September 2014 archive

Sep 26

My 5 mile running week – Why constraints boost creativity and motivation

They say that necessity is the mother of invention. Why is that? ..and can I use it to give my motivation for running a boost?[spacer height=”10px”]

Why is it that when faced with a host of obstacles, the brain sits up, takes notice and the creative juices begin to flow. How can we harness that for our own devices when struggling for motivation with our running (or anything else that we might care to mention).
Create a few carefully chosen constraints and your brain will kick into gear and look for inventive ways to make the most of what you have left.[spacer height=”10px”]
Why do I run (and write) more consistently when my life is at its busiest?[spacer height=”10px”]
Over the years, I have consistently found this to be the case. I dream about retiring and having the rest of my life to do nothing but run. I can picture myself running over the hills into the sunshine with an air of freedom and wild abandon. However, I know enough about myself to recognise that it just won’t be like that. At least not all the time. Given complete freedom, my motivation will plummet. In the same way that I crave a bit of peace and quiet from our crazy family life and an evening on my own is bliss, a week on my own is too much and I long for the hurly burly again.[spacer height=”10px”]
My brain loves to solve problems – In Laws of Subtraction, Matthew May says that

‘Creativity thrives under intelligent constraints…it does not require unrestrained freedom; rather it relies on limits and obstacles.’

Given a blank page art is difficult. Given some rules, we thrive. If you have ever tried to write a Haiku or a limerick, you will know what I mean. You work within a framework of constraints and the juices begin to flow. Many things are the same. If I asked you to review your favourite running book and gave you total freedom, a few of you will jump to it but most of us are not sure where to start and therefore never do. However, If I ask you to tell us the best thing you learnt from a running book but you have to use exactly 33 words (and none of them are to be the word running) our brains suddenly start to work on it. We can’t help it.[spacer height=”10px”]
Summer is the same for me. I work in schools and long for the summer holidays where I imagine endless days stretching into the distance. However the truth is that I don’t run as much during the summer as at other times of the year. I just have too much freedom. It goes well to start with but with a blank page to run into my motivation drops.[spacer height=”10px”]

[important]I have added a thread in our forum on the topic of intelligent constraints. Please come and join in. It is easy to login with facebook. [/important]
In summer, I am best if I give myself constraints and rein the freedom in. It works if I commit to running every other day with a friend. We did that last summer with success; we also restricted ourselves to not running the same route twice. It kept our motivation up.[spacer height=”10px”]
How does it work in other areas of life?
It is certainly the case that I never seem to have enough money and some periods when we first had children were tough. Some of the best days out we have had as a family is when we have had strict financial constraints. We had a brilliant day doing all the free things for kids in Liverpool. The ice-cream tastes better when you know that it is the big treat for the day. When we need to be thrifty, our brains kick in and for some people it is their way of life. It is a lot of fun. When we are in that position, we often crave a big wad of cash but somehow days where we spend with no regard are just not as much fun. Maybe once in a while perhaps but not as the norm.[spacer height=”10px”]

I am not a great cook and tend to go through the motions at meal time. I buy the same old things week in week out. However, I love it when we have next to nothing left and I need to create a meal out of it. There is something immensely satisfying and it tastes good. The same goes for calories. The popular fasting diet going around at the moment limits you to 600 calories on your fast day. (Don’t get me started – Eating and calling it fasting is like running in shoes and calling it barefooting). I have done it a few times and found the motivation to cook more creatively than I have for ages.[spacer height=”10px”]
Many people make a living out of the struggle. They thrive on the task of sorting things out under tight constraints and even when they have made it and are very successful, they long for the old days of wheeling and dealing and ducking and diving. It can be in the heady world of high finance or the more gentle pursuit of gardening.[spacer height=”10px”]
The late Geoff Hamilton was the chief gardener at The BBC for years. Geoff became very successful and created 38 beautiful gardens at his Barnsdale home and in the years before he died, made a number of television series and took viewers through the process. However, they were all pretty similar and merged into each other. His family said that he looked happiest when he did a series on the £2 garden. His challenge was to create a lovely garden on no more than £2 a week. He didn’t lower his standards but you could see the joy on his face when he used a cloche made from old bamboo and hose pipe rather than simply buying an expensive one. He seemed reinvigorated and no longer going through the motions. He got his mojo back. As an example, I appreciate that it is a bit random but it has stuck with me. I enjoyed that programme more than any other because my brain was ticking alongside his and trying to solve his problems.[spacer height=”10px”] can we harness this for our own purposes? How can we add intelligent limitations to our running?[spacer height=”10px”]
Anyone can impose strict limitations on things but how do we add a constraint that gets our creative juices flowing and us out of bed in the morning raring to go?
An obvious choice is limiting the number of miles we run. We could limit ourselves to a 10 miles a week or 20 or 30 or 50. Whatever fits best for you. You could run as many times a week as you like but have a maximum long run of 5 miles (or 10 etc).[spacer height=”10px”]
How about limiting the number of hours a week you run. How about 3 hours spread in any way you like across the week but no more than 3 hours in total.
How about limiting the number of runs. If you are the kind of runner who runs almost every day, why not constrain yourself to 3 runs a week. Mileage is up to you but you must do the in no more than 3 separate outings.
During the summer, I set myself the constraint of never running the same route twice. It stopped me slipping into a rut and I had to get the map out to search for new places to run. It worked for me.[spacer height=”10px”]
You could limit what you wear on your feet. How about having a week where you wear nothing at all on your feet.
The way we can set intelligent constraints for ourselves is limitless and what will boost for one person may just feel silly to another. Play around until one tweaks your curiosity. Dig a bit deeper until your creativity starts to work despite yourself. Then have fun with it.[spacer height=”10px”]
I am going to set myself a constraint over the next couple of weeks. I am being drastic and am only going to allow myself 5 miles a week to play with. As soon as I thought about it, my brain started to come up with the best ways of getting the most out of them.[spacer height=”10px”]
Should I run 1,1,1,1,1 or 1,3,1 or 1, 1.5, 2.5? Should I add some speed work into the mix in one of my runs? Should every run be barefoot? Should I mix up the terrain and run a mile barefoot on the rough stuff to help me get used to that? I have some good hills close to home, should I aim for them and do some hill reps? Maybe if I find a system that works for me with 5 miles, I could then scale it up. Perhaps this is a good way of pressing reset and going back to basics.[spacer height=”10px”]
I would love to hear about some of the constraints that you set yourself to spice things up.
….and I wouldn’t mind some advice. Given a 5 mile week what would you do with it?

