It’s a cool sunny afternoon in West Sussex.  I am heading down Rusper Road in Horsham, 12 miles or so into a long run. Today I am aiming for an 18 miler as I have my first ever marathon coming up in April in Brighton.

As I run down this road, I start to notice a discomfort developing in my left knee, I think nothing of it at the time and keep up my pace and enjoy the fresh country air. A few minutes pass, again I am aware of this persistent discomfort that now has become rather painful.
Brighton Marathon 2010: My first marathon
I slow down somewhat and hope it is nothing.  Clearly I am mistaken, it is something alright!  As I pick up my speed again I feel a sudden pain on my knee cap, which makes me jump in shock and it causes me to almost trip over.  I yelp with the pain, limp to a walk and then eventually stop.  

I do some stretches and feel the area in the hope that it was a one off.  I go from a walk to a trot, but this is a big mistake!  Again the pain has stopped me in my tracks and it feels so sore that even walking is excruciating at this stage.  I stop and sit at the kerb for a moment to rub the knee cap and take a look.

Ouch! It hurts even to touch and the area feels swollen.  I look at my Garmin watch for the time and see that I've reached 13 miles so far, but am aware home is at least another three from where I am sitting. Oh crap!

I try to think of a local friend or family member that may be able to come and fetch me.  It's a weekday afternoon, everyone I can think of is working and there is no answer from my dad and mum is working until 6pm. Double crap!

I eventually get up and walk with a bad limp back the way I came. After five minutes I decide to see if I can trot or jog.  It's just as painful, if not more so, than the last attempt.  I stop to walk again, limping like one leg is shorter than the other.  I feel so helpless and stupid at the same time.

I don't understand what is happening.  I've never experienced this type of pain until now.  I have good comfortable shoes, I have been gradually adding miles each week, but nothing too excessive.  I make it home eventually; limping, walking and shuffling, but with a lot of pain in the process.

March 2010
After a few weeks of resting the knee, ibuprofen, strengthening exercises and research on the internet, I discover that I need to use the RICE technique (Rest Ice Compression Elevation) for up to six weeks! This had to be the most deflating, depressing, bad news ever.

Lots of gym sessions, swimming and walking later, I start my mileage off slowly and build up gradually, up to a max of 13 miles.  I have the Hastings Half Marathon coming up, which is my first ever race attempt and would like to finish injury free. I've read it is better to be under trained and well at the start than over trained and injured.

My first race went very well and was an amazing experience. The nerves soon went after the start and I loved the whole running atmosphere with so many others sharing the pain, joy and whole togetherness it brought to me. I wanted to sign up again for another!  My knee held out okay and the strap I used helped. I finished in 1 hour 37 minutes.

Saucony trainers (too much bounce)!

April 2010
Brighton Marathon has arrived.  I safely reached 18 miles on my longest run during training so I felt confident that I can finish. Race day turns out to be even better than the Hastings Half.  Bigger crowds were spectating, more runners competing and it was Brighton's first ever marathon.  I felt so proud to be a part of this special day in the city and longed to move back to the area again.

I feel strong and well throughout the race and my trusty knee strap seems to be doing the trick again.  Once I reach 19 miles I have a sudden fear I cannot do this or finish at all. The pain and ache in my leg muscles is immense and I can feel my pace slacking. I'm tired, hungry and spent.

I've read so much about the wall and what to expect, trying to break through it, but I don't think it is possible.  I feel like walking to the finish not running! This is the first time during any of my runs I wanted to stop and quit.

The last mile finally approaches and it feels like four hours not one hour since I hit the wall!  The cheering and calling of my name was the biggest mental push I needed to finish and although I was in so much discomfort the crowds took it away from me and carried me to that finish line. I felt so emotional with a lump in my throat but elated. I can do this; I can make it to the finish!

Completely exhausted and hobbling over the finish line I make it to tell the tale and come first in my charity team the Terrence Higgins Trust in 3 hours 19 minutes.  I was so ecstatic and felt like I had achieved the biggest goal so far in my lifetime. I was never this fit in my twenties choosing alcohol and smoking over the gym any day, before I realised it was damaging my health and after quitting the smokes, running was made so much easier and it was my new found fix back in 2007.

May 2010
After three weeks recovery from Brighton marathon I slowly start running without pain and discomfort again. Up to a week after the race I had great difficulty walking stairs and running just 30 seconds caused so much agony in my groin and the top area of my legs so I had to cycle and swim instead.
Training for London-Brighton Bike Ride

I built up bike miles to train for the London to Brighton bike ride along with running again and was having the time of my life with my exercise routine. Until one afternoon after a 15 mile run I decide to take my bike up Leaf hill and back to Horsham on a round trip. 

About 9 miles in, climbing the hill, my left knee starts to twinge and feel sore. I keep going the best I can but once I reach the top it gets so painful I have to get off the bike to sit down and rub the area. Not good! The pain is throbbing now and every bend of the joint is agony.  I leave so depressed and empty like my whole world is crashing down around me! I can't rest now, I have the bike ride and want to run again!

