Category: Barefoot tales

Oct 13

From achilles pain to ultra distance in three months

Thanks to Florian for his story. I would love to hear your tales. There is truth to be found in each and every one. You can send them to me via the contact form at the top of the page. [spacer height=”8px”]

Over to Florian:[spacer height=”8px”]

I published before on Barefoot Beginner. Back then I really used to be a beginner. If I compare my 30 years of running “wrong” to my three year of working on my running style I am still a barefoot beginner. And I suspect I will always remain one.[spacer height=”8px”]
06 first marathon
Why? Because after I trained for my solo Sahara trip in 2013 I thought to be as fit as never before. I used to run more kilometers per week than ever before and I seemed to be in a very good condition overall.
After my return I joined a company race in Berlin in my vibram fivefingers. 6000 people started on the 6km course. It was so much fun and I just ran as fast as my legs carried me.
I came in at number 81 with 20min flat. My calves burned like hell but it was fun and I loved it. So I started at another race one week later. My time was almost the same. I was so much into running that I planned to run ULTRA marathons and I registered for the Berlin 100miles in August 2014.[spacer height=”8px”]
BUT, my achilles told me that they were very unhappy about the pace in my races. I started to feel some knots at my achilles and I tried to get rid of the pain that barely let me walk with ice, with heat, with massage, with pausing, with doing slow sessions… guess what.. nothing helped. More than a year later I still had pain in my achilles when I went on a short run. I almost didn’t run at all anymore.
In the meantime I gave up my apartment in Berlin bought a 1971 Mercedes Benz truck that was converted into an RV ages ago and travelled Europe and North Africa with my girlfriend. We drove half a year and more than 30.000km and have been to the most spectacular places.[spacer height=”8px”]
But well, that is another story.
In July I received a call from Ronald Musil (race director of Berlins He reminded me that I preregistered for the 100miles a year ago and that I have a starting slot if I like to. I replied that I would really like to but am totally out of shape and that I don’t know if I am able to run that distance. He gave the best possible answer to trigger me. He said: Well, you won’t find out if you don’t try. He got me there, I agreed to give it a chance. I still had 33 days to train and to get in shape. My achilles was still aching and I went to a Berlin based natural running coach: Sven Spanka[spacer height=”8px”]
He did some very simple analyses with me and was sure that all my pain is based in insufficiently trained calves. He told me to workout for my calves daily. Furthermore some training for my hamstrings, and most of all: my belly. My doctor who fortunately reads my blog, wrote me and suggested to treat my achilles with Traumel as often as possible. I did so and started running again daily. We went to southern France and ran some really nice trails there and then moved to Switzerland where I started to run mountain trails daily. All that running up and the daily training for my calves really worked. Although I could feel some pain in calves it did not get worse. But still the farest distance that I ever ran on record was 27 kilometers.[spacer height=”8px”]04 swiss mountain trail
On August 16th I started at 6 in the morning in Berlin Prenzlauer Berg for the 100 miles. It was a perfect running day. I had so much fun and so much pain and fun again and much more pain. Friends of mine were waiting everywhere around the course and accompanied me for a while. So I ran my first marathon ever, and then my second. Then I tried to run my third and I failed. I made it to the 100km mark and couldn’t move another step. I had to quit although there were still 60 kilometers left. I had to admit miles are not the same as km.
For the race I taped my ankles, achilles and calves with kinesiotapes. I wore Luna Sandals and the only mistake I did, was to wear my sandals a little too tight on my right foot for the first 30km. That led to a swollen foot which mainly forced me to quit and had me suffer a little for the following days. Apart from that I was absolutely fine and most important my achilles pain is gone since that day.[spacer height=”8px”]

Back in Switzerland I continued racing in the mountain and fortunately the minimal running fever caught my girlfriend Judy as well which let us run the alpine single trails together.

DCIM100GOPROWe even went to an alpine Ultra marathon together. Her competing in the 27km with 1500m D+ and me in the 55km with 3500m D+. I can tell you, now I know what running in the mountains mean. Although my achilles were fine I developed two really bad runners knees during the race. It took me forever (13hours) because I could only walk downhill. I had promised myself not to quit and finishe this race no matter what. I ended up being fifth. From the back. Almost everybody who was slower than me was taken out of the race because they did not meet the cutoff times which were really tight.
The race awarded every finisher with 2 qualification points for the Ultra Marathon Du Mont Blanc, which I believe to be one of the hardest races in the alps. So I guess there is a new goal ahead of me.[spacer height=”8px”]

Since I found out this year, that most of the tendon pains you can experience during a race is a sign of muscle weakness somewhere else, I started to train my thighs and am now free of pain even on the downhill sections.[spacer height=”8px”]

I did not run any remarkable times at all, but within three month I made it from an injured runner to two ultra marathon distances and a pain and injury free runner.

