Posts Tagged ‘running’

Now that I am officially a runner as well as a rower (see yesterday’s post about my accidental half marathon), I’ve been spending as much time thinking about my feet as I have about my hands (my usual obsession). There’s no doubt that running takes its toll on your poor old plates of meat, so they need all the help they can get. I normally run in a pair of Asics trail running shoes as the tracks round here are pretty rough and uneven. I also have an old pair of bog standard Saucony shoes that I bought for my first, tentative steps three years ago, now used mainly for erging and bootcamp, but which get the odd run if I’m going to be on a road. They’re all getting a bit worn and probably ought to be replaced, but I think I have found a temporary stop gap that might prove to be more than that. Allow me to introduce the Sole Custom Footbed.

These were sent to me when I was researching a feature for a fitness mag, but I like them enough to warrant a Girl on the River post. They are essentially a fancy, orthopaedic insole that you put into your trainers to replace the original ones. Sole tell me that they are helpful in treating all sorts of conditions from plantar fasciitis (ouch) to joint pain caused by unsupported arches. They are also said to help with overpronation and oversupination and with the dreaded shin splints. The orthopaedic shape of these insoles, they explain, provides important support where you need it. The insoles are moulded to your feet either by wearing them over the course of a few days or by putting them in a lukewarm oven for a couple of minutes before inserting them into the shoes and standing in them for two minutes. Either way you get a really good fit.

I have put them into my trail running shoes and tried them out first on a 40 minute, hilly walk, as I didn’t want to run in them until I’d got used to them. They felt slightly unwieldy at first, but then moulded better to my feet. Once I got used to the slightly peculiar sensation I decided I liked the feel of the support they gave (and the fact that they lifted my feet up beyond the bit of the shoe under my ankle that occasionally rubbed a bit). I don’t have any orthopaedic problems other than a bit of overpronation – and if you do, I would urge you to seek professional help from a podiatrist before you try anything new – but I do get a lot of aches and twinges when I run. When I tried them on a proper run (a hilly four-miler that included one near-vertical slope) they were comfortable and supportive. I had been concerned that an old ligament injury that popped up on an eight mile run last week might show its face but it didn’t. I can’t say if I can thank the footbeds for that or not, but they certainly didn’t cause me any problems. They’ve definitely given my trusty old shoes a new lease of life and I’m hoping will make my running more comfortable.

Sole also kindly sent me a pair of their sport flips (flip flops to you and me) to try out. These have the same supportive elements as the footbeds and are fabulous for tired feet. They feel squashy and firm at the same time and are just the thing to wear after a long run. I’ve been wearing them around the house a lot and absolutely love them. Like the footbeds, they have an antimicrobial agent that stops them getting stinky (always a plus) and I would thoroughly recommend them.

So, where can you get them? Both the Sole Custom Footbeds and the Sole Sport Flips are available from Sole’s website. The footbeds vary in price depending on which ones you’re after (there are different types for different usage).  The Signature DK Response ones, which are the ones that were recommended to me for running, cost £42 – not cheap but less than a pair of new trainers and worth every penny if they make your running more comfortable). The Women’s Sport Flips normally cost £50 but at the time of writing are on sale for a lot less (price depends on the colour). As they say in the trade, hurry while stocks last!


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I blame Jürgen Grobler. Or possibly Team GB. Or whoever had the frankly inspired idea to announce the GB Olympic crews by means of a row-past (genius – the drama!) Anyway, whoever is to blame, the point is that I was excited and distracted and not in my right mind around 11 a.m. today. Which was precisely the moment that one of the girls in my rowing club emailed everyone to find out if we were interested in entering the Cardiff Half Marathon in October. That’s a running half marathon: 13 long miles of RUNNING. Not rowing: running.

So taken with the blow-by-blow team updates on Twitter was I that, without giving it due and sober consideration, I sent back an immediate reply. “I’m in!!” With that one email I sealed my fate and agreed to run in public for a distance far beyond my wildest imaginings (or nightmares).

What remains to be seen is how I will train for this monstrous event around my existing weekly commitments of three outings on the river and one bootcamp session which, given my tendency to fatigue, will leave me one running day to play with every week. And how I’ll cope with running on tarmac when I’m used to forgiving, mossy forest trails.

However daunted the new Olympic rowing squad are feeling about the prospect of the Olympics and the pressure to win, it’s nothing compared with the apprehension that has overcome me with the thought of all those miles between me and the finish. “New chapter”, tweeted Pete Reed this afternoon. I know what he means.

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“You must be as fit as a flea”, commented a friend the other day. Having spent my youth and most of my adult life claiming (with some justification) to be thoroughly and hideously unfit, my initial response was to deny it. Yet I can’t ignore the fact that over the last few years, I’ve made steady progress away from the untoned woman who couldn’t even run for a bus.

So where am I now? Can I finally say that I’m actually, properly fit? And by whose standards?

Of course, going by the national average, I’m pretty much up there. I exercise several times a week, can hold my own at boot camp and am in reasonable shape. Yet at every sporting event I go to, I seem to be surrounded by hundreds of people who are in much, much better condition than I am.

