A great long run

Last night I had a great 50km barefoot run around the suburbs of Sydney, it’s the first time I’ve run that distance and I’m really happy about pushing beyond 42k. At the moment I’m working towards running an 88k fun run later this year so have been gradually running longer distances over the last two months.

Lately I’ve been really working on simplifying my technique so as to develop a sustainable form appropriate for very long distances. At the moment the focus has been on making sure that my feet are always really low to the ground and land underneath my body (not ahead). I’ve also been working on loosening my shoulders and upper arms more. When things are loose upstairs it feels like the shoulders and arms can move back and forth slightly, like small pendulums, which seems to help a lot. As mentioned in an earlier post, tension in drumming is a huge problem for drummers at any age or stage, and running seems to be no different.

This was also the first late night barefoot run I’ve done and I loved it! With the feet that low to the ground you can land on pretty much anything and there is no impact at all. Sometimes it feels like the feet are sponges landing softly around the contours of the ground.

Another aspect I loved about yesterdays run was sinking into a kind of empty(ish) meditative mindset for five hours (5:20 to be exact ha ha). Over the last few months I’ve been running without any preplanned distance, time, or speed, just running for two or three hours at a time and enjoying that state of mind that comes when you run without preset expectations of any sort. Even though the last twenty minutes of the 50k was intense, it was still a hugely enjoyable (and pain free) experience.

If anyone’s interested in going for long barefoot runs around Sydney, please get in touch…here’s a map of yesterdays run, basically 7 bridges with extra kilometers added at either end.

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Wroclaw

Have spent the last few days in Wroclaw, performing at Jazztopad. Such a beautiful place to run!!

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Busan

Recently I worked in Busan, South Korea. The art space I was based in is right near Eomgwangsan, one of several mountains within Busan city. This is the first time that I’ve been on a tour where I was based in one place for a few weeks, and was working mainly in the late afternoons/early evenings (as opposed to gigging each night). The regular routine was so nice, and I had an opportunity to run almost every day so tried to stick to a regular 2:30 run around Eomgwangsan most days.

There are numerous roads around Eomgwangsan, I found a great course which followed bitumen streets around most of the mountain, and then I’d take trails for the final 3rd. If you’re into barefoot, these ridge roads around the mountains are lovely….lots of quiet streets, through interesting communities with very little traffic. If you follow the streets on the higher ridges you pass numerous Buddhist temples and can hear a range of chant styles as you pass by.
Here’s some pics..
This is a very comfy looking chair which has been placed near the peak of Eomgwangsan. Each day I would arrive at this spot after about 2 hours running and would look at the chair knowing that if I sat down and enjoyed the view it would be a very peaceful experience. But I was also really enjoying hitting that point and continuing running as the next part of the run is a very smooth trail down the mountain. I really enjoyed that moment each day when I would get to the chair and think “if I sit on that chair I will feel great” and then continue running, but always feeling great anyway. On one of the runs past this point I made the terrible mistake of slipping into high levels of self gratulation and promptly stubbed my toe as always happens when that kind of feeling comes  (see below for further stubbed toes due to delusional self congratulation).

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Doing the daily 25k runs was a great opportunity to further simplify form so that I could run each day without any impact on the body. I haven’t really had any injuries since really getting into this way of running but had still been wary of daily +20k runs. Having this routine was fantastic as a means of working more on a sustainable, simple, and relaxed form…..would love to do it again!

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Sydney Marathon

This weekend was the first marathon I’ve run in Sydney (ran Canberra earlier this year) and it was so much fun. The roads here are perfect for long distance barefoot and running across the Harbour bridge and Cahill Expressway is such a great way to start. I finished up at 3:56 and was very happy (like I said at the beginning of this blog, I’m a very enthusiastic yet mediocre long distance runner). As mentioned in an earlier post, the Canberra Marathon was a great experience but the roads there are un-sealed, so most of the run is pretty much gravel which gets very tiring for barefoot running. The Sydney marathon is nice textured bitumen almost the whole way so there are no problems for barefooters interested in participating.

 

On this run I really noticed how much a strong sense of core comes in to play in the final stages of the run. At about 35k, I hit a little bit of a wall but once I let myself really sink into my core, and relax the upper body, everything came back into a groove and the final 4k felt really nice.