Do you experience any pain yourself? Let a good barefoot coach examine your running style and the strength of your ankles, calves, thighs, hips and belly and then train strength, not endurance for the affected muscles.
If something hurts use Traumel, Dolocyl and Kinesiotapes.[spacer height=”8px”]

Aren’t we born to run?[spacer height=”8px”]

Glücklichtrainer and author of

Jul 09

Tales from the Trig 1

I wanted to intriduce you to a place that is very important to me. It is about a mile from home and somewhere that I run to a lot. It is the trig point on Cheetham Close (sometimes known as Turton Heights).

A trig point is a triangulation station that is used when surveyig the region. They first started to appear in 1935 in the UK and are now an endangered species as new methods of surveying are being used, That would be a shame as many of them are old friends and they should receive listed status to protect them.

I have been meaning to do a ‘Tales from the Trig’ series of posts for a while and this is the first.


In this post, I introduce you to the West Pennine Moors where I do most of my running and also talk about building a barefoot community. (Sorry for the sound quality. It just shows that it gets windy up there.)

In early September, I will be taking part in a webinar hosted by Stephanie Welch and Sue Regan Kenney. I will be talking about why I wanted to build a barefoot running community. You can find out a bit more about that here.

Most important, I encourage you to get involved with our Barefoot Beginner forum. It has never been easier to login. You can do that with facebook. Click the login button and then click the facebook icon. Simple.

As you will see in the video, I am creating a forum for people who don’t like forums.


Mar 06

Running with eyes wide shut or…Avoiding dog poop in the dark

Non-barefooters often ask about the problem of dog poop. I have to say that it has never been a problem and that includes when I run in total darkness. If you haven’t tried barefooting in the dark, I urge you to give it a go.


Barefooting in the dark heightens your senses.

I have to admit that when it comes to barefoot running or even running in general, I have never been one for drills. I always seem to be fitting my running into a busy day and never get round to them. There is one drill that has stood the test of time with me though and I thought that I would share it with you.

It came from Jason Robillard’s excellent Barefoot Running Book and involves running with your eyes closed. It was part of Jason’s ‘Run like a Ninja’ section. At the end, he mentions running with the eyes closed as being a good way to allow the brain to interpret information from the soles of the feet and the rest of the body.

So…I found a section of straight road (traffic free!), closed my eyes and ran. It helped if I imagined a point a little way ahead and ran to it. Immediately, I found that I was listening to my feet much more clearly. It was exhilerating.

I don’t do the drill very often but regularly run barefoot in very dark conditions. I find that I look forward to it. One of my favourite routes has a smooth tarmaced section and one that is made up of a broken, unmade road. They are both very dark and the rest of the my senses come alive.

Unfortunately, the area is also frequented by dog walkers and although most are pretty good at picking up the poop there are always those who don’t. Running in complete darkness through this area should be a nightmare but it isn’t. I can smell the poop a mile off and just seem to avoid them.

In all my barefooting, I have only had one nasty incident whilst running through long grass. Unpleasant but nothing that continuing to run through the wet grass didn’t sort out.

I joke about being able to echo locate the poop but of course that is not correct. It is down to my sense of smell. I watched a programme recently about the sense of smell in dogs. The producers showed a dog sniffing its way through a landscape. As it sniffed, pictures appeared in its mind of what was around it and I feel pretty similar when it comes to poop.

During the winter, most of my running is in the dark and I do wear a headtorch for most of it. However, when I get to these two very dark sections, I often switch off my torch and let my other senses take over. It is exhilerating. Why not give it a go.

We have an excellent Barefoot Running discussion group on facebook with new members joining every day. We are a family oriented group and you will be made very welcome. We run, we chat and we smile. Join in here.

Jan 07

Are we Born to Play? – Barefoot Running Magazine free download

For my next Roving Reporter assignment, Anna asked me to visit Evolve in Salford which is an alternative gym set up to teach Parkour and Free-running. It was so much more than I expected.

I came away battered and bruised but with the conviction that not only are we born to run but we are also born to play.

EvolveOur ancestors learned how to survive through play. That is what those rough and tumble, chasing and hiding games are all about. We learn the skills as youngsters that keep us a live as adults.

Through play we learn about risk and where are limits are. As a child I played hard. I climbed, jumped and ran and lived to tell the tale. I learned lessons about risk that I take into my wider life as an adult.

The problem nowadays is how do we do teach children about risk in a society that wraps children in cotton wool. We tell children about risk but don’t let them learn it for themselves. A bit like telling someone how to drive a car and them sending them off in the fast lane by themselves.

We are forgetting what it is to be human. We are animals just as much as the tiger cub that practising stalking when young. Without natural human play we make adults that are shadows of our true selves.

At Evolve, I watched the risk being put put back into play. It was controlled but there was danger there. I watched my son running, climbing, falling and getting back up to try again. It was not a sanitised Wacky Warehouse for grownups. It had edge.

I watched cocky adolescents (a natural human state) have the corners knocked off them as they learned what they could and couldn’t do by trial and error. For them, peer pressure when they are out of sight of adult eyes is one of the biggest dangers they will face. This sort of play can only help them be better prepared for when it comes along.

