French Bloke Runs

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Tag: Running Form

Test: Vivo Barefoot Primus

On my way towards barefoot running, I’m willing to try a lot of different kinds of minimalistic shoes. My latest finding is the Primus, by UK company Vivobarefoot. I’ve immediately been seduced by the looks of this shoe but also because the company says it ‘lets your feet do their thing’ and because I had a 30% discount thanks to Running Heroes, which brought the price to a mere 60-odd quid instead of the hefty £90 announced on the online store.

Vivobarefoot Primus

Vivobarefoot Primus (all rights reserved)

When I unboxed the shoes, I was pretty excited: they really look awesome and they are very VERY light and flexible. I immediately tried them on and they felt really comfortable. They have a really wide toe box and that’s really good for my boat-sized feet. They come with a big warning saying “Don’t run with our shoes” then explaining that if you want to run with these shoes you have to know what you’re doing and make sure that you use proper mid-foot strike form. I think it’s a good thing that they put this warning on because if you heel strike with these shoes, you’re on for a proper knee destroying party.

After 100 km of running with them, they’re still the most comfortable I’ve owned but like most other shoes I’ve worn, they start showing traces of wear and tear on the sides (see the photos of my Altra and my Merrell after a few hundred Ks). I have a very thick instep and this just kills all my shoes, these ones are no exception and I’m sure they’ll crack pretty soon. I’m still looking for shoes resistant enough for my monster feet.

Another thing that annoys me with these shoes is how bad are their laces: they’re so slippery that they often untie by themselves and they’re just too short to allow for a double knot.

Finally, if you buy them to feel like you’re really running barefoot you’ll be disappointed. Of course, the ground feeling is much better than with cushioned shoes (these ones simply have no cushioning at all) and you feel every stone you run on, but the sole is too rigid for my taste and it’s nowhere close to actually running barefoot or even running with the FYF. But no worries, I still have another bunch of minimal shoes to try, like some Vibram FiveFingers or the Soft Star RunAmoc, so my quest for the perfect shoe is not over. To be continued…

Test: Free Your Feet (FYF)

On my path towards barefoot running, I think I have found the most minimalistic footwear one can imagine. It started as a Kickstarter campaign last year and I felt immediately attracted to those. I had read Born to Run not long before and I had ran completely barefoot a couple of times and loved it. I could only be seduced by the promise of the closest feeling to actual barefoot running ever (even better than Vibram’ FiveFingers) with the added safety and peace of mind of running with shoes.

Free your feet (FYF)

Free your feet (FYF) by the Swiss Barefoot Company

The FYF are some kind of super socks made of an extraordinarily strong fibre called Dyneema®. The Swiss Barefoot Company claims it is 15 times stronger than steel and I’m inclined to believe them. These super-socks are cut resistant (so no fear of glass shards), super resistant to stretching and they have some kind of grippy material under the sole. Unfortunately they are not really abrasion resistant (more on that later) and they are not puncture resistant (a stingy nail or a sea-urchin could still hurt you). Like the Vibram FiveFingers, they have 5 fingers allowing your feet and toes to fit snugly in them.

So even though they are not specifically for running, I backed the project. Despite the fact that the maker recommends the full size FYF, I couldn’t bring myself to buy those and become a live Swiss Flag so I bought the low-cut FYF. A good thing is that they promise other designs in the future, but I guess they have to fulfil their Kickstarter orders first, as well as the pre-orders they have received since, which could take a while considering they’re already 2 months behind their schedule (I was supposed to receive my pair in February but I only received it in April).

The day I received my FYF, I was so excited that I tried them on immediately. I ignored the recommendation against using them on the road and went off running. My first impression was that the feeling is great, very close to actual barefoot running, much better than any pair of shoes I had ever tried before, including all my minimalistic Merrell Road Gloves.

Freeing my feet with FYF

Freeing my feet with FYF

Of course I started running short distances to get used to them, as barefoot running uses slightly different muscles than running with shoes, even when running with the proper technique, but very quickly I could run up to 6 kilometres at an easy pace without any issue.

