Keep Your Money in Your Shoes – Running Gear

Brooks Adrenaline GTS 15

“When you greet a stranger, look at his shoes, always keep your money in your shoes, put your trouble behind” – R.E.M. Good Advices

It’s been a fairly uneventful couple of weeks on the training front, except for a couple more comedy injuries; a bruised shin after tripping over a rowing machine in the gym, and strained neck from brushing my teeth.  It has of course been a very eventful week in the UK generally, and it has all been very serious on the television, media and on Facebook and Twitter. So I thought that this week was the perfect time to put on my most superficial, trivial post of all, and in any case it was about time that I got down to some running geekery – my “essential” running gear.

I’m not sure whether this is the “advices” that Michael Stipe was intending to give, but there could not be a better summary of the approach to take to buying running kit.

Whether or not you are a fanatical “natural runner”, or believe that shoes should be “prescribed”, it is undeniable that the wrong pair of shoes can ruin a race, or even a season. My view, for what it’s worth, is that barefoot running is great if you have perfect running form or are biomechanically built for it, but for flat footed, awkward, heel striking hypochondriacs like me, support and cushioning is essential.

I have tried so many different brands and styles over the last 10 years, all of which have given me issues except for one: the Brooks Adrenaline GTS.  I am now on my 7th pair, with the latest incarnation, the GTS 15 (http://bit.ly/1Et324V), being the best yet.  Impossibly comfortable, supportive and stable, but still light and springy.  For a running shoe, it also has pretty good green credentials, with its fully biodegradable BIOMOGO midsole.

Now I could, and some would say should, stop there.  One of the best things about running is that it is accessible, uncomplicated and cheap, with the only mandatory kit being the right pair of shoes. This is true, but another great thing, at least for a fool that likes parting with his money like me (I blame the bipolar), is that there is an ever growing list of things that you can buy to be safer, faster, better looking and armed with more stats than you could ever use.

Below is a list of my running kit, roughly in descending order of importance:

  • socks: almost as important as the right shoes.  I don’t need to tell you how painful blisters are, and how they can ruin, or even stop a run (or a night out).  I can honestly say that since I started using specific running socks, I have never had a blister.  My current favourites are X-Socks (http://bit.ly/1HIquO6) and Hilly (particularly their trail line http://bit.ly/1HIqNIW), and am no stranger to a knee-length compression sock;
  • “technical” t-shirt: i.e. one that wicks away sweat.  Nothing worse than wearing a top that gets heavier the further you run, except perhaps chafed nipples (speaking of which, these are great http://bit.ly/1OY1abj).  I tend to wear a lot of Nike tops (http://swoo.sh/1GwuVv9), which look good as well as being as technologically advanced as a t-shirt can get.  Many people will scoff at the former, but I have always found that the more I look the part, the more I act it;
  • foam roller: (http://bit.ly/1J0y6sv) just buy one. “Foam rolling is huge. It’s a more powerful tool than stretching” – not my words Carol, the words of Top Gear magazine* David McHenry, Nike Oregon Project physio;
  • GPS running gadget: If you have a smartphone, there are great apps like Strava, Runkeeper and Nike+ that you can download for free, although if you are a stats geek like me, you may want to go for a running watch like the Garmin Forerunner 620 (http://bit.ly/1OUwDWB), particularly if your cadence, vertical oscillation ground contact time are important to you;
  • tights: not only am I a big fan of lycra (which I admit only in the interests of complete honesty), but getting a good pair of running tights gives you less of an excuse not to go out in the cold, and although the medical evidence for compression wear is inconclusive, I find that the added support and extra warmth to the muscles helps with recovery. Also, in case you want to know where I stand on the age-old question, shorts go over the top of tights – the Ken doll look is not a good one for me;
  • MP3 player: not everyone likes running to music, but I find that it helps me relax, and running is about the only chance I get now to listen undisturbed. I just use my iPhone, as I can also use maps or the phone if I get lost or injured (a frequent occurrence, as you know by now);
  • headphones: until recently, I’ve been loyal to the Adidas/Sennheiser neckband headphones, as they are comfortable, reasonably priced and sound as good as most other “premium” cans I’ve listened to, but also because I’d never been able to find in-ear headphones that stayed in place.  However, The neckband means that it is difficult to use them in the gym, and they can get in the way of sunglasses.  A couple of months ago I discovered the Bose SoundSport (http://bit.ly/1H7slu9), which aren’t cheap, but sound great, are so light that they are barely there, and haven’t fallen out yet.  The feature that they both share, which for me is absolutely necessary in running headphones, is that they are “open-backed” – running with noise cancelling headphones is the surest way to get run over; and
  • camera: unless you are writing a blog, this is probably the least important piece of kit, but also the coolest.  I have just entered the world of the GoPro with a Hero4 Silver (http://gopro.com), it is flippin’ awesome.