I spent 3 sessions learning Parkour with my 10 year old son at Evolve and wrote about it for Barefoot Running Magazine. As usual there is lots of great stuff in there. My Roving reporter article is on page 68. Have a look.


Anna has just sent me the next Roving Reporter Mission. Should be fun.

You can visit our the Barefoot Beginner facebook page and like it to keep up with the best in barefoot posts from around the world.

Dec 27

My 3 worst running new year’s resolutions ever – Will I ever learn?

We are entering that most dangerous of time for a runner. We are reviewing our accomplishments for the year and beginning to plot, plan and scheme for 2014.

We enter the deadly realm of the ‘New Year’s Resolution’. We set ourselves targets for the coming year and although most folk have forgotten about their resolutions pretty quickly, we runners are a breed apart. They stick with us and guide our actions even when deep down we know that we are heading down a dangerous path.

Now, I am not against a good target or two. They keep the motivation up and give us something to aim for. It is just that we need to give a bit of thought to the way we frame our desires.

I want to share with you 3 resoloutions that I have made in the past that have led to disaster and how with a bit of thought, I could have kept a bit of perspective and stayed healthy.

Resolution 1 – I am going to do the Cross Bay half-marathon this year.

That seemed like a reasonable thing to aim for. I was running well and putting in a few miles. I entered nice and early told everyone about it. I was running pretty well and then about 2 months out from race day, I got a bit of a niggle in my right calf. I backed off and about 5 weeks from race day, I resumed training fully only to have the problem recur.

I had fallen into a classic trap. I had all my race eggs in one basket. I had attached so much importance to the event that my perspective on its importance had vanished. The more I talk to runners, the more I see this. In retrospect, I had pushed myself a little bit harder in training than I should have and then not given myself recovery time. All I could think about was whether I would be firing on race day. I came back too soon and didn’t make it to the start line.

The feeling in the pit of my stomache was dreadful. The sense of relief when I finally accepted that I wasn’t going to run was immense. It was like a weight off the shoulders. I had been running with fear as a companion for a while. The really stupid thing was that I did the same thing the year after and failed to make the start line again.


Aim for a race by all means but don’t build it up into something it isn’t. There will be a race next week and the week after that if you need it. When I started barefoot running, I finally made it to the start line on the 3rd attempt. I had entered and almost forgotten about it. It was important but not overly so. When it came, I just took it in my stride.

Resolution 2 – I am going to run a sub 40 minute 10k

My 10k pb is 38:02 mins  and I was 20 years old when I ran it. 25 years later, I do still think that I have another sub 40 minute in me. About 7 years ago, I ran a couple of sub 40s and a couple of 1hr 28min half marathons. My method was simple. I used speed training.

I figured that there was no point in running slow, I already knew how to do that. What I needed to do was practice running fast. I followed a 12 week prgramme from Runner’s World and cracked it. However, I broke down with injury very soon afterwards. My calves couldn’t cope.

When I started to barefoot and my calves were feeling great, I started to dream again. Before I knew it, I was beginning to time runs and judge against my old self. I have a loop of about 2.5 miles that I run regularly and know good split times for every feature of the route.

I was flying and with 400 yrds to go was looking at my watch. Not a record but not far off. My new pitter-patter style was eating up the ground but I was tiring. 200 yds to go and I slipped into my old style and began to drive off from my toes. I felt my calf with about 20yds to go and in the last 3 strides it went completely.

Bang – and that was that. I stood at the end. Stupid, stupid, stupid.

But, it is easy to do. I was seduced by the lure of a 40 minute 10k. I had fallen hook, line and sinker.


The solution is not to run slow. That would rob me of the joy of feeling the speed. I am no class athlete but it is all relative. I love the thrill of running quickly. I just need to do it without attaching more importance than I should to an abritrary number. Some line in the sand that I had drawn.

I now add speed to my runs but with more control and it is more about maintaining form than throwing my head back and thrashing at it with wild abandon. I still feel the challenge and the speed but am not willing to put myself out for months for a couple of seconds here or there.

Resolution 3 – I am going to run 1000 miles this year.

We all love the mileage and I am no exception. 1000 miles seems such a reasonable thing to aim for. It is only about 20 miles per week. That is about my average. When I hit 20 miles per week consistently, I can feel myself becoming that young runner again.

In the 10 years prior to barefooting, I didn’t make it to 1000 miles once. I always broke down for some reason or other. A contributing factor was this thing that I seemed to carry around with me all the time. If for some reason, I missed a run, I felt compelled to make up the mileage and ended up running without recovery time. I could do it for a while but sooner or later, I broke down.

If I was returning from injury, I would get back up to 20 miles per week as soon as possible and break down again. I still made the same resolution year after year. I didn’t say it out loud but it was still there in the background niggling away at me.


1000 miles simply isn’t enough. I plan to run many, many thousands of miles. The thing that has changed is the timescale. It has extended to the rest of my life. I plan to be a runner into my dotage.