OK, I may be overly enthusiastic with these and there are some negative aspects to the FYF:

  • They are socks, so it’s not great running in them when the ground is wet (I actually hate the feeling of wearing wet socks)
  • They are not resistant to abrasion and the Swiss Barefoot Company is right: you should not use them on the road. My pair started having tiny holes after only 30 km. This is a lot compared to normal socks (which would probably be ruined after 500m) but some people have been using them for hundreds of kilometres on natural surfaces

Overall, I’m quite satisfied with them, even though I can’t use them on the roads (which accounts for most of my running), but once they have new designs, I’ll definitely buy a pair for trails or simply to run in parks.

Track session

Last Friday, Lanky Pole texted me something along the lines of ‘Get your arse to Mile End Park Stadium’s  track tomorrow at 11am’. Okay it might not have been that commanding, but I felt compelled to answer by ‘Sure’! So on Saturday, there I was on a track field for the first time of my life, well at least it was the first time that I paid for it and that I went there to actually run.

Running track

Running track – Photo by Dean Hochman

We started to warm-up and I must admit that I really liked the bounciness of the ground, it’s really comfortable to run on. Also, it made easier the warm-up session that Lanky Pole had in mind: after the usual 10 minutes of easy run, we did lengths of high knees, high heels, sidesteps, shuffling, skipping and other silly styles of running. Then we did speed work, each length focusing on a different aspect of the running form and exaggerating it: knees forward, arms moving, etc…

So just after this tough warm-up, I was already knackered. Each of us went to our own training, we both had different kinds of intervals. I had 4×5 minutes intervals at 10k pace, which was quite depressing because my 10k pace is approximately his recovery pace. Also, despite the great comfort of the track, I found running in circles quite boring, which was worsened by the fact that my HR monitor didn’t detect my heart rate, constantly vibrating to tell me to run faster.

I kept my mind busy and observed the people who go to the tracks on a Saturday morning: there was a couple of people training for long jumps, a woman practising the hurdles, a dude in a wheelchair with his biceps bigger than my thighs, a small group of children practising with an instructor, and 2 or 3 guys who were running reeeeeeeally fast.

We did a few more laps to cool down and went on the grass to stretch. Man, after a tough session like this, that felt really good! And Lanky Pole always finds new ways of stretching muscles you didn’t even know you had. In any case, it’s really nice to train with someone when you’re used to run alone, it keeps you motivated.

After that, a conversation started between us and one of the reeeeeeeally fast guys. It turns out this guy was training to qualify for the Olympics on the 800m. We originally thought he was Canadian but it turns out that he was Namibian and I found out later that despite his humility, if he manages to qualify for the Olympics, it means that he will have broken his country’s record! The qualifying time is 1 minute and 46 seconds and the current Namibian record is 1:46:62. I have to admit I was impressed. OK, Namibia isn’t a big country in running (except for Frankie Frederiks 20 years ago) but still! He’s originally a 400m runner with a PB in the low 46 seconds, which isn’t too far from his country’s record (46:14). Impressed again.

Even more impressive was his training: that morning he had to run 10 times 400m under 58 seconds and then 10 times 150m under 20 seconds. That’s just insane, but he said he had prepared himself mentally for the whole week. He also said he doesn’t eat meat, which is apparently bad for recovery (Christopher McDougall draws the same conclusion in his last book ‘Natural Born Heroes‘, next on my reading list). This guy clearly has to right mindset to go to Rio this summer and I hope he makes it. Just qualifying to get there is an immense dream and I wish him all the best. Of course, after meeting him, Lanky Pole and I could only speak of this inspiring guy.

A playlist to run fast and well

A while ago, I recommended that you change your running form. A good way of improving your running form is to try and have a faster cadence. If you run between 180 and 200 steps per minute, this will naturally force you to shorten your stride and to land on the middle of the foot rather than on the heel. And that’s already half the job done.

