November 2014

My memory: Stand on a hill at dawn and look over a valley, the valley floor covered in fog. The fog is broken here and there by hills, escarpments and the outline of trees. Like the cows in Fr. Ted some are small and some are far away.

If, like Fr. Dougal, you’re lost click here.

If you’re still lost I’m just trying to say that I generally forget most things but other things are never forgotten because the fog of life never clouds them over.

One of the small cows is that around this time of year  I remember that I get all middle distance and thousand yard stare about my running. The dark November evenings with red wine and open fires  and the fresh memories of summer running tend to boost your confidence.

A combination of on-line discounting of running shoes, my shoulder healing fairly well and doing more thinking about running than actually running (which leads to the delusions of ability that cause me months of regret every year) are leading me to plan next year (from a running perspective – the rest I just make up as I go along).

I’d like to try the Italian Job again. Possibly without being injured and with an eating plan that involves being able to eat past 65km.

Apart from that maybe a marathon or two to keep the boredom at bay and so that I can make it look like I actually race rather than jog.

It’s Movember as well:

This was last week and I’m clearly not from the selfie generation. I tried to do the impish thing with the big eyes and innocent look but I think I just scueeded in making myseld look (more) like I might have chemical imbalances in my brain.

Look into my eyes.....the moustache is amazing

Look into my eyes…..the moustache is amazing

Getting better-ish

I had my first decent run in weeks yesterday afternoon. My shoulder has stopped being really sore all the time and is now just sore some of the time. Two steps forward, one step back sort of thing.

Yesterday afternoon it wasn’t sore so I found myself running like I’d stolen something and was still accelerating at mile 10 (of 10). These runs are the business and the burning legs and lungs make the post-run cup of tea taste delicious. The false optimism of this one run and the mending shoulder now makes me think that I could do a nice easy marathon  between now and the end of the year. Easily lead as my mother would say.

More important news – the wife’s birthday today so it’s all hands on deck for cake this evening.

Suprise package - dress rehersal

Suprise package – dress rehersal




In May  of this year I was at the height of my training for my 100k race. I was on the tightrope walk between fitness and injury and the subsequent account of the race shows you how much you can do with a strong mind and a damaged body. Strong is a word that can be swapped for stupid in the thesaurus of running terms.

During a flight back from Brussels this week I was brought back to a brief moment in time during May 2014 that meant nothing to me at the time but bobbed back up to the surface like a diving cormorant last night.

I was queuing to board the ‘plane and was coasting on two cylinders. I’ve discovered that travel is much more pleasurable when you stop caring. I’ve learnt to adopt the demeanour of an elderly fat Labrador. This is helped by being in a constant state of exhaustion from late nights, early starts and long days (and 9% Belgian beer).  As I shuffled to the boarding card and passport open on the photograph page checkpoint I noticed a woman about my own age – give or take a few years who had to walk with the aid of a stick (I’d noticed her on the flight out the previous evening as well in case you think I’m some sort of MILF stalker.) She was sitting patiently next to one of those dignity destroying airport wheelchairs and was typing away on her iPad.  I don’t know the acronym for what ailed her but it looked like one of those reverse-lottery ones that strikes you down in without warning and you don’t get better from. One of the illnesses that proves that if there is an interventionist God he doesn’t sweat the small stuff.

What struck me about her was the contemplation of her movements; she really thought about how she got around. For any runners out there it was the sort of way you might meditate on the pain of climbing a stairs two days after a marathon. You’ve never felt so alive because it all seems so painful.

Anyway, centered Buddhist I am not so I got on with my scramble to my seat and settled into worrying about whether I was going to catch Ebola from the drunk, sweating man singing African folk songs who was coughing behind me.

As I drove home after the flight on the empty motorway between Dublin and Cork I was brought back to last May. Brought back in such detail as to wonder if time travel was really possible.

In the weeks leading up to my ultra marathon in May I had had some hectic weeks of work where I was like an uglier version of George Clooney in Up in the Air and was spending most of my time either dozing or trying to doze in various departure lounges in European airports.

At the end of one of those weeks I was in Düsseldorf Airport trying to make it home for a normal Friday night of shouting at the TV and drinking too much red wine.

