Friday, September 30, 2011

The Ghost Runner

John Tarrant running as a ghost with no race bib
My cousin Miles sent me a link to a story. It reminded me of Pre a little bit because of it's connection with the abuses of power of an amateur running organization. Just like Pre's experience, the AAA (Amateur Athletic Association) in 1950's Britain was organized by upper class folks who abused their power and inflicted ridiculous rules on lower class athletes. John Tarrant was a naturally talented runner who had a very hard life. At one point, he was paid a small amount of money for boxing and that ended up precluded him from competing as an amateur runner. As a protest, he would slip into the starting coral of an international field of elite runners, smoke them for 20 miles of a marathon and then disappear before anyone could catch him. Eventually, the AAA let him compete in Britain because of pressure from the public who referred to him as "the ghost". My understanding is that John was a great marathoner but was a record breaking ultra-runner. He was kept out of the Olympics because he was still barred from competing internationally for the rest of his life. It seems that he did run in some illegal black races in South Africa. 
It's inconceivable that power and vanity of an athletics organization would be allowed to destroy a person's life by shutting-down their talent and life's passion. Sadly, he clearly wasn't the only one it happened to. John died at 42 from stomach cancer. The AAA rules changed shortly after his death. His hometown are talking about erecting a monument in his honor. 

I love this old news reel clip of the 1968 London to Brighton race. Just a 52.5 mile run. Watch the clip here:
There is an autobiography that I believe John was encouraged to do by Chris Basher (a pacer for Roger Bannister) doesn't seem to be in print anymore. The only book I found was by Bill Jones available at Amazon. I think I'd like to give it a read even though I know it will make me very sad. Here's a link to Amazon:

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

A Nike Free Run that doesn't bend

My friend and colleague Paul pointed out to me the irony of what I am doing right now. I have a pair of Nike Free Runs. The reason I got them was for their lack of support and flexibility. Perfect as a transition to zero drop. In the mail today, I finally got my carbon fiber insole. I am meant to put it in my shoe under my regular insole. It stops the shoe from bending and thus protects the metatarsals from stress while they heal. So, the irony of it all! I am wearing a shoe that most people buy for flexibility and I have stuffed an inflexible object in it to prevent it from doing what it was invented to do. Funny - eh? OK, maybe you had to be there. Regardless, I am very excited about the prospect of pulling this hard insole out after 3 weeks and starting to walk then run. 

Puerto Rican bikers love runners

Photo by: Benedict J. Fernandez
My friend Kip was talking on DailyMile about running late at night in rough city neighborhoods. I have some experience of that. I often run late at night in my neighborhood which has it's scary moments. I have lived here for so long, I forget how much that I have tuned out. I told Kip about a memorable evening of running where what some would regard as a scary situation turned into something quite motivational. I live in the Humboldt Park neighborhood of Chicago. It has a lot of gang activity. The neighborhood is mixed but it is predominantly Puerto Rican. That is changing slowly. I was running down Division toward a bar that is a hang-out for Puerto Rican bikers. They were all over the sidewalk (which is pretty wide) with their bikes parked out front. I didn't want to look obviously chicken and run into the street, so I noticed a pocket between them and ran through it at a good clip. One biker who didn't see me coming said something as I ran through them which drew all of their attention to me. I wasn't expecting trouble because they were a bunch of grown men having drinks and minding their own business. What happened though was unexpected and made me smile. One of them shouted "You go man!" and then they all started chanting things like "Good for you man - you go!". As I ran, I gave them a fist in the air as a salute and I swear my pace significantly improved. That weird little interaction lifted my spirits. Now, every time I see them, I hope for a repeat. It hasn't happened since then. Most of the time, I am invisible to them - just some nut who runs. I mentioned in a previous post about a man I know that was shot while he was training. I'm not scared of my neighborhood or the people in the street. I'm just scared of random acts of cruel violence.
Metal Puerto Rican flag above Division St.

