Gasping at parkrun

longrun meadow parkrun

I stopped breathing at parkrun last weekend.

longrun meadow parkrunNothing too dramatic, and no paramedics were called but I did go red and gasp a bit.

It was an entirely orchestrated warm up technique that follows my latest obsession with breath holding or apnea training for running performance. This particular warmup consisted of me walking as many steps as I could while holding my breath and pinching my nose.

It’s a perfectly lazy way to warmup and suits me very well. I have to walk to the start of the run anyway and it takes barely any effort to stop breathing for a few steps at a time. Certainly beats running laps in anticipation of the effort ahead.

I can’t walk very far, maybe 22 steps before I start gasping but it does seem to be surprisingly effective at clearing out the nasal cavities. The idea is that it would help me in the early stages of a run when I struggle to catch my breath.

So, fully warmed up, I set off on the run determined to manage at least a minute of calm and collected nasal breathing rather than adopting my usual steam train impression from the start.

Surprisingly I managed to run half the course with my mouth firmly shut and my breathing was the least strained that I’ve experienced it while running.

I would have continued with my mouth closed but my nasal passages were beginning to need some attention. Ideally I would have employed the nasal gobbing technique that you see many runners partaking in but it’s not part of my skill set so I didn’t bother and at 2.5k I started breathing through my mouth and promptly sounded like I was going to die sometime very soon.

Maybe next week I’ll pack a tissue.

Run Slow to Run Faster – The Maffetone Method

run slow to run faster

It’s not good for the ego to be outrun by a dog walker but that is the short-term risk of adopting The Maffetone Method.

run slow to run fasterThis weekend I was “running” behind a dog walker for at least 20 minutes, running within yards of him before my heart rate monitor beeped at me and I had to drop to a dawdle. The dog walker edged away until finally, my heart rate edged to the lower end of my training target and I could prepare for the overtake manoeuvre again.

This went on for a good 15 attempts before I decided it was probably easier to turn around and head back home.

What is the Maffetone Method

The Maffetone method eschews the no pain no gain ethos, in favour of super low intensity training to optimise aerobic performance.

I came across the Maffetone Method when I was researching different ways to assess and record fitness gains as part of my Achieve the Impossible Challenge and plumped for the MAF Test as an accessible and useful gauge of improving aerobic fitness.

The MAF Test, which stands for Maximum Aerobic Function test, has you run over a set distance between 1-5 miles (in my case 5k) all the time keeping your heart rate within in a set range – the Maffetone Range. The Maffetone Range equates to either heart rate zone 1 or 2 and when you start out it’s really quite difficult to exercise and keep below the maximum allowable rate.

Determining your Maffetone Training Range

Phil Maffetone describes a simple 180 formula to determining your maximum training heart rate.

Step 1) 180 – Age

Step 2) Take this number and adjust by one of the following:

a) Recovering from major illness/surgery then subtract 10
b) Injured, new/returning to training or sickly then subtract 5
c) Consistent trainer (4 days a week for 2 years) then make no change, your max MAF training heart rate is 180 – age
d) Experienced athlete (2+ years) with consistent or improving performance then add 5

As I’m between b) and c) and can’t bear to stick to rules I’ve gone for subtracting 3, so my max training heart rate is 180 – 44 – 3 = 133

To find the range you simply set the lower range at 10 beats per minute lower than your max. So my training range (and MAF test range) is 123 to 133 bpm.

The task then is to conduct a baseline line MAF test and then start Maffetone Training which just means that you have to keep all your training runs, in fact any form of exercise, within the Maffetone Range. You are supposed to avoid all forms of anaerobic exercise until you have reached your aerobic peak which you can identify by a plateauing of your MAF Test performance.

How to do the MAF Test

Pick a course that is convenient and relatively flat, ideally you will want to use the same course for each future test.

You will need to be equipped with a heart rate monitor so you can ensure that you stick to your range. I have set mine to beep every time I fall outside of the range but that’s not necessary, you just need to keep an eye on it. After a while you will get used to how you feel and how your breathing changes when you are in or out of the training range.