I arrived at my gate smelling of whatever gigolo’s scent was on promotion at the duty free and threw myself down with the care a hungry teenager shows for a gear bag. I had had a week of being constructively engaged – where you tilt your head at an angle when someone is making a trivial point so it looks like you give a fiddlers but you’re really gazing over their shoulder at the guy with the hedge trimmer outside the window of your meeting and wondering why  you’d chosen international policy making as a career.

As I sat there, and this is what came back to me last night, I watched the various comings and goings of the passengers for my flight and the other flights. It’s a nice game that passes the time and as the flights to Ireland and the UK are corralled with the non-EU countries (we’re not part of the Schengen area as our jingoistic neighbours have a problem with it) so you get to sit and watch the middle eastern guy with the 12 wives and 12 mother-in-laws wander past like a troubled shepherd and the North American with his sweatshirt tucked into his chinos. My game involves constructing their back stories so that I can see whether I’m right or not once the open their mouths. If you’ve any imagination it’s a great place to find characters for a novel.

So, there I was, playing my game and a guy in his late 20’s/early 30’s settles down just opposite me. Nothing special about him, no birth defects or comedy body shape. I have him pegged as american as his taste in clothes is slightly more GAP than H&M. His backpack choice is Jack Wolfskin which makes me change my mind immediately and re-cast him as some sort of romantic German with a taste for the Guinness and the Craic. I don’t give him too much more thought until his girlfriend comes to sit next to him.

She moves with a deliberate purpose. The connoisseur of a fine wine as opposed to my larger lout. She settles herself gently onto the seat next to him like a space craft touching down on a foreign planet testing the firmness of the seat with an ever slowing movement. once seated she places her hands on her lap with the delicacy that a cat might tuck its front paws under itself. Her elegance and awareness of movement was what struck me at the time. Almost like the slow motion sequences in the Six Million Dollar Man. Dyspraxic she is not.

The only sign that something is wrong is her thinness doesn’t appear to be from running (not that that is wrong in itself) and the headscarf covering her hair loss from chemotherapy.  In your late 20’s this seems like a shitty hand of cards.

I have no idea why I have remembered this now.

If I had to link it to running (to ensure that this remains a “running blog”) I would hazard a guess that it was because my current sore shoulder looks like it might need some months to get better or the intervention of a wet carpenter (an orthopaedic surgeon).

This has forced me to think quite a lot about how I lift and carry things, open doors, hug the kids and get on with things in general.

Accident prone

Part of my job is to sit in meetings in Brussels drinking “coffee” and saying things in a hybrid English that is part-acronymese-part-technicalese. Imagine the English language bereft of metaphor and imagination.

I’m in one of those meetings right now (on a break in case you think I’m on the lang) and am nursing  the latest of my running injuries.

Is it a sore leg? A numb hip? a black toe nail? a truculent knee?

No, it’s none of these and what’s more, it looks like it could be one of the most serious injuries I’ve ever had (and from my state of near permanent injury that is a weighty claim).

My fitness and bio-mechanics are in good shape with just the slightest element of motivation drop hitting the running where I’ve let one or two runs peter out at mile 7 or 8.

To re-ignite the flame of passion in my running I shaved my legs, had my roots done, sent the kids to my mothers, lit some scented candles and bought a new thong (OK – I went on an 18 mile run just over a week ago).

The run was largely uneventful  – always a good sign – but I had an unfortunate mishap at mile 17.

I’ve tried explaining the mechanics of the injury to the triage nurse, the doctor and the radiologist but they’ve all tilted their head sideways at me and given me the look you give a child who’s eaten your lipstick (the what were you thinking look).

Basically, at mile 17 I found myself doing a shoulder first dive tackle at knee height on a metal post.

To say I was un-prepared for this would be an understatement. The sun glasses shot straight off my face, the phone ended up on the road and I ended up lying on my back on the road, unable to breath and stars spinning around my field of vision.

I lay there with passers by giving me the wide berth you give to an old person who collapses on the street – the sort of Ebola walk around.

I scrambled to my knees with a shoulder hanging like an action hero who’d been downed by the baddies but who wasn’t out of the game yet.

Like most stupid people who run I did the sensible thing and jogged slowly home.

By the time I got to the shower and the endorphins had worn off I realised I was not in a good way. The range of motion in my shoulder was limited to arse and ball scratching but anything like nose picking and head scratching (I sound like a monkey) were out of the question.

