You walk and run wrong

23 03 2013

Last year when out on a Tuesday night ride with Rich (a good cycling buddy) he asked an innocent question near the beginning of the ride “I’m thinking about running an ultramarathon, want to join me” naturally I said no. After years of recurring running injures, I decided to stop running and just ride my bike, I don’t get injured cycling. I made that choice about 5-6 years ago. Seems Rich knew me better than I thought, by the end of the ride I’d taken what I’ve learned about long distant cycling, turned that in to a training plan and had agreed to give it go. I was going back to running.

heel strike

With a 40 mile event identified we signed up and started our training. It was during my first run with Rich that it happened. “You know James, you’re a real heel striker” Rich is a physiotherapist with an interest in running and cycling injuries. I didn’t really know what he meant so we chatted and I read around a little. Seems there are different ways to run, and walk for that matter. A heel striker will usually have a long stride and their heel will hit the ground first somewhere in front of the knee, such as the runner above. A mid foot or forefoot runner will have a shorter quicker stride, and land on their mid foot usually under the knee.


So what? Well, having the heel land first, so the theory goes, is an unnatural motion, you are slowing yourself down every time your foot hits the floor and putting a lot of stress up through your legs. Mid foot runners, have a lighter step, don’t have that braking motion and use the bodies natural biomechanics to take the shock. It’s simply a better way to run.

So I attempted to run differently, to shorten my stride, and continued to read. The ultra marathon approached, Rich and I were doing marathon length off-road training runs where we would talk about running style. It was like being back in the pool learning to develop an efficient swimming style. Thinking about form gets addictive. Then 4 days before the ultra I picked up an injured and had to pull out of the race. Despite that I went to the start on my new bike to ride the route whilst Rich ran the 40 miles. It was a fantastic December day in the Beacon Beacons, frosty, clear sky’s, stunning.


Rich only made it to mile 10, he turned his ankle over on a downhill section and had to pull out. So we both have unfinished business with that run and plan to head back next December. However, I stated to read a bit more. I picked up a copy of ‘Born to Run’ by Christopher McDougall. A fascinating read that takes you in to the world of barefoot running, ultra marathons and human evolution. The theory goes that as a race of animals we are a bit ‘pathetic’ really. We are not that strong, don’t run that fast, can’t climb that well. So how did we survive, what was our evolutionary advantage that allowed us to thrive? Seems that we are good at sweating and we can run very long distances. It means that in hot climates we can run down other animals because they cannot sweat. When they get hot they have to stop to pant to cool down (think about a dog on a hot day). If you keep startling an animal and keep it moving, it doesn’t have the opportunity to cool down and in the end will collapse through heat exhaustion. Simple.

The book also explores running injury and design of modern shoes. Simply put it would seem that the more ‘engineered’ a shoe i.e the thicker and stiffer the sole, the more padding then the more likely runners are to heel strike and the greater the incident of injury. Conversely, those runners that use minimal shoes or no shoes (this includes a number of tribes across the world) are more likely to run on the mid & forefoot and pickup less injuries.

So what’s going on, it’s not what I would have thought. Again the theory goes that the foot is an amazing piece of biomechanics, engineering for barefoot walking and running. Far from needing shoes to give them support to function correctly, modern over engineered shoes actually work to reduce the foots ability to feel the ground, reduced it’s ability to move naturally and reduces its natural strength. We end up becoming heel strikers because we have a great piece of padding protecting our feet. If you don’t have that padding then it hurts to land on your heel so you don’t! The foot doesn’t t need modern engineered shoes, it does a very good job on its own if allowed to, and we are less likely to get injured in the process. Sounds good to me.

making strides

This has all been fascinating. My reading has led me to the conclusion that I should now move away from my overly padded stiff shoes, and instead use shoes with a minimal sole. No padding, just a thin sole to protect your foot and zero difference in height between the heel and forefoot. But it’s not just a case of throwing all my shoes out and starting tomorrow, I’d end up injured. I need to strengthen my feet and legs, change my running and walking style and slowly move in to minimal shoes. It’s been all the more fascinating as Adam has just started to walk. Think Rach and I will be nurturing a minimalist walker and runner.

For now, well apart from the odd run where I practice my new style, and some specific strengthening exercises I’m back on the bike training for a 430 mile Highland Trail Race. A self supported mountain bike race in the Scottish Highlands. Once that’s done and despite my love for it, I plan to put long distance cycling on the back burner for a few years, get back out on the trails and start my journey towards becoming a minimal and hopefully injury free long distance runner. The journey will be one of form rather than purely fitness.

It’s been hard to find a single good source of information in order to explain this subject to those that are interested but I stumbled across an article today that inspired the title for this post. You walk the wrong way: It took 4 million years of evolution to perfect the human foot. But we’re wrecking it with every step we take.

painted gazelle

Rich, this journey of obsession, it’s all your fault!


The NHS belongs to the people

14 03 2013

I spent the day yesterday at the Health Innovations Expo in London. Whilst there I attended a number of seminars, during one of which I was reminded of the opening paragraph to the NHS constitution. It’s a powerful statement!