You need to do a good warm up before you start the test so that you’ve got your system used to movement but this also needs to be below your maximum training heart rate determined above.

Then you start the run, recording your lap times and finish time.

Having completed the first test you will have an average pace for the entire distance and each individual lap.  This is your benchmark from which to compare all future tests.

It is recommended that you repeat the MAF Test every month and as you progress you should note that your average pace decreases even though you are sticking to the same HR range. That means you will run faster and faster for the same aerobic load which has got to be a good thing.

The best example I’ve seen of this is from trifundracing:


The MAF test is remarkably hard. Not in a gruelling way but just because it is too easy. I can’t walk fast enough to stay consistently in my range but neither can I run slow enough. That means I’m trapped in a perpetual run walk cycle and that is challenging when all you really want to do is run.

If you are fitter and lighter than me, you will probably be able to run for the entire duration of the test but it is going to feel painfully slow for you.

So is it worth it?

Only time will tell of course but having spent a bit of time focussing on my heart rate behaviour I am more inclined to give Maffetone Training a good go. The fact that my heart so readily climbs to anaerobic levels under the slightest levels of exertion suggests that I must always be training the anaerobic system. It makes sense to me that I would benefit from a good few months of low level aerobic base training.

In The Big Book of Endurance Training and Racing (*)Phil Maffetone illustrates his method with case studies and even suggests that some of his athletes eventually struggle to hit their maximum MAF heart rate as they’ve become so aerobically efficient. I find this pretty hard to fathom, from my perspective I barely raise my knee into the running form before my heart rate has jumped by 30 beats. When I actually start running, regardless of pace, my heart rate zone is breached within seconds and I have to drop to a walk. The thought that I might someday be able to sprint at that same heart rate feels a bit mythical. I would settle for being able to jog for an hour at that rate though.

The fact that the MAF test enables me to accurately measure performance improvements is a great bonus and I can’t wait until I manage to run the entire distance, even if it is at a snails pace.

MAF Pace and Race Results

There is apparently a link between the average pace achieved during a MAF Test and your pace at various race distances.

Phil Maffetone includes a table on his site which gives an indicator of how much slower your test pace will be.

It doesn’t cover the slow poke range but to give you an idea of where I am. My MAF Test pace over 5km was 10:00 mins/km while my Bushy parkrun time this week was 41 mins which is a race pace of 08:11 and required an average heart rate of 167 bpm and a max of 185 bpm – definitely not within the Maffetone range.

I’ll be repeating a parkrun monthly to see if I see an improvement after training slow and low.

(*) indicates the use of an affiliate link to amazon

A Metronomic Start to Janathon

running cadence

This is the first Janathon where I haven’t logged a run within minutes of the midnight chimes. I did plan to, I had my kit laid out next to the bubbly but when push came to shove my cold and a deep sleep overcame me and I retired to bed instead.

A truly wild and rocking start to 2015!

So now I have a more sedate, mid-afternoon, Janathon kick off and today’s focus is running cadence.

Everywhere I turn at the moment I see information about running cadence, I feel bombarded. I’ve been reading about efficient cadence in Unbreakable Runner (a very good book about training with Cross Fit Endurance), I’ve been monitoring it on my new Garmin 920XT and this morning I received an interesting video email from James Dunne (Kinetic Revolution) on the subject.

It’s time to dabble. The last time I checked I was running with a cadence of 155 steps per minute. Rather unsurprisingly I am not the model of a lean mean running machine – the typically stated goal for an efficient cadence pattern is 180.

Here’s my attempt at running my legs off for Janathon, guided by the Garmin 920XT metronome feature which was beeping and vibrating at 172/2 bpm.

Dabbling with #running #cadence. 155 steps per minute followed by 172 steps per minute

A video posted by 🐤 @warriorwoman #strength (@warriorwoman) on

Although I felt decidedly ridiculous at 172 spm, I don’t think the transition looks very noticeable on my video. In contrast, James Dunne’s  YouTube video illustrates a more dramatic change in form following a similar 10% increase in cadence.

I’m tempted to experiment further and see how long I can hold a cadence of 172 spm, I can see that footfall seems to be improved but it strikes me as a rather exhausting improvement.


