July 2015 archive

Jul 06

Playing with your barefoot running cadence

metronomeWithout a doubt, the biggest thing that I have done to improve my running technique other than removing my shoes was to play with and increase my cadence. I did it using a cheap hand held metronome after reading Danny Dreyer’s Chirunning book.

I adjusted my little metronome to 180 beats per minute and set off. At first, I got into a rhythm where my feet hit the ground on every beep but I ended up hitting the ground very hard and defeating the object of the exercise. I remember one race where I was running at exactly 180bpm and my feet were hitting the ground so hard that my calf gave in and ended up walking the last 3 miles. The idea is to run lightly so I began to time the beep with lifting off the ground and found that much better. A breakthrough came when I started to use the mteronome beep to time the swing of my hands. When I got my arm rhythm in time with the metrnome my feet just followed.

Removing my shoes and increasing my cadence transformed my technique. There were certainly things still to work on but it set me on my way and helped me run in a way that wasn’t hurting myself.

180bpm isn’t defintive for everyone but it does seem a good place to start. It is a  cadence to play with and find out more about yourself. It may be that for you, the sweet spot is slightly higher or lower but it probably won’t be far off 180bpm.

The theory behind this can be made as complex as you wish but boil it down and we get to the fact that the body is an amazing structure with lots of elasticity and is designed to store and return energy on every stride. Firstly we need to run with good form but we also need to get the speed of the rhythm right too. We instinctively know this when we skip using a rope. Too slow and it is exhausting and ponderous. Every jump is a big effort and we tire very quickly. Get the speed of the rope just right and when we land a good part of the energy is stored in the elasticity of our feet and lower leg and then returned as we bounce back up again. The effort is nowhere near as much. If the rope is too slow, we even put an extra bounce in to keep the rhythm going and make life easy for ourselves. Running is just the same.

On one of my early metronome runs, I passed a couple of women who were out for a run. Their cadence was slow and every step looked like it was taking a lot of effort. They looked exhausted and there certainly wasn’t much fun in what they were doing. I went pitter-pattering past with my little strides and they shouted out and asked if I had any tips. It was hard to convince them that moving their legs quicker would make things easier. To them it seems counter-intuitive but it is true all the same. Find your cadence sweet spot and your running will never feel the same again.

It doesn’t really matter what tool you use to find and maintain 180bpm. There are plenty of phone apps out there to choose from. I use a simple hand held metronome and a musician friend of mine talks about ‘triplets’ and sings to himself to manage his cadence. It won’t be forever. I went from using it on every run, to holding it in my hand and switching it on now and again (especially on hills) to check how I was doing. Eventually, my little metronome succumbed to the rain and the sweat but by the time it died (It actually went a bit crazy one morning and I had to put it out of its misery with a brick) my new cadence had become embedded. If anything, I now just search for that sweet spot instinctively and for the most part run slightly higher than 180bpm.

I recently attended a workshop with Ben Le Vescone of Runningisaskill.com. Ben had us jumping at 180bpm on a treadmill and then breaking back into a run. It helped get the rhythm going and for me made me run more upright. I now sometimes do the same thing when I am out running on the road. I go from running to jumping (still maintaining forward motion) and back to running. A good exercise.

For years and for more miles than I care to imagine, I ran alongside my dad. I was so proud of my loping stride eating up the ground next to his little pitter-patter strides. What I couldn’t understand was why I had so many injuries whilst he had virtually none at all. It was only when I ran with a metronome that I realised that he runs at spot on 180bpm. I had a human metronome beside me for decades and never realised. Whether we were running slow or fast, his cadence remained the same, it was just his stride length that changed.

Taking off my shoes and increasing my cadence has changed my running fortunes completely. I have gone from an up and down, dressage pony to a smooth pitter-patter runner. It took a while to develop a new set of muscles, particularly in my core but I will never go back. I urge you to give it a go.

My metronome was a little Seiko with a decent build quality. It did give in eventually as the rain and sweat got to it but it served me well.



