The Scribbler

27 February 2013

Trainer tart

I have 5 weeks to go until my first race of the season (a 10k) and I have no idea about what kind of running form I’m in. With one thing and another, I haven’t really settled into a consistent training routine this year which unsettles my head a bit.

But, on the positive side, I’ve kept ticking over and done some okay mileage, and more importantly, I’m not recovering from injury like I was at this time last year. Fingers and everything else crossed, but it looks like my plantar fasciitis and other bio-mechanical niggles are behaving (please don’t let that be the curse of death).

I was hoping to get out and do a fast blast at Newcastle parkrun this weekend, but a covering of snow, snow falling during the run and still slightly recovering from my cold, meant I had to dial back expectations. I still ran quite hard, given the conditions, and was happy to be within about 90s of my best time this year (run in very different conditions). A few more parkruns should give me a feel for what I can come up with on race day.

In a way, the running really just has to look after itself. I guess it just feels a bit different, that there isn’t a big run only event looming later in the year. No half marathons for me in 2013. Just a big old standard tri – and if I can find the right event, maybe 2 standard distance events.

One thing I have changed is my running style. After spraining my ankle in October, I took the opportunity to retrain myself with a walk to run plan and move to a more midfoot strike.

The initial impetus was to try and run more efficiently. So I ran for a while with a shorter stride and faster cadence, trying to land lightly. But it was only when I really went back to basics, adding in running drills and going back to walk run, that I really made the changes.

Some good strengthening work and stretching helped overcome the initial tight calves and I still need to work on mobility in my toes. But I’d be lying if I didn’t also hope that the change in style will make me faster eventually too.

This weekend was the first time that I’d been able to actually see that change in running style for myself.  There’s always been a bit of a nagging doubt at the back of my mind that changing my stride may have messed about with my running and just developed new bad habits.

I went to Sweatshop in the MetroCentre  to try out some new trainers. It’s a good place to go, as the sales staff are runners and they have all sorts of kit to help you test out your running style, including a treadmill where you can film your feet and see how you run in slow motion. When I ran, I could see I looked nice and straight with no wobbly ankles and I was definitely midfoot landing rather than heel striking.

There were lots of people waiting to be assessed when I got there, but everyone got great service from the staff, and I was very happy to have Niyc Pidgeon, who I know from Newcastle parkrun, helping me choose a new pair of running shoes.

I tried loads of different trainers, including the Nike free (towards a barefoot shoe) and some Asics racers in a stunning orange and purple. It was great to be able to compare and contrast different makes and styles so closely together. I reckon I could have run in any of them, but there a few subtle differences. Some felt wide at the front, so my feet shifted more from side to side. Others were loose at the heel, and tightening the laces to get them to a better grip put a bit more pressure on the top of my foot than I liked.

I was going purely on a research trip, but with some vouchers burning a hole in my pocket and a generous parkrun discount, I came away with a pair of New Balance 1080s. Lighter cushioning than my current Asics Nimbus, but still not really a minimal or racer. I’ll be weaning myself into them over the next few weeks and hoping we’ll be ready for our race debut together at the North Tyneside 10k at the end of March.

I’m still thinking about the Nike frees, which I really liked too, but I’d have to move into even more gradually. But they were the only barefoot style I tried and they were pink (there are places I will not go and pink is one). I’d like to try a few more barefoot/minimal trainers and maybe think about them as a second/short race pair.

But I’m laughing at myself as a total shoe agnostic. I don’t seem to have settled on a favourite brand. I started in Nike Pegasus (I still have a pair that I wear in the gym); I made a bit of an error with Saucony (too stiff and rigid for me, and I went through the toe within a month of wearing them); loved my Asics Nimbus (the shoes I ran all my 2011 PBs with before I bought another pair which saw me round the Olympic park and another Great North Run). And now I’m in New Balance and flirting with barefoots on the side.

So from saying that running needs to take care of itself, I’ve actually spent a good bit of time thinking about it . But that’s helped me work out something that I can also apply to another aspect of my triathlon training.

Changing my run style wasn’t easy and it felt awkward and unnatural and frustrating at first, but I stuck with it and now it’s second nature. In fact, I can’t imagine running any other way now.

Just like the swim drills that should improve my stroke technique (and there’s lots to improve). They feel strange, they upset my natural rhythm and I have to think about what I’m doing when I try them. But, like changing my run style, I’ll get the results I’m looking for if I stick with them and look for long term, rather than short term progress. I have 9 weeks until my first sprint tri – plenty of time to keep working and improving.

Oh, and in case you’re wondering, no one from Sweatshop or any of the shoe brands asked me to write about them in this blog. But I’d happily recommend Sweatshop if you’re looking for advice and running shoes.

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