A little while ago I won a competition for a pair of new running shoes that claim to help you run faster. Called Airia One, they are designed by a Swedish company that has more than 170 years’ experience in shoe making. I actually ended up getting hold of my shoes a little quicker than the expected delivery date as they sent me a test pair to review. So far I have only worn them a few times, but there will be more to come.

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Here’s what Airia Running says about the shoes:

After years of development, Airia is about to launch a concept that will revolutionize the way we look at running shoes. Airia One’s construction is inspired by the wheel, to ensure runners achieve that perfect feeling of flow. The shoe has a unique design … It harnesses untapped power in the human body and doesn’t leak energy like other running shoes do. In fact, it unleashes the power of a stride for a faster and more enjoyable running experience.

Tests show that runners wearing Airia shave times by 1 percent on average, and some of them up to 7 percent. To develop the shoe Airia has used scientific methods to find out what does and does not work. The shoe is light and features a biomechanically optimized geometry with an unstable and irregular, sharply angled sole to help you move forward as fast as possible.

Airia One has an asymmetric design which combines a zero drop with a 6mm drop sole. This allows you to run with less ground contact time and helps to keep the power in the stride more in line with the running direction.

Runners who tested our shoes not only run faster, they get a different and better feeling from running. Most people report that they feel stronger and have an improved posture.

 

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It all sounded rather grand and exciting, and I was skeptical, but open-minded (is that even possible?!).

 

Run one was 3.4 miles. It was mid-morning and rather warm, muggy and therefore sweaty. I headed out along the main road, down the hill by the golf course, on to the towpath and back up the hill. This is an easy circuit I do quite often, and I always enjoy the downhill section about a mile in.

At first the shoes felt very weird. The bumps underneath make them strange to walk in, but not “impossible” as Airia say. Although I agree that you wouldn’t want to walk any real distance in them. I try to have a brisk walk of a few minutes before starting a run and that was OK, just a bit like wearing cleats.

When I fist started running I could still feel the lumps and I wasn’t quite sure what I was supposed to be doing with my feet. I certainly had to think about where I was landing. But after a few minutes I managed to switch off from consciously thinking about placing my feet and let my body do what came. Downhill I really did feel like my legs were wheeling, but then I often do on that section, and I got a good pace up along the flat part in the middle and felt great.

I had no soreness or weird feelings afterwards and was pleased with my run.

Time: 34:07

 

Run two was slightly longer at four miles. I started out on the same route – along the road and down the hill, but then went further round to Kirkstall Road (a smooth and flat busy main road). I felt particularly fast on the middle section of this one – like flying!

I settled into the shoes much quicker and didn’t feel like I was being forced to run any particular way or any differently than normal. I am a light-footed, mid-foot/fore-foot runner anyway, so I tippy-toe around in all my running shoes.

Time: 42:06

 

Run three was tough, mostly because I had a wicked hangover! It was the Otley 10mile road race – an evening event on a very warm day. I wasn’t sure I would even make it to a mile without being sick, let alone finish, but I forced myself to do it anyway! I was sweating like made after not very long but at least I got rid of all those alcohol naughties in my bloodstream by the end!

Anyway, the shoes felt fine at first, but after about 5 miles my toes started to hurt. Like, really hurt. It was the same sensation as when I tested the Brooks PureConnect a while back. Almost like stones in the shoe rubbing from below, but almost a kind of cramping twisty-turny toe thing. Weird. I had to walk and hobble a few times so that I could place my foot differently and relieve the pain. It was quite annoying. I came to the conclusion that it was a combination of me not quite being at my best and therefore my form being off, but also that the shoes are a bit too manipulative for longer runs. I often go around barefoot and occasionally run with nothing on my tootsies, and I don’t think my feet appreciated being coerced into a specific position for too long – they like to have the chance to be flexible and free-moving.

Time: 1:57:29

 

Run four was the Hyde Park Harriers Summer Mile. I ran this race last year and went much faster than I predicted, but given my lack of speedwork recently I wasn’t expecting a PB.

I did, however, feel good in the shoes. A mile is a difficult race as you just have to get into it and get on with it, so I did few warm-up strides. My feet and legs felt good, but my breathing was so laboured and I was absolutely knackered!

My time was decidedly average, but I still counted it as a win for the shoes.

