Right, so, here’s the thing…

You know all those things you’re not supposed to do with shoes? Like get a new pair just before a race, significantly change the profile of the sole, anything that will affect your running form. You know, those things? 

Occasionally you hear tales of woe of people who’ve tried it – blisters, sore knees, legs flying off mid-race, you know. Chafing, even.

Well, I think I’m about to join that queue of idiots, and her’s why… (Sort of).

Back in the mists of 2012, before I’d been running for a full year, I hurt my knee. It was (thinking back) probably just an overuse thing, combined with a bit more bulk than now. At the time, it felt like a big deal. I nearly went to see a podiatrist about it, but my doctor got in there first and gave me the sage advice that has stood me in good advice all these years later, “really go for it”.

At about the same time, I discovered minimal shoes and slowly transitioned into using them.

The knee got better, the running continued, and to this day I almost exclusively run in minimal shoes, namely Vivobarefoot Breatho Trail shoes. These beauties:


Doesn’t matter if it’s road, trail or fell, Parkrun or ultra marathon, these have done the job. On longer runs I get sore feet, which is the downside, and sometimes a bit of joint pain after lots of road or shingle.

Last week, I won the monthly shoe giveaway at my local Parkrun. I was amazed, and very, very pleased. But what to do – the voucher was for Sweatshop and so I needed to pick from their range – they don’t see Vivos, and the shop seems to be full of Nike and Karrimor all of a sudden, neither of which are really up my street.

A bit of checking, and they do sell a few Salomon shoes, including a few trail shoes. I’ve always liked the idea of their shoes, but they’re too expensive and too waffle-icious for me. But for free???

I went down to the shop, I also had a mild worry in my mind that if I didn’t act quickly, then the ace Gibside Parkrun team might decide there was someone else more deserving. I had a look at the shoes. I tried a couple of shoes. I had a bit plod on the treadmill. I felt for the position of my big toe, I tried a size larger. I fended off some minor-league upselling. I decided that I still thought Gore-Tex in a shoe is a silly idea when you end up in puddles and streams. I bought these.

I also bought some shorts, because I felt mildly embarrassed to get a ¬£100 pair of shoes without producing my wallet. They didn’t have any of the ridiculously coloured ones in my size so I had to get black.

They’re like marshmallows to my feet, used to barely a sliver of rubber between me and the ground. I can feel the  drop from the heel to the toe, which is an odd sensation.

However, I’ve had them out a couple of times now, one average six-mile jaunt and one three-mile Parkrun dash. And they’re canny. No additional pains, less foot soreness. The only downside to date, other than I notice my Achilles’ tendon more simply because it’s not fighting against other aches. Which might be just what I need with a 65 mile run in a fortnight, something to cushion the feet a little?

But it’s a risk – it could go wrong, my leg might fall off, I could end up running in circles. Who knows? 

So I’m planning to get a slightly longer run in before then and that will be the clincher – if they still feel good then I’ll be doing the St Cuthberts Way Ultra in them, if not then I’ll stick to the Vivos and the sore toes.

Fingers (and toes) crossed, eh?

Blaydon Race 2015

Posted: 28/06/2015 in Uncategorized

The used to advertise McEwan’s Best Scotch as ‘The One You’ve Got To Come Home For’ in the North East. I used to like a bit of McEwan’s Best Scotch, though to be honest I probably liked Exhibition Ale a little better, or Newcastle Amber Ale (as opposed to Brown Ale).

The Blaydon Race is a bit like that, only not at all. It’s the one race I’ve run every year since I started running, it’s one of the only road races I’ll always try to enter. What other race has dancing and singing at the start, bands along the route and then pickled onions and beer at the end (and tripe and black pudding if that’s your bag).

There are many philosophical questions around the Blaydon Race – what colour will the commemorative t-shirt be (fingers crossed not day-glo again like in 2013)? What will serial run-streaker Lord Smythe be wearing (caveman this year – think it was a jockey last year and cupid the year before – no, cupid, I didn’t mis-type that)? Will rain make the sandwiches at the end soggy?

It was proper cracking weather, a bit of sun, but not outrageous. A couple of trips to the loo, then down the Bigg Market and past Balmbras. Into the club runners pen opposite the Cathedral and wait for the start. There was a minor delay – someone further down the course was getting medical attention, so much more important than hitting a clock.