There’s the 61-year-old in my squad who’s just run a marathon, with energy to spare for shopping the next day (my kind of athlete). There are all the people who overtook me on the Parkrun I attempted a couple of weeks ago (and there were lots of them). There are the countless triathletes, runners, rowers and swimmers who, every day, put me to shame. There’s even my own family who outstrip me in fitness in every way.

Of course, the sensible answer is that every person has to set their own standards and not worry about pitting themselves against others. That’s especially so for someone like me who has had to battle with chronic ill health just to get off the couch in the first place. But I still like to have a standard against which to measure myself.

Now, I’ve always had the idea at the back of my mind that someone was fit if they could run five miles. I’ve no idea where this notional marker of fitness came from, but it’s always stood as my personal gold standard. And I’m excited to report that today, for the first time in my life, I finally managed to run for five miles. It wasn’t fast and it wasn’t pretty, but I still did it.

Does that make me fit? It might not make me as fit as a flea, but for now, for me, it’ll do. Until next week, at least.

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I have a nasty habit to confess. I spit when I’m running. It’s not a pretty habit, but I run in remote, wild, Welsh woodland, so it doesn’t seem to count. I probably wouldn’t do it in the road, though. After all, it’s Not a Nice Thing to Do. I hate seeing kids gob in the street (and footballers, come to think of it – ewww!) so I wouldn’t feel right doing it myself.

But on the river? Never. However much my lungs are complaining, I can’t bring myself to spit in the water. There’s something about seeing the bubbly globule floating away on the otherwise flawless, glassy surface that stops me, however great the urge to clear my throat.

It’s a delicate subject that I’ve not brought up with anyone before now and I hope I’ve not disgusted you. So come on, ladies and gents. Confession time. Do you spit or swallow? I think we ought to be told.

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Since I’m off rowing for a while, I’m anxious to be sure that I’m not falling behind too badly in my fitness. Without that weekly erg score to keep me focused, it’s been hard to keep track of my efforts. Until now, that is. The lovely people at Step Success have generously provided me with my very own Actiped – a 21st century pedometer – to help me track my fitness.

In the past I haven’t been too impressed with pedometers. I had one, for instance, that clicked every time I swivelled in my office chair. However satisfying it was to see my score soar, I knew that it wasn’t real and soon lost interest.

So far, the Actiped seems to be of a different order. Much more than just a pedometer, it forms part of an online fitness tracking programme. It comes with a memory stick to connect with your computer; you update your score by shaking the Actiped near the memory stick; it then magically syncs your data (OK, OK, so I’m not a scientist). Having analysed a full fitness and health questionnaire, including weight (shameful after Christmas), height, diet, alcohol consumption (ditto) and fitness regime, and with sophisticated inner workings that notice for how long your foot strikes the ground (which informs it about your speed), it aims to give an accurate reading of how far you’ve travelled and how many calories you’ve burned.

Particularly pleasing for a competitive type like me, it has pitted me against a group of equally sporty types (including award-winning body builder, Nicola Joyce), with a leaderboard showing how we’re doing.

Happily, my first full day on the regime has involved a run (the first after the festive season – ouch!), so my score’s looking reasonably respectable. I’m looking forward to finding out what it has to say about a planned shopping expedition and my everyday life.

I’ll report back at the end of the month and will let you know how I get on. In the meantime, I’d love to hear about your experiences. Have you tried a pedometer? Have you come across a system like Step Success? Are there other new generation fitness devices that I ought to know about?

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Over the last couple of weeks I have done something I swore I would never, ever do again. Banned from rowing, I have crossed over to the dark side and been… gulp… running.

Oh. My. Goodness. I thought rowing was hard. I’ve always maintained that I’m not a runner and nothing I’ve encountered over the last month has dissuaded me from this idea. Still, needs must and it’s either running or lying on the sofa eating multi-packs of fun-sized Milky Ways. Even I can see the sense in forcing myself to pound the pavements.

But here’s the thing. Which is actually better for you? Rowing or running?

Sadly I don't look like this when I run

On a pure, calorie-burning front, running seems to be winning at the moment. According to the indoor machines (and I know these aren’t fully accurate), running burns off wondrously high numbers of calories – way more than my pathetic efforts on the erg ever did – and certainly I’ve managed to munch my way through obscene quantities of pasta, mince pies and cupcakes over the last little while without covering myself in a layer of lard.

I’m discovering some new muscles, too, especially since Son on the Run gave me a running tutorial and pointed out all of my faults. With my new, improved technique, my calves are screaming so much that I can barely walk.

Equally thrillingly, without the thrice-weekly body-thrashing that is my normal rowing routine, I now have silky-smooth skin. No blisters. No callouses. No track bites. And I’m pleased to report that I’m currently sporting a lovely set of unchipped, perfectly painted nails (in Chanel’s Rouge Noir, for those who care).

On the downside, unlike rowing, running does pretty much nothing for your upper body (which is good for healing a shoulder injury, but horrendous for the emerging bingo wings). It’s also worryingly high impact and, I suspect, will do my joints no favours in the long run. I also read somewhere – and this is fairly horrifying – that running eventually makes your face slide down towards your toes (along with everything else). I’m sure nothing like that ever happens in rowing.

So come on, let me know what you think. Rowing vs. running. Discuss.


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