Footsore and Fancy Free

I had a busy Tuesday and Wednesday, so no running, although the post-race quad and calf soreness really kicked in on Tuesday, so that was no bad thing!

I ran 3 miles over to my friend Matt’s in Hullavington this morning (I’m not working because I’m buying a new van, but that’s a different story), we did a 6.8 mile circuit (he’s got a Garmin), and I ran home after a nice coffee and hot cross bun.

On the way back, I noticed that my feet were a tad tender. Sunday’s fast 16 mile race, over hard trails and tarmac, in a pair of Merrell Trail Gloves certainly gave my feet a good workout, so I wasn’t too surprised. Tender feet certainly encourage good form!

I only wear ‘minimal’ shoes these days. It’s probably worth giving a quick history of my journey to minimal running, in case anybody out there is interested.

When I first got seriously into running in 2006, I already had a preference for trail running; the more ‘technical’ the better. My shoe of choice was the Inov-8 Mudroc 290, a pretty light and low shoe by the standards of the so-called trail models made by the mainstream manufacturers. I loved their precise feel, which when combined with their very grippy soles, gave me bags of confidence on the toughest trails.

I started off with standard ‘neutral’ shoes for my road running, and was a little frightened at the thought of covering more than a mile or two of tarmac in my Mudrocs. Inevitably I ended up covering larger stretches of tarmac in the Mudrocs at times, and as I found that my knees didn’t crumble nor my shins collapse, I lost my fear of doing tarmac in low-cushioned shoes.

I spotted Nike Frees in a JD Sports and read up on them. I liked the idea of a flexible shoe that ‘works’ your feet. They were a good start but they weren’t very robust, and the second pair I got were stupidly tight across the ‘knuckles’ of my feet even though they’re narrow (I think my feet are big-boned and have a relatively high volume despite this).

I also started to do short runs across ‘safe’ field edges and even a little tarmac in bare feet.

In June 2009, I bought a pair of Inov-8 F-Lite 230s, then sold by Inov-8 as a dry trail shoe, which basically means road-shoe tread depth, but now marketed as a ‘fitness’ shoe: go figure. They were a logical next step, being as flexible as the Frees, but with a much lower heel (6mm heel-toe height differential, whereas 12mm is more standard). I enjoyed their lightness, although they were also rather tight across my feet, so much so that I removed the insoles to achieve a good fit. Just as well this fitted in with my minimalist ambitions!

I had mildly tight calves through the summer of 2009 as they got used to the extra demands I was making of them and also very mild plantar pain, but it was never enough to put me off my running, even over the 85 mile Ridgeway Challenge, although I hadn’t yet graduated to doing ultras in minimal shoes (I’ve just about got there now).

The 230s have a very soft, thin sole, which makes them hard work on stony ground, so in October 2010 I bought a pair of Brookes Mach Spikeless, a cross country spike, but with rubber studs in lieu of the spikes, which appeared to have a more ‘solid’ sole. They are available in the US (Adidas also do them), but are almost unheard of in the UK: I managed to get mine from Galaxy Sports, an online UK based clearance outlet. They are similar to the 230s for cushioning and heel height, and do indeed protect the feet for stones a little more, but the fit was still not that good.

I really got properly into minimal shoes in 2011, buying 2 ‘zero drop’ (no heel-toe differential) shoes, my beloved Trail Gloves (for dry trails and road) and Vivobarefoot Neo Trails for (for wet trails and roads). Both of these have been excellent for fit and function, have built-in stone protection, and are a pleasure to use. I’ve had a further period of calf tightness as I have increased the demands made on them once more, but no more plantar discomfort. Inevitably, they only mitigate the discomfort of stones underfoot to an extent, which doesn’t surprise me, but it only hurts at the time, not afterwards.

I ran the first half of the Ridgeway Challenge that year in my Trail Gloves, and could probably have managed all of it, were it not for how tired my feet and legs got from slip-sliding in the gloopy conditions. Merrell ought to have a ‘UK Trail Glove’, as the current model is only suitable for dry trails. I finished the Ridgeway off in my old, ‘safe bet’ ultra shoes, Inov-8 F-Lite 320s, a long-defunct Parkcour shoe.

Strangely enough, for racing I still have a mild preference for some cushioning, as you invariably hammer along and take less care than when training. Also in 2011, I replaced my Mudrocs with more minimal shoes, Inov-8 X-Talon 190s: the Mudrocs no longer felt lean’n’mean as I became accustomed to my minimal shoes. The X-Talons have Inov-8’s lowest level of cushioning and a 3mm heel differential, a very light upper and a very grippy sole. They have since served me extremely well on various rough/muddy trail races, including the Caesar’s Camp Midnight 30 miler.

You may have already read about my latest acquisition, Merrell Bare Access ‘London  Marathon shoes’. Zero drop, but some cushioning. They proved themselves to be brilliant in the Hastings Half.

That brings me up to date: I’m running better than ever, on ‘less shoe’.

If you haven’t already donated, please visit my Just Giving or Virgin Money Giving page, and give!

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