Uncle Rico-ish

I had a moment this morning that reminded me of how I started running which was almost a bit uncle Rico-ish. Since I have been wearing this boot for my stress fractures, I occasionally have fantasies when I am walking (more like hobbling) the dog. I see myself hauling ass down the street. I can feel the heart rate getting up there and the flood of endorphins washing away life's malaise. I know that sounds like a crock of crap but it's the same feeling that got me running as an adult. When I was a kid, I was fast. I think that I could have been a good sprinter. Unfortunately, asthma got in the way of all physical sports. I tried to run a few times but it was tough. The best I did was to complete an adventure race about 10 years ago but I walked a fine like with ODing on asthma meds and had some real issues breathing. One day, just over a year ago I had this desire to sprint. It felt real. It was like a worm-hole back to another time. The feeling was so strong that I ended up changing into workout gear that night and I ran for the first time in the freezing cold. I am not going to lie, those early runs were rough and I felt like a complete fool but I stuck with it and something miraculous happened. A combination of things (weight loss, diet and physical conditioning) tripped a switch and before I knew it, I could run with clear lungs. I am sure I don't have the lung capacity of most people but it's enough for me to explore running. Man, if only I could have made that breakthrough in my youth, I could have been a star :) Kidding - enjoy the clip.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Not exactly a technical shirt!

I know a man named Victor Krol. He is one of the investors in the school my kids go to. He is a super nice guy. Back in the day, he was a serious runner before someone decided to shoot him while he was training. He was unable to compete after that. There was a short piece on him in Chicago Athlete Magazine. The photo they used was hilarious. I believe he is wearing a DePaul shirt. The rips are a nice touch and I like how it shows the belly - a fashion statement that hasn't really returned yet. He is running the Boston Marathon back when it was still regarded as insane to do things like that. The reason I thought of Victor was because he opened the first New Balance store in Chicago. I need to ask him if he still has any contacts at New Balance who can get me into their wear test program. Worth a try!

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Pre did wear the swoosh!!

OK, I watched Without Limits, the story of Steve Prefontaine. It was awesome. A new favorite sports movie. A few more things that I did not know about the man...
  • His Oregon college coach Bill Bowerman was one of the co-founders of Nike - you may have heard of them. Bill made shoes for all of his runners. That made Pre, one of the original testers of Nike prototypes. That pretty darned cool. There's a part in the movie where Bill makes the swoosh for the first time but didn't get to wear it he died before he could compete in the Montreal Olympics. As you can see from the image below, that is not true - a nice dramatization though!
  • He was also one of the key people who drew attention to the unfair practices of the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU). After his death, the Amateur Sports Act of 1978 removed the organization's governance role.
OK, I'm going to swing this conversation back around from Nike to my old friends at New Balance. This new series of zero drop shoes are coming out in 2012 and I for one am excited. There were some videos up a while back and then New Balance pulled them. All of a sudden, there are new videos up from Running Warehouse on YouTube.

Here's the Minimus Trail (MT00) coming March 2012. See the video here

Here's the Minimus Road (MR00) coming March 2012. See the video here

Not sure about shocking pink but I do like the look of the MR00. I have been looking for a zero drop road shoe with enough padding to protect from the beating of distance and this could be it. I'd like to try the MT00's but I may like the MT110's better. I love my MT10's but I am not sure I'd like to run over very rough ground with them. The MT00's will be similar to the minimal padding of the MT10's. Pete Larson (RunBlogger) had a picture of the new MT110's. The pair he tested were not attractive but he loved them. Everyone has great things to say about them.

Runners World had a better picture but I'm not sure about the metallic look. I'd be interested to see what colors they end up coming in. I think they are due in February 2012? It could be the MR00 and MT110 for me if my wife doesn't kill me.

Hey New Balance! If anyone ever starts reading this blog and you notice me, can you hook me up? I really want to be a tester. Then, we can discuss sponsorship. Baby steps.

Steve Prefontaine who?