‘The NHS belong to the people’

It is there to improve our health and well-being, supporting us to keep mentally and physically well, to get better when we are ill and, when we cannot fully recover, to stay as well as we can to the end of our lives.  It works at the limits of science – bringing the highest levels of human knowledge and skill to save lives and improve health.  It touches our lives at times of basic human need, when care and compassion are what matter most.

I think we all need to remember this at times.

The NHS belongs to the people

The NHS belongs to the people


Email hacked

22 05 2012

Just to let everyone know that my email has been hacked with a message claiming that I’m in Madrid and need money. Needless to say that unfortunately I’m not in Madrid but Birmingham and whilst I could do with some money it’s not urgent 🙂

Sent on an Android phone

An everyday story (or why we like the Cliff Richard fan club)

11 02 2012

This post is about the most everyday of all stories… but still it was a pretty big event in our book!  On 10th January our son Adam joined us, making a rather dramatic entrance to the world.  That was followed by a short stay in hospital for treatment for a chest infection.  I’m writing this to fill our family and friends in on how things went, share a few photos and to say some BIG thank yous… (apologies to all who come here to read about James’ cycling!  Normal service will be resumed shortly!).

From the outset we had stated our preference for a Home Birth, although with an open mind about transferring to hospital if needed.  Our midwife, smiley, supportive Anola from the Stratford Road Midwifery Team, was all for it from the start.  As the pregnancy progressed well we began chatting with friends who spoke positively (and realistically) about their experiences of giving birth at home.  They also offered us some great advice and support (as well as a birth pool!).

As the due date approached we went along to an excellent antenatal class at Birmingham Women’s Hospital as well as a ‘Birth Rehearsal Day’ with Cat Morgan who runs the Pregnancy Yoga classes I’d attended throughout the pregnancy.  These were great for helping us to understand what was ahead of us.  Being able to visualise and understand what was happening as the contractions hit, understanding how I could help the labour progress through movement and positioning as well as finding ways to cope with the pain through breathing were invaluable on the day.

My contractions began in earnest at 4am on the 10th January, and as recommended we rested up, tried to relax and kept track of the frequency and intensity of the contractions.  By mid-morning the TENS machine went on and the notes had evolved into James’ star-rating system – each wave being followed by ‘was that a two or a three?’ or ‘that looked like a two’.  Whereas others may have needed to resist the urge to strangle him at that point, I think we did a pretty good job of supporting each other, staying calm and making it a really positive shared experience.


At 6:30pm, with the contractions (eventually!) becoming more frequent and lasting longer, a midwife came out to us and stayed for an hour to check my progress and examine me.  The verdict wasn’t quite what I’d hoped for: over 15 hours in and only just entering ‘established’ labour.  I was advised to prepare for the long-haul – rest, stay hydrated, get some food and try a bath and a couple of paracetemol.  I could be looking at another 12 hours of labour.  We were to ring through to get another midwife out when contractions became more frequent.

So, into the bath I went, cursing the fact that our shallow bath barely touched the base of my huge belly.  Within half an hour of getting out my waters broke and everything sped up.  We decided to call a midwife out to us, but after 20 minutes of trying to ring through, James eventually spoke with someone who broke the news that there was no midwife available to come out to us.  They were, however, able to offer us a room on the midwife-led ‘Birth Centre’ at the Women’s Hospital and use of their birth pool.

James got our bags together and managed to catch our neighbour, Sandra, returning home to ask if she could drive us the 10 minute drive to hospital.  We piled into the car with me kneeling on the back seat, focusing on my ‘horse breaths’ (a way to concentrate on long exhalations which is really effective at focusing your mind and slowing your breathing – but yes, it looks as daft as it sounds!).  By now I had the distinct feeling that we weren’t far off meeting our littl’un, prompting the revelation to James and Sandra in the front of the car that ‘I think the baby wants to be born!’.

(Just a little tip here.  When you’re in the midst of an emergency in a vehicle and you need to get somewhere quickly, ask a driver, not a cyclist where to go.  You may find that you end up in front of the wrong hospital unable to cut through the where you need to go without needing to drive all the way back round or drive up the cycle path.  Alternatively live somewhere where the nearest hospital doesn’t have a daft one-way system and poor signage.)

We arrived at hospital at 10:20pm and were immediately admitted to the Birth Centre.  After several contractions the midwife, Harriet, checked to see how far dilated I was.  She was as surprised as we were when she looked and told us that the baby was already there and that I could push when I was ready!  So, after about five minutes of pushing and only 15 minutes after arriving at hospital our little warm, red and crying bundle arrived.  Our boy Adam.  All 7lb of him.

Not long after he arrived

Come the early hours Adam still wasn’t feeding, and later that night a ‘Pulse Ox’ test indicated that there was cause for concern and that further tests were needed on his heart and lungs.  We were transferred to the Neo-Natal Unit where Adam was put in an incubator to raise his temperature (for the first few hours), given oxygen and rigged up to monitors.  An x-ray revealed he had a chest infection, which can occur when there has been a quick delivery as the amniotic fluid can remain on the lungs.  He was prescribed five days of antibiotics, to be administered through a cannula in the back of his hand.  A heart scan also revealed two small holes in Adam’s heart which are common in babies, are not usually cause for concern and often heal by themselves over time (one has since healed, the other is likely to heal – we have another scan at the end of the month).

