Wednesday, 12 February 2014

The Obligatory "Why I Run" Blog

I started writing my blog purely to document my first ever ultra attempt - running home straight after the London Marathon in 2011. It was mainly for the benefit of my wife and family, so that they could see my progress and check that I wasn't lying dead in a ditch somewhere (you bet I would have blogged about that). This wasn't just my first ultra, it was my first marathon. So at the time I had no idea whether I could actually do it, and entirely expected to end up collapsing somewhere along the way.

My blog has evolved over the last few years into what I hope is an interesting and informative set of rambling diatribes into various aspects of running which have caught my attention over the years. And yet at no point have I covered that age old question - "why do I run"?

Or, more precisely, why do I run so far?

I'll say this first of all; up until a few years ago, I hated running. I did it sometimes in order to try and keep fit, but I didn't really enjoy it. My sport of choice at University was Tae Kwon Do, where I helped out as an instructor whilst finishing my PhD. Whilst I didn't enjoy running, I did enjoy dragging the more committed members of the club out on an early morning beast of a run every week. We would intersperse interval training and hill work with hardcore exercises like knuckle press-ups on the gravel (all in the age before Tough Mudder). By the end we were normally utterly destroyed. I loved that feeling! I was still pretty fit back then, although was a lot bigger than I am now - pure muscle of course...

Fast-forward a few years and we had moved to a new city for me to (finally) start a job. But my PhD had taken its toll somewhat as I was looking pretty chunky. I don't think I'll get away with saying this was muscle. Spending my life sat trying to write a thesis, with virtually no exercise, snack food rather than meals (my wife, Jen, used to have to "remind" me to eat when it got to midnight), and no sleep will do that. When we first moved to Cambridge I was working long days in my new high-profile post-doctoral position at the Sanger Institute (home of the Human Genome Project), then coming home and having to write my thesis until 3am to try and finish it. Man that sucked, although never getting out of that studenty lack of sleep mentality proved to be quite useful for both running and having children.


Unfortunately my grandfather passed away in 2010 from lung cancer. My Dad told me he was planning to run a half marathon to raise money for CRUK, so I said I would join him. Despite being pretty chubby, I was very active as I cycled every day. I started doing a few miles running before work, and found a nice off-road path near my house. I started to really enjoy going exploring, and found that I could always go a bit faster, and a bit further.

I think that one of the main reasons that I started to enjoy it was this exploration side of things and seeing slightly more interesting sights than lines of traffic. I still don't really enjoy running on pavements, but chuck my in the middle of nowhere covered in mud and I'm a happy bunny.

When the race came along (the New Forest Half Marathon) I ran with my Dad and we had an absolute blast. It was a lovely sunny autumn day, and we just chatted the whole way round. We finished together in 2:12:02 - what a great way to spend a Sunday morning!

That was how I got the bug. But how the hell did I go from that to running hundreds of miles at a time?

Honestly? It started as a joke.

After the New Forest Half, I wanted to see how fast I could actually run. I found a local half marathon a couple of weeks later and ran a 1:39:33, which was the first inckling that I might actually be okay at this running lark. Not ├╝ber fast, but not too bad for my second time. Believe me, this was a huge surprise to me!

Since I loved being out there so much, I decided to have a crack at the marathon distance, so looked to see if there was any way of getting into the London Marathon the following year. At this stage I really didn't know much about running (left foot; right foot; left foot; etc.), but everybody knows that the VLM is the marathon. The only way in was to enter via a charity with a Golden Bond ticket, meaning I would have to raise a minimum of £1,500 for the charity of choice. Hmm. That's a lot of money.

I decided to go for it, aiming to raise money for the Epilepsy Society. I suffer from epilepsy myself and have had several grand mal seizures in my life. They are not pleasant. I have nearly chewed my tongue off (the irony was I couldn't taste how nice it was), had one whilst at the top of a climbing wall (it surprised my friend who was belaying me), and almost won a Battle of the Bands whilst having one (everyone just thought it was a very esoteric drum solo). However, I'm incredibly lucky that I have found a treatment regimen that completely prevents problems for me, and this is largely thanks to work done by groups such as the Epilepsy Society. Other people are not so lucky however, and the effects of epilepsy can be debilitating. It seemed only fitting to try and give something back.

