on... Surface

This week’s thoughts were brought on by an event in Cardiff last Saturday. No, not the “naked bike ride” Mike, but the Salomon City Trail Running Event in Bute Park.

I had planned to attend, but unfortunately the wind brought down a fence and our Saturday was spent fixing that instead. Still, I fancy going further with Trail running.

When I started running, but three years ago, it was on a treadmill. Safe, steady, cushioned, boring treadmill. Trying to run for more than twenty minutes in the same spot was a real problem for me. My perceived effort was (and remains) far higher on a treadmill than on any other surface. I believe this to be mainly down to the boredom, either in the gym or at home (I took one home to see if I could learn to love it). In the gym, occasionally there may be something to hold your interest, but not for long. I have even tried fixing a TV to the wall and buying a video of someone else running somewhere interesting, like the Grand Canyon (I have a term for this). This helps for a while, but it’s not long before I’m bored again.

Next, I tried outside. Luckilly, I’ve never been that self-conscious, so it wasn’t too much of an effort to hit the streets in a top and shorts. I was amazed at how far you could go in a relatively short amount of time and how you can’t stop (you need to get home, and neighbours see you). Then there’s the weather, the wind and the rain, cold and heat. Bit by bit, I started re-evaluating common routes that I’d been driving for years – noticing the inclines. I live up a little bit of a U shaped hill, so I always start off flying down, up the other side and need to finish on a flurry. Bad news for your joints, I was told, but what is best, a bit of variety with a little pain?... or boring.

A few weeks after venturing outdoors, a colleague told me about this “parkrun” thing, and how they’d just started one in Newport, so I ventured down. I was amazed. This started off as an “out and back” across the red-gra car park, then off into the park. The ground started off slippery, with me thinking “that’d take the skin off your leg if you fell”, but then continued across a woodland trail, a bit of tarmac, bit of grass, then back into the car park again. Something for everyone here, and plenty of different surfaces – some quick, some slow. I was learning.

Next, on holidays, we planned to run on the beach every morning. This happened twice. The first day, the sand was dry. Slipping and sliding all over the place, hard work just to move forward. Next day, the sand was wet, clinging to my shoes but faster. The difference in the amount of effort needed to scatter the seabirds was amazing. Recently, I’ve been told that due to my “hyper-flexible” feet, running unfettered for me is like running on sand. I’ve been using my orthotics ever since, but still haven’t quite capitalised on the fact that this should now make me run faster.

Last year, I met the Track. Lovely, springy, fast, reliable, shock absorbent Track. I’ve experienced my best running drills, training on the track. The bends come at exactly the right time for keep it interesting but then, after about eight successive laps, boring. The track played a big part in my recovery in January. Safer than icy roads, and better on the joints, I fell in love with it again. People seem to have mixed feelings – some people enjoy the speed and bounce, others say that it brings out any weakness.

For me, the jury’s out on Grass at the moment. Only tried it a few times and it makes me worry about potholes. Really enjoyed a great “whole group” training session on grass a few weeks ago, but my ankles didn’t half hurt the following morning.

So, back to Trail running then. I’m just starting out on this journey. I have been lucky enough to run the trails over at a local hotel and they are wonderful. Very fond memories of my first night, tanking it round the bluebell woods with a bunch of consenting like-minded adults. Sharp turns between trees, up hills and down dales, over little wooden bridges – tremendous fun. But with fun, often comes danger - a few weeks later, I had a reminder of why you need Trail shoes when I landed on a stone – my foot twisted but luckily the strength of the shoe kept my foot straight. I tried walking again after the incident, all went well and off I went again, thanking my lucky stars (and justifying my recent purchase). Road shoes, and I may not have fared so well. I am told that you need to be nimble on your feet for trails and need to learn to land back on your feet when falling.

I guess every surface is different. Variety is the spice of life and all that... What’s your favourite?