 

Over the last few months I’ve had the opportunity to do a fair bit of mountain running in Korea, firstly at Jirisan national park, and later in Gwangju. Jirisan is a spectacular section of the Seobaek mountain range in central South Korea. For a very reasonable price you can rent a simple room, just an empty space where you sleep on the floor, and from there can run through the mountains either on bitumen road or trail. The roads are textured bitumen and on weekdays there are very few cars so it’s a very pleasurable experience for barefoot runners. At Jirisan there are lots of steep winding hills with spectacular views….
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During a recent tour to Gwangju World Music Festival I had a chance to do some running at Mudeungsan Park, which is a large national park on the edge of Gwangju. For barefoot this place is really special as the roads are a similar worn, textured bitumen with lots of winding valley routes. Along the way to Mudeungsan (san=mountain) you pass several Buddhist temples, and travel through some lovely little townships. It’s very peaceful and running through that landscape is a meditative experience. On one of the runs I stopped in at Wonhosa (sa=Buddhist temple) as well as a smaller temple at the foot of Wonhosa. In the rocks behind the smaller temple the monks have carved numerous Buddhist images…here’s some pics from a run to Wonhosa

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Running to Buddhist temples in mountainous areas of Korea and Japan is always a great experience as, in many cases, you usually have a long run to get there from the nearest town (unless you drive close by, but you know what I mean) and, in many cases, a very steep hill leading up to the temple. I love the sound of dokyong (Korean Buddhist chant) especially when there are several monks in different areas of the temple chanting at once. You end up with these fantastic phase rhythms between all the mokta and chant melodies which creates a mesmerizing, panoramic sound.

 

I think all the barefoot mountain running has helped a lot with marathon length distances as those long, steep, up-hill runs really force you to sink deep into the core and not hunch forward (which in my case can lead to clump clump stomping). This recent marathon was the most enjoyable run I’ve had for that distance and perhaps all the hill running has helped develop form for that last 6k.

Bridges

If you’ve been reading this blog a bit you might be thinking “enough about giant salamanders and hilltop views! Lets talk about bare feet, soles of feet….surfaces!”. But just in case anyone really liked the giant salamander pic…here’s another..

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Since arriving home a couple of weeks ago I’ve been really missing the mountain runs so have been trying some nice urban routes which have lots of hills. Yesterday I ran the 7 bridges loop in Sydney, its a 23k loop with lots of hills which, as the name suggests, takes you across seven bridges along the way.

Image If you’re into barefoot (or not) this is a great run as most of the surfaces are bitumen or footpath and there are plenty of bike/pedestrian paths along the highway sections. If you’re visiting Sydney this is an awesome run….here are some pics of or from each bridge along the way

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As mentioned in an earlier post, part of the joy of barefoot running is the sensory input from all the different surfaces you get to run on during an urban run. A common response to the idea of barefoot running is that one should only run on grass. Before I started I assumed that as well and never imagined doing long urban runs without shoes. The funny thing is that sometimes after running on bitumen for a while a grass run can be hard work as there is no bounce or “give” in the surface.

For me, old bitumen is the best as it feels so great to run on. Bitumen has a lot of give, and your feet can curl around any contours in the surface. The older bitumen that’s worn and funky with lots of little bumps and cracks is fantastic…an extremely pleasurable experience to run on.

Pretty much any urban surface is great to run on except one…

This stuff!…this stuff!…I hate this stuff! I’m not sure what this pebble mix weirdness is called but its no fun to run on. This is the hardest surface known to man. Well that’s not true of course but it feels like it when you run barefoot on it. No give, no bounce…nothin!

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Lately I’ve been really working on relaxing my whole torso when I’m running. When I first started running I would sometimes get tense arms or shoulders while on long runs but I’ve found that really working on keeping keeping things loose and buoyant throughout the torso, arms, and shoulders changes everything. I used to worry about doing long runs just before a gig but now it feels like the best way to get loosened up before playing.

I had a lovely run in Melbourne with Tinky this week. He’s a regular barefoot runner and I learnt so much about form and loosening up whilst running with him. We ran along the Capital City Trail which is a fantastic path. One of the great aspects of running is traveling from one place to another (and back again) whilst letting thoughts flow with no particular focus. Its such a solitary practice. Even though I love this side of it all, its wonderful to get a chance to run with friends and get out of that inward mindset.

Here’s a map of the 7 bridges run for anyone visiting Sydney…

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Also if you’re into music, my little label has just has a website upgrade….

http://www.kimnara.com.au/

“If I was you I’d do something about those”

Back in Sydney! This is the Bay Run (you have to admit, Sydney is a beautiful place!), it’s a 7k loop around the bay at Drummoyne which has a really nice nice bitumen path most of the way around, and at about 5pm the breeze begins to blow in and it’s glorious. I try to do 10 laps each week across three or four runs, sometimes more, sometime less. For many people I’ve met, running in a loop can be tedious but I love it. The repetition allows for immersion into working on form and technique and following the flow of random thoughts….a meditative experience that I really enjoy, especially if I’m commuting a lot. I just ran a quick 7k to blow off the flight home…felt great!

