How Not To Say “Fuck” On The Radio

I was on the radio again today. It was Andie Harper’s Mid-Morning Show on BBC Radio Cambridgeshire. The producer contacted me thanks to Sue Dougan who is a runner and Radio Cambridgeshire presenter. I’ve been on her show a couple of times and thoroughly enjoyed the experience.

We were talking this morning about wearing headphones when out running and in particular during races. I was on after Adam Moffat from One Step Beyond, the organisers of the Cambridge Half Marathon. They have banned headphones from the race on safety grounds and I think the Beeb wanted a runner’s perspective as well as the organisers’. Cue Rich.

I had much more notice when I went onto Sue’s show. I had a good couple of weeks in each case to worry about it, to tell people about it and then to worry some more. I was most worried about allowing a little sweary word out inadvertently. I’m a sweary man. I know little about mass press and public relations but I know that if you want to get invited back to day-times shows you can’t be sweary. What I am sure about is that I have to try really hard not to say “Fuck” on the radio, All the way there in the car, i kept saying to myself, “Don’t say fuck, Don’t say fuck.” I thought about writing “Don’t say ‘Fuck'” on a post-it note and sticking it to the desk in front of the microphone but that wouldn’t have been politic in the circumstances.

I’m not going to rehearse the arguments for and against wearing headphones when out running. There doesn’t seem much point. I don’t like wearing them because they’re just one more thing between me and the world. They’re a distraction. I understand how someone else might feel just the opposite. Still, they’re wrong…

And I managed not to say “Fuck” this morning. Aren’t I good?

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They Think It’s All Over

We had the final assessment for 8 Weeks to Natural on Saturday afternoon. Like the first session, it was at the Parliament Hill track on the edge of Hampstead Heath. Once again, Simon from Sponge Marketing was playing host, Tom was taking photographs and Helen was our coach. It was a good session for nearly everyone. Danae wasn’t back from her hols and couldn’t make it which was a shame and Tim arrived near the end of the afternoon straight off the plane to Gatwick. That was commitment!

I struggled to do two or three laps of the track. I could walk reasonably well but even a few hundred metres of drill was enough to set my achilles twanging. I couldn’t do more than shuffle round with little fluency or economy. I just wanted to show willing, really. ActionJen had a mahoosive blister following her half marathon debut and was suffering too. We both dropped out after handful of slow, uncomfortable laps and watched our friends whizz around the track elegantly and with hardly any apparent effort.

Helen said that even over the handful of laps we had managed, she had been able to assess our progress. I was pleased that I had discernable progress to show. She said that we could spend the rest of the time on the track or take to the slopes of Parliament Hill for a hill session. I watched with some jealousy as the others had the hill session to end all hill sessions. I love hills. ActionJen and I stood to one side as under Helen’s careful coaching and incessant encouragement, the group flew up and down Parliament Hill. We’ve decided that when we’re both fit again, we’ll ask Helen for a shared coaching session and do some hills too.Sadly, I don’t know when that’s going to happen. I’m making very slow progress. Even the very little that I did on Saturday has put me back beyond where I was originally.

We still don’t know who has won the competition. That’s really not that important. Each of us has made progress towards a more efficient running style, one which in time will carry us farther and at greater speed than we had been able to maintain before. I think I’m a winner from that point of view. I have a pair of delicately trashed Bare-Xs which I would happily run back into a burning building to save once I was sure wife, step-son, cats and chicken were safe and inov-8 are giving us another pair of shoes each. I’ve chosen the Bare-Grips which I hope will carry me through the latter part of the cross country season.

My thanks go to Simon and the people at Sponge Marketing for organising everything, to inov-8 for the opportunity to do it and all the goodies – buy their stuff! – to my fellow 8 Weeks competitors for their blogs and company and most of all to Helen Hall for her coaching, mentoring, advice and encouragement. I’ve loved every second of it.

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The Past Is Another Country, They Have Morton’s Foot There

It seems so long ago, it could be another country. It’s not that long ago; it was only Tuesday. It was another country. I’m now sitting on the 24th floor of the Hyatt in Chicago and I very deliberately have my back to the window. It wouldn’t be completely fair to say that I have a fear of heights but only because you would miss an ideal opportunity to say that I am completely petrified of them. The only reason I don’t have the curtains closed is that the room is quite dark enough as it is. We’re not even close to the top of this tower and there is another one, even taller just across the road. The room faces north west and never sees direct sunlight. It’s a vampire’s wet dream. My poor, old laptop needs to be charged more frequently than a fat bloke in a marathon so I can’t take it out and use the WiFi downstairs yet. (28% battery, and climbing!) Here I sit, shivering with the combination of over-powerful air-conditioning and abject terror just to write you a blog post. I should have been a war correspondent. It would have been easier on the nerves.

So, after all that pre-amble…

I went to see Helen Hall on Tuesday so she could help me address the inadequacies of my Morton’s foot. She has a completely brilliant shop in Amersham where she stocks minimal shoes for efficient running and bike frames and where I would spend stupid, stupid amounts of money on shiny things for triathlons were I to forget that I need to pay for sensible things like food and my mortgage. My Dearly Beloved would probably complain – with some justification – were I to bring home a carbon-fibre time trial bike frame when all I went out for was some coaching, assessment and a roll of kinesio tape.