Listening to music at the right tempo will help you doing just that. Spotify used to have a bunch of playlists for running at a desired cadence but the maximum was 170 spm. Now the app detects the tempo to adapt the music to your running, but that doesn’t really help forcing your running to a new cadence.

So, I have the solution for you! I have created a playlist of 100 songs between 190 and 200 bpm, sometimes 95 to 100 bpm but you know how multiply by 2 don’t you? There is a lot of British and American music of course, but there’s also some French music (how surprising) that you’re allowed to skip, as well as music from Argentina, Serbia, Italy, Iceland, Sweden, Algeria, Spain, Ireland and I’m probably missing a few countries.

Some of it is weird, cheesy or noisy, but don’t worry, this is mostly decent music (and a few shit songs because I wanted to reach exactly 100). Anyway, this is not a playlist for listening idly in your couch, it’s a playlist for running, so listen in shuffle mode and enjoy!

Here are the links to:


Headphones – Photo by Javierosh

Of the usefulness of the skill of running

If you’ve read Born to run, you know that in the distant past, running was probably the most useful skill available to us (if you haven’t read it yet, read it now). Actually, it was essential for survival: on a daily basis, you needed to be able to run away to the nearest tree in case you were chased by a lion, and since you hadn’t invented weapons yet, the only hunting technique was to run after an antelope until it died of exhaustion. True story! The silly animals can run fast yet they can’t run for long since they have to stop to pant and cool down. But us clever bipeds, can go on for hours: running on two legs allows us to control our breathing and to desync it from our stride if needed, and we can also sweat, which is a stinky but efficient way to cool down our body.

Somewhere around the bronze age, we’ve invented the spear and the bazooka which made hunting much easier. We’ve invented dynamite for efficient and ethical fishing. And because we’re lazy but cunning bastards, we’ve even convinced our food to stay put in our fields and wait to be turned into tasty burgers. So nowadays, running seems pretty useless at first glance. But I want to argue that it is actually useful in the 21st century.

Let’s take bus hunting for example. That’s an activity Londoners often engage in after a night of boozing outside of zone 1. On a Friday not so long ago, I found myself precisely in that situation. Having duly honoured the production of a delightful micro-brewery in Walthamstow, I embarked on the journey home. Citymapper informed me that the next bus was arriving in 5 minutes and the following one in 45 minutes. If I didn’t want to freeze to death for 40 minutes, I had to catch the first one, even though the bus stop was 9 minutes away walking. So I jogged away at an easy pace, with a gentle mid-foot strike (heel striking would have been impossible with my dress shoes) and I arrived just in time to catch the bus, not even out of breath in the slightest. Come to think of it, I have to run a beer mile one day…

Beer - Photo by Quinn Dombrowski

Beer – Photo by Quinn Dombrowski

Avoiding to spend 40 minutes in the cold waiting for the bus should be a pretty good argument for the usefulness of the skill of running, but you don’t seem convinced. How about better sex? Ah ah, I knew I would get your attention with that one! I’m telling you, the ability to shag without being out of breath after 5 minutes is appreciable and appreciated. And I’m not the only one to say that runners are better in bed.

Now I can tell you’re convinced: running is a useful skill! And as a bonus, I believe that marathon-finishers deserve bragging rights for life. I’m working on it and by the end of next year, I should be able to bore you to death with all my bragging. In the meantime, any takers on my offer for a beer mile in my friendly company?

How to run: the proper technique

By now, you probably know that I used to hate running and you must be wondering what made me change my mind. One important thing was to run at an easy pace rather than training hard all the time (more about that in a future post) but the main thing thing was to change my running technique. Of course, Lanky Pole was the one who gave me some really good advice:

  • Shorter strides are more efficient and put less strain on your body at each step, as a result you should have a faster cadence: ideally around 180 / 200 steps per minute (it’s easy: count 3 steps per second). But your speed should stay the same, and even improve on the long term.
  • Landing on the middle of your foot rather than your heel. Your foot must touch the ground under your knee, not in front of it for f…’s sake! Imagine that your knee pulls the rest of your leg, then it will come naturally (and so will the shorter strides). This will:
    • improve your efficiency by increasing your “bounciness” and set you ready for the next step rather than putting the brakes with you heel at each step.
    • greatly reduce the risk of injury by sharing the impact between your entire foot, your Achilles tendon, your calf (which is flexible and can be strengthened) and the rest of you leg, rather than putting all the strain on your heel and knee, which are bones and cannot be trained or strengthened.
  • Have a good posture:
    • keeping a straight back will allow you to stabilise your centre of gravity and improve your balance.
    • keeping your arms relaxed at a 90° angle will minimise the amount of energy they’re using, so you can have this energy available for your legs.