On the Neo-Natal Unit

I’m not sure what hormones saw me through the rest of the day, but I’m grateful for them.  It was tough to see our tiny little boy who we dearly wanted to take home and get to know inside an incubator, and even more difficult to drag ourselves away from him to eat.  But, within twelve hours of giving birth I needed to keep myself healthy too.  However, the staff on the ward were so calm, friendly and genuinely compassionate, and everything was explained so well that it really didn’t occur to us to worry.  It was just unfortunate that Adam was ill.

The next few days in hospital saw me spending each day sat on the Neo-Natal Unit chatting with nurses and marveling at the way in which they went about their work.  We were on the Grasshopper Ward, which the sign on the door informed me was sponsored by the Cliff Richard Fan Club!  Each night I went off to Ward 4, a post-natal ward, and tried to get some kip before a midwife appeared to let me know when I was needed to be with Adam.  Traipsing nightly through empty hospital corridors in the early hours in a nightgown to try and feed a lethargic, poorly child was not exactly my most glamorous moment, but with supportive staff and a tiny, beautiful, bright eyed boy to cuddle I wouldn’t have been anywhere else.

Getting well on the Neo-Natal Unit

On the Friday night Adam joined me on the post-natal ward (our first night together!) and on Saturday morning we transferred to the Transitional Care Unit where we could both be monitored and supported.  Without those few days of round the clock support we would never have managed to establish breastfeeding.  Gradually Adam took better and longer feeds, his colour returned to a healthy, rosy pink (he had a bit of jaundice) and his energy levels increased.  On Monday, after Adam had finished his course of antibiotics we were given the thumbs up to come home.

We're home!

Throughout our stay I was overwhelmed by the care and attention we received from nurses and midwives.  I certainly didn’t need any convincing of the value of NHS staff prior to our stay, but to be on the receiving end for the first time was a real eye-opener about how hard staff work round the clock with a gentleness and compassion which feels over and above what is required.  Thank you so much to any of you who may be reading this.

We’ve also been taken aback by the support, gifts and cards we’ve received from friends and family.  My little Blackberry was a real source of comfort in the early hours on the ward, when I could read the lovely comments from people on Facebook, Twitter, e-mail and text.  Don’t underestimate how much it meant.

A little over a month in and James and I are having a great time getting to know Adam, going on little adventures with him and spending hours staring into his bright eyes.  He’s now been introduced to scores of family members and friends.  As with everything else so far, he takes it all in his stride.  We’re just a little bit smitten…


Expirementing with ‘Map My Ride’

9 01 2012

I love maps, whether they are paper or electronic. I still think the best gift Rach has ever bought me was the Times comprehensive atlas of the world but I love my GPS device and the freedom it gives me on the bike. As a bit of fun I decided to install the Map my Ride app for my android phone. I liked the idea of being able to use it as a live tracker, so that people are able to see my current location on a map. It works by sending a message to twitter and Facebook to say that i’ve started a ride and provides a link to watch the live map. It also always you to review the route once you get home as a 3D flyover video using Google earth. Here was Sunday night’s ride.

I think that’s rather good!

My first park run – results and thoughts

7 01 2012

I used to run a lot, or at least far more than I run now. That all kind of came to an end about 7 years ago when I turned my ankle over on a kerbstone one Saturday morning. Since then I’ve been plagued with one injury or another, the main problem being a tightening of my right calve.

Over the past few years I’ve left running behind and cycled far more, I’d always call myself a cyclist as opposed to a runner anyway but I also happen to not pick up injuries on the bike. But cycling the distances I enjoy requires putting a lot of hours on the bike and with a child on the way something may have to give. So over the last few mounts I’ve been endeavoring to find my running legs again, and so far, so good 🙂

To help in this quest I’ve decided to take part in park run. It’s a free weekly 5km run that takes place on Saturday mornings in parks up and down the county, as well as in a few other countries. Its very simple, you register on line, print off your unique barcode, find your local run, turn up, run, have your code scanned and receive your result via text and e-mail. Here’s my first email:

Cannon Hill results for event #72. Your time was 21:02.

Congratulations on completing your 1st parkrun and your 1st at Cannon Hill today. You finished in 39th place and were the 34th gent out of a field of 246 parkrunners and you came 7th in your age category SM35-39. You can view the full set of results here.

21:02, not bad for my first 5km in about 7 years and no injury! I’ve some way to go to reach my best recorded 5km time of 17:53, but I’d be very happy to consistently run under 20mins with no injuries.

Playing games with cushions

6 01 2012


I’ve just taken a quick photo of Rach and the bump. Can’t help but think it looks like she’s being putting cushions up her jumper and playing games. We shall find out some time soon…

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