How to Tape Your Feet for Blister Prevention


Foot Taping for Long Distance WalksI’ve had some great results from pre-taping my feet prior to long hikes and can now walk around 40 miles, confident that I won’t get blisters. Even on this year’s London2Brighton challenge where the weather conditions were appalling and I ended up wearing two pairs of unfamiliar shoes, I managed 57km feeling physically broken but with my feet still intact – not a single blister.

My Blister Prevention Routine

  • Keep your feet in good nick – in the run up to your long walk you should keep your feet free of callouses and moisturise to prevent cracked skin.
  • Practice taping before your big event – there is a knack to applying tape so start practising early.
  • I apply tape to my own feet so I can flex while I’m applying it to make sure it is not too tight.
  • After taping, dust down with talcum powder to absorb any excess adhesive
  • Wear Bridgedale lining socks on top of the tape.
  • Put the hiking or running sock on next, being careful not to introduce creases.
  • During the event, change the lining socks regularly and check the the tape is still secure.

Zinc Oxide Tape for Blister Prevention

I’ve worked my way through a number of different brands of zinc oxide tape and have now settled on Leukotape P. I’ve found this to have excellent adhesive properties and a good degree of stretch. It somehow manages to avoid leaving adhesive on the non-sticky side of the tape, which is a big bonus and a problem I’ve noted with every other roll of tape I’ve tried.

Tape Adherent

A lot of guides suggest that you purchase an additional spray adhesive to apply to the foot before adding the tape. I’ve tried this technique but I’ve stopped using it because there is a fine balance between too little and too much stickiness. If you get a decent tape you shouldn’t need extra glue and you don’t want to have any extra adhesive on the outside of the tape as it will stick to your socks, increasing the chances of fabric folds under your feet. I apply a liberal sprinkling of talcum powder before I put on my socks as well.

Where to Apply the Anti Blister Tape

Ideally you will have slowly built up your long walks or runs and should now have a clear idea of where you tend to develop hot spots. When I first started training for 100km walks I would get blisters forming after only 10k when wearing hiking boots, and they would always be in the same place. Mine started under the heel and across the ball of my foot and for good measure, the back of my heel would regularly rub raw.

I chose the taping technique illustrated in the video below, as it covered all my weak points. If you develop hot spots in other places you may need to extend the covered regions.

Pre-Taping for Blister Prevention

  •  Start by applying anchor strips along the inner and outer sides of your foot.
  • Join the two anchor strips with a piece that goes across the heel.

Foot Taping for Blister Prevention

  • Start applying strips across the underside of your heel, with a slight overlap on each strip.
  • Be careful not to introduce creases and keep your foot flexed upward (dorsi-flexed) so that you don’t apply the tape too tightly.
  • Continue with more overlapped strips on the ball of your foot.
    Foot Taping for Blister Prevention
  • Finish by re-applying the anchor strips on either side of the foot.

Let me know how you get on……

A Stretch Challenge for Day 4 and 6


I have overuse niggles from the waist downwards. Tender spot on my hip, tight hamstrings and a couple of shin splints for good measure.

I basically haven’t yet recovered from my very long walk almost 2 weeks ago.

It’s been quite fortuitous that while I’m in need of some rehab, James Dunne of Kinetic Revolution has just released a 30 day challenge to make me a better runner.

The challenge consists of 15 min exercise sessions mixing up stretches and balance routines. I’ve been working on my hip flexors and hamstrings so far and have loved the one-legged slo-mo sprinting.

There are a glut of 30 day challenges doing the rounds for June. Lynn has signed up the Ab Challenge which I think she might regret on Day 30. It looks like a recipe for an injury or two to me.

The Ab Challenge

How to make a Cool Impossible Slant Board

The Cool Impossible

The Cool ImpossibleThis blog post shows you how to build your own slant board so you can follow the core strength routine featured in Eric Orton’s new book, The Cool Impossible.