Time: 8:47

 

It’s a small sample to make any real conclusions from, but one thing I know for sure is that Airia One are, for me at least, reserved for short distances. They look cool (I will change my mind on that when the white gets grubby) and feel smashing when running.The quality seems good – Vibram soles feature on several of my other shoes and I have always been happy with their longevity.

I’ll be using my Airias now for shorter runs, especially speedwork, and PB efforts at one mile and 5k. Whether or not they really will help me get faster times remains to be seen, but they sure feel good and the notion of them being my “fast shoes” might give me that extra push anyway.

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Oh dear, nearly two months since I last posted! Shocking!

I’ve done a few races, but my training has been hit and miss, to say the least. Kielder Marathon is creeping up rather quickly and I need to get back on track and put some proper effort into running. It just seems so hard at the moment! There aren’t enough hours in the day, and it’s too hot, and I’ve discovered cycling …. the excuses go on!

But I do need to make more of an effort, not least because my jeans are getting a little tight and I’m losing fitness rapidly.

So apologies for falling off the radar, and do stay tuned! I’ll get round to writing up my recent race reviews soon, promise!

I didn’t like London Marathon because of the crowds, the noise and the flat, but I did like the distance. So I’m very excited to be running my second marathon in 16 weeks.

Training starts today for Kielder Marathon – a lap of Kielder Water in Northumberland that is off-road, hilly and incredibly scenic. And there are only around 3,000 runners. It’s going to be amazing!

My plan this time is a Hal Higdon one. No intensive speedwork like I attempted, and mostly failed at, last time, but hill, tempo or intervals once a week. I’m very excited to get started with a proper training regime again – it has been too easy the past few weeks to skip runs, become a bit lazy and eat too much because I haven’t been training for anything specific.

As always, I have lots of races coming up to keep me entertained – everything from summer relays and one-mile track events, to obstacle races and a few 10-milers.

Two things I learnt from the Otley 10mile race this week:

  1. What goes up, must come down.
  2. Running is a great cure for a hangover!

As is becoming a trend, I signed up for this race a long time ago and didn’t do any specific training. Which is brilliant, as I have the confidence and fitness base these days to know I can just go out and run up to a half mara without having to prepare or think too hard.

Anyway, the race is organised by the good people at Otley AC and the Purple Posse turned out in force. Here are a few of us – there were 21 altogether!

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The race is all on pavements/roads, with some killer hills from miles 4 to 8. They really were tough. Given the hangover I wasn’t convinced I could start, let alone finish, so I just figured I would give it a go and try not to die!

I forgot my watch, which was probably a good thing, so I absolutely had to just run to feel. I set off at the back and settled in for a mile or two. By the time I got to the first hill I was feeling OK, so I walked up and enjoyed the views. We kept going up and up for quite a while, but the sight we were treated to at the top was well worth it.

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I plodded on and tried to not think about being sick. I was wearing my new Airia One running shoes, which are mostly comfortable but did start to rub and feel weird on my toes from about halfway. I think they need to be kept for shorter distances in future (full review to follow).

As well as some fun downhills a highlight was the group of kids at the second water station. I could hear a load of screaming and shouting up ahead, and for a minute I almost panicked thinking that people were being attacked by hornets again or trampled by cows. But when I got to the drinks stop I found that it was simply a group of teenagers having a whale of a time in a massive water fight! So funny! They were making a right racket and having a lot of fun, which made me smile too.

Just after this there was another hill, and to be perfectly honest I was quite tired by this point. The mile markers just weren’t coming around quickly enough and I was starting to get really hungry.

The real killer bit came right near to the end – being just a few places from last meant hundreds of runners had already finished, and as I ran along the high street towards the end at the cricket club I went past the chippy, which smelt amazing! I could have punched all those runners enjoying a chippy tea! And then I got to the finish area and people were stood around having a pint – bleurgh!

It took me just under two hours to finish – a career worst for 10miles – but I still got a little box of Yorkshire tea bags and some sachets of muscle rub for my efforts. And then I treated myself to a burger from the BBQ!

Without the hangover it still would have been a tough race but I think I could have put more into it. I’ll probably be back next year to see how I can cope with the hills when sober.

 

 

It’s called a trail race, but run under Fell Runners Association rules, therefore I am counting Ilkley Trail Race as my first fell race.

I signed up a week or so ago and was very much looking forward to the day. A couple of people had recommended I do it. With the big climb in the first half and a 7-mile total distance it is at the easiest end of the fell race scale. And as it is flagged and marshalled there’s no need for maps and compasses. But the terrain, and the views, are by no means diminished.