But raising that much money proved pretty tough. When my original hope that the 10 people I know would cover it between them (stingy bastards), I realised that I needed to come up with something else. What I needed was to do something really stupid that would make my sponsorship request jump out at people. My friend had just read the book 'Ultramarathon Man' by Dean Karnazes, so I joked that maybe I could do what he did and just run home afterwards (a piddly 90ish miles on top of the marathon). Unfortunately my wife called my bluff, and before you knew it I had planned a route (entirely off road of course, following the LDWA Greenwich Meridian Path) and conned a few awesome friends into crewing me along the way.

When I did the run, it was awesome. There were times that sucked of course, and I found it incredibly tough going, but for the most part I had an absolute blast just being out in the middle of nowhere with nothing to do but run. Whilst the marathon itself was a fantastic experience, I much preferred it when I was out in the middle of nowhere all alone. I finished the run with a dodgy hip and passed out when I got home, but otherwise felt fantastic.

But it was the actual running that I loved, and not just the feeling of having run it. I wasn't interested in resting on my laurels, and wanted to do more. By this point, I didn't really know that "ultra running" was even a thing. But now I looked for events to try out, to have another crack at running out on the trails for hours. Week by week, I started spending my early mornings out running, exploring the local area, and generally spending time with myself (that's not a euphemism).

So with that rambling introduction out of the way, now we come onto the issue of "why". As I see it, there are several reasons that people might choose to run ultra marathons. So here are 10 11 reasons off the top of my head that I can think of for running ultra marathons:

1: Fitness

For many people, running is something to that they do for fitness. Running is, of course, one of the best forms of cardiovascular exercise around. I won't get into whether cardio is the best way to lose weight or not, but there's no denying that it can be effective. I'm sure that a lot of people have started up running for this very reason, and certainly when I first started the health benefits were incredibly appealing to me (especially after becoming "Doctor Chubster").

But for many people, that is literally the only reason. They drag themselves to the gym, grit their teeth, and force themselves through a workout on the treadmill to punish themselves for having had that slice of cake at lunchtime. Personally I can't think of anything worse, and it's no wonder that many people see running as a chore rather than a fun activity. I'll be honest - I can't stand the treadmill either. Half an hour and I'm done. Sure, it's useful for speed-work and things, but I prefer to enjoy myself which I do much more when out and about. Whenever I talk to somebody about running and I hear, "Eurgh. I don't know how you do it. I get bored after 10 minutes on a treadmill", I try and encourage them to have a go at running outside away from the pavements and roads, and just go on a bit of an adventure. If you just want to use running as a tool in your keep-fit arsenal, then more power to you. But there's a bigger world out there if you're interested, and you might find that you enjoy it more than you ever thought you could.

Now, of course, you can get fitness and health benefits from running much less than I do. The key thing is to get out there and do whatever makes you happy. If that is a couple of miles, then that's fantastic and you'll get plenty of health benefits. If you want to go a bit further, then go for it. Many people may claim that running too much is actually as bad for you as not enough. Now, ignoring the semantic verisimilitude of this (that's kind of what "too much" means...), this is largely based on the sort of typical responses that I tend to get like "isn't it bad for your knees?", or "it can't be good for your heart".

