Barefoot and zero drop

This is neither a shoe review, nor expert advice. Just an observation.

There are so many theories out there about barefoot running and zero drop shoes, that it gets tangled up and one can easily just lump it all together as one concept. However, this is not the case, as I was sorely reminded of this week.

But first let me backtrack a bit. For the past five or so years, I’ve run in Altra. Since I always walk around barefoot in the house, going zero-drop was a no-brainer. No fuss, not frills, no getting used to it or gradually phasing it in. To be honest, I don’t think interchanging between zero-drop and six to eight or even ten millimetre is something that will really affect the average runner (if a blind test was done). But according to the experts, this is not the case and one shouldn’t just jump into zero-drop shoes.

In my arsenal I have Torin for on-road, TIMP for more cushioned off-road, and my trusty go-to trail shoe, the Lone Peak. Heck, I even have a pair of less cushioned Superiors in the mix for shorter trails, which I absolutely also love.

Our daily 8k run is fairly hilly, with an elevation of around 125m. I guess some stronger and fitter runners may call it undulating. But some of the hills I am yet to jog all the way to the top.

So this week I took a pair of Altra Delilah (gifted to me by my friend, Nina) for this daily 8k hilly on-road run. A (discontinued) women specific (mens equivalent is the Samson) minimalist performance shoe with a razor-siped sole grip, suited to road, track, trail and anything between. It is zero-drop (obviously) and has no cushioning worth mentioning, just a thin rubber sole to protect your feet from stones and the like. It is pretty much as close to running barefoot while still wearing shoes as one can get, and is meant to help you improve posture and running technique.

It should therefore come as no surprise that I immediately could feel a difference in my running style: not landing as hard as with a more cushioned shoe, and ‘trotting’ more, for lack of a better word. I felt silly, self-conscious, and was glad to be in the country where not a lot of people could see me. I tried my best to run as normal as possible, and thought I managed okay apart from the downhill sections.

And clearly the shoes did ‘improve my running technique’ as my calves were terribly sore the next day – muscles I probably don’t use on a daily short trot. I realise that with a plonking-style of running one doesn’t use your muscles as much, perhaps relying more on shoe ergonomics, and your own joints to propel you forward? But there was no escaping the fact that these shoes will not help propel or soften the blow on landing. I was forced to use more muscle in order to save my joints. Which I think is a good thing. Trouble is, I would obviously have to ease into this, and perhaps change my initial plan of running in them twice a week, to just once a week for starters. Of course this all looks nice on paper and I’m sure these shoes will improve my running style and activate muscles that I don’t normally use, but will I stick to this plan? Only time will tell.

Footnote:
While we’re talking Altra – if you buy the TIMP 2, go for half a size bigger. It was designed to be ‘snug’, but it is snug to the extend that the size changed. They fit okay and I will no doubt pile on the mileage, but on technical terrain there is no room to manoeuvre, which is very tiresome to feet if you’re constantly rubbing and bumping against the sides and front. But then again, I like my shoes loose fitting.

Mini long loop from home

Date: 4 September
Distance: 30km
Time: 4.07

During last year’s Level 4 lockdown, we ran short out-and-back stretches in our tiny neighbourhood. So this year, we went back to doing this the moment the second (in 18 months) Level 4 lockdown started on 18 August. Running in our neighbourhood means that we are running more hills, which is good. Longer might make you stronger, but so do hills – perhaps even more so.

After three weeks of running up and down the hilly road, I figured I should be in a better place for running uphill. At our last hilly outing three weeks ago (the Mukamuka Munter) it was obvious that we run mainly on flat surfaces, and on-road, as was evident by our time, not to mention how I was huffing and puffing to get over the mountain. But we made it to the finish in one piece, and committed to getting more hills into our training regime.

We are lucky to live in the foothills of the windfarm. At the far, dead-end of our road there is a gate. I have often looked past it to where a wee forest is edged on the side of the mountain, just below the turbines. The turbines are so close to our place, it feels like I can reach out and touch them. We can hear them on wind-still nights. A contradiction in terms it would seem, but that is when the wind (usually a westerly that blows the sound towards the Wairarapa side) is light enough to move the blades, but calm enough that we can hear them loud and clear on the Manawatu side. Speaking to a neighbour yonks ago, it transpired that this road past the gate, apparently, does lead through this forest and all the way to North Range Road. We’ve been meaning to chat to the farmer to gain access, but haven’t got around to it yet.

So we opted for an alternative which unfortunately meant quite a bit of road running, and only about a third off-road. But the good part is that it included a hill of some 700m elevation.