After some swimming, aqua walking and plenty of rest as advised, the knee very slowly starts to hurt less and the pain is dulled to an ache. I start appointments with the Occupational Health at work.   To my surprise the sessions are very useful and it is recommended that I try some strengthening exercises to help the knee joint.

I start to research and trowel the Internet for help and answers. The more I read about running shoes the more I learn about correct technique and form.  In my Saucony heavy cushioning trainers I have been heel striking and over striding in my form. I read about bad heel striking and how many injuries develop to the joints from landing this way. I start to read the benefits of landing on the forefoot, mid foot.

Much of what I read was related to minimalist shoes or barefoot running and how injuries have improved or problems stayed away with correct landing form. I figured I have nothing to lose and I am back to square one as I have not been running for well over a month now.

I find some Vibram Five Fingers online at a reduced price. They are a barefoot style glove with toe pockets made with a rubber tyre sole 3-4mm thick. The original price is from £80-£100 so I purchase a pair for £50 from Singapore. They take weeks to arrive and I'm itching to try them so in the meantime I kick off my flip flops and every day I use the small flat grassed area near my house for practice. I start with a few laps 3-4 times a week which takes just a few minutes.  I then build up to 10 mins at one time over the course of about 14 days.

As it is warmer weather I can enjoy the feel of the warm grass underneath my feet and all the sensations that going barefoot brings. It takes me back to my childhood and playing in the garden without a care in the world! It feels fantastic! After about a week my calf muscles have slight soreness, but just a trained feeling like going to the gym. I use the gym 3-4 times week anyway so I have little discomfort and nothing I can’t handle.  My soles feel a little warm after 10 mins but it soon subsides.

I make the transition onto smooth pavement and discover it is lots harder. I am consciously aware of how I am landing and have to think really hard with every step. It is not easy. If I forget I land on the heel and it hurts. When I land mid foot, tap tap gently to the ground like I'm kissing it, the feeling is a perfect, flawless movement and technique.

June 2010
The Vibram Five Fingers (VFF's) eventually arrive. I have the KSO style which is covered on the instep with a strap.  I am very pleased with the quality and feel of them.  I question if they are genuine originals but I guess only time will tell. They fit like a glove as they should do and as recommended. They remind me of hobbit feet and I can't wait to try them out!
Vibram Five Fingers

They feel great just like barefoot but with added protection and grip and they work brilliantly in both dry and wet conditions.  I later purchase the Bikila style which is one of the lightest they stock. The more I use them the more I fall in love with how they feel, to wear, to run in and use.

Sep 2010
I run my second Half Marathon, the Kent Coastal in Margate. My feet feel great all the way around and all the practice throughout the summer has done the trick as my form is spot on now. I get quite a few stirs, glances and then questions at the start and during the race.  There seems to be a lot of criticism on the whole barefoot movement and how I will get Achilles tendon problems wearing these. My approach has always been if it works well for you and you are not getting any more injuries then it can't be a bad thing!

I have since purchased many more pairs along with Vivo barefoot shoes, the Vivo Trails are one of my favourite pairs for my off road marathons and I am just about due to replace them as they have done many many miles now!  I also love the New Balance Minumus range for road marathons as I find VFF's make my soles too sore after 20 miles and I need added protection on road. I have built up my speed over the years and the NB shoes are more practical for longer distances.
New Balance Minumus

Since October 2012 I have been using the barefoot Ted creation, Luna Sandals. These are an amazing running sandal with 8mm protection, so are great for road and some off road but I find that they only grip well in dryer conditions. I have run marathon distances in training with no problems and get no sore, bruised toe nails which is an added benefit. These however are not practical in very cold climates. Even in Injinji socks (toe toe socks) my toes get too cold.

I am currently wearing La Sportiva X Country - A minimalist low profile lightweight shoe with aggressive traction for wet, muddy conditions or anywhere where gnarly lugs are needed. These have been my choice in the snow and are holding up very well. I find if I wear my waterproof SealSkinz socks over my Injinji socks, my feet remain dry and warm in the wet cold and icy weather.

I can only recall a few occasions where I have had to have a few extra rest days or stop running from injury. My left knee still has a few niggles occasionally that come and go, but I very, very, rarely suffer any pain these days.

My big Ultra in November was the last time my knee caused me grief and it took a good six weeks to subside, but I could still run with a strap and without pain.  I just had a dull ache from time to time. Before this I can’t remember when it was sore, only inactivity can create discomfort from being sat on a coach or at the cinema with little leg room.

I still have to watch my mileage each week and build up gradually, so not to overdo it or my knee will tell me. I always listen to my body these days and I think all runners learn from their mistakes. I wish I’d known which shoe was right for me when I started and maybe I could have found my correct form from day one! But then we all seem to think more protection is better for our feet right?  I have learnt a lot from going back to basics and taking off my shoes.
Luna Sandals
One thing I do know is that we didn't have big clumpy trainers back in the early days before Nike came on the scene in the 70s.  I personally prefer to have the freedom of movement and use all my toes and muscles in my foot to get the best enjoyment from my running lifestyle. I like to feel like I am running free. Wearing a barefoot or minimalist style shoe gives me that feedback.

Run Free
Ultra Luke

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