Tuesday, 3 December 2019

"We used to get up out of shoebox, in middle of night, and lick road clean wi’ tongues!"

MOST running clubs have a handful of old codgers on their books who have, for one reason or another, been bestowed with the honour of Life Membership.

My own outfit – Tiptree Road Runners – is no exception. There are, I believe, around ten or a dozen ‘Lifers’ in our ranks, including yours truly. With legs and lungs that are ancient and over-used, most of us Tiptree ‘Lifers’ don’t run as far or as frequently as we used to (Malcolm and Jim are notable exceptions) and there is therefore a desire to keep the fires burning by having the occasional re-union.

We generally adjourn to a local pub and settle down to reminisce about those golden days when we used to run fast, when races had sensible entry fees, and when injuries were just a minor occupational hazard.  

This week we descended on the unsuspecting Essex village of Feering adn its excellent Sun Inn. And yes - you are right - we did behave rather like the four Yorkshiremen in the famous Monty Python sketch, leaning back in our chairs and recalling fondly when the hills were steeper, the shoes were more basic and the vests scraped your nipples clean off. Luxury.

Eee bah gum, things were tough when we were getting our PBs. We didn’t have chip timing and mats with sensors – we had to wind up a grandfather clock and strap it to our left arm with rope if we wanted to know our times.

One topic did render us almost speechless with disbelief at this week’s reunion. Ian revealed Nike are marketing shoes that you can apparently lace-up without bending down – all you do is click a button on your smartphone and the Bluetooth connection with your feet will do the laces up for you!

No, he wasn’t having a ‘senior moment’ – these things really do exist! The shoes were launched earlier in 2019 under the brand name Nike Adapt. They retail at around £300.

Why would any runner spend a small fortune on something like that? Well apparently these shoes are aimed particularly at people like tennis star Sir Andy Murray, who recently found bending down very painful before he got his hip and back problems sorted out!

With a Nike Adapt app on your phone you can adjust the tightness of the fit, and the battery in the shoes will last for up to 14 days on a single charge. The company’s boffins claim self-lacing shoes are useful for athletes looking for a very precise fit, as well as those who find tying laces difficult.

The app also allows you to alter the colours of lights that are built into the sole of the shoe! Are you wearing a red shirt? Boom. You can make the lights of the shoe red. Green shirt? The lights can be green.

All this is nonsense, I hear you cry. Why don’t Nike just concentrate on making a shoe that claims to make you run faster?  Oh, hang on . . .  

* Rob Hadgraft's books - including six biographies of champion runners of yesteryear - are on sale via Amazon at:   https://amzn.to/33Lyawc
The Nike Adapt BB . . .  ties its own laces and lights up to order.

Monday, 18 November 2019

The strange effect of running 'naked' (i.e. minus technology!)

FLASHBACK to exactly 30 years ago. November 1989 was unusually sunny, mild and dry. It was a month when history was made: the Berlin Wall came down, TV cameras were allowed into the House of Commons, Thatcher’s Tory leadership was challenged for the first time, and revolutions kicked off in Bucharest and Prague.

And . . . attracting far fewer headlines . . . was the fact my trusty runner’s wristwatch suddenly packed up. But, bizarrely, this malfunction would prove a blessing in disguise.

It unexpectedly helped bring about probably the best month of racing I ever did. In four events, including a tough 10-miler, every single mile was completed in well under six minutes (these days I can barely manage a kilometre in six minutes, let alone a mile!). And all because I raced without the aid of a watch.

Nowadays running without a watch (or any other technology) is known as 'running naked'. Back then it didn't have a name.

Knowing zilch about my pace and mile-splits initially felt like a problem. In those days it was all about chasing PBs; and how could you chase a PB if you couldn’t monitor your pace? But, rather magically, there was some sort of chemical reaction and my anxiety transformed into adrenaline. I ended up faster than usual!

First up was the popular Pitsea 5-mile road race, a fast and mostly flat affair near Basildon, in near-perfect conditions. Habitual glancing at my naked left wrist gave zero clues as to how things were going, but it felt fast. I became hopeful I’d get close to my existing PB of 27:55.  

Runners finishing nearby reckoned we’d gone under 28 and later it was confirmed I was clocked at 27:20. It was a big chunk off the PB, and really pleasing to have averaged quicker than 5:30 per mile.

A week later came the Clacton five-miler and I continued the ‘no watch’ experiment. Things went even better. In blissful ignorance of time and tide I came home in exactly 27 minutes, nabbing a place in the top ten.

I was left pondering how legs and lungs seemed to perform better when there was no brain telling them about time. Mind you, I did wonder if a watch would have helped me cut off an extra second . . .  26:59 would have been so much better than 27:00!

All this seemed to cause an excess of foolish confidence the following Saturday, when I entered two different races on the same morning! Despite having to gather in Ipswich’s Humber Doucy Lane at the ungodly hour of 0745, I managed second place in the Sri Chinmoy 4, in a time of 22:30.

Exit stage left and a quick costume change . . . and off I dashed with minutes to spare to the University of Essex, and the Today’s Runner cross-country league race. This also went swimmingly, although XC never requires watches anyway!

With birthday and Christmas coming up I was in no hurry to buy a new watch by this point, and went ‘naked’ again the following week for the toughest task of all - the undulating 10-miler put on annually by Hadleigh Hares. It’s not one to be messed with, and definitely not a PB course. 

Nevertheless, the ‘no watch’ trick had one more surprise in store for me. It got me home in 58:30, a 10-mile time that in 2019 remains my second-best of all time.

Hadleigh concluded a great month but I didn’t want to push my luck  . . . so returned to wearing a fully-functioning timepiece at all subsequent races. And in the 30 years since, I’ve never managed to kick the habit.

Tempus fugit!

* The annual Hadleigh (Suffolk) 10-miler - November 2019 style (Pic by Katrina Rigby)