Jerry turns up at my house wearing Five Fingers

  • Sunday, December 09, 2012
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 Jerry turns up at my house wearing Five Fingers.
Monkey feet.
I am in the loo but he is my friend so I emerge to give him a drink. He has already been for a run but with his generous spirit invites me to join him for a few more miles. I need no second invitation and scramble into my gear and grab my head torch. 
It turns into one of those runs, a combination of Alice in Wonderland and Monty Python. Running down a little used back road we see this ornate and expensive clock standing on an electrical substation. There is a blanketed horse in the field but no sign of any humans. Or the horse could be a panto horse?
We leave it where it is. The clock that is. Come to think of it we ignore the horse as well, I don't think it cares much.
Our conversation turns to those runners who feel the need to embellish the truth, escalating their tall tales as the miles roll by until they are totally impossible. These runners live in a fantasy world where they believe totally what they are telling you. They have desperately interesting and dramatic lives. They are superhuman beings with wonderful powers.
I am reminded of the classic Monty Python Four Yorkshiremen skit:
I think that I am a boring runner.
We finish an entertaining 55 minutes in the dark, our head torches picking out the deep mud and with another great conversation behind us.

My knee feels OK

  • Friday, November 16, 2012
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Finally I run.
The knee feels promising and it looks normal. Please God let this be the case. I need to run, my sanity is at stake. I feel emasculated by being sidelined and it's frustrating, I'm getting very, very grouchy...
This will be a Mudroc run simply for the reassurance of having good grip in the black mud that is lying deep on the trails. I'm nervous of getting a twist from slipping. I have 45 minutes to sundown which is perfect, I don't want to go more than four miles until I'm sure my knee is good.
I run one of my standard woodland loops, this is a good thing, it is beautiful especially at this time of year and day. The sun is huge and round and red and a soft mist lies in the low fields. It is cold enough to feel fresh but not bitter. I run past a pond and along the brook before the path rises into the auburn trees. I reflect that although I loved my cliff top run I would soon get bored if it was my regular gig, I love the ever changing, sensory nature of creation where I live and run.
Post run my knee feels OK, We'll see, I know my body well enough to know that it may be 24 hours before I can be sure.

Drinking my own mushroom laced urine

  • Thursday, November 15, 2012
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I really should not have stayed silent for so long. Truth is my knee has been a venomous swollen wreck and I'm not 100% sure why. Running has been off the agenda for the last two weeks.
The ancient inuit have a shamanic practise of drinking urine that has been passed after eating the hallucinogenic mushroom Amanita muscaria. The mushrooms are purported to have healing powers along with their hallucinogenic properties. I have tried various remedies for this knee now. Prayer didn't work. Neither did ice and rest. Compression has had some effect. However, the beautiful red and white Amanita mushrooms grow in much of the Kent woodland in which I run and desperation may yet drive me to drinking my own mushroom laced urine in search of a cure!
I like to be honest with myself and this injury has tested my objectivity. Being a minimalist runner is important to me for a variety of reasons not the least of which is my lack of serious injury for well over three years now. If this is a running injury, then damn, it's undermining what I believe to be the healthiest way to run.
You see, I don't think this is a running injury. I am convinced it came from an over competitive volleyball game, making a diving save on the knee on a hard floor. At no point while running did I feel even a twinge before the knee turned into a stiff Frankenstein like lumpen mass. It has had a tendinitis type feel to it and I've even wondered if there is a rogue bit of cartilage floating about.
I hope I'm not fooling myself.
Yesterday was a perfect autumn day, sunny and bright and looking out over the woods from school I made myself a promise that I would be returning to them soon.
I may be looking for mushrooms...

We discuss flag bearing

  • Sunday, November 04, 2012
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 I go for a kickstart run with Jerry. We have both had interesting and busy Octobers and mileage is down.
We have the near perfect run under a piebald sky of blueblack rain clouds and bright sunshine. The mud is deep and cold, the woods old and familiar. This is our natural habitat and we are in our element.
We discuss flag bearing or carrying a battle standard, how very often, in battle, the standard bearer continued to keep the colours aloft even when mortally wounded. We use this as an analogy to reflect incompetence in the corporate world, too often an inept leader continues to carry the standard/ idea even when they are exposed as wrong or out of touch. Time and time again they get to their feet and stagger on regardless. In a way you have to admire their commitment although their values are wrong. Eventually they take fire from their own side as well as the enemy and they are very hard to remove. A total waste of energy and resources and everyone loses.
Having got this off our chests we part for home, I feel much better, the combination of running and philosophy is a good one.