Eric is the coach from Born to Run, so he knows a thing or two about running efficiency and injury proofing the body. He uses the slant board in a series of balance and strength exercises illustrated in the book. I’ve found it quite a difficult piece of equipment to source outside of the USA. He sells his own model through Born 2 Run but it comes packaged with a set of walking poles which makes it quite expensive.

I’ve channeled my inner carpenter and knocked up my own version for less than £4.

My inner carpenter proved to be a bit of a cowboy so don’t look too closely at the photos or you’ll feel disillusioned. I can confirm that although my sawing and sanding may be a bit ropey, the overall design is solid and the finished product can withhold 16 stone of balance practice.

Constructing a Slant Board

I built my slant board from a slab of plywood found on the street, knocked it together with assorted screws from my toolbox and finished it off with a strip of skateboard grip tape sourced from Ebay for £2.50. I have enough tape left for about 6 slant boards!

The original Eric Orton slant board has a 6″ square base but I couldn’t find any details on the angle of the slant. Checking out Amazon for potential substitutes I found that slant boards tend to come in either 15′ or 22′ angles. I built my first slant board with a 22′ angle but found it to be too steep so used my spare ply to create a more manageable 15′ board.

You’ll need to mark up and cut out 5 pieces of wood, 2 sloping sides, a top and 2 supportive struts – front and back.

The measurements I used were:

Top: 15cm x 18cm
Sides: 16cm x 5cm (you need 2 of these)
Back: 5cm x 11.5cm (you might need to adjust the width depending on the thickness of the wood you use – mine is 1.5cm ply)
Front: 2cm x 11.5cm

Here’s the view from the underside so you can see how I assembled the support struts (back and front pieces).

A DIY Cool Impossible Slant Board

I initially tried to assemble the pieces with a combination of glue and nails but it was a stressful experience, on the second attempt I used the drill which proved to be far more successful. If I’d had the right length of screws it would have been entirely successful, unfortunately the last screw in my tool box was too long and I managed to secure the slant board to my table top!

The Cool Impossible is a very interesting book, offering all comers, the chance to reach their running goals regardless of their starting point. He achieved miracles for Christopher McDougall in Born to Run and I’m very happy to give him chance to repeat the process with me.

When I say the book is interesting, I probably mean it is odd. It starts off as a bit of a make-believe travelogue. Eric has the reader “pretend” that they have just landed in Salt Lake City and then travelled down to Jackson to join a face to face coaching week.

You grab your bag, running shoes dangling from the handle, and exit the plane directly onto tarmac. You take a deep breath. The air is exhilarating and the sky astoundingly wide and close. As you follow the concrete path toward the terminal, you turn to look at the mountains, and its like they’re right there in your face. Your eye traces the wild, zigzag lines of the peaks – dominated by the central massif, the truly majestic Grand Teton – and follows the canyons cutting up in deep, dark Vs between the rises. You try to imagine running there, following a trail up to the Teton Crest. It seems like another world. Another you, perhaps.

I can’t say I like the style but as I’m in the planning stages for another US road trip, I’ve probably cut the tourist sales pitches a bit of slack. When you cut through the style to notes on running form, strength routines and running programs the book does really come into its own.

Slant Board Balance Exercises

The balance exercises start with hiking pole assistance. You work the 3 different foot positions, Uphill, Downhill and Forward initially with two poles. When you can hold each balance for 2 minutes comfortably you will move to one pole balance exercises and then the no pole exercises.

Cool Impossible Slant Board Positions
Cool Impossible Slant Board Balance Sequence

Slant Board Movement Exercises

At the same time as the balance poses above, you will also conduct some movement routines, again with two poles for beginners.

Side Lift – conducted with feet in Uphill mode
Frog Lift – with feet in Downhill mode
Knee Lift – with feet in Forward position

Cool Impossible Slant Board Movement Sequence

In addition to the strengthening exercises there is a fully customised 20 week running program designed to help you reach your own Cool Impossible. The customisation involves specific heart rate and speed zones which are determined by your performance in two preliminary tests – the mile run and the 20 min steady state run. I’ve never really invested much time in heart rate zone training but my interest has been piqued and I’ll be working out my zones over the next week so I can embark on the full Cool Impossible program.

