yourself a copy!

(2) Find the right minimalist or barefoot style running shoes for you.

Minimalist and barefoot style running shoes range from the bare bones running sandals, to ones with little or no padding or support, to those with a bit more heft but nothing close to what you would find in a traditional running shoe.

Of course, there's always the option of one going completely barefoot but I am unable to comment on that course of action as I've never personally tried it.

I started with some Vibram FiveFingers but found I needed more padding and support so I tried some New Balance Minimus shoes with some insoles for added support but I was still not completely happy.  Don't get me wrong, the Minimus is a good in-between type of minimalist shoe and served me well in a half-marathon I did last year but I wanted a shoe with a bit more of everything without sacrificing too much of the lightness for protection and some shock absorption. 

I finally found my perfect match in my Inov-8s this year.  Light weight, versatile, and great for road running, there are several models available offering different stack heights and drops.  This is the shoe I will be taking to my upcoming half-marathon come July this year.

Fishpond 604x90

(3) Walk before you even think of running.

Get your feet and the rest of your body used to not having several layers of material between yourself and the ground by walking around your house, or anywhere for that matter, with your new shoes and insoles if you have them.

You will be sorely tempted to go off for a run because your feet will feel so light and free but, on pain of butchered heels and tendons, you will regret it if you do.

(4) Build running distances and times gradually.

Due to my misadventures the first time around with minimalist running, I made a point of returning to a walk/run routine during my return to running after my feet and legs had recovered.

In the initial stages, I started with 1 km walks followed by short 500 m runs which I gradually built up over the following few weeks, months, and past year.  It was difficult at first as I felt I wasn't doing enough but patience really pays off once your body adjusts to the different mechanics involved and gear used.

(5) Do strengthening exercises for your feet, achilles, calves, and shins.

You know that niggly voice in the back of your mind or the annoying friend forever reminding you about your strengthening exercises?  Well, they're right.  Do not skimp on strengthening exercises for your legs and feet. 

Try the ones in the Runner's World book mentioned above along with your regular squats, lunges, and calf raises and you will be good to go!

It has been almost two years now since I transitioned to a minimalist style of running and footwear and I will probably never go back to using more traditional running shoes again.  Some runners find their running pains and discomforts diminish with this style of running and/or they are able to run faster with the change in gear but remember to just do what is right and comfortable for you and take your time.


Why the Autumn/Fall Season Is My Favourite Time of Year to Run

The cooler days of autumn have arrived and this is the time of year I get the most out of my running.  Sure, the colder weather has begun to set in and the mornings are increasingly dark before the 7:00 a.m. wake-up call for most of us nine-to-fivers but I find I achieve more during the colder weather than during the warmer days of spring and summer.

The tell-tale dark early mornings as the summer wanes generally elicits groans from most of us, as we usually just want to sleep in, but, trust me, watching that morning sunrise as you are finishing up your morning run in the brisk, cool air is so much better than finishing in the sticky warmth of spring or summer.

I also find the mornings are a little quieter muffled by the fall of rain or fog and by the general reluctance of most folks having to get up early during this time of year to attend to their day.  It's peaceful even on the days when the wind is a little fierce and you just want your run to end.

As long as you have the right gear on, you are usually set in terms of handling most kinds of weather this time of year.  Even on a budget, you can invest in a few key pieces that will last you for a few seasons and which you can rotate .  Having lived in the northern hemisphere for some years, I have a couple of pairs of cold weather leggings, long sleeve tops, rain and snow jackets, running gloves, beanies galore, and a running light (which is soon to be replaced by the awesome looking NITERunner XT running belt with alarm rear LED once it arrives!  I will post a separate review once it gets dark enough for me to use). 

From personal experience, I don't like the magnetic clip on lights very much as they don't give out enough light during the darkest winter mornings for you to see with and they have a bad habit of falling off mid-stride.  I contemplated using a head light but I wasn't sure how they would fit under or over my beanie but I may give them a go at some point.

The cooler, darker weather also means the absence of flies and other insects.  I never really thought about the summer flies very much until I had friends and family from northern hemisphere countries complain about how persistent Aussie flies are!  I think I'm probably just used to them buzzing around my face - it's the mosquitoes I have more of an issue with.

Autumn and winter in Australia are also the pleasant running months before the onset of magpie breeding season in early spring.  For those of you who aren't familiar with this native Australian bird, you are now forewarned if you ever happen to come into the territory of a breeding pair at the wrong time of year.  Although magpies are lovely birds and are protected native species don't think about crossing one or avoid them altogether if you can.  They are quite intelligent, are long-lived, and are reputed to remember which interlopers they have encountered before.  I have been dive-bombed by two different male birds on separate occasions and gave up entirely on a couple of my favourite running routes until the breeding season was over last year.  Of course I could have used a treadmill during breeding season but treadmills are just not my choice of running surface at any time.

Invest in cold weather gear, get a running light, and enjoy the cooler weather - happy running to all of you!

New Year's Resolution No. 1

Christmas is over, with some indulgences regretted, but I have already decided on my first New Year's resolution for 2016.  I would like to markedly improve on my half-marathon time from 2015 by at least 10-15 minutes.  It's going to be a lot of hard work and, to be honest, I am not looking forward to the additional strength training, hill repeats, and speed work but it's all about outlining my short and long term goals, finding and sticking to an appropriate training schedule, and improving and maintaining a healthy nutrition plan. 

Maybe in 2017, I will then shoot for my first marathon.  Running a marathon is definitely a future goal of mine and I have even entertained doing an ultra distance one day but it's one goal at a time.  It's all down to reading Christopher McDougall's Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen and Scott Jurek's Eat and Run: My Unlikely Journey to Ultramarathon Greatness, which are a couple of must-read books for any runner.

Eat and Run: My Unlikely Journey to Ultramarathon Greatness

Another fun thing I enjoy at the start of another running year is the thought of buying new running shoes.  It's a great time to buy with all of the end of year sales so I will be making a trip to town shortly to drop by one of the running stores and start laying the groundwork for my next half-marathon in 2016.

Good luck to you all in achieving your running goals for 2016!