Jul 01

Barefoot Beginner Training Blog – June 2015

WednesdayMon 1st June

OK – May was a low mileage month. I ran barefoot everyday but my mileage dropped off. I speculated yesterday as to why and thought that I would give myself some easy to uindersatnd structure to get things back. I know that my normal morning 5 milers fit well and also combining that with a barefoot mile on inbetween days and a longer run at weekend seems to work.

104 miles across the month will see me hit 500 miles for the first 6 nof the year. That was the plan. If I don’t get there so be it but it would be good to give myself some easy to understand ways of getting there that wold help.

Two 5 milers a week plus long runs of 10,11,12&13 would do it with barefoot miles in between will get me there and see me increase my miles towards marathon OK.

A barefoot mile this morning. My soles felt it. I am also going to increase the challenge of my squats and also introduce the stretch to my quads for the month of June to see what happens.

Tues 2nd June 15

Interesting day yesterday. I felt at a very low ebb for pretty much the whole of the day. School holidays can do that to me. I miss the structure of normal life. I am often glad in September when we go back to school and get back into routine. My running suffers during the holidays and there is too much freedom. I wrote about it last year after noticing something similar. Constraints often fire our creativity and there is nothing worse for me than a day with nothing in it. It just stretches ahead of me and instead of doing loads of good stuff, I end up doing nothing and feeling down about it. I am wondering if the low mood is because I have not run much or if I have not run much because I am in a low mood.

I spend most of my time working at such a pace that when I slow down during the holidays, I can end up in a slump that it hard to shift. I then find that I start a new term at a low ebb and find it hard to get myself up and running. I then finish the term going great when everyone else is on their knees. I am going to try an experiment and give myself real structure this week with my running and also set myself 3 things to accomplish during the day. Let’ ssee if I can get myself back up and running in time for getting back to school next week.

5 barefoot miles this morning and it was tough. I didn’t want to run, felt tired, my soles were tender and I wanted it to be over. I am not normally like that. Lets’s see if I can pull out of it.

Wed 3rd June 15

Did squats this morning for the first time for a few days. Felt better for it and have made it more difficult by moving over a few more pages of the book I am using.

A barefoot mile this morning and I threw in some jumps at high cadence a la Vivobarefoot drills. It was strangely addictive and made me more upright. I then carried on running and it seemed to work well.

Good comment yesterday about not running if I don’t want to. That made me think. What never? What if I am a very low ebb and in danger of sinking further. Running always seems to make me feel better. Can running be an effective therapy for those suffering mild forms of depression? Food for thought.

Thursday 4th June 15

Ran a barefoot mile this morning and an eldely gentleman was walking along the top road on the edge of some very nice gardens. He was takingnhis time and admiring the flowers. He smiled and commented on how brave i was to be running barefoot. On my way back I passed him again and he stopped for a moment to let me pass. We had a brief chat about why I am barefooting. It was a nice to pass the time of day with someone who was so obviously enjoying being out in the sunshiine and admiring the view. He then told me that he was 95 years old and made his way off down the path, stopping to smell the flowers. He was immaculately dressed with shirt and tie. He must be doing something right. Not a pick of fat on him. I need to think about that.

Did squats. I have been neglecting them and my hip is feeling it.

Friday 5th June 15

5 barefoot miles this morning in the sunshine. The dry roads make such a difference. Did squats. Now at pg 150 of the book (Spanish Armada) and gradually reducing the height under my heel when squatting. (I will do a video at some point).

My mood is lifting and I am geartting up ready for work on Monday. I didn’t really fancy it this moring but not as bad and got out there. Just went very steady at start and did a few high cadence jumps. Moves me onto balls of feet as well as makes me more upright.

Did hamstring and ankle stretch today too. This is something I need to do every day.

Sat 6th June 15

A mile barefoot this morning and my right achilles is a bit sore. I think that I need to use the roller on the soles of my feet before running tomorrow just to stretch everything out and loosen things off. I did squats this morning. they felt good and could feel the stretch in my groin and hip. I also did quad and ankle stretch. I am managing to lean back further than before which is a good sign. Lots to do here though. The mile has vanished from my memory already and I was thinking about all sorts of things.