I’m excited to embark on this core strengthening program and I’m hopeful that it will be the perfect supplement to my Running School practice. At the very least the balance practice should improve my sock dressing performance which is a little wobbly at best.


Hitting the Trails with Vibram FiveFingers Spyridon LS


Vibram FiveFingers SpyridonI’ve been meaning to review my new trail specific Vibram FiveFingers for some time now. Unfortunately my opportunities for trying out the Spyridon and putting them to the test have been seriously curtailed by the opprobrium with which they are viewed by the family. If I venture within 5 yards of the “frog shoes” I am met with screams of disgust and ultimatums are laid down which make it clear that if I dare put those on my feet, I will be going out alone.

I thought I was a little hard done to, in my mind the Spyridon has a fantastically exciting design, admittedly I would have preferred the orange version but the green camouflage styling has its merits.

Capturing the Vibram FiveFingers ZeitgeistI put it to the great zeitgeist monitor, Facebook, and was alarmed by the horror expressed in the comments. The world apparently shuns my new shoes.

As the summer holiday approached, I seized my opportunity and snuck them in the suitcase, I might not have been allowed to wear them in public but I thought if the public was entirely foreign and never to be seen again, I may just get away with it. Add to the fact that the only other shoes packed were the barefoot earthing sandles and a pair of hideous blue swim slippers, I was on to a winner.

I had intended to run while I was away but it was hot, hot beyond compare.
If I wasn’t moaning about the heat, I either had an ice cool Mythos in my hand or I was bathing up to my waist in the refreshing Aegean. There just didn’t seem to be a good time to jog off into the sunset.

We did walk though and I took the opportunity to try the Spyridon LS shoes in a mountain scramble to an isolated chapel. It was a good test for a trail shoe, it involved navigating the stony bottom of a desiccated river bed, tearing through savage, dehydrated monster thistles and scrabbling up scree and a sharp rock face. Not a typical terrain choice for a pair of barefoot shoes but they fared well.

As the only trail focussed shoe in the Vibram FiveFingers range there has been plenty of time to design and construct an outstanding model. To my mind Vibram have managed to deliver an excellent shoe with the Spyridon. The sole is thicker and grippier than my Vibram FiveFingers Speed and very importantly the sole moves up and over the tip of the toes, thereby providing toe stubbing protection which was really appreciated on my Greek scramble.

I’ve just noticed that at 3.5mm thick, the sole is only 0.5mm thicker than the sole on the Speed but they look far more aggressive. Despite the apparent thickness, I didn’t lose ground feel through the soles, I was very much aware of the terrain underfoot and although it didn’t exactly hurt I was quite careful about foot placement especially on the riverbed section. When we moved into the steeper climbs I felt much more comfortable and appreciated the freedom to grip the ground with my toes.

If you’re tempted to buy a pair I would recommend getting these and other Vibram FiveFingers properly sized up. Mine are a tiny bit too big which means that my little toe regularly pops out, especially on uphill climbs, which is a bit annoying, they were very snug on the way back down though and a snug pair feel so much more comfortable.

Overall I would happily recommend these to trail runners or walkers. You might find it easier if you were single or at least partnered up with someone with equally dubious taste in foot attire though.

Practically a Proper Runner

Two years after starting the course at the Running School, I am finally in a position to share the results.

I had my last session on Monday and while I expected to nip in, take a quick video and escape, I was actually taken through a gruelling interval session honing my posture while sprinting up a mega incline. I’m surprised I had the energy for the after shot.

Last time I went to Battersea Running School I attempted (without success) to bluff my way through the stability tests. This time there was a noticeable improvement, I could raise my hips without my pelvis rocking too and fro and that can only be down to the weight training sessions with Julia Buckley. Marvellous.

It’s been a fascinating experience and well worth the £200 outlay. Comparing my running stance I can see that before I used to run from the knees with very little hip extension. In order to cover any distance I would flick my leg forward from the knee and take a long stride, landing with my heel well out in front of my centre of gravity.

As you can see very clearly from the after shots, I am now cycling with my legs, showing an impressive heel and knee raise and managing to land almost under my centre of gravity. I could do to loosen my hip flexors a bit more to encourage an even straighter posture but as it is, I am still amazed to see myself running like a proper runner.