As to where to buy all of this stuff from, I’m very lucky to have the two best running shops I’ve ever been to within 10 minutes of the office.  Sweatshop (http://www.sweatshop.co.uk) deserves all of the awards it wins, and the Trump Street branch is the best of them all.  The Running Works (http://www.therunningworks.net) is not just a running shop, but also a runners’ library, meeting place, club and yoga studio.

Right, I’d better start writing something serious for next week…

* Sorry, I can’t keep Alan at bay all of the time (http://bit.ly/1KHcZga)

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Mind Control II: Overcoming Alan

“If you have HIV or cancer or athlete’s foot you can’t teach them anything.
When Ashley Stone was dying of meningitis, he might have known that
he was dying, but his meningitis didn’t know. Meningitis doesn’t know
anything. Buy my illness knows everything I know. That is a difficult
thing to get my head around. But the moment I understood it, my
illness understood it too.” – Matt Holmes, from The Shock of the Fall
by Nathan Filer

Since I read Man’s Search for Meaning (http://bit.ly/1Eag3f6), I have been trying to work out how I could use it to combat my own depression.  The thing that I have struggled with is whether, when I am at my worst, I retain the last “human freedom”, or can depression be defined as the inability to choose one’s response.

In my first post (http://bit.ly/1zGnn78) I described my breakdown as a complete loss of control of my own mind.  How could I have had a choice, if I had no control over my own thoughts?  Then again, I also felt that suicide was inevitable, that I would not be able to stop it.  If that was really true, then how am I still here? Did I still have the ability to choose? Was I able to regain control, even for a split second, or did I have control all along?  The problem is of course that I have no way of ever knowing for sure what happened, let alone what I was thinking at the time.

The quote above, from Nathan Filer’s moving and uplifting novel The Shock of the Fall, is written by the 19 year-old schizophrenic narrator Matt Holmes. Not only does this seem to describe one of the inherent problems in diagnosing, treating and even understanding mental illness (i.e. the fact that it is impossible to be objective about, or sometimes even describe your symptoms), it has been a useful weapon in my constant battle to stay in control.

Obviously, schizophrenia is very different to depression, but thinking of my illness as an “it”, or even better a “he”, can be very helpful in recognising when I am suffering, and most importantly giving me an early warning to seek help.  This idea was brilliantly articulated by Niall Breslin, well-known Irish musician and former gaelic football and professional rugby player, in a powerful and brave speech about his experience of general anxiety disorder.  If you have not seen it yet, you really should: http://bit.ly/1A50rIL.

In the speech, “Bressie”, as he is better known, explains how he personalised his illness, gave it the worst name he could think of, and fought back by doing things that he knew “Jeffrey” would hate, which, as Jeffrey was a part of him, meant facing his own fears.

I have fully adopted this approach, although my depression is called “Alan”.  Not only is this an incongruous name for something so powerful, but I imagine my depression having the voice, social skills and worldly experience of Norfolk’s most famous son, Alan Partridge. Although I am not going to buy a Mini Metro, or support the pedestrianisation of Norwich City Centre, I know that the two things that my Alan hates most are writing openly and creatively about himself, and running up mountains.

This is perhaps why the blog has been such a release for me, and a massive turning point.  Like Bressie, my life has become so much brighter as a result of telling the world about my experiences, and the incredible response that I have received has only made me wish that I had done it sooner.

This is not to say that anyone with mental health issues should do this.  Everyone’s story is different, and all I can do is tell my own.  More importantly, this is only a very small part of my treatment.  I am very, and unashamedly, reliant on fairly high doses of medication, regular therapy, and having so many people looking out for me.

Moreover, there is not, as far as I am aware, a cure for my illness, and my life will be a constant battle for control. At the moment, I seem to have the upper hand, but can I promise that I will never be back to where I was at around 5:30pm on 7 February 2014? No. But what I can promise is that I will do everything in my power to keep Alan from Bouncing Back.

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