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 I also love seeing the other regular runners,  all on our own little journeys with this common activity. As with any good running spot, there is a huge variety of runners with varying degrees of experience. I try to learn from all the runners around me, listening to their breathing and how hard their feet hit the ground. If I see an approach that looks strong, I try to mimic an aspect of the form that I haven’t tried before….thus exploring new approaches to posture, upper body form, the angle the head sits at, ect… There are runners that pass by up to 10 times in a single run, we cross each other’s paths twice a lap…we never stop to speak but the acknowledgments seem to become more intense as the run gets longer. By the late stages of a 35k run we are spurring each other on with little smiles and nods of encouragement.

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I was inspired to start running by a sound engineer friend who I work with in a group that has toured a lot over the last 15 years. He would wake up after a late night and go for long runs (we now do lots of fun runs together). I had finally quit smoking a few years before, having smoked for 20 years, and was starting to feel a strange new feeling when my friend went for runs like…”yeah…I can do that”. My first few runs were hilarious spectacles; a gasping, chicken legged, jazz musician trying to get from one end of the street to the other. After seeing me in shorts (a new thing for me at that time), a great friend looked at my legs and said “if I was you I’d have done something about those”.

A challenge for me when I started to run was breathing…or to be more exact, running without gasping for breath. I have a dear friend who is also a barefoot runner (and an incredible trumpet player), who introduced me to a cool breathing exercise which is to breathe in for 4 counts (1 step = 1 count), hold your breathe for 4 counts, exhale for 4 counts, and hold for 4 counts…and of course, keep doing it for the whole run. For the first two years I ran with this breathing routine and it really helped me develop aerobic strength. After a year or so I upped it to higher breath lengths.

That was about 6 years ago I guess and these days I like it when my breathing whilst running is still, as though I’m sitting down listening to music. One great aspect of barefoot running is how quiet you are as far as steps go. As mentioned in an earlier post, If I can hear my feet hitting the ground I try to slip deeper into my core and hit the ground more softly. The quietness of barefoot running allows you to really tune-in to how other runners breathe. Some are gasping and moaning, whilst others are calm and even. If a runner passes by with very still breathing, I try to calm mine even more to see how still I can become whilst maintaining my pace.

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As well as being a professional drummer (whatever that means these days..), and a very average runner, I’m an extremely frustrated shakuhachi player. Even though the instrument drives me nuts, I keep practicing (mostly in the car at night) for the joy of achieving tiny, and I mean tiny, incremental steps of development. If I’m practicing the shak a lot my breathing whilst running is very still and I feel that I can push myself harder while maintaining a calm breath cycle. I wonder if horn players who run feel that this aspect of it all was a strength that they were able to draw on from their first attempts at running?

When I started running I would listen to music at a certain tempo and stick to that with no exceptions. Looking back it seems funny that if my ipod stopped I would almost panic and franticly push buttons so that I could continue running. One time the battery died and for a few moments I could hear what was actually going on….my feet sounded like bass drums clumping on the ground and I was making a horrendous gasping sound when I inhaled. It was shocking to hear so much noise emanating from myself in the simple act of running.

Since taking up barefoot running just over a year ago, the thought of listening to music whilst running is out of the question. This came as surprise and something that I find really interesting. For me, and again, everyone is different, it seems that once I stopped wearing shoes the amount of sensory input was much greater, and the thought of adding music to all those sensations just never came up. I have lots of friends that have never listened to music during their runs but it wasn’t like that for me. Since starting to run barefoot, I really love listening to all the sounds around me, whilst honing in on breath, the lightness of step, and the texture of the surface I’m running on.

Hills

Went for one last run in Mino today before flying home, I’ll miss running through this incredible landscape.

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Caught a glimpse of some monkeys on the way down which was lovely….this is one place where I feel totally comfortable running around with no shoes whilst carrying a banana!

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Running here has been so much fun as you are either running up or down very steep hills. It took me a while to develop confidence running up steep hills barefoot as the achilles gets a real workout. When I first started, having worn running shoes for so long, I was surprised by how much more strength is needed in the achilles area when you run barefoot up big hills. For the first six months of barefoot running I kept mainly to fairly flat runs with a few hills here and there until I felt that my form was taking shape and that I had developed strength and technique. Obviously everyone approaches these things differently and I guess your development is shaped by the environments you run in. I may have been too cautious with the hills initially but now really look forward to steep mountain road runs.

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The Mino runs have been fantastic for hill work as it’s been pretty much a 1 1/2 – 2 hour winding mountain road (with lots of nice steep sections) up to the top and a much quicker run down. I’m still getting used to running down very steep hills…today I really went for it and was running fast but had to slow down after a while because I was laughing so much. It does seem that if you relax, open up the stride, and go with it down the big hills it’s much easier that holding back. If there are any barefoot runners out there who get a chance to read this I’d be interested in how you go with the steep down hill runs.

The view from the top was fantastic today!

View from the top

I’m hoping to do one of the mountain marathons here in Japan next year…