I sucked down a few neurofen and got on with the rest of the evening.

By the next morning I found myself carrying my right arm around in my left arm and by lunchtime I was handing over €250 to skip the triage queue at the local swiftcare clinic.

The only good news was that no bones seemed broken.

Now, a week later with un-kept hair and an unpicked nose the shoulder is still not right – mainly because I have left the arm sling lying in a heap on the floor and gotten on with life.

On a more fundamental level it’s mainly because it was an impact injury that has done some moderate to serious damage to the rotor cuff (God bless google) and this will take some weeks to sort itself out. I seem to have knocked some ribs out of shape as well (like being knifed if I sneeze or cough). My main mode of injury is over use and inflammation of the joints which goes away if you just stop running.

I’ll keep you informed on my progress as I try to regain the ability to pick my own nose.




New Balance 1400

For all you mayflies of the blogosphere: be warned – this post is about the tedious and boring subject of running shoes, gait, biomechanical efficiency and injury. If you stick with it ’till the end you’ll get some sort of moral (I hope).

When it comes to running and the fetishistic subject of running shoes you end up encountering a staggering array of opinions on what’s right and what’s verboten. But, after a few years of confusion you start to realise that opinions are like assholes – everyone’s got one (I was going to say dicks there but that didn’t work – unless only men read this blog).

Barefoot shoes, structured support shoes, custom-made insoles, €19.99 jobs from Lidl, €200 jobs from Hoka. Everybody you meet is some sort of evangelist for one choice or another; your general lack of enthusiasm for the subject makes you wonder whether you’re really committed to this new religion or not.

If you think about running as a new form of  religion ( and God knows it has enough nutters involved to qualify as one) then your choice of shoes is your holy book: your Torah; your Bible; your Quoran; your Avesta; your Book of Shadows (I looked all of these up; they’re all real.)  The distance you run or race is akin to your form of worship: 5k – 10 mile is Catholic – often and fast – while marathons are Protestant – long, boring and painful – and ultra marathons are Buddhism – transcendental.

Not having a firm opinion about your choice of running shoe is tantamount to heresy.

In order to circumvent this theological laxism I’ve spent most of the last 7 years running in a pair of shoes from new Balance that used to be called the 1060 series (1060 – 1064) and are now known as the 1080 series (v1 – v4).  It wasn’t just the one pair; I’ve eaten up at least 15 pairs. New Balance suite me more that other shoes because they don’t take the skin off the inner arch of my feet like Asics, Addidas and Saucony have done in the past (i.e. I’ve got wide feet – a broad church if you’re still trying to connect this to religious themes).

These shoes represent the little island in the middle of the Venn diagram where you can get on with your mediocre ambitions.



The problem with using these shoes for so long is that I’ve never stopped, taken a step back and asked myself had I changed in any way over the 7 or so years I’ve been using them.

Apart from getting older and slower I had never asked myself a critical question like has the way you run changed in any way? Put another way I’ve never considered whether at least 10,000 miles of running had changed me biomechanically in any way.

A strange combination of curiosity, on-line reviews, some speed creeping into my running, my old shoes approaching the banjaxed mark and heavy discounting on-line saw me click “buy” a few weeks ago on a pair of road-safety neon yellow New Balance 1400s.

A few days later and the internet pixies had delivered them to my front door.

My first impressions of the shoes were that there wasn’t that much of them there. I was starting to wonder what I had paid all that money for when they weren’t really much more than a sheet of foam with a minimal upper.

I laced them up and headed out the door for my 10 mile run.

Then it became clear.

With so little shoe surrounding my foot I had to radically change the stride pattern from midfoot/heel to a midfoot/forefoot landing pattern. This in turn made running much more efficient which meant that for the same effort I was about 30 seconds a mile faster. 7:40/mile versus 8:15/mile and for slow work 8:05/mile versus 8:45/mile.

A way of conceptualizing these shoes is to think of someone (preferably a woman)  who’d been wearing nun-knickers and a monster bra for 7 years and was now out and about in a spangly G-string and no bra. You have to suck in and hold yourself differently. But how long can you suck it in for? Do you really need the nun-knickers and is the G-string just a once-in-a-while thing or were you ready to go semi-commando all the time?