Bad/Good running forms

Bad running form / Good running form
Photos by Funk Dooby

Mr. Blue runs with long inefficient strides. Mr. Orange runs with short efficient strides.
Mr. Blue’s foot strikes the ground ahead of his knee, putting the brakes at each stride and risking injury. Mr. Orange foot strikes the ground under his knee so he’s already in position for the next stride and reduces risks of injury.
Mr. Blue strikes the ground with his heels: the impact will propagate straight to his knees through his bones and he’ll hurt them sooner or later. Mr. Orange strikes the ground with the middle of the foot: the impact will be absorbed by his foot, his Achilles tendon and his calf. All of which are “bouncy” and can be strengthened.
Mr. Blue swings his whole body from left to right, spends a lot of energy doing that and loses his balance at every stride. Mr. Orange stays straight, probably oscillates very little, and keeps his energy for the actual running.


I was a bit puzzled but I went with it anyway. Then, Quiet Roman showed me a video and all of a sudden, it all made sense. So here’s the magic video:

If you do all this and buy a good pair of shoes, you should improve your running efficiency, reduce your risks of injury and have much more fun! What is the catch? Well, striking the ground mid-foot will require more elasticity from your Achilles tendons and more strength in your calves, so you should expect a couple of months of pain there. All you have to do is to be careful and  patient during the transition, start running short distances at first (no more than 1 or 2 km, even if you’re already fit for way more) and increase the distance each week. It’s worth it, I promise.

Why I run

I have never really been a couch potato but I’ve never been the greatest sportsman either. Since I was a young lad, I have thoroughly hated football (and I still do to this day), fencing and judo didn’t agree with me either. I’ve enjoyed rugby union for a while, but the sports I really liked were skiing, snowboarding, roller-blading and climbing, most of which I still practise today. But running? Hell no! I have done it on and off for years to try and stay fit but I hated it almost as much as football, although I’ve always been fascinated by marathon and ultra runners (but that’s another story).

I have never really been a couch potato but since I arrived in London 4 years ago, I succumbed to British real ales and burgers and they made me chubby. Bastards.
So I started to say things like “I’m fat” fishing for compliments and replies like “Don’t worry, you’re not”. But Lanky Pole was brutally honest with me and told me “Yes you are”. Bastard.
I’m sure he had planned everything from the beginning: spending three years getting wasted on beer together twice a week, finishing the nights eating greasy fried chicken to get me fat, then convince me that the solution to my ‘comfortable’ body was to run. Bastard.
Then we spent an hour in Greenwich Park so he could show me a good running form, unfold a stretching routine and tell me to ask the Quiet Roman to help me choose a good pair of shoes. The Quiet Roman advised for a pair of Altra and innocently recommended me to read Born To Run by Christophe McDougall. Bastards.
I got hooked by the damn book. I began to appreciate the feeling and the lightness of the mid-foot strike. I understood that what I hated in running was sounding and feeling like an elephant at each step. I loved the elegance of this running form, and I stopped hating running. Bastards.
It took me several weeks to change this absence of hatred into active love. Now I hope I’ll never stop.

I have never really been a couch potato and I don’t want to become one. That’s why I began running, but it’s not the reason I’m still doing it. I run because I love the feeling of freedom, I love that I feel my body, my muscles and my feet, I love the ‘high’ it gives me for the rest of the day. I also have to admit that I secretly love pushing my boundaries and the electric atmosphere of a race. Thank you Bastards!

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