mano et mano

  • Wednesday, October 31, 2012
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Kingsdown, Kent.
I pull on my old New Balance top with the frayed cuffs, swimming trunks and my Five Fingers. On my head is an old beanie with a head cam attached. I navigate the drop from the holiday camp to the beach and run, scrunching across the shingle beach towards the cliff.
Earlier I had stopped a local runner, as lean as whipcord and asked him for his advice on a route.
“I would run along the cliff top” he told me, “It's a great run and you can run right through to Dover if you wish” I don't answer, just stare at him meaningfully to imply that I do those distances as a warm up. I make sure that he gets a good look at my club jacket, mano et mano. I too am a serious runner is my unspoken message, We are hairy chested, testosterone fuelled machines.
I climb the flight of steps at the base of the cliffs and stop for a moment at the top to enjoy the view. I also make sure I'm not going to plunge to my death. Which is important.
I quickly realise that this is true English heritage trail running, not the iconic Seven Sisters as I have promised myself or Beachy head but something as good. I feel as if I am running along the edge of the world on a muddy, purpling path with the ghosts of history alongside. I look down on the backs of birds and sneer at the tiny fishing boats far below. On my right are rolling green fields and in the far distance I see the dirty smudge of the French coastline. I run happily along for near on eight miles, past the memorial to the Dover patrol and return to my holiday base where I jump straight into the indoor pool.

I contort out of my tracksuit bottoms

  • Monday, October 22, 2012
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I've had more glamorous runs than this. I now have the pleasure of a free hour every Wednesday evening to spend exploring the wonders of Orpington as I please. I contort out of my tracksuit bottoms in the car knowing that the sight of a middle aged man wrestling down his trousers, in a car, in public is not a good look. I wait  for cries of alarm but none come, the commuter stream continues past without pause. For my initial foray I choose a conservative approach, straight, left, straight, left, straight, left. More or less, there are a few wiggles and a dogleg thrown in. This is mostly due to the irresistible urge to run down narrow footpaths to see where they go. And of course I have to detour into a large supermarket for a wee. Towards the end of my five miles I run under this underpass with it's classical crumbling brickwork and leaky drainage pipes. It leads me directly to the train station where I tangle with the commuters, extract myself and run on to my car. As a run I am underwhelmed and under worked. I need to get more organised and more adventurous.

They contain sharks and monsters too

  • Wednesday, September 26, 2012
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Why is that long rainy runs always seem to involve a long climb into a stiff headwind?
After spending half an hour crouched on all fours in the rain with my hand up to the elbow in a blocked drain I decide that I should go straight out on a run. After all I was already cold and soaked. And frustrated.
So after a quick change I ran off into the wind. Upwards and clockwise in the rain, to the summit of the woods on a day that even the dog walkers couldn't face.
I don't mind rain running, I embrace it like a monk, it shapes me and teaches me. It is something uncomfortable but oddly beneficial, instructing my character and transporting me into a more surreal world. I wouldn't want it to be my default running weather day in and day out but there is an exhilaration that I get from being out in the elements. Perhaps it's the last faint echoes of the caveman in me. I love the sombre mood of the wet darkened tree's, the burnt umber colour of the earth and it's heaviness. I love the deep black, inky puddles. Standing to catch my pluming breath I peer into them, imagining they are like Alice's looking glass. I imagine vast, mad and colourful worlds that lie through and beyond them. I feel fear, they contain sharks and monsters too. They are too black. Perhaps the rain shrinks my physical world too much, narrowing it to a few feet. Maybe I am too alone. Whatever the reason I force my imagination back into it's box and get on with running. This is something tangible and true, this is my embrace.
Irony being what it is, I return home after 12 miles and discover that I have to put my hand up to the elbow in the toilet. Someone has put a wad of cardboard into it. Possibly, just beyond the U bend, sharks and monsters live too.

"As ugly as a bucket of vomit"

  • Thursday, September 20, 2012
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I left work this afternoon to run home. As I left I had the ribald cries from my colleagues of "Comedy feet" ringing in my ears. Another co worker seeing the pictures on Facebook recently said, "Dunc, you're as wacky as ever. Thank God!" These bits of gentle ribbing caused me to wonder about the other names that I get thrown at me because of my Vibram Five Fingers.
I get Monkey feet the most. Gorilla feet a few times. I've also had Skeleton feet, Frog feet and Duck feet. When I ran in black KSO's the standard comment was Ninja feet.
When I first started running in them I read a review that described them "As ugly as a bucket of vomit"
I don't think they are that bad but I do understand and really enjoy peoples curiosity. As a conversation starter these shoes can't be bettered and I've had some good chats with people. I've even been stopped while out running by fascinated folk who want to know more.
I try not to be a barefoot evangelist but I do like satisfying peoples interest - and most people are genuinely interested.

Vibram Five Finger Spyridon's. They stand out like dogs balls.

  • Thursday, August 30, 2012
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It's life Jim, but not as we know it


I'm head over heels. Not literally. As in love. These are my Vibram Five Fingers Spyridon's. Sharper than a Samurai sword. Cooler than Woodstock. Wackier than Monty Python. And they stand out like dogs balls.
These are the Five Fingers designed and built for off road running with a tread Evel Knievel would have drooled over (There's my vintage right there) They still maintain a minimal sole thickness of 3.5mm, so there's still plenty of ground feel. There are a few other departures, a tongue, a stiffer heel cup, a lacing system and thicker uppers in places for protection on the trail (rocks, branches, stampeding cows)
I've loved my Five Finger Bikila's, they've done well, and I may squeeze a few more road miles out of them yet, but they have become harder and harder to patch up.
I'm still to take the Spyridon's for a long, hard, muddy trail but I'm already besotted by them, I can't wait to truly cut up rough with them. 