Whether I was ready to burn my bra or not comes down to something that is at the core of the whole running industry: What works for you and how do you know it works for you? Let’s assume you don’t have infinite funds when we try to answer this question.

Runners (the people, not the shoes) invariably exist in one of two physical conditions: Injured or recovering from an injury.

The reason for this is simple and has to do with not the body but the mind. Runners have generally got a deficit in one of the three areas required to continue to run and to enjoy it: The transmission, the engine and the control system (legs, heart and lungs and the mind).

Most people who become physically injured (as opposed to chest complaints or losing motivation) do so because the positive mental feedback loop that running produces encourages them to push their bodies into the area where they pick up injuries. They push themselves because they want to expand the boundaries of their own abilities (to test their limits) and this is all tied up with the spiritual and religious parallels that running attracts.

Running shoes are one of the ways that help you to stay afloat in the shark infested waters of the sea of injury. You’ll stay above water but eventually the sharks will get you.

With a poor control system your running is like a kid with his mum’s Toyota Starlet. You think it’s F1 while everyone else knows it’s more like an out of control shopping trolley.

So, controlling your mind so that your legs and core can build enough strength and having patience is the key to running injury free – and inherent talent but I’m assuming that most of us don’t have that.

But controlling your mind is oh-so difficult when you’re bombarded with messages promising you a svelte body and the ability to run to the moon on a sip of water and two brazil nuts. I’ve tried most fads except the vibram 5 fingers (mainly because I have an Emperor’s New Clothes problem with paying more and more money for less and less shoe) and in the end all I’ve felt is a creeping suspicion that I’ve been duped.

How do you resolve this? How do you know when to change? How quickly do you adopt? Why does my washing machine eat one of every pair of socks I own?

I can’t or won’t profess to know the answer to these or any other questions.For me what seems to have happened is that by focusing on ultra marathons for a few years I’ve been able to see beyond the puppy-like urge to run until I get injured. I’ve been able to see that patience really does pay off and less can be more.

This ability to control my will seem to have allowed me to deconstruct my running so that I can work on strength and then move onto speed (or distance – never both – I just don’t have the talent or the drive)

So, I’m able to run in my bright yellow G-string – My New Balance 1400’s – and not feel sore.

I don’t think I could do an ultra marathon in them but they have allowed me to have some confidence in my inherent strength to be able to test out some other simpler shoes (Hokas – I’m looking at you)

Would it work for you? I don’t know but if you recognise any of the patterns I’ve described in this post amongst the muddle of metaphors and analogies then you might be able to pinpoint where you are.

New Shoes. New me

Like an unwashed G-string, they’re filthy now





Comfortably numb

Behind the swan-like exterior of this blog there’s a special workshop-cum-shed where all the magic happens. On the work bench of that shed there sits a perfectly formed blog post about how I have ascended to the zen like state of running 10 pretty nippy miles every second day on nowt but fresh air and dreams. All injury free and with shoes made of gossamer.

The blog post still sits there on the work bench because, surprising as it may seem, I am (fairly) honest.

That and the fact that I’ve felt a strange tingling in my trousers over the past week or so.

The sort of tingling that means you’re less teenage boy and more chronic user of google as a GP.

I appear to have developed something called meralgia paraesthetica which is caused by:

  • Being morbidly obese
  • Wearing skinny jeans
  • Running too much

(Not all at the same time)

All a very glamorous way of saying that the outside of my left hip has a trapped nerve that doesn’t cause me too much pain but does feel weirdly like someone elses hip (I’ve no sensation in the skin on the hip).

The treatment for this condition is that  you lose weight, wear a smock with no pants on or stop running. There’s not much weight to lose and I am currently considering my options on the smock.

The last option will clearly never work.

I will keep you posted on the smock shopping front.

Before I forget, I have changed running shoe – to a lightweight racing flat – the New Balance 1400 – more to follow in the next post.

New Shoes. New me

New Shoes. New me

Docks Grab Bucket

Mechanical Symmetry

Mechanical Symmetry


On the way back to the car after the trip around the LÉ Aoife I saw the this bulk cargo grab bucket asleep waiting for the next load of feed or fertilizer to arrive in Cork. The colour of the bucket, all polished rust in the sun is what drew me to it; the symmetry only became apparent back at the laptop. 

A real case of form following function.