Put some art into Fartlek: be creative, find your inner child and you will go faster.

I wrote this sometime ago, but I don’t think it ever saw the light of day.


I must be getting old because it took two tree-related incidents to fire up my imagination to come up with the theme for this blog post; fun! Newton just sat under one tree, had an apple fall on his head, and hey presto he’d thought up the whole law of gravity thing.

I was running along a route which passes under a group of trees with widespread branches and noticed that a massive flock of starlings were resting there. The white patches underneath indicated this was not the place to hang around. I sprinted through that section as fast as I could and escaped without any blemishes. I was quite impressed with my speed. A few days later I passed by a very old and twisted oak tree and remembered passing it a few years earlier running with two ladies who insisted on climbing it. They were both in their sixties, but had not lost their youthful enthusiasm for climbing. It was then I had my eureka moment (I know different scientist) connecting the two tree incidents – a lot of the time we’ve lost the child-like fun of running. Running books talk about ‘Fartlek’, a Swedish word for “speed play”, but unfortunately it has become just another interval session; we’ve hammered the joy out of it.

When I thought about the fun times I’ve had running I realised that many have come about by accident, but I am now more alert to the opportunities. The first that springs to mind was a rather incongruous event that happened in the middle of a 40-mile training run in preparation for the Comrades Marathon. I was about halfway into the run when I meet some young children on a farm track. One of them asked where I had come from, when I explained he didn’t know where I meant until his sister said, “It’s near where we stop for McDonald’s when we visit Nan.” “Cor that’s miles away” he said “you must be knackered. Do you want to race me on my bike?” I’ve never understood why he thought I would want to, but I took up the challenge. He pedalled furiously, and I ran as fast as I could. Fortunately, the track was muddy, making cycling hard and I just managed to beat him to the gate at the end of the track. The children went off for their tea and I had the prospect of 20 miles more running after exhausting myself in a pointless race. I chuckled to myself most of the way back at the stupidity of it, but it had been fun.

The next fun bit was post-Comrades, on a recovery run. I was jogging along at a comfortable pace, on a narrow path in a wood, when I disturbed a pheasant. He decided to run away from me by running straight ahead along the path, rather than dodging to the side into the wood. I sped up to see how fast he was, he sped up, I sped up some more. He was more than a match for me. I tried even harder and he resolutely refused to fly or escape to the side. I was determined to beat him. Then there was a sudden urgency as I realised that we would soon reach a busy road and I was probably chasing him to his death.  I put in a lung-bursting effort and started gaining on him before he casually flew off to the side and into the woods. What a great speed session that was.

Since then I have chased deer, kingfishers, hares, herons, outrun lippy kids on housing estates, played aeroplanes running down hills, raced cars (not that difficult in London), run to beat the breaking waves on Hastings seafront and on one occasion chased a shoal of fish up a stream.

Release your inner child, have fun and at the same time get some speed work in.




DNF also means Did Not Fail

RunnerI have noticed a growing trend on Facebook. People are posting about the races they did not complete starting with the words “Sorry, I failed”.

Now there could be a number of reasons for this: people are not finishing races more often, people are talking about not finishing more often and people are being more harsh on themselves than they used to be or maybe they enjoy public self-flagellation. You may be able to think of more. I find it disturbing that the think they have failed. Perhaps they are bringing a 10k and half-marathon mentality to the wonderful world of ultra running. When you line up for a 10k or half-marathon it is almost certain that you are going to finish, the only doubt is what your time will be, whether it is a pb and where you are placed. When you have run a few marathons the same applies, finishing is never in doubt. However, every time I stood on the start line of the 56-mile Comrades ultramarathon there was always a significant doubt in my mind as to whether I would finish. Ultramarathons are a different breed of events; ultrarunners are a different breed from more normal runners.

Not to finish an ultra is not a failure, it is a sign that you are moving outside your comfort zone and attempting something difficult. It is a learning experience, a chance to change and come back stronger or, perhaps, to realise that this is not one of your strengths. To those people saying “Sorry I failed” I encourage you to change how you look at the world. For example, you might say “My knee failed me” when an existing problem stopped you from finishing an event. Think about saying “I failed my knee”: you entered the event knowing it wasn’t 100% sound.