It was overcast and somewhat windy. The forecast claimed sunny, one degree Celsius during the night and seven kilometre per hour winds reaching 13km/h by noon. By morning it was six degrees Celsius (so not terribly cold), overcast, and the wind was not too bad. By 8am, with a belly full of breakfast, we were on our merry way.

The road sections were unfortunately on reasonably busy roads. The Aokautere-Pahiatua Road (Pahiatua Track) saw quite a few cars and trucks coming by, but the Fitzherbert East Road extension towards Ashhurst was worse. Luckily we only ran about 4k on the latter. Pahiatua Track from top to bottom is about 9k, which was all included in our loop.

From Fitzherbert East Road, we turned right onto Forest Hill Road. Once off the busy roads and on the country roads, the run became more enjoyable. No need to constantly watch out for cars, and having to get well off of the road when trucks approach. After a kilometre or so, the uphill began in all earnest. We tried to jog little bits, but was reduced to a walk every so often. We knew that this road goes all the way to North Range Road, but didn’t realise it goes through private land, and a permit is required for access. A friend told us a few years ago that he often runs in this forest and so we assumed the closure pertains mainly to vehicles. From the North Range Road side, there used to be a gate, but I don’t remember any access warnings/issues. My understanding was also that the army sometimes uses this area for training.

After about 4k on Forest Hill Road, we reached and jumped over the locked gate (12k). We went through a tiny paddock and after about 50m there was another gate. Once we were over that I felt more comfortable that we were safe from the bull. Actually I couldn’t see whether it was a bull or a cow, but it was eyeing us and I was in no position to start sprinting should he decide to chase. Mind you, a raging bull might have pumped enough adrenaline to make me clear the average fence not touching sides.

Naturally, once we were in the Aokautere Forest and having jumped two gates, I instantly felt super guilty. Although it would seem that lots of runners use this forest as a training ground, I felt like a trespasser (which I was), and as if we were being watched all the time.

About 700m in, we reached a fork in the road. I checked my Topo Maps app, and saw that the road I thought we should take is quite a bit longer than the alternative. At this point I thought that the quicker we can get through the forest and onto North Range Road, the better. I was, however, uncertain about the alternatives as they didn’t look like proper roads. But as it turns out, they were just the same as the ‘main’ road. We turned right and after about 1k we reached another fork with the road veering off in three directions. Instinctively I thought the middle road to be the right one. Gerry suggested we go right as this road seemed wider and more like the correct road. I couldn’t disagree. After a few hundred metres, another fork made us once again question our direction, but when we reached the fence line of the windfarm still a few metres further, it seemed like the road was going in the wrong direction (heading back towards Palmy). Out came my phone and Topo Maps again, and so we backtracked to the fork where we went wrong, to take the middle road. Always follow a hunch. Haha.

Back on track, I was amazed by the beautiful area almost on our doorstop, but being a ‘trespasser’ spoiled the experience. With lots of the pine trees still in their teenage years, little bits of sun came through the clouds to warm the way. Even though it wasn’t meant to be that cold, it wasn’t warm either, mainly because of the wind.

The section through the private land was just a bit over 5k and almost worth the unnerving situation. Having said that, we will obtain formal permission to be there for next time. At the top near the gate just before reaching North Range Road (at 17.2km), it would appear that someone (the forest manager perhaps?) decided to make sure no 4WD vehicles can go down that road, by dumping two truck-size humps of soil right across the road. I’ve noticed the gate being flattened the previous time we were on NRR, but this was new (at least in the last two or three years). It took some clambering but we got over the obstacle, and clearly we were not the only pedestrians/MTBs going through there, as there was a clear, narrow path to show the way.

Once on North Range Road, we turned right again and immediately had to start negotiating the mud puddles. Even after a few sunny or no rain days, the 4WD section was still quite muddy. The wind was also very strong by then, and the wind-noise in my ears was deafening. It was evident that the 4WDrivers have carved up the road much more than last time we were up there.

Once we reached the Te Rere Hau windfarm gate (20.5km), I knew that the road was almost all the way downhill back home. The 3.5k we had left on NRR had only a small little incline, while Pahiatua Track was downhill all the way. With the new windfarm in progress on South Range Road, the quality of NRR has also improved. However, the super course gravel was very uncomfortable to run on. The road is wider, cleaned up on the sides and with a new (coarse) gravel topping.

The wind was very strong by then, and my arms and hands were starting to go numb from the cold. My core was still warm so didn’t feel the need for an extra layer.

Hitting Pahiatua Track (24km into the run), the road was busy as always. It is not the best road to run on, with only a narrow shoulder, and some parts lacking a shoulder altogether. For short sections we were somewhat sheltered from the wind, but most other times the headwind would blow me to a standstill. Lots of cars were out on the road.