I was sensible enough to turn up dressed and equipped to run. Helen popped me on her treadmill having first checked that I was happy on them. I’m not, not really. I hate them but this was the easiest way for her to assess what was going on with my feet. She had me walk at a very steady pace and watched my feet intently. It was quite strange to have someone pay such close attention to me but that was what I was there for. I forgot the weirdness after a couple of minutes and just go on with the business of walking barefoot on a treadmill without falling off.

Helen began cutting strips of kinesio tape which she placed on the ball of each foot, one layer at a time. She would have me walk at the same steady pace after each strip went on until she was happy with what she saw. She wouldn’t immediately tell me what she was looking for because she didn’t want me to change what I was doing consciously. Instead, she wanted my feet and brain to work together without my conscious self getting in the way. She was happy when we reached six layers of tape on each foot. She said that at that point my little toe touched the ground for the first time. That was enough.

She had me step off the treadmill and walk across the floor of the shop. I did and I was struck by a sudden giddiness. It wasn’t because I’d been on the treadmill for the best part of 25 minutes at this point. Rather it was was because my body position had changed just enough for my balance organs in my ears to pick it up. The feeling only lasted a few moments but it was enough for me to remark on it. Helen then asked if I noticed any other changes. I did. My toes – especially the big toes – were touching the ground on each step now. I hadn’t noticed them do that before, even when I had been walking around in bare feet.

What the six little strips of tape do is very subtly change the way my foot works. Helen says that my foot now has the chance to be a foot: that is to allow the complex of muscles, tendons, ligaments and bones to act as shock absorbers and an energy recovery system. They will feed some of the energy they take in on each stride into the next one, if I allow them to work.

Having established that each foot now had the chance to work properly, Helen had me pay attention to my posture. I have to confess that I am a lazy, slouchy excuse for a man. I have read somewhere a Chinese saying that sitting is better than standing, but lying down is bes of all. I would prefer to slump, round-shouldered and hump-backed even over lying down. That is not good enough for Helen. She had me standing up more straightly and walking with my head up, my shoulders back a little and with my weight more on my heels on each step. I should imagine a plumbline down through my body and keep it as straight as possible. I said that I felt about an inch and a half taller just because of paying more attention to my posture as I walked.

She then had me run on the treadmill in the Hattori shoes I brought with me. She gave me even more to think about. She said I should allow my feet to become less rigid by imagining the shoes giving the soles of my feet a massage on every step. She had me exaggerate various parts of my gait to check if I could see any difference in how each move felt to me. I had to allow the angle between the top of my foot and my shin to decrease, or to flick up my heels. Each time she asked me to do something differently, she checked whether I felt a difference. Most of the time I did, but occasionally I could feel no difference at all.

She gave me what an actor would call “notes.” My ankles are very rigid, apparently and my right foot doesn’t pronate at all. My ankles are only hinges and my feet are stiff little levers. It means that my calves end up doing an awful lot of work getting my feet and ankles to move instead of just acting as postural control mechanisms. My bum and thighs do much less work than they should in powering my motion.

It seems that every time I speak to Helen, I have my head completely filled with new things to think about. That is brilliant in some ways but I need to break down what she says into manageable chunks. I am a runner of very little brain so I like to have just one or at most two things to do at once. My body has spent the last forty six years learning to move the way it does and I’m trying to change some of what it likes doing in eight weeks. Well, six and a bit now. I’m off to do The Drill in Grant Park followed by a speed session if the weather ever cools down enough.

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I’m Going To Be A Natural

I’m going to be a blogger for inov-8 and I’m quite excited! They asked for applications on their Facebook page a while back and I applied and then promptly did what I always do and forgot about it. What I should have remembered was this: they wanted people interested in transitioning from cushioned running shoes to less cushioned, more natural-feeling shoes to go through the process with a coach and blog about it. Well, you know me and shoes…

In days gone by, a gentleman needed no more than one pair of black shoes for smart, one pair of brown shoes for casual, sandals for the summer, a stout pair of boots for the country and Wellingtons, puddles, for the jumping in. Sandshoes or jimmies were an optional extra. I have so many pairs of running shoes now that whatever claims I may have had to gentlemanly status have been thrown out. I shall never gain admittance to The Drones. The current list includes but is not necessarily limited to three pairs of road training shoes, one pair of cross-country spikes, one pair of trail shoes, one pair of racing flats, two pairs of silly racing slippers in different colours so I don’t get them mixed up and one pair of trainers which I could use as racers in a pinch. That doesn’t include the cycling shoes I bought with the cleats in the bottom which nearly always come undone from the pedals when I ask them to. They live and perhaps breed in the bottom of my wardrobe. For all I know, they gang up on my sensible work shoes in the dark and call them names. You know how cruel shoes can be. I don’t think they’d take on my DM boots but the brown brogues are sensitive and probably wouldn’t cope well with being bullied.

I might have been on the cheese again. I’ll stop this train of thought before the spikes do anything unseemly with MrsHL’s new Vibrobarefoots.

I have to go to London on Saturday afternoon now for an assessment session. I don’t know what that involves but I’m looking forward to it. Running around, I suppose, under the watchful gaze of Helen Hall. I really hope it’s Helen Hall, the triathlete and running coach and not Helen Hall, the piano teacher who I’m sure is a lovely person in many ways but not necessarily for advice about running.

More on the Saturday session afterwards, of course.

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