I am not going to be dictated by another arbritrary line in the sand that I have drawn for myself. I need some motivation to get me out of the door but there have been times when running would not have been a good idea and I have given it a miss. My solution is to be wise enough and live to run another day.

Now don’t get any notions about a lack of desire. It is still burning bright. I love to run long and I love to run fast. I crave the butterflies in my stomache when you do something on the edge. I might find myself in a position where I am willing to push myself close to the edge and risk hurting myself.

I am a runner and a competitor and there will be times when I think that it is worth the risk. But I am not going to give it away cheaply by setting myself sloppy targets or following a plan designed for someone else.

My new year’s resolutions therefore are:

  • Enter a few events rather than a single one and do the ones that feel right at the time. I am not going to put all my eggs in one race’s basket.
  • Add some speed work to my runs and concentrate on maintaining form rather than speed. When the form starts to go, the speedwork ends.
  • Run the miles that feel right. Be prepared to go with the flow and live to run another day if needed.

………..and most important: …Sod all that:

If I am racing and can feel the wind on my face and it is joyous then I am going to give myself over to it and fly. I have the rest of my life to be a runner and will be a long time dead. There are times when the risk is worth it. I wouldn’t want to end up taking myself too seriously now would I.

Happy new year everyone. I hope 2014 brings you joy on the trail!



Dec 23

Trailball arrives in the UK – Ian Hicks

TrailBall has arrived in the UK. TrailBall is the brainchild of Christian Harberts, President of the French chapter of the Barefoot Runners Society (BRS). It is a mix of trail running, cross-country and football. It comes from an ancient game played by the Tarahumara Indians from the Copper Canyons in Mexico. The Tarahumara would kick a wooden ball about the size of a tennis ball over hundreds of kilometres. Now the game is played using a soft PVC or hemp ball over a lesser distant (at the moment). There are many different variants to choose, so all fitness levels can play.

indexI had the pleasure of playing in the first UK event. TrailBall Team was chosen as the first international event with a French team playing on the same day. On a bright, but cold, Sunday in November, 13 players congregated in the car park at Lydiard Park, Swindon, Wiltshire. Paul Beales as Race Director divided us up into three teams and he explained the rules to us – kick the ball over the 5km distance between team members, handling the ball is not allowed unless it gets stuck, in this case, all team members must stop and restart where the ball was last kicked. He had mapped out a 5km route around the park, giving each team captain a route map and a TrailBall. To start, each team member had to place a foot on the ball.

I had the honour of being team captain of Team A. Team members were, Ian Hicks (Captain), Stephen Richards, Rik Vanhoutteghem and Nick Goddard We had our tactics worked out. We were to run in single file with the lead runner dribbling the ball. “1..2..3..” Paul called and we were off. I started as the lead runner and straight away remembered that I had two left feet! I had to concentrate as much as I could to keep the ball on the path. We shot off left across the field and soon realised that team tactics were harder than we thought, with me swinging right of the main group! We picked up the path again and we settled into a pace, which was proving to be a bit too fast for me being at the back of the group and struggling to keep up! Navigation became my job, with me yelling “left, right or straight on” from the back of the group. After completing around 4km we came back around the house and met a very bewildered Jack Russell! Luckily he took one look at us and decided it was not worth trying to keep up with us! The wooded area above the lake was the best part for me. This type of terrain made ball control much harder. Keeping the ball on the path was proving to be difficult. It was very tempting to kick the ball hard and then run fast to catch it up. But it would hit a root or undulation in the path and go bouncing off into the undergrowth! As we neared the end I kept one eye on the GPS watch, one eye on the map and one eye on the ball! As we approached the last few hundred meters I said jokingly to the team “SPRINT we are nearly there”. Well they certainly had far more energy left in the tank than I did because they shot off! At reaching 5km we each placed a foot and the ball and stopped the clock. We finished with a time of 26:29. Which I think was very respectable being the first time any of us had tried this before. I want to thank Paul Beales for introducing TrailBall into the UK and organizing such a great event. I must also thank Christian Harberts for establishing TrailBall and of course the Tarahumara Indians for giving us the ancestor of TrailBall.


Dec 03

I kicked off my shoes and I ran – Like kicking off 40 years! – Paul Beales

Hot on the barefoot running heels of Lisa from kindazennish comes this post from Paul Beales describing his first barefoot run. Run Forest Run!

Paul is  in the process of organising a 10K Barefoot Walk/Run/Hike global charity event to take place next year. ‘Watch this space for further details’

Over to Paul:

I started doing long walks in a pair of New Balance Minimus Trails that I asked my parents to buy me for my 54th birthday in November 2012. I used to walk in a great clunky pair of Karrimor hiking books that I always did hate – but that was just what you wore when you hike.