Went for a walk around Stonyhurst College in the Ribble Valley yesterday. What a beautiful part of the world. Tolkein wrote some of Lord of the Rings in the upper rooms and the family around the area were calles the Shireburns. When I read Lord of the Rings, this was the landscape I imagined and not the spectacular New Zealand. This area is not spectacular but is beautiful, green and rolling. Middle Earth come to life. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was a pupil here as was his friend Moriarty. Nice to get out for a walk with my dad in the sunshine.

Sun 7th June 15

10.2 barefoot this morning. Up early this morning and had our Stout racked into a cask before 6.30am. It should be nice once bottled. Did squats and quad stretches and then rolled out the arches of my feet to get rid of any tight spots. My right achilles has been feeling it over the last few days.

Set off steady and ran a 10.2 miles. Was really in my stride gheading up the long hills. Felt a bit like all my suspension had gone in the last mile and a bit. it comes at the end of a couple of miles gradual downhill and there is not mudh to relieve the monotony of stride. Did quite a few stops to bounce at 180bpm to reinforce being upright. I seem to be lifting out of my slump and it will be interesting to see how I start the new half-term tomorrow. Right ankle and groin all a bit tight. i think it must be as I protect my achilles subconsciously. Lots of stretching needed as the day goes on to negate everything tightening up.

Mon 8th June 15

Found the squats and quad stretches a challenge this morning after the 10 miler yesterday. Also found that the first 400yds of my run was very slow as I eased into it. By the end, the stiffness had gone away which I think is the benefit of barefooting every day. A barefoot mile in the glorious sunshine.

Tuesday 9th June 15

5 barefoot miles and I set off slowly and sleepily. Running free and well by the end.

Wed 10th June 15

Barefoot mile in the sunshine and all is well with the world.

Thursday 11th June 15

5 miles this morning and feeling good. My right knee has started to crack when squatting. it has been coming on for a little while and I am not sure wehere it has come from. It is uncomfortable and cracks as I go down into the squat and is OK when i am in a deep squat. I am favouring my left leg now as I squat and losing an equal weight bearing stance. Need to think about that.

Friday 12th June 15

Felt stiff this morning. The barefoot mile eased things off a bit but I need to do my stretches every day.

Sat 13th June 15

11.13 miles barefoot this morning in the rain. Got up at 5.40am to fit it in before taking som to football. First time this year I have been aiming for big warm puddles and splashing through. Really enjoyed the long steady uphill. If anything I enjoy the gradual uphills more than the downhills when barefooting. Who would have thought. Did squats and rolled out arched before setting off and set off steady. The desire to get 500 miles barefoot before end of June got me out this morning. It looks like structure does me good. A month at a time seems like as much as I can put in any detail.

Sun 14th June 15

Quick bleary eyed mile this morning. No hangover from 11 miler yesterday. Caught a couple of sharp stones with left foot. Don’t usually do that. Enough to really have to concentrate on form for second half mile. Watched video on youtube yesterday of Finn running with a bushman. Bushman was taking big strides with no effort and short choppy cadence next to Finn who was bombing along trying to keep up. Need to find the link to it.

Mon 15th June 15

5 barefoot miles this morning. Nice and dry on the roads. I ended up thinking about mileage. For the last 20 years or perhaps even longer, I have used 20 miles a week as a goal. Amy more than that and I broke down injured. In fact, at 20 miles a week, I knew that it was only a matter of time before somethng (usually calf) went. I chose 20 miles because I could get pretty fit on that much running. I knew it would get ne down to 40 minutes for a 10k or 1hr 30mins for a half marathon. I just needed 4 months or so without a problem. Only happened a couple of times in all that time. Now I have just run 6 months and am averaging 20 miles a week and for the last few weeks am more like 25 miles. I have no concerns about injury. There is somethiing in this barefooting.