[important]I have added a thread in our forum on the topic of intelligent constraints. Please come and join in. It is easy to login with facebook. [/important]

Sep 19

You don’t need anyone’s permission to run!

Those of you who have been reading my posts for a while will know that I don’t get annoyed. At least not in print. I am more the ‘Live and let live. run and let run’ brigade.

...but I read something a few weeks ago which got under my skin. I read a fantastic post from one of our members. It was a tale of real success and progress. The sort of story that you just have to share with people who will understand. Nothing wrong there. So what was it that made me so annoyed?
It was nothing to do with the story. It was the fact that they seemed almost ashamed. The runner posting wanted to share their progress but they didn’t feel right about calling it success. Where does that come from?
I then read another post from runner in another forum from a runner who was very disparaging about runners who they thought were non serious. i.e. Those who were not trying to win. Those who were discovering running later in life. The language used was insulting and what hit me more was that the person posting was completely oblivious to the impact that their words may have. He seemed to think that the everyone only runs to try and get on the podium. It was almost as if everyone else was running for his benefit so that he could demonstrate how good he was and beat them.
This simply isn’t the case.
I think he thought that during a 10k with a few thousand runners taking part, everyone was looking to see who came in the top 3 and was very impressed. I have done hundreds of races and I can safely say that with the odd exception (I once came 3rd – It was a long time ago!), I have no idea who won.
Running offers us so many benefits that many runners measure their success without considering times or race positions.
Running is not owned by a few people who are relatively quick compared to a few other people. We do not run with their permission and should not be seeking their approval.
Of course, most quick club runners understand that and they are encouraging, helpful and supportive. Unfortunately some aren’t and we end up with disparaging comments that say more about the commenter than anything else.
The real question is why we want to run in the first place. If it is because we want to win races then that is great but the answer will be different for each of us.
So…have a go at these 3 questions and see what comes out of the other end. It may not be what you first thought. Be honest with the first answer and then use questions 2&3 to dig a little deeper.
1. Why is running important to you? (e.g. I want to improve my fitness)
2. Take you answer from question1 and ask ‘..but why is that important to you? (e.g. Because I don’t want to die young from heart disease. I want to feel good in my clothes and keep my emotional state level)
3. One last time..Take that and ask ‘…but really. Why is that important to you?. (We only get one life, I don’t want to waste it. I want to enjoy my grandchildren and remain active into later life)
I went through the process and at no point did I mention coming third in a local race. I did that once and I loved it but it isn’t my real reason for running. For me, it is to do with maintaining my weight and keeping on an emotional even keel. I want to live a long and happy life that I can share with my family.
We can measure our success better when we first realise why we run in the first place. We need to challenge that dialogue that exists out there that it is all about times and podium finishes.
I enjoy running fast and enjoy trying to beat my previous times and for a few years that was all I did but I now have much more important reasons for getting out of bed for an early morning run.
I used to run with a club who had a number of different groups that ran on club nights. The slowest groups had christened themselves ‘The Slugs’. After yet another lay off, I returned on club night and went out for a 7miler with them. The pace was slower than I had ever run but I found it a humbling experience.
What I found was a group of dedicated, serious runners. They raced more often than most other groups and were more regular attendees at club nights as they seemed to be injured less than the faster groups. I came out of that evening with a different perspective than previously. For these people, running was deeply ingrained in their lives and there was real camaraderie in their group.
There are millions of runners out there with millions of reasons for running. It is folly to assume that everyone is there for the same reason as you. Understand your reasons, dig a little deeper and you will find the motivation that you need to be a runner in the long term.
You don’t need permission from anyone to run. Mark your progress against your own criteria and ignore everyone else’s agenda. Be proud of your achievements and shout them from the rooftops. We are listening and applaud you all. Bravo running folk. Bravo!