One of the great things about picking up an interest late in life is that you have so much to catch up on. Things that wouldn't seem special if you'd have picked them up as they happened become like hidden gems that you stumble upon. You also have no idea how many of these gems exist. It's all very exciting but sometimes the way you discover them makes you feel a bit uneducated.

Someone was talking to me about Steve Prefontaine the other day and they were disgusted that I didn't know who he was. Give me a break! I was only just born when he started hitting the scene. I didn't run in highschool or college because of my asthma, so I'm not a running history nut. I am Welsh, so we weren't exactly tuned into every American runner. Sorry. OK!

That was my excuse for not knowing him but I don't have that excuse anymore, so I decided to check out "Pre" for myself. After doing a wee bit of research on the Interwebs, a lot of what he seems to preach is running from the heart and then taking it down a level deeper and running with guts - basically giving it 110%. He claimed that he didn't mind losing as long as he forced the person who beat him to run with even more guts - gotta love that. Looks like it worked out for him. He seems to have held a crap-load of records for a bunch of distances. He looks like a fascinating chap and the mustache is sheer awesomeness. I love that he is partly acredited with influencing the 70's running boom - that's kick-ass! He has been called the James Dean of running. I am going to check out the movie about him called Without Limits. I'll report back.

I can't believe this man died so young. A terrible way to die and a terrible shame for the sport. RIP Pre!

Ignorance is bliss. One more gem stumbled upon! As soon as I know a bunch of stuff about Pre, I'm going to talk to someone else about him and chastise them for not knowing his story. Such is life :)

See all the running movies I have seen to date.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Screw you Runner's World!

So, while I am recovering, I am trying to educate myself about running. I am thinking that I can learn something about ramping back up after injury and maybe even avoiding overtraining injuries in future.

The first book I am reading is Jack Daniels' Running Formula (Second Edition). I am finding it super interesting. It's fun to read while pretending to be a legitimate contender. Like Jack gives a crap if I can get my times down to mediocre! The cover of the book isn't very inspiring. Dude is a hot sweaty mess. Don't let that fool you - Jack's got game.

The second book that I haven't looked at yet is Tim Noakes' Lore of Running (Fourth Edition). Runners World says it's a must "for the serious runner". I regard myself as serious kinda :) I suspect that Runner's World actually means  "for the accomplished runner" and I'm not sure that I am quite in that camp yet. Screw you Runner's World! I am going to read it anyway and you can't do a darned thing about it. Actually, the only thing that may stop me is the size of the thing. It's an intimidating 930 or so pages. 

The tester wannabe - That's me!

So, I took a step towards an "in" with New Balance. I applied to be a tester. I think my chances are zero right now but we'll approach it with a positive attitude and see what the future brings eh!

So, what's the obsession with New Balance I hear you say? Well, I'm not exactly loyal to them. I have other shoes and will probably share them here at some point. New Balance has always fit me like a glove. Maybe it's the lasts (the foot models they use to design) but it has always been the case. So, if I am going to become sponsored by a major player, it may as well be one who makes shoes I like to wear right?

Hand cut carbon fiber

It's interesting that I would start my first blog about my running experiences after missing a race and wearing a boot with 2 stress fractures in my 2nd and 3rd metatarsals. Maybe it's because you need to lose something before you truly appreciate what it means to you.

The orthopedic guy at Rush told me I could get out of this Stormtrooper-esque Aircast boot this weekend. I had to go to an orthodics guy and he was going to cut me a custom piece of carbon fiber to put in my shoe. I am pleased that the next 3 weeks will be spent limping in a shoe instead of a boot but I couldn't help thinking that it was excessive for the guy to hand cut carbon fiber. Couldn't he just have given me a size 9? Just checked the mail - still hasn't come.

My shit hot running career

So, there is a lot about about my running that is thoroughly unremarkable. I have shown some small capacity for running and that has been punctuated with injury. I have failed to run 2 half marathons to date. The first was right at the beginning when I had a whole lot of achilles issues. I transitioned over 4 months to minimal shoes. I was then injury free for a good 8 months until I overtrained and got 2 stress fractures in my metatarsals. That's the stuff of legends folks!