Jill and Jason drove us to Ilkley, and there we met with a few other Harriers and friends from other running clubs. There was a chilled, friendly atmosphere in the start area and I was very glad of a coffee van – hazelnut latte was just what I needed! My vague plan was to try to stick with Jill and Anne. Generally speaking I am there or thereabouts with them at many races and they are always good company.

 

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I set off up the hill on the first road (which was a killer!) and figured I would settle in as I felt able then catch up to them over the race. I walked up the latter part of the hill as I realised that my marching pace was just as quick as my jogging pace, but used less energy. And then I just trekked on through the woods without thinking too much about anything.

We came out into a field and up a track, and soon we were up on the moors. I gave a little gasp as we strode out on to the plains and smiled as I saw the snake of brightly coloured runners making their way through the land. It was simply stunning. I could hear a bird singing a gorgeous tune and spotted him briefly – I later learned (via Jill and a lady she was talking to) it was a skylark.

 

I walked a few times to try and soak in the view properly and was perfectly happy skipping along. The weather was warm but not overly bright or blazing so it was ideal.

I wore my new Inov8 Bare-Grip 200 fell shoes, which were perfect. I bought them as they are lightweight and flexible and very grippy, and I am so glad I did. I fear for my life a bit going down hills sometimes, especially when there is mud, wet grass or tree roots involved” I worry about going arse-over-tit and smashing my bones! But no need for such worries in my new fell running shoes – they gave me a lot of confidence and I could let go and not worry about where I was placing my feet. Not one stumble despite all the loose rocks and slippy grass made muddy by hundreds of runners! They were even great on the small bits of road as well – I was worried they would feel weird with the big lugs, but I raced down the final hill without concern.

 

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I can now happily say this neon Bambi loves running the moors. I felt like I was running really tall and smooth the whole way. I could feel my legs skipping along beneath me without even the slightest effort. It was truly liberating. It was a great race and will be a must-do on my calendar for next year. It was a real pleasure to be able to take in such spectacular scenery.

Best of all I wasn’t the slightest bit tired at the end. I would have happily done it over again. I didn’t feel achey or hungry or anything – I just wanted to keep going. I  felt alive and invigorated, which is surely the clearest sign of a wonderful run.

Photo thanks to Woodentops and running friends.

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Chester Half Marathon on Sunday 18th May was yet another of those races that I didn’t really train specifically. Way back towards the start of the year I had half a mind that I would go for sub-2, but I knew that would be unachievable as the day got closer given my post-marathon slowness. So the revised plan was to go with the 2:10 pacer and just sneak a PB. But on the morning, given the blazing sunshine and the fact that the pens were so crowded I couldn’t get anywhere near the pacer, I let it go and decided I would start off easy and take it from there.

I didn’t put in much effort to get going and didn’t look at my watch until the first mile marker, focusing instead on just settling in. But it wasn’t until about mile 5 that I actually began to feel properly settled. It is still taking me a while to get into my rhythm, which is fine for longer and hilly runs, but is not so conducive to PB attempts on flat roads.

Anyway, I plodded on. My mum lives just over the border in North Wales so she came out to cheer me on. I saw her at about 1.6miles and ran over for a hug and to grab some jelly babes. They ended up getting all sticky in my bumbag when I came to eat them later on, but they were still nice.

A little bit further on I was delighted to get a surprise cheer from my friends Clare and Steve and their daughter Lucy. I had no idea they would be there and it was lovely to get a hug and a kiss. I saw them at the end too, and Lucy asked me if I had won. I said no, I wasn’t fast enough, then after a few minutes she asked if I came second! Such a cutie!

I kept plodding on and eventually, just before the halfway mark, I began to feel like I was running well. For reasons unknown though I had decided not to wear socks, and I could feel my toes rubbing a little with the sweat. At the end I had a humongous blood blister. Otherwise my New Balance Minimus shoes felt amazing and helped me run light and easy. I walked through each water station and had my gels to schedule.

There were some lovely marshals and some pockets of support. We passed several pubs which provided a good base for supporters, and most had live bands outside. There was also a very young band, complete with drum kit and keyboard, randomly along one of the lanes (they were with their dad at his marshal spot). I particularly liked one marshal who told a couple of runners near me who were chatting away: “no laughing on the course”.