With regards to the knees issue, the idea that running is inherently "bad for your knees", or that it can lead to arthritis and the like, is largely unfounded. What definitely isn't good for your knees is running badly. If your gait isn't perfect, imbalances can cause issues in the musculoskeletal system, and of course the further you run the more likely it is that these will cause an issue. But the human body is a quite remarkable system, and when it's used right it can achieve seemingly remarkable things quite efficiently. The research is quite divided on many issues in this area, particularly with regards to whether we should forefoot or rear foot strike, and whether we should run barefoot or with giant squishy platform shoes on our feet. Personally I made the switch to a shod forefoot strike and have never looked back. Add to this a sensible approach to injuries like twisted ankles and things (if I'm injured I try and stop - no race is worth buggering my legs up over) and you should find your knees are perfectly happy with the running. Granted last year I had a knee injury that affected a few races for me, but that was a result of falling and cracking it on a rock and then not taking my own advice and finishing the race despite this injury. I made the decision, and I payed the price. But some sensible rehab later and I'm back running happily again.

The heart thing is also largely based on some research available which I have read, and personally believe doesn't hold much water. If you're interested, I have gone into this in a lot of detail in a different blog post here.

I don't claim that running hundred milers is healthy by any stretch of the imagination, but I'm sure healthier than I was before I started running them. For me, the fitness benefits are purely incidental - a nice side-effect that ties very much into the next reason.

2: You like cake

I like cake. A lot. Whilst my diet is very good in general, I also like to eat cake, biscuits and sweets. I treat my body like a temple, but then again I'm an atheist. If I ever want to improve my running results, simply making some improvements to my diet and cutting out the junk would work wonders. But ya know what? I like cake. I like biscuits. And I like sweets. And I do pretty well despite eating these occasionally.

One of the things that always gets me about diets is the way that people cut out everything that they enjoy. It's no wonder that after a few weeks people get sick of them, drop the diet, then ram their faces full of chocolate. The beauty of the amount of running that I do is that I can pretty much eat whatever the hell I like and not feel particularly bad about it. I don't, but I could. Since running ultras, and without doing a huge amount to my diet other than aiming for a generally higher fat and lower carb diet (Ben and Jerry's doesn't count), my body fat has dropped considerably - although Christmas may have affected this. This is largely due to switching my fuelling to a more fat-burning approach, largely because I'm too cheap to buy gels and things to eat whilst I run.

Obviously there are other reasons to not eat too much junk food (if the Daily Mail are to be believed, I'm sure Haribo causes cancer or something), and I don't recommend going too far down the "Mwa ha ha, I can eat whatever I like! Nom, nom, nom, nom, nom!" route, but you can get away with the odd unhealthy snack.

A lot of my friends run purely because of the fact that they like to eat. And drink beer of course. In  fact there is a very strong correlation between ultra running and beer drinking. One of the things that many people don't realise about ultra running is the sheer amount of food involved. And we're not talking gels and jelly babies here. Go to an ultra race, and you will find aid stations stocked with sandwiches, pork pies, sweets, cakes (even homemade ones), soup, bacon sarnies, crisps, nuts, and fruit (if that's your thing). I like to describe ultra running as a day-long picnic with a bit of running in between.

3: Spirituality

Running can be an incredibly spiritual experience, inspiring feelings of incredible euphoria as you take a step into the world beyond what you see in your everyday life. There is a different world out amongst nature, and opening your mind to the wonders of the natural world can help find serenity and fuel an emotional response that can improve your own well-being.

Apparently.

I've never been a particularly emotional person, so this side of running has never been something that I have been privy to. That said, for many people running can indeed be of enormous benefit to spiritual well-being, and the number of motivational and inspirational memes and quotes that crop up on Facebook really shows the strong emotions that running is able to inspire in many runners. 

Beyond this, there is a lot of evidence that running (and exercise in general) can be hugely beneficial for helping with mental health issues such as depression, and many doctors will prescribe exercise as an alternative to drugs. Again, you don't need to run 100 miles to get these benefits, but I certainly know of a lot of people who have found that the joys of trail running have helped improve their emotional well-being. 

There is also an interesting correlation of people with an addictive personality taking up running ultras (Timmy Olson being a very good example), and I would say that I very probably fall a little into this category. For some people it probably is a bit of a addiction, but hey there are worse things to be addicted to.