I was persuaded to try ‘minimalist running shoes’ by a fellow heart patient friend that I met on Twitter, who was trying to get me to run instead of walk, and what’s more to get me to do it barefooted! Barefooted I thought, whoever heard of such a thing?! Anyway, he won, I started walking in my Minimus and he was right. I absolutely loved it!

As I think most barefooters do, I then went through all the phases of trying different brands, Freets, VFFs (three different types), home-made huararches, Sockwa etc. It was during this phase that one day, whilst walking the last half mile of a walk around Wentwood Forest in Monmouthshire, South Wales, down a lovely warm, quiet, smooth tarmac B road that I kicked off my shoes and I ran! Wow, I could do it! It felt great! Like kicking off 40 years! I must have looked like Forrest Gump when he kicked off his leg braces.


From then on, it was hard to get me to keep my shoes on. I was walking and running barefoot in forests, hills, parks, running tracks, roads. (Still haven’t managed to run around my home town in bare feet. I am still very wary of debris in town streets and much prefer kicking my shoes off in the ‘dirty’ forests and fields.) I was even wearing Sockwa to work and kicking them off under the desk every day by now.

My target was always a half-marathon in September this year, that I really wanted to do in bare feet. I didn’t care how long it took , as long as I did it in bare feet. After being kicked off one hike in Yorkshire when they found out I was planning to do it in bare feet, I managed to find the very amenable Multi-Terrain Camelot Challenge Walk/Run in Dorset and rocked up at the start line fully-expecting to have to put my Sockwa at some stage of the route, but I am very happy and proud to say that my Sockwa never left the back of my running shorts for any of the 13.1 miles, and I became a barefoot legend in Dorset overnight! 🙂

I have also done a couple of 100% barefoot 5K parkruns this year. My target for next year is a barefoot 10K run. I am still a 50/50 walk/run runner at the moment, but will be working (slowly) on getting the running portion up next year.

I never was a runner, so I never had any major problems transitioning to barefoot running. I did have a few problems and worries last year during the training for my half-marathon, but they have all gone away now since I stopped pushing myself so hard. (It was you Chris that taught me to let my feet tell me when I am doing too much. I used to PFFFT! at this at the time but I now know from experience that you were absolutely right.) I do a 5K in my Sockwa or VFFs at least once a week now and suffer no aches and pains at all.

I can’t wait for better weather next year so that I can get ’em off and get ’em out more often. (I am a fair-weather runner and I HATE running the streets!)

PS – I love the barefoot ‘feel’ so much that I wear nothing or Sockwa all the time now, with an occasional run in VFFs when the ground conditions dictate. Next year I will be trying out the Unshoes that I won on the BRS forum.

I would love to hear about your first barefoot runs. Here is quick guide to sharing your story on Barefoot Beginner. Get posting.

Paul’s post is one of our barefoot posts of the day on our facebook page.


Dec 01

Somehow I became a barefoot runner in the first few steps – Kindazennish

Many thanks to Lisa ( for getting the barefoot running ball rolling and describing her first barefoot run. Most excellent. Over to Lisa:


Why did I decide to try running barefoot?  Because I could no longer run with shoes on; I couldn’t even walk without a very pronounced limp. It was scary. I just woke up one day and my hip was hurting horribly and it simply didn’t stop.  I hadn’t done a hard run the night before, hadn’t fallen or done anything else to hurt myself, it just came out of the blue.  OK not totally out of the blue. I usually had some hip pain regardless of whether I was running or not but nothing like this.

Resting a few weeks didn’t help and neither did the anti-inflammatory pills the doctor gave me so I decided to try barefoot running just because it sounded fun and what else was left to try? Goodness knows I’d had enough time ‘resting’ to investigate all the possibilities and running barefoot simply appealed to me.

My first barefoot run was 3 or 4 steps on the street out front of my house.  I think after the very first step I knew it wasn’t going to happen that day.  I rested my hip a few more days and then ran down the street to my parents’ house and walked back.  It was about a quarter mile, my hips hurt but my feet and the rest of me loved it.   It was the furthest I’d run in ages.

I kept running short distances, sometimes on the street and sometimes on the shell-y road at the park by my house.  I spent a lot of time reading about running form and all of the time I was running I was chanting pieces of the wisdom I’d read in my head as I ran, constantly thinking about my form.  Well, my form and the fact that I was pretty certain that I felt every single grain of dirt on the road.

During my first runs I kept brushing imaginary things off my feet.  I’d step on a little pebble and I guess it was a mental imprint of it that I felt because there would rarely actually be anything there to brush off, but I would still feel it after I tried.  I also spent a lot of time hoping my neighbors didn’t notice that I was barefoot.

Somehow over time my hips stopped hurting so gradually that I barely noticed it happening. As a matter of fact I had forgotten about how constantly they used to hurt until I was writing this. Somewhere along the line I stopped having to pause to brush imaginary things off my feet while I was running which made me a lot less embarrassed to run barefoot in the neighborhood.

Somehow I became a barefoot runner that very first couple-of-steps-run because I haven’t worn my old running shoes since except once or twice to walk the dogs.

