Friday, August 22, 2008

Space-age ludditism and the 'Hidden Half'

Running technology revisited

Thanks to Barefoot Ted, who is now selling a new range of running sandal materials on his website, I've now graduated from rubber doormats to the world of high-tech huaraches.

There is something very appealing in bringing together the best of modern materials with the simple practicality of traditional design. Choosing not to wear bulky, expensive, brightly coloured, nylon spaceships on the ends of your legs doesn't have to mean that you've turned your back on technology, even though the spaceship wearers around you generally assume that you must have. In fact it's just the opposite. It's about using modern materials in more subtle ways to make running more pleasurable and more natural.

This is the tread pattern of Vibram 'Cherry' soling. It's a light, flexible material - only 4mm thick. The tread, which resembles a shallow egg-carton pattern overlaid with fine lines, provides amazing grip on smooth surfaces.

The upper surface is very slightly felty, rather than being smooth or tacky like the doormat rubber that I've used previously. It's quite comfy for the foot to sit on directly, so for my first pair of sandals made from this material I chose not to glue the thin foam footbed on to the upper surface as I have previously. This means that making a pair of sandals is a breeze - trace your feet, cut out the shapes, punch three holes in each sandal for the lacing and voila ! Who says high-tech has to be hard ?

The result is a sandal that follows the movements of your own sole without inhibiting them. It gives a very 'close to the ground' feeling - very similar to the sensation of running barefoot, while still providing some protection against sharp objects and abrasive surfaces.

Even on my first little run around the block with these sandals I found them to be seriously nice ! The excellent grip of the Cherry soles seems to make my foot strikes feel more definite and secure. I wondered if the hemp laces, as supplied by Barefoot Ted, might be scratchy compared to the soft bootlaces that I've used to date, but they turned out to be quite comfy.

Bankstown 'Hidden Half'

This annual half-marathon is organized by the Western Districts Joggers and Harriers aka the 'Westies'. It was held last Sunday (17th August) in cold conditions - especially with the 7:30am start. Actually that starting time proved to be too much of a challenge for me and I arrived just in time to see everybody else set off while I was still trying to pin my number on and lace up the new sandals !

Once I finally got going I managed to catch up with the back of the pack after a few minutes and settled into what turned out to be a very enjoyable, albeit fairly testing, run. The tests came in the form of some quite sharp hills, several of which had me walking up them.

The course followed bike paths and shorter sections of gravelly trail around a Lake Gillarwina and through the surrounding park land. The Westies did a great job of marshalling us all through the many loops and turns of the course with plenty of encouragement and banter. It was lovely to see Runbare who had come along to cheer us on despite still trying to get over a bout of the flu. All in all, a terrifically friendly and well organised event.

The new huarache sandals were great, especially on the bike paths. On the trail sections the thinness of the soles meant that I felt every rock and managed to pick up a decent bruise in the arch, but there was nothing that could spoil the enjoyment of running with such a close to barefoot feeling.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

A year of running

According to my running diary, a spiral bound notebook with anarchically formatted notes in pencil, I have just reached my initial 1000km of logged runs. I started this diary when I bought my first, and as it's now turned out, my only pair of running shoes at the beginning of October last year.

My very first run was a couple of months earlier, at the start of August, when I set out for an 'easy jog' from which I returned fifteen minutes later, breathless, exhausted and tragically dismayed at how far I'd fallen into sluggish middle age. Through August and September I plodded and gasped my way around the local streets twice a week as part of a beginner's triathlon training program. My mood would swing from doom-laden pessimism, through amused self-ridicule, to occasional short spikes of now or never, who dares wins, stubborn and slightly desperate determination. I was running from the familiar, but no longer bearable shadow of the Black Dog towards some new, better, but as yet wholly unknown way of living life.

I didn't record how far I ran in those first couple of months, partly because my sessions were based on time rather than distance, and partly because my sole focus was the triathlon at the end of October and it didn't really occur to me to think past that. In any event my total distance covered must have been miniscule. But somehow, buying a brand new pair of running shoes seemed to symbolize how important the whole effort had become. It was the beginning of something new. Hence the diary.

For me, reaching the end of my first year of running and my first 1000km, marks something special. It means that for once I've stuck with something long enough to feel that I've truly started.

Monday, August 4, 2008

First of the longer runs

Sri Chinmoy Prospect Creek 24km race

It was a nice coincidence to have this event, part of the Sri Chinmoy Sydney Series, on a day when my training program called for a 24km run. I hadn't run this far before but it seemed only a short step up from the half-marathon distance. More significantly, it represented the beginning of unknown territory in the training program - a series of weeks where the long runs become, well, long.

After some windy, wintery days recently it was lovely to have a still, sunny morning for the race. As well as the 24km race there were also 6km and 12km events, all run on bike paths in a large area of parkland and sports grounds in Greystanes. This was a great place to run, insulated from the busy roads nearby and with some scenic stretches and just enough little ups and downs in the course to keep it interesting.

We set off a little after 8am and it was to be a bit over two and half hours later when I gratefully crossed the finish line. I found the run much harder than I was expecting it to be, though I don't really know why. One of the things that I'm learning about running is to accept and work with how you feel on the day: on some days everything seems just right and running is pure pleasure but on others it's little more than the onerous task of dragging a reluctant body and pessimistic mind from the start to the finish. Several times I found myself thinking how unlikely it seemed that I'd ever be able to run the 42 (and a bit) km of the marathon in September. Luckily for me I had the company of Emjay, another CoolRunning member, for most of the race which made it so much easier than it would have been on my own.

After the run there was the traditional apres-race fruit and pancake brekky laid on by the wonderful Sri Chinmoy folk as well as the opportunity to chat with some of the other CoolRunners there that day. It's terrific to be part of a group that brings together people from right across the running spectrum, from my slow end through to runners who talk modestly and nonchalantly about their sub-4 minute per km pace.

Despite feeling like it had been a hard slog, or maybe even because of that, it was very satisfying to have completed the run and gotten this far with my training. I could also tick off another distance record in the exclusive 'slow guy in fancy pants and funny sandals' category.

Thanks to CR Wildthing for the photo

World Harmony Run

After the race on Sunday I had the chance for a brief chat with Prachar Stegemann about the fantastic stories and photos on the Australian Sri Chinmoy World Harmony Run website. Recently, the runners visited the Devil's Marbles in the Northern Territory. To see some absolutely stunning images of the Marbles, as well as lovely photos of the kids from nearby Tennant Creek, have a look at their blog for that day.