All I need now is an improved bra and the running world could well be my oyster.

Earth Runners Minimal Earthing Sandals

Earth Runners Circadian

Flip flop sandals have always filled me with fear, particularly the thong style with inter-toe strap, which seems like an horrific big toe accident waiting to happen.

Obviously I’ve been intrigued by the huarache sandals made famous by the Tarahumara and the book, Born to run. Intrigued, but not even slightly interested in wearing them – far too hardcore for my barefoot dabblings.

Earth Runners CircadianHaving said that, I’m not one to look a gift horse in the mouth, so when Mike offered me a sneak preview of the new Circadian Earth Runner I jumped at the opportunity to try them out for size. The Earth Runner series include copper studs and coils which are designed to conduct electricity and “ground” you to the earth. I was of course deeply sceptical about this “grounding” stuff but when my sandals arrived I was disappointed that the grounding studs seemed to be missing. I needn’t have worried, the conduction system is still there, just a little less conspicuous in the Circadian model.

I don’t know if I’m feeling the benefits of being earthed but I do enjoy wearing them. I’ve taken to wearing them around the house like slippers, I feel good in them. I don’t apparently, look good in them, so I won’t be bothering you with photos of my sandals in action – I was not blessed with photogenic feet.

It is odd to feel the strap between your toes but I am getting used to it and the Earth Runners are amazingly customisable for such a simple product. The strap angle can be altered by shifting the buckle position and there are a few videos on the website to help with finding the perfect fit.

I’ve run with these on the treadmill but I’m taking it easy, I can’t shake off the vision of the big toe accident and so I’m nervous to take these out and run with abandon over trails where I risk snagging the sole and turning the lace into a cheese wire. Maybe I’ll get over this in time and relax into my Earth Runner, I hope so because they give a fabulous feeling of freedom. The underfoot experience is very similar to the RunAmoc Moc3 but the upper is more cabriolet style.

Earth Runners are currently running a kick starter campaign to send the Circadian into full production. It looks like they have hit their target so hopefully they will be available more widely soon but do check it out if you’d like to place an order and take advantage of the early adopter discount. I would strongly recommend the product quality and the comfort will only increase over the coming months as the footbed moulds to the shape of your foot.

I’ll be taking these on my summer holidays even if they do play havoc with my sex appeal.


New Balance Minimus Zero


The New Balance Minimus Zero is a surprisingly light shoe, the shoe box was so light that I half expected it to be empty. I know it’s billed as a minimalist shoe so was hardly likely to be bulky but it has such an imposing sole that I was expecting it to feel slightly more substantial.

20130301-144901.jpgThe Vibram sole is fabulous.

It’s like a field of Eden projects – colourful geodesic bumps forming a flexible platform.

The pod design enables excess material to be cut away and explains why the shoe is so light. The dark pods have a firm and grippy layer to extend the life of the high impact areas.

20130301-144922.jpgThe rest of the shoe doesn’t excite me as much the sole. The upper is made from a lightweight, almost transparent mesh and I’m afraid when I put my feet inside the sight of my hairy toes just ruins the visual appeal. I don’t think it is entirely my toes fault – not many feet are attractive through semi-transparent mesh.

With the New Balance Minimus all the design efforts appear to have gone into the sole and the upper has been left rather stark. The mesh is both unattractive and feels a bit harsh. For a shoe designed to be worn without socks I would have preferred a softer fabric. The ankle opening has slight padding but it has no structure and gapes quite unpleasantly when I wear it. The tongue is made from a soft felt-like material but it isn’t firmly attached to the shoe which means that it is a faff to get it to lay flat when you’re wearing it. It’s very easy to create a fold that would create a blister after a few miles of running.

I’m not overly impressed with the New Balance Minimus. It looks great until you put it on and then the minimal design of the upper lets it down. I have no complaints at all with sole which performs well for a midfoot or barefoot running style but the Minimus won’t be tempting me away from my barefot stalwarts the Vibram Five Fingers or the Softstar Moc3.