Sep 05

A hello from Andy at Barefoot Running Northern Ireland

We have a new service added to our coaches page for all those of you in Northern Ireland. Andy from Barefoot Running NI introduces himself here.


Andy from Barefoot Running NI.

Barefoot Running NISo I’m one of those people who started out barefoot running after reading Born To Run. It’s not something I feel the urge to apologise for, but so many barefooters started for this very reason, that it’s almost become a cliché. But the book is so good and the chapter towards the end with the Daniel Lieberman research is hugely compelling. So it is this book that started my barefoot journey. My first barefoot running experience lasted all of 1 minute 43 seconds according to my running app. I came out the front door, up the drive and on to the footpath. The footpath outside my house is very fine, sharp, stoney, rough old tarmac and the sensations from that overwhelmed me almost immediately. I passed a man walking his dog and tried to act confident and normal but I don’t think either of us were convinced. He gave me a look, part fear, part “you’re the weirdest guy I’ve ever seen, this is going on facebook”. I made it about 30 meters from the house and had to turn back, passing the dog walker yet again…
I soon found a new place to run where it wasn’t so challenging on new feet and took to the coastal paths. Comparatively smooth and barefoot friendly, and somehow running barefoot near the beach is infinitely more acceptable for members of the public when seeing a grown man running unshod. However you still got those looks… the stare/gawping from some members of the public. I don’t know why but for some reason it seems to be age 60 plus women who are most horrified by it. They make a part noise of utter shock, and part utter disgust or horror, as if you’ve already cut your feet and are continuing to run blood through the streets. It’s a great sound if I’m honest.
Anyway I kept at it and slowly worked my way up to half marathon distance, running my first barefoot half in 1:56 (20 mins faster than my shod time!). After the half, I got a lot of people approaching me asking about barefoot running and was I mad. It got me thinking, “I can’t be the only barefoot runner out there”. Surely some other people here in Northern Ireland must have read this book and been as inspired as I was.
I decided I needed to find out. I went home and that night set up a Twitter account in the name of Barefoot Running NI. I started posting barefoot related articles and vids. Started organising one man club runs and advertising them, saying “all welcome”.
I turned up at every race I could and got a club running vest printed up by means of advertising, getting people talking on social media and hopefully finding others. Word began to spread and at one race I was approached by our local mayor, who had heard all about it.
It wasn’t too long before I started hearing back from others. I actively trailed the net, searching forums and contacting other barefooters I found to join me in my quest to start a club.
It wasn’t until I received contact from Simon Hunter that I actually met, face to face,another barefooter. It was great to run as a pair and not be stared at like some you’re loon, parents ushering their kids away from you. It was no longer crazy, it was a thing!
Simon was onboard pretty much instantly and as psyched as I was about a club. He set up our facebook page, got himself BRNI running vest and we hit all the races we could. Soon we started attracting more barefooters and meeting up at the weekends for club runs.
In the past year then we started having more people approach us after each race and when word got out our club was going to attempt to run the Belfast Marathon 2014 completely barefoot, the press got involved.
We had tv spots, radio interviews, lots of newspaper articles.
We then had loads of people asking about barefooting and could we teach them. We wanted to… but we had no idea really where to start. We could tell them what we do but we had very different running styles. It was pretty clear that wasn’t going to work.
So, we found Lee Saxby online and found he was doing courses through Vivobarefoot, teaching interested parties how to become coaches. That was it, the solution, direction and inspiration we needed. We were in!
Now, one week-long trip to London later, three months of hard graft and a whole lot of work and study, we got signed off as certified running form/barefoot running coaches.
Now, two years after our humble beginnings as a one man twitter account, our club is excited to finally be able to offer this service to beginners and elite runners alike. Those wanting to learn to run from scratch, or improve their running form, boost performance or, simply, learn to barefoot, Andy and Simon of Barefoot Running NI can help.
We are very proud and excited to have gotten this far and the feedback we’ve received from our clients and coaches has been phenomenal. We’re there, we’re doing it, and we want to help you!