Edit and update 03/09/12:

Just so that I don't come across as a total sycophant I want to make two points. The first being the cost of Vibrams now. I love these shoes and I'm commited to buying the genuine article as opposed to the cheap knock offs flooding ebay but they are getting too pricey. The Spyridon's cost me £134.00, thats a lot of dosh even though I expect a 1000 miles plus from them.
Secondly, I've had some fairly radical blisters from these, on my instep, just above the arch. I'm going to have to run in socks which I haven't done for years!

 

Adidas Adizero Feather 2

Mmm, the Adidas Adizero Feather 2. My second pair of test shoes following the Inov-8 Road X 233 I was given to run in recently.
The Adizero's are described as a minimalist shoe and I was initially a bit sceptical, wondering if people are confusing lightweight (190g) with minimal. The first mile I ran in these confirmed my thinking. There is no denying the lightness - but they felt spongy and I could feel that I was heel striking which was an unpleasant throwback to my running a few years ago.
However, the longer my run went on the better they began to feel. Without being conscious of it my foot strike shifted to a mid foot strike and the shoe became a lot more fun. As is my wont I took them off road and they seemed quite nimble on the rooty, hard packed trail. They are not meant for off road use and that was evident when I had to pause once or twice to prise rocks out of the cut away sections of the sole!
My feeling when I got home after 9 miles was that I'd had fun and I'd enjoyed running in the shoes. They were certainly responsive possibly due to the plastic Sprintframe that runs throughout the sole. The positive feel engendered confidence.
These shoes are of good quality and probably nicely durable and they look classy too.
I've put all the manufacturers technical details below as a footnote. I would classify the Adizero's as a road racing, track or possibly a good beginners shoe.
As far as a minimalist shoe goes they still have too much heel for me to classify them as truly minimalist.


Official product blurb
These incredibly lightweight running shoes have a breathable air mesh upper with SPRINTFRAME for stability and ADIPRENE in the forefoot for a little launch in your step. Weight: 190 g (UK size 8.5) Air mesh upper for maximum ventilation ADIPRENE+ in the forefoot maintains propulsion and efficiency SPRINTWEB welded frame provides lightweight support and breathability The SPRINTFRAME construction uses geometrical research to offer the perfect balance between light weight and stability ADIWEAR outsole offers the ultimate in high-wear durability

Not a run. Not yet anyway

Not a run. Not yet anyway but an exhilarating walk in the lashing rain. We walked down past these cottages at Seaford Head overlooking the Seven Sisters to the Cuckmere Estuary. Then along the beach before the tide came in to Hope gap and back up the fields. The rain was too persistent and my hands too cold for photography so this is one of the rare occasions this blog doesn't feature my own photo.
I have vowed to return and run around this area. Superb cross country potential!

Keep the black dog in it's kennel.

  • Thursday, August 23, 2012
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I'm sitting in my garden in the cool of the evening. The sun has gone down leaving the sky grey and smudged. My thoughts are unstructured and swirling - and I'm pleased to discover, relaxed.
There  was a time five or six years ago when I would sit out here and brood. "Who the hell am I, and how do I chart a course out of the void?" would be the endless angry question as I grappled with classic mid life drift. I wrestled demons out here, the deepest depression and the dislocation of rootlessness. I cut myself with razorblades to feel better.
I don't think I've answered the identity question fully but I no longer worry about it. I have by running and osmosis reached a place of peace.
Running and rehabilitation came at the same time for me. I had started to run/ walk/ run around the time my wife picked me up from my place of work, broken and unable to function and drove me straight to the doctor. I haven't needed the doctor or medication for some years now but I have run a lot of miles!
And I've always felt that running and being fit help keep the black dog in it's kennel.
All this leads to a recent study published in the British Medical Journal  
This study by the Universities of Bristol and Exeter and the Peninsula College of Medicine and Dentistry posits that exercise does not make any tangible difference when it comes to beating the blue funk.
Over a twelve month period two groups of patients aged between 18-69 were assessed. One group had physical intervention or exercise, the other did not.
The conclusion, in the words of the BMJ - " The addition of a facilitated physical activity intervention to usual care did not improve depression outcome or reduce use of antidepressants compared with usual care alone.
Far be it for me, a layman, to question such a scientific study, and yet...I am better for my running. Much better. I don't think it's all in the mind either. Running gives me purpose and a positivity, I feel better about myself because I'm fit. My self image is much stronger. I get a lot of self identity from being a runner. There is focus, structure and discipline. I am mentally much stronger too. It all helps.
I no longer run simply to keep depression at bay. I've come to love the sheer freedom and exuberance it brings. It is joie de vivre, the joy of living. Of life.

Is he one of the horseman of the apocalypse?