Then we’re off!

The start of the Blaydon Race is amazing – running through the streets of Newcastle with hundreds of other people is something else. You probably need to try it – the nearest I can get to it is if you’ve ever been on a march or parade.

I felt like I was doing pretty good, after a mile there seemed to still be a lot of club runners around me. Two miles and heading along the Scotswood Road and still the same story.

It always surprises me the number of people who come out to watch and support the race – there isn’t much of the course that doesn’t have folk cheering, shouting and high-fiving. 

At the end of Scotswood Road, over the bridge and the new route along the dual carriageway instead of through the industrial estate. Once again, you never know how hilly a bit of road is until you run on it, and this bit was a harder slog thanI’d thought.

Then the run along Chain Bridge Road and into the finish – I looked at the clock and figured it must be wrong – it looked like I was under 45 minutes after last year’s 48 minute speed-fest. I got my t-shirt and picked up a pickled onion and back to the car – my phone already had a results message 42:37 – flippin ‘eck!

I have no idea how I can live up to that next year… ūüė¨



This was my third go at the George Ogle Memorial Race – just a short hop from home and taking in the bottom of the Derwent Valley. It’s a nice tight run, six compact miles up the Derwent Walk and the trails around, and a great family feel with the local clubs well represented.

I felt so much better running it than in earlier years, I think the core training with Chris at NUCAS has paid off, with my newly discovered (but as yet still unseen) core.

The rain stopped just before the start and held off in a glorious window of running-ness, and I managed to pull off a new personal best on the course. No walking, either, though I still blame last year’s plodding down to ill-advised crisp eating on the afternoon before.

The time? Well, 46:18, and here’s a shot of me coming into the finish taken by Chris Haswell, (hellfirex on flickr).

So here’s the deal – I’m rubbish at nutrition while running. Truly dire. I’ve always considered eating to be one of my finer talents, but when running long distances I’m about as effective as trying to eat soup with a fork*.

It turns out that lots of other people are only mildly better at this than I am (who knew?) so as a bit of a public service, I’m going to run about a bit, eat things, run a bit more, and let you know what happens (to a more or less graphic degree depending on what happens, if you know what I mean).

I’m sort of hoping other people may take up the baton, or even the French stick, and give it a go too and maybe we can come up with some useful information. That’s highly unlikely, even on my own the information is mildly amusing at best, but you can¬†aspire, can’t you?

The key attributes of any stuff that I’m going to try are these:

  • They should be light
  • They should not make huge mess when in a bag
  • They should not require further prep once I’ve finally remembered to eat
  • They should not have acres of packaging to then be secreted in the various pocket of my shorts
  • They should not be gels – recently discovered that gels are why I always feel nauseous part way into a run…
  • They should be tasty (this should be number 1?) if I can’t be bothered to eat them then they’re no good to me
  • Ideally they should be¬†quite savoury as I get really sick of sweet things really quickly.

That enough criteria? I think so, I can always make more up as I go along.

First up then is these beauties:


See, I can tell you’re liking the idea already. Oaty, wheat-free, vegan, CHOCOLATE, all the main food groups are represented.

(Almost) seriously though, I saw these in my local health food shop and figured why not give them a go? But first, a little about their nutritionalishnous. Per oatcake (and let’s be honest, I’m not going to start weighing out 100g of oatcake on the trail, so no need to worry about that) you get:

  • 45 calories of chocolatey-biscuity goodness
  • 1.7g of fat, of which 0.8g is saturates
  • 6.4g of available carbohydrates, of which 1.9g is sugars (which is 40% less sugar, it says so on the packet)
  • 0.7g of fibre
  • 0.8g of protein (that’s where the vegans are getting it from then, eh?)
  • 0.08g of salt

I make that 9.68g per biscuit, but the comparison to 100g suggests it’s closer to 10g, so I can only suggest the remaining 0.32g is magic-fairy-running-dust. Fingers crossed that one turns out to be right…

It’s a minor aesthetic note, but my biscuits were oblong, with rounded ends, not the circular jobbies you see in the picture. In some sense that’s a good thing, as it means they’re less likely to roll away down the mountainside I’m undoubtedly sitting on to have a well-deserved summit-reached snack.