-Lisa ( I love Lisa’s short bio explaining why she is only kinda zennish)

I would love to hear about your first barefoot runs. Here is quick guide to sharing your story on Barefoot Beginner. Get posting.

Lisa’s post is one of our barefoot posts of the day on our facebook page.

Nov 05

My first ‘mini’ marathon – Gray Caws

am-groupSunday 20 October, the Abingdon Marathon – my first ‘mini’ marathon. Mini as in my first marathon wearing minimalist shoes. What’s more, not the shoes I’d done the majority of my training in. I’ll admit now to being a bit apprehensive a few weeks out from the start line. A busy work schedule interrupted by one of those terrible hinderances in a training schedule – a holiday – doesn’t help matters! But very few people are lucky enough to be able to prioritise marathon training above everything else. These challenges are part of the process. The process of how best to run a marathon.

“A whole 400m track ahead with a big digital clock at the end – absolute heaven! About a 100m and I can’t resist that final little push and there it is – the finish line.”

My training is a combination of the Chi Marathon programme, RunnersWorld SmartCoach and a few of my own ideas thrown into the mix. I work on good old fashioned effort level, maintaining a constant cadence and pace, and aim to finish feeling strong with little or no recovery necessary – I of course plan a post-marathon two-week recovery period into my schedule. I find these process-oriented goals fundamental to a balanced training programme. I deliberately don’t focus on a time. If the process works and you follow the principle of gradual progress – working on technique and then building distance, the conditions for speed are in place. The key is keeping strong, balanced, your body aligned and relaxed. This creates energy efficiency and I work on being as efficient as possible – get the most out of putting the least in. Equate running a marathon to a long drive up the motorway. Think of how to get the most miles per gallon – steady cruising. I ‘cruised’ my long runs at an effort level (rate of perceived exertion) between 11-12 (on a scale of 6-20) – a good steady aerobic pace.

Energy-efficiency is not just important during the run. I make a conscious effort to keep calm and controlled throughout training. Plenty of rest when not training. Accepting that things don’t always go to plan and being able to adapt with the least amount of stress or effort. I travel to Abingdon the night before with a friend who is also running. We stay at a lovely restaurant/hotel and enjoy a delicious meal of chicken pasta and ice cream – no carb loading for me. My diet throughout training consists of basic non-processed foods – natural fats (butter, full-fat milk and yoghurt, coconut oil, red and white meat, fish), lots of fruit and veg and few carbs such as bread and pasta. Since low intensity exercise predominately burns fat as the main source of energy, getting my body efficient at metabolising fat when glycogen levels become depleted should help avoid hitting the dreaded wall.

A good night’s sleep follows dinner but not before flooding the bathroom by putting bubble bath in the jacuzzi. I wake afresh at 5:30 to the sound of torrential rain! – Don’t panic as this will raise stress levels but in the back of my mind is last week’s run in the pouring rain. My feet were soggy and cold within minutes as my Vibram Speeds seemed to soak up water like a sponge. Not to worry, I have my Luna Sandals strapped to my CamelBak for emergency use.

For breakfast I have a smoothie of oats, greek yogurt, milk, coconut oil, frozen winter berries and agave nectar. I hydrate with CherryActive, a concentrated cherry juice diluted with water. After breakfast we set off for the start about 8 miles away. But the satnav takes us to the middle of a country lane – don’t panic, think energy-efficiency! Surely everywhere will be signposted clearly when we get into the town? – not! We eventually find the car park at 8:20am with the race starting at 9. This in fact turns out to be a bit of a blessing as there is a brief break in the downpour so we save ourselves from getting soaked before the start. The problem comes when I step out of the car as the ‘sponges’ on my feet immediately soak up a few puddlefuls of water. Do I want to run the marathon with soggy feet or in sandals? Another option – Vivobarefoot Ones, but I’ve only road-tested them to 10 miles. They’ll be warmer than the sandals – I decide on the Vivos.

We arrive at the start in the athletics stadium and are immediately surrounded by lots of limbering up club runners. It’s a small field so popular with clubbers looking for PBs. Since we had a good walk from the car park I do a few dynamic stretches and essential joint mobilisation not to waste too much energy. And we’re off – one lap of the track and then out into the unknown. I’ve not studied the course so that I could relax and enjoy rather then think about what is coming up. However just ahead of the mile 7 marker is the mile 17 one so I know I’m heading back this way at some point! I eat Jelly Babies and sip regularly on water mixed with Viridian Sports Electrolyte Fix. At mile 8 I check my Garmin. I’m slightly ahead of my London Marathon 2010 pace and heart rate is good.

At mile 15 it’s raining heavily. All is looking good but I remember from the first lap that we are heading for Windy Ridge again, a house at the top of a steady incline. I love these ‘flat’ courses that have ‘steady inclines’. It feels like climbing a mountain with the wind and rain lashing in your face but I keep focused on low intensity – keep metabolising that fat as by now I’m sick of Jelly Babies!

