I have to be careful – I have a faddish tendency. My modus operandi is to come upon a new project, throw myself in, become completely obsessed and then, without a second thought, drop it and move on.
It took me a while to realise this and develop some skills in self-monitoring and self-control. Running certainly could have fitted the mould but by the time I started at the end of 2002 I was being more aware. I didn’t rush out and buy all the kit straight away. I made do with the clothes and shoes I already had – only buying new ones when the occasion or conditions really warranted it, as I increased mileage and started entering races.
I have stuck with running and it has changed my life – I feel fit, well, and sane – not as easy as perhaps we expect it should be, so I’m not taking it for granted.
After surviving the first month of running on my introductory training plan I decided I really did need proper shoes and like almost every one else I had my gait analysed and was duly fitted. In my case, as I overpronated, with the motion-control road shoes – a style I have been buying ever since.
But this year I began to question the sense behind wearing this kind of shoe, as I began to build my training for a 30-mile cross-country hill run across the Mendips. Generally I was coping well with the increasing distance but whenever I did have problems – aches in my right knee, tightness on the top of my left foot, it seemed to arise from a conflict between the two types of shoe I was wearing.
To build up the miles I began to run portions of my journey to and from work, parking my car further away each time. All this running was on tarmac or pavement, so naturally enough I would wear my usual motion-control road shoes. But there is no such thing as an off road motion-control shoe. On this uneven terrain you need flexibility, responsiveness and grip – not an inch and a half of foam under your heel. So I wear Inov-8 shoes, which have minimal padding and maximum flexibility and I get on very well with them.
But surely this doesn’t make sense – how can I be wearing built-up, control shoes one run and pared-down, flexible shoes another? Well the answer is you can’t, which is why I was getting knee and foot niggles switching from one to the other. But which one was better for me – if any? I didn’t know.
The situation was further confused when I got into the latter stages of training. Twice I ran 28 miles and in the final race 30.8 miles (I got lost over Cheddar Gorge). In the last two runs my arches became very painful and so I then wondered if I needed arch supports in my Inov-8s.
The Mendip Challenge complete I needed to find out what the best direction for the future of my feet, and my running would be.
Last week, driving in to work, I heard the US sports journalist and runner Christopher McDougall talking to Libby Purves on BBC Radio 4’s ‘Midweek’ programme. He was explaining the principles and advantages of Barefoot Running. I was intrigued – could this be the solution?
I hit the internet and started looking up barefoot running websites, articles and movies and came across a message board entry on Runners World’s website asking about the experiences of runners just starting out on barefoot running.
So here I go – I’m starting out.