  • Wednesday, August 15, 2012
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 To spare the angels, Lot offers the mob
his virgin daughters and in the rubble
they wine him then explode Lot’s seed into life
Driving the copies on the wide road
face down in
(Denise Newman)
 Mob match (We are black, we are white, we are f*cking dynamite)

 This was the black and white team versus the virulent yellow team, a stream of living colour, a centipede of legs and elbows charging up the hill before being swallowed whole by the maw of the woods. There we are greeted by a huge black horse, the rider impassive and drooping a cigarette from his mouth. Is he one of the horseman of the apocalypse? Clint Eastwood? Lost? We will never know, we avoid his flat eyes and run past uncaring and disinterested. Up and up the rocky trail we go before veering sharply left along the fence line, left again then right and down past the hidden pond. We cross the clanging bridge over the brook and the trees regurgitate us. We are strung out now and panting in the humidity and heat, it's a switchback climb on tarmac before entering jubilee park to be harangued by Jerry in his union Jack shorts. Menace. On we run, back onto the suburban streets and downhill all the way to the finish. When we get there it seems to be raining mosquitoes, several runners are savagely bitten. I escape and run home through the woods with Rob.

the complacency of indolence and half throttle commitment

I have a bad night, my dreams as fragmented and flickering as an electric storm. It comes as a relief when dawn breaks and I can rise to collect Jerry for a Downland run. We decide to join the weekly HEROS run. Jerry talks too much and this coupled with my questionable navigation skills means that we take the long way round. Arriving just in time we meet Peter, the only other runner and we set off. It's hot and humid and the trails are iron hard. The sky looks like bruised pewter, trapping the heat between it and the earth. I've also made the schoolboy error of leaving my water bottle on the dining room table at home. Idiot.  Fortunately I have an empty in the car and am able to fill it up after a mile at a rural church and I become increasingly grateful as the run progresses. This quickly becomes something other than the usual enjoyable trail run. My perspiration is oily and unhealthy, the legacy of too much chocolate and beer over the holiday. I toil in the sun and I even fall on an innocuous and bland little path, my water bottle bouncing off the rocks ahead of me with a clatter. Peter is relentless, never breaking pace or stride no matter what the gradient. I need this run, it destroys the complacency of indolence and half throttle commitment that I've allowed to creep in to my running. The bible speaks of iron sharpening iron and that is the net result of thirteen miles on the hills in the sun, when we get back to the car I feel tired but also sharper.

Inov-8 Road X 233

  • Wednesday, August 08, 2012
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Just about 36 hours ago my doorbell rang. On the doorstep I found Jerry Smallwood from the IOC London 2012 anti doping team. Resplendent in his official purple and beige, with epaulets he quickly reassured me that I was not required to hand over my urine but rather he had a free pair of Inov-8 Road X 233 shoes for me to test and review. These are part of Inov-8's minimalist stable.
I love my Inov-8 shoes, I've run in Mudroc's for years so I happily accepted and took the box off him.
Opening it up I was immediately struck by the beautiful styling and construction, Inov-8 make quality footwear and it is apparent. You want to put them on and take them for a run. Or just put them on and show off. You might even want to wear them to bed.
I wore them out to last nights club run. First off, they are a narrow fit across the laces, fine for me with my narrow feet but possibly a bit tight for someone with broader feet. I like my shoes snug. I think there is more room in the forefoot than Inov-8 traditionally provide which is a good thing. Otherwise they were immediately comfortable and had a light responsive feel, weighing around 255g. Last night we ran seven miles on a mixture of hard packed trails and tarmac and the Road X 233's felt stable and responsive on these surfaces. They are essentially a racing flat so I'm not sure how much I will run in these as I run predominantly off road but they will find a happy home with me non the less.
Thanks J.




Rooibos, the tea of champions.

  • Wednesday, August 01, 2012
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Following last nights club run I was so full of good vibes that I could not sleep. I eventually gave up trying at 3:30 am and went downstairs for a mug of Rooibos tea. 
I guess like many regular runners I have experimented with various sports drinks and beverages over the years before settling on what I feel works for me.
Rooibos has become one of my staples and I've even carried it on long, cold night runs.
Rooibos (redbush) is a herbal tea which is grown in the Cape heartland of South Africa and was used first by the Khoisan bushmen as an herbal remedy for a range of ailments.
It was "discovered"  in 1772 by botanist Carl Humberg who first used it as a beverage and was marketed as "mountain" tea by a Russian, Benjamin Ginsberg in 1904.
Amongst the many benefits of Rooibos it has been proven to contain many flavinoids, free-radical fighting antioxidants. Rooibos tea is naturally caffeine free and has also been shown to soothe the body's reaction to rashes - perfect when you've been running through stinging nettles and brambles out on the trails.

Rooibos contains the following:

Antioxidants
Alpha Hydroxy Acids
Calcium
Fluoride
Copper
Iron
Potassium
Zinc
Manganese
Potassium

It has become one of my favourite brews both as a re hydrating drink after a run and as a relaxing beverage.