4: Masochistic tendencies

How often have you heard someone ask, "What's the toughest ultra"? How many times have you seen a race pride itself on the fact that it will utterly destroy you? Or that hardly anybody is tough enough to even finish the thing (almost as many people have walked on the moon as have finished the Barkley Marathons)? Or that there is some nasty sting in the tail just to mess with the minds of the runners (such as the Piece of String Fun Run, where runners do not know how far the race will be when they start)? Or how about just the sheer number of races cropping up with nigh on fatal obstacles along the way?

For some people, the more "holy shit" instances that you can slip into the race description, the better! Whether it's a case of actually enjoying these added "bonuses" and the pain they inspire, or it's just to add to the awesomeness of the story when telling people about it (see number 5) is another question altogether.

Now I've done a few of these kinds of events, including the Piece of String and the Viking Way. I kind of like entering things like this not so much because I think that they will hurt, but because I want to see if they are as tough as they say. I always kind of hope they won't hurt to be honest.

I don't think that I quite have the masochist gene though. I do like that feeling of having given everything at the end of a race or training session, and there is certainly something oddly pleasant about that "ow, ow, bloody ow" feeling in your legs the day after a good training session. But I very much don't want running to hurt!

It's always interesting to me the oft repeated mantra of, "If it doesn't hurt, you're doing it wrong". My own mantra is quite the opposite. Running most definitely shouldn't hurt, and if it does it's probably your body telling you you shouldn't be doing it. There are certain times that I will push on with an injury (for instance I pushed on to the end of Transvulcania this year despite buggering up my knee quite badly since I had spent a fair bit of money to get there and it was a once in a lifetime experience), but I would rather be able to run on a day to day basis than completely screw myself over for a single event (I was unable to run properly for 3 months after Transvulcania, so in hindsight maybe I should have just stopped).

More power to anybody that subscribes to the "Death Before DNF" approach, but it's not for me.

5: Bragging rights

"Oh you run marathons? How cute!" I have seen this as an ultra marathon related t-shirt before. To many people the marathon (for whatever reason) is seen as the pinnacle of human endurance, so you can absolutely blow their minds by telling them you run even farther than that. And it works. People really are utterly amazed at the thought of running further than the 26.2 miles that seems to be the oddly specific point at which the human body apparently falls apart. I saw it myself just the other day when I was speaking to my doctor:

Doctor: "Are you keeping active?"
Me: "Yes. I do quite a bit of running."
Doctor: "Okay. How much do you run."
Me: "Quite a lot."
Doctor: "Like marathons?"
Me: "A bit further than that."
Doctor: "What? How far?"
Me: "Well my last race I did about 120 miles."
Doctor: "..."
Me: "That wasn't the finish line if that helps?"
Doctor: "But not in one go right? When did you sleep?"

This is a pretty standard exchange, as the brain of any normal person can't possibly comprehend the ability to run non-stop for over 24 hours straight. And sure, when I started out I quite liked the feeling of awe that people gave me when I discussed my latest endeavours. But the more I did it, the more embarrassed I got by it. Typically the response I get is, "All I can manage is 5 Km". And then I feel bad. Because running 5 Km is fantastic! It's all so relative. If you've never run before, then just getting out the door and starting is fantastic. Building up to your first 5 Km is a great achievement. Then to get some guy turn up and go, "Oh you only run 5 Km huh? Pft. That's barely even a training run for me." I don't want to be that guy. Nowadays I try not to get too in depth with the running thing with people I've just met because a) it might (unnecessarily) make somebody feel inadequate about their own achievements, and b) people tend to think I'm nuts.

And here's another point; further doesn't necessarily mean harder. I can find it tougher running a fast 10 Km than I do running a 100 miler. You have to push yourself at your absolute limits, and whilst it may only be for half an hour, the sheer effort involved is so much higher. For a 100 miler, I walk, I stop to chat at checkpoints, and generally speaking I'm running at an easily maintainable pace so that I have some energy remaining in the latter stages of the race. I would say that it's easier (for me at least) to run a 100 miler than to run a sub 3 hour marathon - never mind a "fast" time like 2:30. Of course running a fast 100 miler (say sub 15 hours) is a different prospect altogether, but I'm not going to touch the "which is harder; a fast marathon or a fast 100 miler" debate. Frankly I don't much care.