Having said that, here's what is interesting about my failed running career to date:
  • I lost 40lbs. It's probably more than that in fat if you consider the muscle I have gained in my legs. I had to buy some new clothes.
  • I'm off asthma medication. I have been off for about 4 months and this is the first time in my adult life.
  • I have collected $526 for charity so far. That doesn't include charitable donations made by signing up for races that I didn't run. I feel good about collecting money for other asthmatics.
  • I'm the fittest I have ever been. I couldn't do a lot of heavy cardio when I was a kid because of the asthma issues.
  • I am mostly vegan. The choice to do this was driven by family member needs but I have found it to be really compatible with running. In fact, the more I run, the more I want to eat this way.
That is a lot of change in one year my friends. A lot to be proud of too.
And just think. I haven't run a proper race yet!

Friday, September 23, 2011

New Balance Sponsorship Ideas

Jason Robillard (of Barefoot Running University) had an article about sponsorship. He made me realize that the day may come when I need to justify my request for sponsorship to New Balance with more than a hope and a dream. So, in order to ready myself for that day, as ideas come in posts or in other ways, I am going to update this post.

Idea #1 – Finding New Balance in New Zealand
An unremarkable man runs in remarkable places wearing New Balance shoes (of course). It would basically be a multi-episode experience in New Zealand that talks about the semi-religious experience of running. It would be beautifully and artistically shot. It would be truly emotional and uplifting. There would be jaw dropping runs that are run by me. A regular person. Moments like that should not be for elites. They should be accessible to everyone. How better to emphasize the "Love" component of "The New Balance?" Think Runners World Rave Runs with more beauty, more context, more heart, more inspiration and more personal relevance for the viewer. We could even do a partnership with the New Zealand Tourism Board. They have a lot of passion selling their country.

Idea #2 – Tilting the balance to love
I will never win a race but I will run with heart as much as I can. In an effort to find my inner runner, I go on a quest to meet the World's most spirit filled elite runners. Instead of coaching me technique and form, they talk to me about how much they love to run and how they are fulfilled by the experience. The motivation that comes from these insights is great for me but great for the viewer. Again, it's insight and inspiration that all runners can benefit from. This would be shot in a more documentary style although there could be some more artistically shot sequences. It would be a shame to talk to an elite and not see them in action, especially if it is a place that is close to their heart and amplifies their running experience. Maybe they'd let me run along.

Idea #3 – Coming soon. I feel one brewing for Minimus.

My Shoe Fetish

Here are all the shoes I have gone through since I took up running seriously. Obviously, there have been many more shoes over the years.

Adidas Adipure Gazelle - Status: Road Running Shoe
These were given to me by Adidas ahead of launch. It's a transitional shoe but I am looking at it as a good middle distance shoe. This shoe is due for release Aug 2012.

Adidas Adipure Motion - Status: Everyday Shoe
This shoe has a little too much drop for me, so I have been using it strictly as a fashion shoe. This shoe is due for release Aug 2012.

New Balance Minimus Road (MR00's) - Status: Road Running Shoe
These are super light and minimal. I have been enjoying them. We'll see how I do with longer distances in these. They have certainly forced me more to mid-foot. My running has been getting sloppy with the Kinvara's.

Saucony Kinvara I - Status: Long Distance Road Running Shoe
I purchased these to have a shoe that could give me plenty of padding for longer distances, especially after I got two stress fractures and needed to take care in the recovery phase. The padding is a little much and if I do well with minimal, I may retire these to become my workout shoes.

New Balance Minimus Road (MR10's) - Status: Retired. Everyday Shoe
This is a solid shoe. It isn't as easy to wear without socks as the MT10's but it's a nice light shoe. I used it to recover when I had metatarsal stress fractures. It's too firm for my liking, so I retired it as an everyday shoe.

New Balance Minimus Trail (MT10's) - Status: Trail Running Shoe
I love these shoes. They are such an awesome looking shoe. For a while, I used them for all my road running. I had an issue with the tight band that runs across the front of them. I liked them so much, I pulled them out of retirement and cut the straps and they are still my trail running shoe.