Loving the fields of gold

  • Monday, July 30, 2012
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You'll remember me when the west wind moves
Upon the fields of barley
You'll forget the sun in his jealous sky
As we walk in the fields of gold
(Sting)

Post thunderstorm run, the atmosphere, trails and spirit washed clean. Running up a grassy hill and greeting the sun, raised palm outward, shouting the words "Bayete Inkosi" (exalted king). Loving the fields of gold.



Annie phones me out of the blue

  • Thursday, July 26, 2012
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Annie phones me out of the blue. This is good as it means I have to pick her up and take her to the club. There is a ripple effect here, I get back to the nitty gritty of pack running with it's hustle and chat. My blog post will not feature touchy feely, esoteric pseudo spiritual stuff. Basic running will produce basic writing. It's 24 degrees Celsius when we arrive and I stand and watch the other runners go through a warm up routine before we get on with good, no frills running. Grunt running. coal face running. The pack swarms through the woods stopping only for some high quality coaching and I find Jerry to listen to while we are taught how to run. Some of us just want to breathe. All the negativity of the last few weeks has no space to be indulged here and I take advantage to reconnect with good people and sharpen my focus. I charge up a hill shouting "I am a fucking RUNNER." I shout this in my head so that other people don't think I'm strange and I don't alarm the wildlife. When I get to the top I swear I see the light at the end of the tunnel.
Or is it a false dawn?

sun shining like falling rain

  • Tuesday, July 24, 2012
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 I've been  off the grid for a while, clandestine and as silent as a spy. The emotional and physical toll at the end of the school year causing my mind to skate over the surface of things, paralysing. I was too tired to think much beyond sleep, work and sleep. There has been some running, as sporadic as a shotgun blast but no blogging. Non essentials shelved in the name of survival.

Yesterday my holiday starts. I enter woods as cool and dark as a cathedral and I am Benedictine in my approach, silent, solitary and contemplative. I bend to my run with purpose my blood singing hymns to the earth. This is a run with intent, a shackle breaker and I go hard in the heat, every stride breaking another negative link, carrying me away from the last few weeks and toward lightness. It is paradoxical running, the more I hurt the freer I feel. There is spirituality, purging, travail and freedom, and there is liturgy in running a route that is as familiar as a lovers face under a sun shining like falling rain.

I've struggled this year, I've been flat and demotivated and running has been a chore interspersed with a few brilliant bursts. In five years of running this is the first time I've seriously considered throwing in the towel and giving up. I don't believe I will but I need to source a solution first.
















cellophane past like a dry whisper

  • Wednesday, June 20, 2012
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I don't know if you've ever seen a dog with it's head hanging out of a car window, facing into the wind? Their lips get pulled back into a kind of idiot grin of joy and sheer happiness. The wind wasn't blowing much on Sunday, just enough to cellophane past me like a dry whisper but I felt like one of those dogs none the less. Living for the moment. no worries. Acoustic.
I was with Jerry and Liz out on the trails around North Kent. This run was a study of indolence, one of the most relaxed and mellow I've been on. It was a year since we had stumbled upon a tangle of naked hippies in a field so this was an anniversary run of sorts, the mission: to find the frolicking folk. We crossed the usual wheat fields and ran down narrow bramble trails, crossing a stream via stepping stones. I refused to cross a field full of cows and interested bulls, no matter, we changed direction and found Chevening Lakes, an expanse of beautiful clear water over seventy acres in size. Returning we ran along a disused railway line to Darent Valley and back to the unlocked car. As a run this was pretty low trajectory as far as distance and pace go, yet I am increasingly enjoying these types of run, there is great pleasure in friends and pristine scenery.
And the hippies? We didn't find them, the grubby yurt of last year absent along with it's occupants.






Running repairs

My beloved Vibrams AKA monkey feet to some are getting a bit battered. Although the soles are virtually unmarked by a thousand miles of mud, snow, trails and tarmac the uppers are suffering. My big toes are now hanging out of the huge holes so I've had to tape them up with duct tape to squeeze as many miles out of my old friends as I can.
I guess with a conventional running shoe the soles go soft and the uppers last, minimalist running turns a lot of things upside down!

wild eyes and foaming lips

  • Tuesday, June 12, 2012
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Frustration that I've been facing
I don't remember how but I've lost motivation
I can't stop this sinking feeling from creeping over me
I can't stop myself seeing the darkness in front of me

It's not that hard to just fall apart, fall apart.
It's not that hard to just fall apart, I'm falling apart.
It's not that hard to just fall apart, from the start.
It's not that hard to just fall apart, I'm falling apart.
(Less Than Jake)


A few weeks ago I ran with friends. It was fun, running like gypsy kings with wild eyes and foaming lips and as colourful as kites. We ran across evergreen Kent fields, through villages and past backyards containing yapping dogs and noisy kids. The different internal landscapes we inhabit revealed themselves in fragments as we ran, different hopes and different dreams that found a safe place for expression amongst us. I felt hope.