Here's the thing. There's nothing special about running 100 miles. I maintain that anybody can do it. Whether they would want to is another matter entirely of course. But it's not like I (nor any of my other ultra running buddies) are particularly special. Sure, you need to get your body used to being pounded for hours at a time (giggidy), you should probably get used to fuelling properly, and you might want to get used to running overnight while knackered. But otherwise there's not much to it. Of course that's not to say that it's easy, and it can take a huge amount of commitment, but you don't need to be some genetic ├╝bermensch to do it.

So whilst there's no doubt that most people will indeed be very impressed by the prospect of running an ultra, I tend to just get a little bit embarrassed by the praise. Now I know that that is perhaps a little hypocritical considering that I write about my running on my blog, but I really hope that it never comes across as bragging. If anything, I'm generally self-depracating about my achievements, and tend to think that I could have done better. And whilst this may seem a kind of back-handed form of bragging (how annoying is it to hear, "I had a terrible race today, and only managed a 2:55 marathon. I suck"?), it really just comes down to the point of relativity. If someone can comfortably run a 2:30 hour marathon, would you be impressed that they ran 3 hours? Should you be? My blog is really just a place for me to get my thoughts down on paper and is somewhat of a cathartic experience. But with respect to bragging, I much prefer to listen to other people about their experiences and accomplishments than to talk about my own.

6: Competition

I'm a very competitive person (the most competitive person maybe?), so there's really no getting away from this point. When I run on a day to day basis, I don't pay too much attention to pace, and I would say that I don't really train. I try and run fast, sure, but I don't do too much in the way of speed work and the like because I just don't enjoy it. But when it comes to racing, I'm a sucker for trying to chase times. I try not to race people, largely because there is such a wide variety of ways to approach an ultra (do you go out fast knowing that you will slow later, or try and start out slow but maintain the pace to the end). But I always race myself. If that happens to put me at the front come the end then that's just lovely! Of course, avoiding racing other people can be very difficult, and the world of ultra running is littered with the corpses of people who have pushed too hard too early to keep up with somebody else. 

I know that a lot of people don't actually like the idea of competition in ultra running, and prefer to keep the sport "pure". Similarly, people running in the middle and back of the pack are not bothered about positions or times, but are instead just thinking about the experience and the journey. But there absolutely should also be competition in the sport.

It's interesting the effect that fast people can have on other runners. It's safe to say that ultra running is currently a younger sport in the UK than in other countries, and we don't typically see the sorts of times that we do in, say, the USA. But last year, there were several notable UK performances including Robbie Britton (who ran a sub-16 hour 100 miler at the Centurion Running South Downs Way, ironically finishing in daylight on an event sponsored by head torch manufacturer Petzl), and Ed Catmur finishing the arguably tougher North Downs Way in an almost identical time. These times have made people realise that such times are indeed possible, and so runners are coming into races planning ever more ambitious finishing times. Competition in this country is certainly hotting up, so I'm genuinely excited to see what 2014 brings us.

Of course if competition isn't your thing then there's still plenty there to enjoy in the middle and back of the pack, and the guys and gals pushing the pace at the front don't even need to factor into your run at all. In some respects, the people at the front have as much respect (or more) for the people that are out there for hours longer. As with everything, it's all incredibly personal how you choose to run.

7: Swag

Most races offer some kind of swag to finishers - medals, race T-shirts, belt buckles, random leaflets that will (at best) end up straight in the bin. This can act as a fantastic incentive for people, as the thought of that elusive medal for them to show off to their friends, or a new T-shirt for them to wear to show off their accomplishments, is always at the front of their minds when the going gets tough. I suspect that for the majority of people, this extrinsic motivator is instrumental in their ability and will to complete these events.