Ingredients-wise, they contain wholegrain oats (59%), dark chocolate chips (9%), (sugar, cocoa mass, cocoa butter, emulsifier, soya lecithin, natural vanilla flavouring) , sustainable palm fruit oil, Demerara sugar, dark chocolate powder (5%), (sugar, cocoa mass, fat reduced cocoa powder), dietary fibre, partially inverted syrup, potato starch, barley malt syrup, raising agents (ammonium bicarbonate, sodium bicarbonate),sea salt, natural flavouring.

Sounds tasty, eh, I mean, there’s nothing that isn’t improved with a little added dietary fibre, is there?

Anyhow, that’s not getting to the nub of this wildly dangerous vegan-ultra-snack-food testing, is it?

For this inaugural, death-defying, snack-food attempt, I went for a lovely 20 mile gambol up the Derwent Walk. I’ve never been that far up it before, and discovered you run through Blackhill (home of one of the hilliest Parkruns in the WORLD) and then on to Consett – famous once for it’s mighty steelworks, but now mostly for the Tesco car park with the nicest view in the North East. Seriously, it’s a cracking view over to Weardale once you’ve got the hulking supermarket out the way.

Right, well, I headed off, full of the excitement of an adventure, and mostly enjoyed the sun, the discovery, the dog walkers, the flowers, you know, all that kind of stuff. It was ace РI can highly recommend a trip up the Derwent Walk to anyone in the area.


Ooh, it’s lovely, eh?

Ten miles up to Consett, vague though of a coffee but couldn’t be bothered, so turn around and back we go – there are little picnic areas at Shotley Bridge and Ebchester, but I’d decided to hang on to about 15 miles in before checking out the snacks – the idea being if I had a replay of what is now known as the Unspeakable Peanut Butter Incident, then I wouldn’t be too far from home.

Fourteen and a half miles and I was feeling a bit peckish, so I got out a packet of the biscuits. The come in four little packs of four, each set in a plastic wrapper. So only moderate points for lack of rubbish, but they scrunch up well and fit in one of the gel pockets I no longer need since realising gels are bleargh to me.

The biscuit was crisp, crunchy and not too bitty – you know how sometimes oat biscuits (I’m looking at you Hob Nobs) feel like they’ve got tiny splinters of wood in them? Well, there was none of that. Chocolatey, and pretty much a fun snack. Goes well with a swig of water after, though as I’d only been able to find one water-bottle before heading out I was running a bit low by this point, so it was a very small swig.

In fact, it was so nice I ate all four (in the packet, not all four packets, that would be greedy this early into a run, surely).

And waited.

The trick with these things is the wait. Something can seem perfectly edible until you get half a mile further and suddenly your guts attempt to escape from your body. Or the contents thereof. Ick!

So, I plodded another couple of miles, and it all seemed quiet on the digestive front. This is good. I felt a bit of a lift from the biscuity goodness and the chocolatey masterfulness of the snacks, so all good so far – no gut-pixies emerged from the undergrowth, ready to cast unpleasant curses on my nethers, so I chalked it up as a win.

In fact, I chalked it up as so much of a win that at mile 16 I ate the other pack I’d brought, all four.

Still no unfortunate events, or even a funny tum-feeling, either.

I got all the way home, I had a shower, I wrote this, I fed the dog, I took him for his walk and then I went on the bus. All went well, so I’m considering this a BLISTERING SUCCESS!

In something approaching a summary, which as good as you’re going to get, they’re light, don’t make much mess, don’t require additional prep, have a bit of packaging but not overkill, didn’t make me nauseous, were quite tasty and not too sweet. On that basis, they have a place in my bag – as they’re light I reckon they’re a carry-with rather than a drop-bag item. A single pack of four gives you 180 calories, and 25.6g of available carbohydrate, compared to the 95 calories and ¬†23g of carbohydrate in my usual gel so it’s not a million miles away. Who wouldn’t prefer to eat biscuits than neck gels?

Right, off to think about the next ill-advised vegan food challenge – anyone for sushi?

*For editorial accuracy, I tried eating soup with a fork – it’s really difficult, unless you have¬†very thick soup of an unduly spoony fork, some might even call a¬†spork.

Right, so there’s a few weeks to go until my next big run, and I figured it’s the right time for an honest-to-goodness appraisal of where I need to put in a bit of work to round off my planning.