I was tired and sore, but with the last 5.5k on-road downhill stretch, I could run all the way.

Back at home we had a shower, and made lunch before venturing outside for a bit of puttering in the garden. Late afternoon we made a campfire and had some vino to celebrate. I’m not nearly back to ultras, but am getting there slowly but surely. Getting back into the swing of things just take much longer than I hoped. And I still need to do lots of work on my mobility, strength and flexibility. My buggered hip and leg is still part of the package.

Nelson runs

After three weeks of 70k per week, it was time for a cut-back week. Luckily this coincided with a work trip to Nelson. With all the best of intentions in the world, it remains challenging to try and fit in runs while out of town for jobs. That also goes for travelling. When your holiday involves tents and lots of different campsites, it just gets too hard with super early runs, fitting in a shower, and still pack up and vacate the site by 10am, not to mention the pile of wet, dirty running gear. This, of course, is much easier if you can afford (and are that way inclined) to stay in somewhat more luxurious accommodation for a few days or weeks at a time.

The first few days it was raining. Pouring, for the most part. Work was meant to keep Gerry busy from seven in the morning, until nine every night, but he could leave earlier to go out for dinner. I used my days to edit a friend’s thesis.

The backpackers where we stayed was central – town centre, conference venue, Suter Gallery, Refinery Art Space, FreshChoice, etc. could all be reached within less than a 2km walk. Fortunately, Gerry could nick away on some days for lunch, which we used for short runs – three to be exact – and the sum total of 20k is all we could manage for the whole week.

On one of those outings we followed the Maitai River and walkway; a lovely footpath and trail where one can do a few kilometres out-and-back (8.1k all the way to the Maitai Motorcamp where we have stayed a couple of times before. This time we turned around at the Black Hole), or do a loop that takes you to Botanical Hill (this we only realised later when two guys we passed on the way back next to the stream, came from the front again at the lower parts of Botanical Hill). On the way back we decided to make a detour to the Centre of New Zealand, so named because it was used as a central survey point in the 1800s.

A steep climb over about one kilometre, and an elevation gain of 147m (a good spot for some vert training), takes one to the top of Botanical Hill and to the highest point which features a sculpture of a needle. Even though one has a beautiful view over Nelson and surrounds, it was quite windy and very cold, so we didn’t stay long.

A very nice little Nelson loop that we will try to do when next we are in Nelson. Or if we are fit enough and have the time, go all the way to the motorcamp and back.

For the second half of the week, the sun came out, and the temperature turned somewhat warmer. On one of these days we ran next to the highway on a walkway that stops abruptly after 2.8k if one starts at the Trafalgar Centre. Or so it appeared. Perhaps it would have continued on after a stint through the suburbs, but we were out of time anyway. Apart from some sculptures, I was rather surprised to see a tiny little olive grove in a green strip en route. There’s just something about an olive ‘tree’ that warms my cockles every time. They speak to me; the colour of the leaves, the lovely smell when chipping the prunings for mulch, the softness of the new growth, the heaviness of the wood, the beautiful clusters of tiny flowers (unfathomable to think they can bear fruit), and of course the fruit that produced pure liquid gold.

Glad to have managed to experience a tiny bit of Nelson on foot. Maybe next time we can add to that.

24-Hour isolation challenge

Date: 24-25 April 2020
Time: 24 hours
Distance: 103km

If anyone told me a few years ago that I would do a 100km training run, without it being an official event, I would have said, dream on. Not only is this physically a huge challenge, but also mentally. Getting your head around that distance takes some mind gymnastics. Getting your head around doing it outside of the support, comfort and camaraderie of others in an event, takes extra strong brain gymnastics. Continue reading

19 k’s for 19 days – a COVID-19 isolation odyssey

Date: 1 – 19 April 2020
Distance: 362.5km
Time: 52:56
Elevation: 8970m

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In the weeks leading up to the Level 4 lockdown in New Zealand, when everyone was stockpiling on toiletpaper and flour, my thoughts were focused elsewhere – to come up with some sort of physical challenge that would reflect a small part of the pandemic. And since running and walking is my preferred exercise, the plan would have to involve one or both. With 2019 being the year that the virus was first detected (hence COVID-19), nineteen had to have prominence. To just run/walk 19km is no challenge. Any abled body can do that, even if it takes you all day. The logical next step was to try and repeat the 19k for 19 days in a row, and just like that, the challenge was set. To make the challenge just a wee bit more challenging, I decided to try and do every day’s 19k in under three hours. That is rather swift walking if you are not a speedwalker, or a couple of kilometres had to be jogged. Continue reading