I've never been much of a sentimental person, so I don't tend to keep things. All of my medals are chucked in a random box under my bed, and personally I would be happy to not get anything at the end of the event - I just don't really know what to do with them! For me, the event itself is the key thing and I can't really see myself ever getting the medals out again. It would probably be a bit different if I won a trophy as the winner of a race, but the best I've done so far is a box of Maltesers. Similarly I never wear any of my race T-shirts, mainly because it feels a little too much like I'm showing off, but that's just my own feelings and I certainly don't feel the same about other people wearing them.

What I do have is my blog. For me, this is a great way to jot down my experiences, and whilst I have never gone back and reread anything that I have written, it's there should I ever want it. Should I ever suffer from insomnia, for example.

8: Fund-raising

Fund-raising is what really got me into running what many people would call stupid distances, as mentioned earlier. It was really just a joke, but I think that I'm lucky that my brain doesn't think in the way that most people's does. It never occurred to me that the idea of running over 100 miles was  ridiculous. As it happens, it isn't really, as many people each year can attest. That's not to say its easy of course, but it's all relative. A lot of it is psychological as well, and once someone has finished one 100 miler they will likely find the next much easier.

But events that normal people would consider to be crazy often work very well as fund-raising events, allowing people to collect large amounts to help many fantastic causes. People were certainly very generous when they saw what I was planning, and we managed to raise a fantastic amount for one of the smaller charities that don't typically see the sorts of donations that others see.

I really want to do another event for the Epilepsy Society, but just need to think of what to do. I don't think that running a 100 miler will cut it for me anymore, so if you think of any other stupid ideas please let me know!

9: Exploration

For me, this is probably the number two reason that I love to run long distances, and what typically gets me out of the house. I love to go exploring and seeing new places. I get very bored running along roads, but love to just head out of the door with no plan in mind and just see where it takes me. I very rarely use a Garmin or anything, so just head out and follow any trails that look like they might be interesting.

Unfortunately I don't live in the most exciting of areas (Cambridgeshire), and this is why I love to enter races. For me, the main benefit of a race is that it is an excuse to run in a new place, and get a good chunk of time to see the sites without any major logistical effort on my part. One of the main reasons that I typically enter races of 100 miles or more is that if I'm going to be away for a weekend anyway, I would rather get as much running in as possible and check out some new places.

If only my sense of direction wasn't so awful. But then again, it does let me see more of the countryside. Why run 100 miles when you can run 110 after all?

10: The Community

One of the best things that I have found is the community of runners that are a part of it. Over the past few years I have become good friends with some of the nicest people that I have ever met through racing. Through the wonders of social networking like Facebook and Twitter, you can become great friends with somebody that you have never even met. I can't tell you the number of times that I have turned up at a race, started to chat to someone like we're old friends, then suddenly realised that we have never actually met before. Or a Facebook/Twitter friend strikes up a conversation with me but I have no idea who they are because their profile picture doesn't have their face on it (I'm pretty easy to pick out because of the sideburns). 

But I love the fact that you can pretty much start a random conversation with anybody that you meet in a race. I think it's because you automatically have that whole "hey, you're a nutter as well?!" thing to give you both some common ground. But I have certainly found people to be friendlier in ultras than in any other type of race that I have done before. I don't know what it is, but I never quite get the same vibe at say a 10 Km race. They are always brilliant and everybody is always friendly, but they never seem to have that tight-knit community feel to them that I love about ultras. Maybe it is just because I am not quite as entrenched in that particular community, who knows.

Also, the people that help out at races are amazing. People give up hours and sometimes days of their time to sit outside, often in pretty terrible conditions, waiting to feed grumpy runners and essentially cater to their every whining whim. In some respects, I find volunteering at aid stations to be harder than actually running - at least when running you only have to worry about one thing. But regardless, these people offer up their time freely to help others to reach their goal. It's often other runners, who know that when they race others will do the same for them. But there are also a lot of non-runners that get involved as well. Sometimes an event can be a real party, with so many friends that you don't get to see in person very often. The pre-race chat and catch up is one of my favourite parts of any of the events that I have done!