My following runs have been lonely and duty bound. I am spiritually, emotionally and physically tired and I bank training miles with the weight of monkeys on my back. It's soul destroying and I feel like a stone falling down a long, black well. Black is my theme, I have crossed the familiar rubicon I know so well to the dark side. I'm frustrated, my running is going so well yet the dead ends I face seem to put the handbrake on, I can't go to the next level.

When joy dies it gets harder to pick up and go.





Hill 27 revisited

  • Monday, May 21, 2012
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 I have a friend. 
It's his birthday this week
and he is turning 45, two years younger than me.
It is slowly dawning on me that I am no longer a boy, that
youth lies in my past. There are moments of exception when I manage
to roll away the stone and walk out of the narrowing tomb. These exceptional moments often occur when I run. On Sunday, Jerry and I revisit hill 27. We don't really need an excuse to run on the Downs but we give the run a shape and identity - to search for the lost key. So many times when I run I can see the metaphors for life. Returning to a childish, playful state is a search for the Holy Grail, lost youth. Being young may be lost to me now but I can find kaleidoscopic moments running and searching for things lost or never experienced when life still burns bright with hope and promise. Like life the hills get steeper but the joy of ascent remains, the views and the accomplishment regenerate the spirit at least. Appropriately, we don't find the car key. This is no disaster, they remain out there somewhere in the wilderness, hidden like the Holy Grail. It means that we have a reason to keep searching.


Hill 27

  • Monday, May 14, 2012
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Q: Why did the blonde keep a coat hanger in her back seat?
A: In case she locks the keys in her car.

The back of Jerry's head, a fencepost and The North Downs.
"To infinity and beyond"

I don't want to offend any blondes, I am one. But as Dolly Parton once said, "I don't mind blonde jokes, I know I'm not dumb and neither am I blonde"

This was the run where I lost Jerry's car keys. Talk about a blonde moment, I zipped them into one of my pockets, cleverly choosing the only one with a hole in.

We run 10 miles in late afternoon sunshine. I'm not going to wax too lyrical, suffice to say the greens around us are profuse and vivid, the most beautiful I've ever seen this part of the world. Colour crackles in the air, the stained glass of nature. From across the valley we spot a hill with a path jagging upwards. Almost telepathically we decide to explore it, words are not necessary and we need every spare breath. To me, this becomes hill 27 because that is the name of the path. It deserves a better name, the views from the summit are truly glorious. This is the happiest and the lightest I've felt for a long time, the sense of freedom and the joy literally wells up like an artesian spring within me.

Eventually we return to the car. Life being life, I immediately experience the downside. No keys. The worst thing for me is that they are not my keys but Jerry's. My wife drives down to Jerry's house and then 35 minutes out into the countryside with the spares.

I deflate.

Hill 27


Frog in a blender

  • Saturday, May 12, 2012
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Thursdays run is manic and borders on the hysterical. I decide to run home from work via a long loop. I leave with ribald comments about my legs and comedy feet ringing in my ears. Women! It's raining hard and it's slippier than an ice rink. Running in Vibrams in these conditions is fun and possibly stupid. I'm an introvert and never more so than when I run, I withdraw deep and silent into myself. I meditate on the move, a mobile monk. On this day though I find myself laughing out loud as I windmill through the dripping trees. I resemble something between a novelty circus act and a frog in a blender. I return home soaked, muddy and spiritually complete.

Dust in the wind

  • Friday, May 11, 2012
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I close my eyes, only for a moment, and the moment's gone
All my dreams pass before my eyes, a curiosity
Dust in the wind
All they are is dust in the wind
(Kansas)
  

We are all different. I was sitting in an autism training session this week, on DVD  a young man was talking about his autism. "I've come to regard my condition as a blessing. I have yet to meet a normal person, no one is normal. My condition makes me more interesting" He said.
A day earlier I had read that Caballo Blanco had died of natural causes - heart disease.
Putting it together I thought we are all different. As a friend of mine puts it, we all have our shit, the quirks and foibles that make us interesting, occasionally irritating and sometimes even unlikeable.
Although I never met him I think this was Caballo. He had his shit but he was also something more rare. I think he was a type of modern day prophet. He had a passion and a message that burned inside him. He had an enormous generosity of spirit and a love for people and life. Prophets have always been a bit strange and counter cultural and the message they carry has the potential to alter societies. John the Baptist lived hermit like in the wilderness, ate locusts and wore skins. He had a message. And he died before his time. This is the other trait that often afflicts prophets, they die before we think they should. It almost seems necessary, somehow by dying their message remains fresh and relevant. Think Bob Marley. Think Sid Vicious or Anne Frank. Think Martin Luther King.
They are all more than dust in the wind.
Micah True had a heart for and a love for the Raramuri people of Mexico's Copper Canyon, he was determined to put them on the map and raise their profile worldwide. He died well before he should have. He died, almost as if he parted the veil between this world and the next and just stepped through. He was doing what he loved, running, by a stream in the wilderness. I wish he hadn't but I'm trusting that the principle of untimely death equals immortal message holds true.

foreboding and exhilaration and apocalypse and life.