I also found myself plotting and planning myh marathon preparation this morning and that mostly included an increase in miles. I need to do this but I am not going to get too far ahead of myself and re-evaluate my plan every 3 or 4 weeks.

Tues 16th June 15

Spent the morning going through some of the old posts on Barefoot Beginner. There are over 500 and it was good to go back 3 years and see where I was at. I was experimenting with barefooting in between Chi Running in my old Pegasus. It learnt a lot quickly and when I look back, I just wasn’t ready to ditch the shoes completely. My biggest leap forward came when I did that but it wasn’t a decision that came easily. I now no longer run with the fear and spectre of long term injury hangingover every outing. I had run with for decades. It makes you want to shout it from the roof tops. I meet injured people who just can’t let go and make the leap. I understand. It is all about readiness. the more we can tell our stories, the more likely those injured runners are to get there.

A barefoot mile this morning. The day was already warm and it was very nice to be out.

Wed 17th June 15

A barefoot mile this morning. I has planned a 12 miler but didn’t get up in time.It will have to wait until Saturday. Bumped into a friend and neighbour who asked me about my website. Her daughter had taken her shoes off on a run the other day and found that she felt felt very grounded afterwards. We got into chatting about the spiritual side of barefooting and theories about earthing. Michael Sandler and his vitaimin G (ground) came up and I must admit that that sort of thing just doesn’t float my boat. I am more of a pragmatist and seek things that work and then investigate them and do that. I recall my beginning barefooting and how walking the dogs around the block barefoot became almost addictive. If I didn’t go barefoot, I felt like I hadn’t really been out. Barefooting just left me feeling better. I don’t think that i will ever be a Buddist but the idea of mindfullness appeals to me. Running affects my whole life and wellbeing and I am fascinated to find out why and how i can make tweaks to how I do it that will make things better still. Sounds like a life’s work but one worth doing. I plan to still be running in 40 years time so I might as well get on with it. I bet I am still blogging to. That is also strangely addicitve.

Thursday 18th June 15

5 barefoot miles and very tired this morning. I think I might be suffering for something coming up. Breathing a bit shallow in a way that I havve not had for quite some time. Form felt good. I was thnking about the whole form, distance and then speed pathway and I am definitely in the distance phase. When i tried to introduce some speed work a oittle while ago, my miles dropped off and I lost motivation. It seems that distance is the thing that matters the most to me at the moment after running every day to keep my form tight. Maybe next year when I have got a really good distance base under my belt, I will think more about running quickly. Perhaps I will do that with shoes. In fact, I am pretty sure that will be the case but I will also want to give it a go barefoot.

Friday 19th June 15

A barefoot mile before work.

Sat 20th June 15

The morning after the night before. I was meant to be running a 12 this morning but ended up not running at all. I was up late therefore ran in the evening. A quick barefoot  mile. I much prefer running in the morning.

Sun 21st June 15

On the road at 5am this morning for a barefoot 12 miler before heading off to Hoghtin tower for the farmers’ market. I was reading Ruby Wax’s book about the mind last night and set my watch to beep every 10 minutes. i then looked at where my mind had drifted and pulled it back to focus on apart of my body. I found the most effective part to focus on was my wrists and keeping them loose and then my mind would wander again. After watching it for a while, it was clear to see what was on mund and causing my anxiety and stress. Good to recognise it for what it is. I ran the 12 miles inexactly 110 minutes which is a shade over 9 minute miles. At no point did I focus on pace at all aprt from the last mile which i ran in just over 7 minutes. Feel pretty good. Now off to market to sell some beer.

Mon 22nd June 15

A tenderfoot this morning on a barefoot mile. It makes me wonder what the best way to prepare for a barefoot marathon is. I clearly need to help my soles get ready by running and not worrying too much about it. How much is enough is a good question and one that it is going to be interesting to experiment with over the coming months. i set off very slow and headed for puddles on a damp morning. Damp conditions are the worst. give me bone dry of really wet. It si the in between that seems to get to me most.