11: Enjoyment

I like to think that this is my number one reason for running, and for running long distances in particular, and feel like it is one that is missed a lot. I genuinely love to be out and about in the middle of nowhere, late at night, with nobody around. The beauty of a 100 mile race is that for many hours that you are out and about, you have nothing to worry about except to move your carcass forward. I use it as a great excuse to listen to audiobooks as well, so I'm never bored when out and about. Nothing beats a nice long run in the pouring rain, trudging through mud in shorts and a t-shirt, getting straight into all of the puddles along the way as if you're a 5 year old in wellies. My wife isn't too keen on the aftermath when I make my way into the shower of course. If you can learn to love the crappy weather, then you'll never have a bad run. "Embrace the suck" as the Marines say.

The idea of a run-streak is absolutely not for me. I know people that have done them, and they drag themselves out to make their minimum miles for it to "count", compelled to do something they really don't want to. For some people, the idea of a run-streak can be a great motivator, but for me it seems like too much of a responsibility. If I don't feel like running, I don't bother. I want to enjoy myself when I'm out there. I don't really enjoy speed work too much, so I don't do much of it. I just run. I would probably be better if I improved the efficiency of my training, but to be honest - I really don't consider it training at all. I just like to run. And normally I try and run a bit faster than I did the previous day. That's as far as my "training" really goes. 

And you know what? I very rarely don't feel like running. And as far as I'm concerned, as soon as it stops being fun for me, I'll stop. In particular, I have no real issues with pulling out of a race. I have a couple of criteria, the main ones being 1) will I injure myself if I carry on, 2) how much money and effort have I spent to get here, and 3) will future-me look back on this moment and think that present-me was just being a wimp? But if I do make the decision to pull out, I try not to worry too much about it - just move onto the next event and try and improve things for next time. 

Sure I have my down moments in races - we all do. But whenever you have a down moment, you know that it won't be long before it passes and you feel on top of the world again. 

For now, I love to run. The longer, the better. As soon as that love disappears, then I'll stop. But for now - it's raining so I'm off out!

So that's why I run, but I'd love to hear from other people. Why do you run yours?

4 comments:

  1. Excellent piece, Sam. I'm just starting out as a runner, I did my first ultra last month. I'd be really interested how you made the transition from heel striker to fore-foot striker. I can't seen to manage it. Is it essentially running on tip-toes?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. To be honest, I didn't really do anything - it just seems to be how I naturally run. It is a bit like running on tip-toes, but not quite so extreme. I land on the forefoot and rocker foreword to push off of the toes. However, I am personally of the opinion that nobody should change their natural gait unless they feel that it isn't working for them. I am not sold on the idea that running on the forefoot is "better" than heel striking. It is probably better in some ways (e.g. less force goes through the knees), but worse in others (more potential issues with tendons). I never switched intentionally, I just noticed one day that I was doing it and didn't fight it. Don't for one minute take my advice (I am in no way an expert), but if it doesn't feel right for you I would suggest sticking to what does feel right. Was there a reason that you were looking to switch?

      Delete
  2. I was under the impression that heel strikers get more injuries, but perhaps that's not right and, as you say, the injuries just shift elsewhere. It certainly isn't coming easily so maybe I'll just stick to being a heel striker. Do you think about form at all when you run? Or does it all happen naturally?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. There is certainly evidence to suggest that, but there is evidence to suggest the contrary as well. I have read some of the research and I'm not personally sold. The studies are all a little bit "open to interpretation". I think that it is probably true that running on your forefoot is better for your knees, but as you say I think that it just shifts things elsewhere. My own feelings (and again, I'm no expert - just my 2 cents) is that running should be effortless and as simple as possible. If you're fighting against your natural gait and having to think about every step, it just seems wrong to me. I think that I am in a position now where I don't think about form when I'm running, and just let things happen naturally. It seems to work for me, but I certainly had a few issues when I started out (mainly ITB issues), mostly due to trying to run on my heel because at the time that was what I was told to do.

      Delete