The raw material – one older, portlier-that-hoped-for runner with bad feet and a dreadful attitude to nutrition.

So, in no particular order, the bits I need to concentrate on are:

1. Uphill

Yes, it may be a bit of a cliche, but I’m not that good at going up hills. In fact, that’s not true, I’m dire at uphills. When I was running at Jedburgh I had to stop as the static-vision started in at the edges, and I realised I was about to faint. So I stopped had a bit of a worry while my heart calmed down and then on I went, plod, plod, plod. So, more uphill practise, I think.

2. Downhill

So, what goes up must go down. I thought I was canny at downhills, not fell-racing-mad good, but not that bad, either. Well, I’ve seen the person in front of me disappear from sight the last two times I’ve been to Parkrun, showing that I could definitely get a little better.

3. Flat

I don’t mind the flat, but it does rather go on, doesn’t it? The Glasgow to Edinburgh run was canny in its own way, but it took its toll on my feet – not sure they’ve ever recovered. I could certainly improve on my ability to run on long, flat stretches.

4. Undulating

While we’re on, that’s not so much fun, either, I mean, you can’t get yourself in a rhythm, can you? The run around Kielder Reservoir is one long undulation – it’s around 26 miles, not that much elevation change overall, but it just can’t make it’s mind up, one minute it’s up a bit, the next it’s flat, then it’s down a bit – after that, guess what, it’s up a bit again.

5. Walking

I never thought of walking as an important part of running. But it is, though, especially when you’re going a long way. I spent part of the Glasgow to Edinburgh run being leap-frogged by a couple of walkers – I ran past them, then walked, they walked past me at super-speed, I ran past them, and so on. I think (though I don’t know for sure) that my feet hurt more for walking than for running. If I tried to get better at walking then I might be more effective overall, you never know.

6. Standing still

I know, how could you be bad at standing still? Check points, drop bags, it’s all the fun of the fair – at Jedburgh I was 28 miles in and only a 10 mile stretch to go – got to the check point, bent over to get something out of my bag and CLURK! my back went a bit ouch. See, even inactivity can have it’s dangers…

7. Nutrition

You’d think if there was one thing I would have a god-given prodigious talent for, it would be eating. I mean, normally you’d have to hit me over the head with a brick to stop me from eating things, but when I’m running I kind of figure I’ll have something in a while, maybe another mile, maybe when I get to the top of that hill, eh, it’s always easier to eat going along the flat bit. Before you know it, I’m a bit hungry, but still struggling to sort myself out. I also can’t find good things to eat – as a funky vegan I’m already on a short list of things, and lo-and-behold most snack food joy is not vegan.

I managed samosas mid-way through Glasgow to Edinburgh, which were canny, and I’m in an experimental phase right now, with plans to try spring rolls (thank you Guy), pasties, sushi and maybe some kind of vest made out of knitted noodles so I can wear my dinner?

8. Navigation

Well, I can read a map well enough, from the comfort of my own living room, and imagine with excitement the majestic sweep of the landscape, that tarn up there, the funny way that fence dog-legs back onto itself ¬†and forces you to run an extra mile if you’re not a fence-leaping-goat. But, I’m a bit pants when it comes to staying on the right course. Sometimes this is down to me, like at Jedburgh, where I ran an extra 1/2 mile, taking another three runners with me before we noticed no-one was following. Sometimes it’s because I blindly follow the fools in front of me – at the Dark Skies run at Kielder, I followed a confident-enough-looking group of runners along the wrong path then the scuttle back to the right path across the undergrowth.

I’d love to try a mountain marathon one day, but I’m scared I’d be found upside down in a ditch looking at the underside of my compass and wondering what had gone wrong.


Maybe I just need to zoom in on the map a bit?

So, in conclusion, I think that if I can just nail uphill, downhill, flat, undulating, walking, standing still, nutrition and navigation then I think I might be in with a chance.

Did I mention choice of clothing? I’m not that good at that either…

I went to pick up my race pack for this year’s Blaydon Race at lunch time – at the Fleming Business Centre, where the Speedflex Gym is to be found.

It was only as I was dawdling my way back to the car to head back to work that I realised the business centre is a refurbished hospital, the Princess Mary Maternity Hospital, as it goes, where I was born.

Funny, eh?