If you have trained properly are in good health and did not finish an event, you did not fail. You were brave enough to get to the start line and test yourself. That time you were weighed in the scales and the balance was not in your favour, but, because of that experience, the next time the result will be different. You may still post a DNF, but you will be one more step closer to your goal.


Footloose and fancy-free – hell no – foot supported and injury free

SOLEI had to walk a marathon through the streets of London to get these SOLE footbeds, but it was well worth it. Action PR’s client, Everyone Active, was a sponsor of the recent Shine Walk in London which was a fund-raiser for Cancer Research UK. The PR agency decide to get a team together to take part and invited some National Running Show ambassadors to join them. Another of their clients is SOLE, hence the free footbeds. I was really chuffed to get them, because I have been using SOLE footbeds for years and my existing pair were getting to the end of their long, tough life. That included a 3-month back-packing hike in Scotland; wet feet every day and long distances on varied terrain. I had no foot problems.

Honesty announcement: I used to be the Ed part of Ed & Phil Active, who were agents and distributors selling sports and outdoor goods to independent retailers, before I left to set up Trailrunningman. SOLE footbeds were one of those products, however we only sold products we believed in and used ourselves. The business is now run exclusively by my ex business partner, friend and serial marathon runner Phillip Howells. If you want to buy some footbeds get them from an independent retailer or Ed & Phil via the online shop.

Now to why I love SOLE insoles. I do not have any particular foot or lower limb issues, but do run and hike very long distances, so I am on my feet for a long time. The SOLE footbeds help in two ways. One, because of the heat-moulded fit, the load on your foot is spread over the entire surface, not just the ball and heel of your foot, which helps reduce hotpots and hence blisters. It will also help with power transfer (something triathletes get very excited about) when you are a cycling. Apparently, it will also improve the distance you can hit a golf ball, but I’ve never seen the point of golf so I cannot get excited about that.

Two, they provide arch support which means for me that my feet do not get tired, even when standing up for hours on a concrete floor at a trade show or expo, or when running ultramarathons. Note the all-important word, support! It does this by a one-piece construction of EVA with variable density. Other brands have different sections which control the foot, which can cause more issues than it resolves.

If you suffer from any lower limb problems, e.g. Plantar Fasciitis, then SOLE footbeds should be your first port of call. A lot cheaper than a podiatrist. However, if the problem is serious then consult a professional. Many podiatrists, use SOLE footbeds as the base on which they fit custom made orthotics You can trim part of the footbed to fit your shoe if necessary. If you are a bit too enthusiastic with the scissors or overcook the footbeds when softening, don’t worry, SOLE operate a 90-day no-quibble return policy.

If you want more, have a look at the SOLE website, you will also find research results on there, including the golf study.



Advice – how do you know if it is any good?

adviceAlanis Morissette – Ironic

“It’s the good advice that you just didn’t take”

Not following good advice is annoying, but listening to bad advice is even worse and can be disastrous. How can you tell the difference between the good, the bad and the indifferent? Fortunately there are some simple questions you can ask yourself to judge how good the advice you are being offered is likely to be.

  • Do you know the person? Can they be trusted. If you don’t know them do some research to see if they have the relevant knowledge and experience.
  • Are they just displaying their knowledge or are they applying it to your circumstances?
  • Are they similar in nature to you or at least sympathetic to your goals? If they always want to win and you just want to complete then their advice may not be appropriate.
  • Is the advice supported by other people’s opinions. But remember Copernicus and later Galileo were lone voices and they were right.
  • Does it feel right. Sometimes we instinctively know when something is wrong because we have unconsciously processed  important information.

As a general rule the more emphatic someone is that you should do something the more likely it is that you shouldn’t.

The best advice will come from you with the benefit of experience. Don’t let it be the good advice that you just didn’t take. The second time you get kicked by a donkey you don’t learn anything (Old Spanish proverb).