Tuesday 23rd June 15

Much better this morning and I think I could have made a 5 miler but I was up a bit late and just went out for an easy barefoot mile. I think that I will add shoes back into my running next year. Maybe I will run 1000 miles and do half in shoes and half barefoot and see what happens. It would be interesting to see how quick I can run in footwear and barefoot. Funny where your mind wanders. I will never have run as consistently across a year before and should be the fittest that I have ever been in my running life.

Wed 24th June 15

5 barefoot miles this morning. It is these 5 milers that are the base of my running. I ran this morning in just under 9 minute miles. Not very quick but pretty effortless and much quicker than when I started to barefoot. It is the routine and not having to think about it that helps but i do enjoy walking into work knowing that I have run a 5 miler before start of play. mY soles are feelig much better although I did get a holly leaf stuck in the arch of my left foot. Ouch!

Thurs 25th June 15

A barefoot mile this morning after reading a bit more about mindfullness last night. It does seem to be about training the mind to focus and become quiet whilst tackling that crazy ;onging to be ‘ding’ all the time that we get (or certainly I do). I stopped at the turn round point for a few minutes and just listened to the distant traffic but mostly the birds. I then concetrated on a stone under my left foot. All about keeping the mind on one thing. harder than it seems. My mind flits all over the place. Things that are worrying me, thiings that are coming up. Even when i try really hard, I find that my mind has drifted to other things. How do i live like that. No wonder I am exhausted most of the time.

Friday 26th June 15

Tired this morning and up a little late. Still got in a barefoot 5 miler and set off very slow. Picke dupp by the end and as usual feel better for it. My right hip does need squats every day, I thiink. My feet felt a little tender before setting off and I was worried because the road was damp but they just felt alive on the floor rather than tendet whilst runing and now I have no problem sitting typing my thoughts afterwards. I will have run a marathon distance across the week this week. Over 7 days isn’t an issue. Over 4 hours, I am not so sure. I stopped at aboout halfway and made myself stand still and quieten my mind. I focussed on birds and working out how far away they were and in which direction. Hard to keep my mind from pulling back to constant busy dialogue that i have going on all the time. i think that is why i like watching TV. It pulls mind away from the dialogue for a little while.

Saturday 27th June 15

A quick barefoot mile this morning. A chap was walking his dog and asked why barefoot. it is hard to sum up but i go for the pragmatic solution in my explanation of wanting to be bale to run and I can nno longer run in shoes without injury.

Sunday 28th June 15

13 barefoot miles this morning with no real trouble. The route was all on road with some of it rough and challenging. I felt a hot spot on the balls of my feet in the same pint of the run as last week. It was on a steep uphill after a very broken tarmac section. I think I must be gripping hard to get  traction on the slope. Ended by going pretty quickly and thinking about the marathon in October. I think that the marathon is a good overall thing to go for but I can only plan a month at a time because I don’t have much idea ahead of that what I might be capable of. I could end up sort changing myself or over reachig which is a danger. I am sucker for a training plan. June is working out well and my feet are in much better shape than they were at the end of the 12 miler last week.

I stopped of for a few chats this morning and ended up running for 2hrs 15 mins. I enjoyed chatting with a mountain biker and then he said goodbye and pulled away from me going uphill. I knew that I would catch him. I just pitter-pattered away and he couldn’t shake me off going uphill for a couple of long steady miles. I wasn’t breathing hard and at no point really went for it. I just kept ticking along. Of coourse, we came to a downhill eventually and he was away but it made me feel good to be able to catch and keep up with him for that stretch.

I need a few more miles over the next couple of days and that will be 500 miles for the first 6 months of the year.

Mon 29th June 15

An easy barefoot mile which was no problem after yesterday’s run. That is 499 miles so far.

Tuesday 30 th June 15

Another steady mile. I had planned to run 5 but a beer fermenter related problem meant that I spent an hour mopping and cleaning up.

It gave me 104 miles for the month of June which is a new high and exactly 500 miles for the first 6 months of the year. Bring on July!