  • Sunday, April 29, 2012
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Please do not adjust your set. I rise at 05:15am to run the Downs in heavy and unending rain. Jerry and I run wind lashed and rainswept on trails that are at times more like streams, the water flowing three to four inches deep. On some of the more sunken trails it is shin height. It is cold and even my waterproof Sealskinz socks eventually fail. And then there is the Mud. Mud and wind and horizontal rain stinging my face and blinding me. On occasions I stumble along the flowing chalky paths in thick mist, or as Jerry puts it, the base of the clouds. The vegetation is tall and dripping and grabs at us like desperate voiceless beggars as we pass. I don't spare them a glance, I am totally absorbed in our solitary odyssey through the alien landscape. The mission is everything. Strangely I have a sense and a memory of silence, the heaviness of the weather and the weight of the ground muting all sound. I know foreboding and exhilaration and apocalypse and life. It seems that all of nature is rupturing and breaking apart around us, the ground sliding beneath our feet. I have the knowledge that as I run that I will carry these things in the hot centre of my breast for days to come. We shall not speak of these things Jerry and I, when you've journeyed to another place through the ravaged landscape of your soul you must remain silent least others think you mad. They will never understand.

carpe viam

  • Sunday, April 15, 2012
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There is an intriguing sub group of runners worldwide known as the Dead Runners Society.
The name was drawn from the film, Dead Poets Society which made the Latin phrase carpe diem (seize the day) famous. The DRS has as it's motto carpe viam – seize the way/ roadway. Awesome.
These folk are like the Yoda's of the running world, full of wisdom and an aura of smoky mysticism.
The DRS was formed in Texas in 1991 and primarily revolved around computers and running. These were the days immediately before the big bang that formed the Internet. The early members were typified by computer pro's, researchers and academics. These days it is an online running club/ virtual community.
  • Members of the DS are known as Deads and the society has it's own flag (above) containing a smiley referring to computers and a star for the birthplace, Texas. Apart from the flag Deads have their own terminology:

  • Clydesdale: a heavy runner 
    Encounter: a face-to-face meeting of Dead Runners
  • Filk: In DRS parlance, a running-related song in which new lyrics are written to an existing tune
  • Goomies: Post-run snacks and drinks, e.g. bagels, bananas, sports drinks, and water
  • Penguin: a slow runner (coined by John "the Penguin" Bingham)
  • ORN: Obligatory Running Note. A brief note about a run appended to a message with no other running content
  • VRP: Virtual Running Partner. A dead who encourages another via private email
  • YMMV: Your Mileage May Vary. In DRS parlance, you may react differently to the shoe, medical treatment, training program, or other matter under discussion(wikipedia)
I confess that I am drawn to the DRS for the faint whiff of subversion it carries, in my mind anyway. I've always liked alternative thinkers. Perhaps one day I will take the plunge, I just don't feel Yoda like yet!




Loughborough #2

  • Monday, April 09, 2012
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I was playing table tennis with a very cool young dude called Jacob. "Are you ready I asked?"
" I was born ready" he replied. And he was. Apart from his wild hair and off the wall attitude he was also immediately obvious as a wheelchair basketball player. I've never seen anyone control a chair quite like it, spinning it at speed and even flipping it over.
Jacob was just one of the many high quality young people I encountered at The Youth Sport Trust's Step Into Sport Camp at Loughborough University last week. I came home after the three days with a major buzz. The Trust took 50 young sports leaders with a disability and 50 able bodied leaders and put them together. Added into the mix were Athlete mentors such as World Bobsleigh champion Nicola Minichiello, Badminton player Gail Emms, Thai boxer Rachel MacKenzie, Archer Mel Clarke and gymnast Craig Heap and many other high sporting achievers. We also had inspirational talks from Gold medallist Darren Campbell and Paralympic swimmer Marc Woods as well as intensive workshops covering things like officiating and team management.
My buzz came from being embedded in the passion flowing from the young people, YST staff and the athletes, the energy was incredible. I guess I was doing what I love, working with young people and doing it in a sporting context.

Farewell...

  • Sunday, April 01, 2012
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I didn't know him personally so I don't want to get mawkish about his death. I did, however, feel that it was appropriate to go out for my run today in tribute to Micah True, found dead in The Gila National Forest, New Mexico.
Micah, known as Caballo Blanco set out last Tuesday for a trail run and never returned.
So I ran my local trails as a thanks to an inspirational and cult figure. He was a great apologist for running in it's purist and most stripped down form as well as the Tarahumara people of the Copper Canyons in Mexico who he managed to raise the profile of.
The bible speaks of a great cloud of witnesses who have gone on before us and are cheering us on from heaven. I believe in a running context this is where Micah is, one of a great cloud of past running greats watching over us.
I stopped by the brook and threw in a symbolic pebble to join the many already on the river bed.
The final, fitting word goes to Chris McDougall, author of Born To Run on Twitter this morning:  caballo had the only funeral he would have wanted: his friends spent days running in the wilderness in his honor.
Amen. 




Where is Caballo?