I feel confident at mile 20. I’m encouraged by a number of marshals, and a couple of runners I pass, who comment on my form saying how strong I look – any bit of encouragement at this point is a great help. Lap two now around the industrial estate and some runners ahead are walking. Keep going, keep the cadence high I tell myself. Those that are slowing pace are also dropping cadence, becoming heavy and plodding. Remember what I teach day-in day-out – our body loves rhythm and a constant quick cadence equals energy-efficient running. I’m experiencing this first hand. I think how difficult it would be now if I lost rhythm. I know I would struggle.

Mile 24 and we’re back in the town centre. I’m dodging Sunday shoppers and trying to spot the next marshall. I’m confident but I know anything can easily go wrong at this point. As i turn a corner people are heading towards me with medals – the runners that have finished. I can’t decide if this is encouraging or not but I get a boost as one guy shouts “looking good for a sub-4”. We turn left into the stadium, not far now – wrong! We’re taken on a meandering path though the park. Four guys ahead are looking close to collapse. At last onto the track. There’s just two of us now (the others didn’t collapse), a whole 400m track ahead with a big digital clock at the end – absolute heaven! About a 100m and I can’t resist that final little push and there it is – the finish line.

My friend ran a great time and I meet her at the end. We head up the stadium steps (not a good idea for the glutes at this stage) for tea and biscuits. Then back the to car – a good recovery walk pumping blood back from the calfs to the heart – Iron Woman Helen Hall gave me that great tip. Then a two hour drive back to London in torrential rain – almost another marathon in itself. Recovery food was a massive Sunday dinner of roast beef and Yorkshire pudding followed by sticky toffee pudding and custard.

The following day I was absolutely fine. I had no muscle soreness, aches or pains. My legs felt fresher than they often do after a long Sunday run. I was back training clients at 4pm and with my Beginners Chi Running Club at 7pm.

I’d achieved my goals: I ran my first minimalist shoe marathon; felt strong throughout; followed a sensible, basic diet without the need for any over over-hyped sports supplements; was 5 minutes quciker than my 2010 London Marathon time at 03:54:24 and, ultimately, needed little or no recovery. Bring on the 2014 ultra!

Gray Caws is a certified Chi Running and Chi Walking Instructor and Personal Trainer with a REPs Level 4 Certificate in Specialist Exercise. Fore more information visit

Sep 19

Mikey Royce – Real Barefooter number 12

I first met Mikey as we ran the Cross-Bay half marathon earlier this summer. Mikey passed me in deep water (my short legs are a definite disadvantage sometimes) and I tried very hard to catch him but he stayed tantalisingly a few hundreds yards ahead for the last 6 miles.mikey roce 1

Hi Mikey and thanks for agreeing to take part in our real barefooters feature.

No problem Chris – that was an amazing race, I met so many new friends that day, and it was a great barefoot friendly course.

During that run Mikey, I could see your shoes clipped to your waist bobbing along with each stride. When you do use footwear, what do you put on your feet?

Yeah, I don’t like the idea of getting caught on a long run without something to put on my feet. Usually it’s just a pair of flip flops tied to my belt, but for a half marathon I decided to carry actual shoes, just in case.

Footware has always been an absolute nightmare. I have oddly shaped feet, low arches, high instep and wide toes. I had the usual experience with the running shop gait analysis and went through a number of big, heavy support shoes, every one of them causing pain on a long run to some degree.

I went minimalist with the Vibrams, and I really liked them for a while. However, I’ve gone off them recently, I dont feel like my feet can really stretch out in them – maybe my oddly shaped feet again.

So, my shoe of choice at the moment is the Green Silence from Brooks. They are not marketed as minimal shoes, but they are super light weight, reasonably low drop heel to toe, and actually fit my feet. On top of this, they are made from recycled materials, so it’s all good.  I’m clocking up a fair few miles at the moment, so I need something that I can feel the ground through but will save my soles from getting abraided away.

I would love to try a pair of Lunas next, they look very handy for carrying tied to a belt.

I watched a friend of your finish the Cross Bay barefoot. Her barefoot style was easy to spot from a long distance. We all run in different ways. How would you describe your own barefoot style?

I learnt from reading Barefoot Ken Bobs book. When I started out, I went for short stride, high cadence, and have slowly been able to increase my stride length as my technique has improved – I can now run a 5k barefoot in under 22 minutes and a 10k in under 45, so that requires a reasonable stride length. It’s all about being aware of where youre stepping, avoiding anything sharp, and above all being as gentle as you need to be.

The ball of the foot lands first – gently, just a little out front, – then, almost an instant later, the toes and the heel come down together as the foot passes the center of gravity. Im a little heavy on lift off, I get carried away on race day and tend to dig my toes in. After a race, I nearly always have blisters on my toes.

My running buddy that day was Jane, one of my regular friends from parkrun. She ran the Cross Bay barefoot last year, and so we decided to run it this year. Her style of running shod translates very well to barefoot – she is one of those lucky people who are increadibly light on their feet, she runs entirely on her forefoot so that her heels never touch the ground.