I was looking forward to getting back round to see my mum again and decided I would walk with her for a bit as she had to get back into the city anyway so we could get a coffee after I finished. We had some nice chats, but I struggled to keep up with her marching pace by this point.

Then I realised there wasn’t actually much further left to go, so I gave my mum a hug and ran off up the short slope towards the finish line. I put in an incredible sprint finish and I was done in 2:22:56. My career worst half marathon time, but that’s OK.

Through the funnel I collected a bottle of water, medal, tech t-shirt and goody bag, which had an excellent food:leaflet ratio of 6:2 (three small bags of Haribo, one Mars bar, one sachet of porridge, one cereal bar: one leaflet for another race, one coupon for a free gym pass).

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Then I found The Fieldings again for a proper catch-up and wandered with my mum for coffee and a cake and back to the racecourse to collect my bag and inspect the feet. Chester Half is a very well organised race right from sign-up. The emails that organisers Chris and Andy  sent were informative and friendly, and the race instructions were clear and demonstrated that they understand runners’ needs. I was a little worried when I got to the park and ride in the morning and saw a massive queue, but I got to the racecourse at 8.30am and had exactly enough time to go to the loo, get changed and drop my bag off.

All that said though, I don’t think I’ll be doing this race again. I couldn’t really fault it in any way but I am not very keen on flat, mass participation road races at the moment and will probably look to limit their appearance in my race schedule. The thing that really tired me out was the constant ducking and diving and weaving around other people. According to my splits I got past about 100 people in the second half of the race, and each time it’s ‘mirror, signal, manoeuvre’ to ensure I don’t get in anyone’s way (for me at least – some runners just weave all over the road as if they’re the only ones there). Anyway, all this thinking is tiring when you’re trying to run!

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It’s been a month now since I completed the London Marathon. I’m still digesting, analysing and generally getting to terms with the whole thing.

People keep reminding me that I’ve run a marathon. Which is great, except that technically I ran most of the 26.2miles, but walked several bits towards the end. Not that this bothers me or makes me feel like I didn’t do my best, but it’s an important point and one I am very aware of.

I don’t feel that I’ve completed a marathon. It’s almost like it didn’t happen. I did try how to explain how it went and put into words the noise, crowding, and intensity of the thing in my London Marathon review post. And now, the more I consider it, the more I think that because I didn’t feel part of it at the time (because it was all too big and overwhelming and there was too much sensory input for my boor brain to compute), it makes sense that I don’t feel like I’ve run a marathon. How can I have memories of something I didn’t feel part of at the time?

And another thing has occurred to me – the monotony of the flat, urban course did not help. Running puts a lot of stress and strain on the body – it is repetitive enough as it is – but doing it for 5.5 hours and all on the flat makes it worse still. I think that’s why I walked a lot towards the end – my body just needed to feel a slightly different movement, to allow for a bit of easing off. I probably should have stopped to do some stretches.

What this all adds up to is that my head is still a bit mashed and I have absolutely no emotional connection to that day. I enjoyed it in many parts. But I still recoil in near horror at some bits. In particular – a group of women outside a pub who were encroaching on to the road, Champagne in hand, leaving us weary runners very little room. I could have smacked them, not only for making me feel boxed in, but for having the nerve to stand there with such delectable refreshments that I could not have!

I am now also a bit annoyed at the marathon for stalling my progress – I am definitely getting slower at the moment! On the one hand I don’t mind too much as mass road races where I chase a time are falling out of favour with me anyway, but on the other hand I would like to set at least a couple of PBs this year! But I do have to remember that a month isn’t really a very long time in terms of recovering from a marathon. I still get very tired quite quickly on days after running and I need to work on putting more good things into my body to help it get back on track.

Although I have been continuing my usual road and towpath runs out of necessity, what I really crave is greenery, hills and changing terrain. Which is why recent races like the Hot Cross Run and Bluebell Trail have been so damn brilliant, and why I’m running the Ilkley Trail Race next week.

Marathon distance remains a challenge and a source of huge excitement for me, and for this I am very grateful. I LOVED my long runs in training and am very glad I have already signed up for another marathon. I will be doing Kielder Marathon in October, which is an incredibly scenic, and hilly, route around Kielder Lake in Northumberland. It will be quiet and pretty and so not dull. Training starts next month – the countdown is on and this makes me very happy!