  • Saturday, March 31, 2012
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So where is ultra runner Micah True AKA Caballo Blanco? Micah is the mysterious, charismatic and quixotic figure who shot to prominence in the book Born to Run. He set off on a routine trail run last Wednesday and hasn't been seen since. It would be unsurprising and poetic if he was to simply disappear in the wilderness - although I hope that is not going to be the case. I'm sure that when he is found he will have quite a story to tell.

Here is an interview he gave to The Daily Mile blog:
http://www.dailymile.com/blog/barefoot-running/run-light-and-smooth-an-interview-with-born-to-run-star-caballo-blanco

When Logan H. (aka Unarunner) first approached me about doing an interview with Caballo Blanco I thought, “how the hell am I gonna find that guy, didn’t it take months for Chris McDougall to find him?” I voiced my concern to Logan and he replied, “isn’t that what Facebook is for?” And wouldn’t ya know it, Caballo Blanco and I became fast Facebook friends. However, the stories of Caballo going sans internet for months at a time are true. I was lucky enough to catch him for a few questions while he was on a trip to the states following the Copper Canyon Ultramarathon.

Kathy S.: Can you tell us a little about who you are? A short autobiography…
Micah True (Caballo Blanco): I am who i am and that is who I am!
Kathy S.: For those of you that don’t know who Caballo Blanco (Micah True) is: he’s a friend of the running people, the Rarámuri. Caballo spends time running in the canyons of Mexico with the Tarahumara. His story can be found on runner’s bookshelves around the world in the book, Born to Run by Chris McDougall.


KS: I’m curious how you and the Rarámuri (both being recessive or introverted) have reacted to the sudden fame, post-Born to Run?

MT: I do not think the raramuri yet know the difference. I would say that I feel a huge responsibility to keep it real.



KS: How has Chris McDougal’s book changed your life and the Tarahumara’s? If you could change anything, what would it be?
MT: It has not yet affected the Rarámuri. None of them read the book, nor are even aware of it, and the last 3 years over 230 Rarámuri a year have come to run with us.
It has made my life much harder in ways; the workload and online time—and in ways has given me a voice. It is entirely up to me to make the best of the situation and I take responsibility for my own actions, happiness and life as it is.

KS: You talk a lot about light-footed-smooth running, but you’re known as a barefoot runner. Let’s set the record straight. What’s more important to you, running barefoot, or running efficiently? And what is your definition of efficient running?
MT: I never read much in the book about me nor anybody [but Ted] running barefoot. That message has been hijacked in the marketing of the book. Form and heart is where it is at. Light-footed running, and however one attains the feeling of light and smooooth. Even then, there is the beautiful story of the Czech army runner, Emil Zatopec, who had terrible form, “ran like Frankenstein,” in army boots. It is not about what one wears or not on their hooves. Just run free!

KS: There’s a lot of philosophy behind what you do, and not just running technique, or form. It seems that there’s an “ethic” that is entwined in how you run. Can you talk a little about more “meta” aspects of how you run?
MT: Be easy, be light, be smooooth and ya might just float above the crap that tends to suck us in and weigh us down. We have choice that makes us free.

KS: In Born to Run you’re depicted as somewhat of an …eccentric… person. Do you recognize yourself in this, or are you somewhat annoyed by it?
MT: Nobody I know sees me as described the first 50 pages or so. I did not even recognize myself. As the book went on it got better and more accurate with the exceptions of some liberties taken with my personal life without consulting me for permission or facts. Oh well. I am writing my own book: Born to Run Free: True Trails From The Horse’s Mouth.

KS: Some of our dailymilers have heard that the average life expectancy of the Tarahumara is around 40. What are your thoughts on longevity or lifespan and the seemingly healthy lifestyle of the Tarahumara?
MT: There is an extremely high infant mortality rate that off-sets the average age of death. Many Rarámuri live long healthy lives. When one out of every three babies dies the ones that live are likely to be healthy, especially running up and down mountains to chase down your goats and eating basically natural whole grain foods without a whole lot of calories. The Rarámuri are not “super-human” as depicted by some. They are very real people facing very real problems and issues, like all of us. We are all much more alike than different

KS: We’ve heard that you lost your, have you found him yet?
MT: Guadajuko, the little poop! Stressed his dad out, ended up in the dog pound near Phoenix, snipped and chipped—when I went to bail him out he was bummed; had jailhouse tattoos and walking with a limp and had kennel cough. He is running free now, the ghost dog of La Sierra Madre

KS: Where do you find the motivation to run ultra marathons?
MT: Easy to do what we love!

KS: What’s your favorite brand of running shoe?
MT: No faces, but I like cheap and light. Sandals are great and a true minimalist means “cheap”! I do like the New Balance MT [Micah True] 101′s—only about 70 bucks and low soled to the ground, soft mesh upper and light

KS: What’s your favorite energy meal? And can we get a recipe for the “super food” you must eat?
MT: Pinole! Breakfast of champions; finely ground and slightly roasted maize—a fine powder…good cereal and sports drink. Pure complex carbohydrate and sustained energy

KS: What is it like to run with Scott Jurek?
MT: Scott [el Venado] is a class act person and great runner