You look very committed to your local club and parkrun. Tell us about the part they play in your life.

I think all club runners become very attached to their running club. Humans are designed to run in a tribe, the running club is a modern form of that primal and fundamental behaviour. Most of us spend our days chained to a computer, in a totally artificial environment, so getting together and running on an evening or weekend morning fixes alot of the problems we may have stored up.

The York parkrun has been going for nearly two years now, and it has had a huge effect on the local running scene. The various clubs used to be very fragmented, but now we have a shared hub, it has allowed people to meet who wouldnt otherwise, and the community has benefited massively.

Mike RoyceIs it true that you make your own bows? I have met a few archers but nobody that makes their own bows before. It seems to hark back to a simpler time and fit in with the whole barefooting thing somehow. What do you think?

Well, I’ll say that its true that I am an archer and I have made a bow, and am in the middle of making another. I never like to make things easy for myself, and making things is much better than buying them!

I have been into recurve archery for a few years. I started out Olympic style with sights, stabilisers and all the other gizmos. Then, I tried a friends traditional longbow, and I was blown away by how simple it was. Shooting bare, without sights, feels very natural, very much like running barefoot. You may miss more times than you hit, but theres more call for celebration when you do get the arrow on the boss, and a victory lap if one should hit in the gold!

Tell us about your first barefoot run. I made it 40 seconds and had to put my shoes on and come home.

It was just as I was getting back into running following a twisted ankle. I was out running an easy run with a friend, just easing back into it, when I just decided to take my shoes off for a couple of hundred meters. I had read about barefoot running and I suppose the urge came over me to give it a try. We were running on a compacted mud track by the river, which was perfect for a first try – and, I was hooked. I loved how you could feel the texture of the ground, but I very quickly appreciated  how you can get a better idea for how you are balanced every step. I’ve read about proprioception in terms of archery, but now I was able to apply that same thing to running.

You look like you are putting in a few miles at the moment. What have you got lined up for the next few months. Any races/events?

The big event of the autumn is the Yorkshire Marathon. In training, Im clocking between 30 to 40 miles each week, since Im not a very robust runner in terms of recovery, thats a bit more than I find comfortable. Because of the volume, Im not really able to do many of them unshod – my feet just arent that tough! There is also the danger of running barefoot with bad form when fatigued, and Im not willing to risk it.

On this last weekend’s long run, we ran an out and back route to one the local stately homes, on the way back I took my shoes off for a few miles to let my arches stretch, and that was awesome after the long slow shod run out! Unfortunately, we were heading back along a narrow country lane, when a huge tractor turned the corner, coming towards us filling the lane from hedge to hedge. We had to climb into the undergrowth to avoid getting squashed, which was a little difficult with unprotected soles!

So that’s it pretty much for autumn racing. No doubt there will be a number of half marathons and 10ks later in the year, and the York Brass Monkey Half to kick off next year – that’s always an interesting race, as the conditions are always so variable. There is either wind, or ice, or snow, or maybe all three. I’ve not decided if I’ll attempt that one unshod, it may be a little cold!


PhotoI have an old red running hat that goes with me most places. Do you have an unsung piece of kit that you would grab first if the house was burning down?

I get sentimetal about some things – if the house was burning down, I would rescue my guitar. But I’m not sentimental about running kit, its all just functional for me – I’ve got the soles of my feet, the rest can be replaced.

So…..The  Saltburn half marathon ended up as 16 miles – How on earth did that happen?

The route was marked out with yellow tape tied to trees and lamp posts along the way. Or at least that was the theory – the local kids figured this out, and moved the tape, rerouting the run in a random tour of the Teeside suburbs! We spent the whole race wondering if we were heading in the right direction or if we were being lead off towards Newcastle. Everyone ran over distance, we made it around 16 miles, one lad came in later having run 19 miles.

There was also a full trail marathon that day, we didnt wait around to see how far they all had to run!

After a long run or training session, what would be your ideal post run wind-down?

I have an awesome recipe for a recovery shake, with a few variations depending on how Im feeling. Its made from frozen banana, peanut butter, milk, whey protein, oatmeal, agave nectar and cinnamon. One pint of that stuff has 100g carbs, 40 grams of protein and 25 grams of fat, around 800 calories or so. I sit and drink that and listen to some Led Zeppelin.

Finally – Mo vs Bolt – Predictions please

Can’t call it Im afraid – over 600m, its 50/50, and Im a fan of them both. Bolt is amazing to watch, he has such style, and Mo is just a total hero to all of us distance runners! But it would be an amazing race, I really hope they agree to it!

Thanks Mikey. You can read previous interviews with Real Barefooters here.

We have a fantastic community of barefoot runners contributing on our Barefoot Beginner facebook group. We are a mix of barefooters, minimalist and shod runners with a common interest. The chat is warm and friendly. Come and join in. We also have a facebook page for you to visit and like.