Terra Plana Evo's - Status: Retired. Fashion Shoe
I was really disappointed that these did not work out for me. They are such a cool shoe. They are made from a recycled plastic material. Unfortunately, they bend right at the base of my big toe nail making me bleed on longer runs. I wish I had the mesh versions. They are now my fashion shoes. When I wear them, everyone asks me about them. They are super sexy.

Vibram 5 Fingers Bikila LS' - Status: Retired. Workout Shoe
I used these shoes on shorter distances to teach myself mid-foot strike. It was hard to get there but I finally re-trained myself. Not really a running shoe for me. I now use them at the gym for balance work but don't find forcing my toes into them particularly natural or comfortable.

Nike Free Run + - Status: Retired. Everyday/Recovery Shoe
I used these shoes to transition to more minimal shoes. I found them to be a little too spongy for running but my goodness are they a comfortable shoe to walk around in. They make a great recovery shoe. I wish there was a zero drop version.

Adidas Adizero XT Trail - Status: Retired and Donated.
I used these lightweight trail shoes my first winter. They were great when I started. I found them to be a tad narrow in the toe box. I have a wide foot. I retired them because I was having achilles issues and wanted to see if more minimal running could help.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

What's all this New Balance about?

On the surface, it seems like this blog is all about my pursuit of New Balance for sponsorship. You may get that impression from a few things:
  • The name of the site. Clearly I am pleading for sponsorship.
  • My logo. A humorous homage to New Balance's logo.
  • My balance. Again, a homage of New Balance's Love/Hate that I have turned into Sponsor/Fool.
  • My description that talks about wanting New Balance to sponsor a real person (namely me).
  • Posts that talk about my progress in getting New Balance to notice me, etc.

New Balance sponsorship is a fun, recurring theme but it is not my purpose for having this blog. The real reason I started it was because I began running seriously in November 2010. I had been having issues with my asthma and was in the hospital at least twice a year. I also hit 200 lbs and that is the heaviest I have been in my life. The weight made my asthma worse of course. I looked terrible, felt terrible and was starting to have a sinking feeling that I would not have a long and healthy life with my wife and 3 kids. One night in November, I took off running. I am not sure why. Asthma had prevented me from enjoying it in the past. Whatever the reason, I stuck with it and discovered that I could actually do it. In addition to running, I changed my diet completely. I am from Wales originally and grew up on heavy dairy and red meat. My daughter has a rare blood disease and my son can't tolerate dairy. We started eating mostly a plant based diet (except for fish) to help them. I found that it benefitted me greatly too. That's hard to say for a man that loves hot dogs. I am proud to say that because of running and diet, I have transformed myself in the following ways:

  • I have lost 40 lbs
  • I am off asthma medication for the first time in my adult life
  • I can run without inducing asthma. In fact, I have no asthma symptoms at all.
  • I feel great and have plenty of energy
  • I look 10 years younger
  • I feel a deep connection to the experience of running. I never thought I would love running.
So, what is my motivation for this site? I think it is pretty simple. I want to keep motivating myself to run, learn about running and have some fun in the process. I'm pretty honest about the fact that I know very little about running and that is actually quite liberating. My posts are not focused on New Balance, they are all sorts of things... a humorous running fashion, my thoughts on an old "made for TV" running movie or a personal introspective moment, etc.

It would be great if New Balance recognized what a real and imperfect person can bring to running through their brand. Inspiration doesn't just come from elite runners. There are those of us who do not get up every day with the luxury of devoting ourselves to running. We overcome family life, work life and all the stresses that come with those things to do something we love. We are inspirational. It's not shoes that create a new balance, it's people. We overcome life's barriers to love the experience of running. If New Balance ever wanted to sponsor me in some way, I would want to make it about inspiring others in some way–not just about me getting free stuff.

If you have any questions or thoughts on how I can make this more interesting or more entertaining, feel free to contact at

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