Shoes optional – A Barefoot Runner’s Journey Along The Length Of Britain – Chapter 1 – Before I begin

It’s early and I’m regretting the previous night’s drinking.  Head feels like a small demon is inside it, pommeling my skull in an attempt to break free.  Quick motions are followed by a wave of nausea and I have to get myself to a rendezvous with my good friends Rooth and Adam’s to make the trip to Land’s End.  A quick coffee is all I can handle, so I go stand in the shower in the impossible hope that the water will wash away the hangover, but it doesn’t.   That odd taste of nail varnish remover that accompanies the night before stays, and it’s time to leave.  Luckily I had packed everything the morning before and after some dithering I get in the car and I manage to get to Ashbourne before I have to pull over and let the nausea take over.

Kit laid out ready to pack the morning before the day after.

Kit laid out ready to pack the morning before the day after.

“Why the hell do I drink so much?”

Well, the answer to that is a collection of ex-sixth formers chanting the name of the teacher at the bar followed by “get us a drink!” and several shots of tequila.  Can’t say it’s the best start to an adventure but then it makes it more interesting.  I get myself together and head to my mother’s house to drop off my car so my uncle can borrow it while I’m away.

“That stone you’re going to pick up at Land’s End made me remember something about Dziadek” my uncle says as though we had been taking for hours.

“Really?  What?” was the only reply I could muster.

“Well, when I was smaller, he used to take me and my friends down to the canal and he showed us how to skim stones across the water.  It’s made me think.  He introduced the whole idea of picking the right shaped stone for skimming and without him the idea would have completely alien to me.”

Now, the conversation continued but my mind was fixated on this newly learnt bit of family history.  There seem to be certain links in what we do and our past that we aren’t really aware of.  I remember seeing people press stones to the graves of loved ones in Iran and then leaving them there, but I never thought there would be any link to the polish side of my family.  We carried on towards Long Eaton and if we carried on talking j couldn’t really say, but eventually we arrived at Rooth’s.  I said farewell, we shook hands and I may have imagined it but there was something in my uncles eyes that made me think he wanted to say something, but he didn’t.  I wander if I imagined it or there was something he wanted to say?

I emptied my pack at this point and decided to pack everything one last time, decide what I’d leave behind and get ready to jump in the van. At some completely unregistered time we left, I got in the back of the van, lay flat and promptly went to sleep. I don’t remember much about the journey down apart from the food stops and a traffic jam that seemed to appear then vanish with no apparent reason.

My view of the road trip to Land's End accompanied by a bag of protein truffles made by Rooth for SK1 Fuel.  Delicious and the perfect keep the hangover at bay food.

My view of the road trip to Land’s End accompanied by a bag of protein truffles made by Rooth for SK1 Fuel. Delicious and the perfect keep the hangover at bay food.

Rooth & Adam - Two of the best people I know. I guess I'd perked up a bit at this point.

Rooth & Adam – Two of the best people I know.
I guess I’d perked up a bit at this point.

Once we got to Land’s End, I wandered down the rocket cliff to find a pebble to carry the length of the country. The south west coast is made up of lots of granite, but amongst it all was a small piece of white quartz. I grabbed it, along with a piece of granite and scrambled back up to the van. It was time for food, followed by pitching up the tent and sleeping. It was all about to begin and I was filled with an odd mixture of calm excitement, complete disbelief and a lack of comprehension as to what I had to do, all with an undertone of doubt. The doubt was all to do with the unknowns that Id have no control of.

“Are you ready then?”

“I have no idea. Gonna find out tomorrow though”

The Beautiful Art Of Moving Slowly

Over the last few days I’ve come to one scary realisation…

I need to relearn how to walk when barefooted.  It’s a completely different movement to walking with shoes.  Even the most minimal of shoes like the vivobarefoot shoes, which I use at work, change your “natural” movement.

What is this shod movement I’m on about

Wel… 

The heels comes down, makes ground contact and you roll on to your foot before pushing off on to the other foot.

This doesn’t work on harsh surfaces or over any given distance.  Your heel will start to feel sore and if you don’t change your movement pattern, the mother of all blisters is going to erupt, like a volcano, at the base of your heel. I’ve been experiencing it, but sensibly stopping before a blister forms trying to work out if it’s how hard I stroke the floor, the position if my foot in relation to my knee or pelvis, or just how I place my foot down. 

So, I now need to incorporate some serious retraining of something I’ve been doing all my life.  It’s inevitable that I will walk a fair chunk of the route from Land’s End to John O’Groats, so if I don’t address this need for change, I can see lots of pain in the near future.

The way of walking that seems to work is to place your forefoot down first and let the foot squash down as you move forwards, adding a certain salsaesc swing to the hips!  It’s lots quieter, feels smoother and seems to be faster than moving with the same cadence (number of steps per minute) as heel striking.

It’s kind of interesting since the general consensus is to land forefoot first when running too. 

So, if you see someone wandering around, looking like they should be holding castanets as they walk, it might just be that they’ve mastered this barefoot skill.  Who knows, if they’re not wearing shoes and it’s summer, it might even be me 😉

The Answer To The Question ‘Why Are You Doing This?’

Here goes….

My Grandfather had several strokes in 2013. The first few caused him to forget some things and people and the man that I looked up to seemed slightly less godlike than he did before. He recovered well, but then it happened again after a few months and after this one his memory of me became a distant whisper. I could see he felt he should know me and others he met.  He would often apologise for not remembering, as though having had a stroke and forgetting was in some way bad manners! His behaviour changed and he looked more frail than I ever thought he could.  The once strong man became more a shadow of his former self and the strength that once filled his gaze was replaced by frustration.  He removed himself from the house he has been in with my Granmother for years, moved into a nursing home and eventually passed away. This wasn’t the first time I’d seen the effects of strokes though.

When I was younger (probably around 6 or 7) my mother had a stroke at an early age. I don’t want to go into details so much but it wasn’t a pleasant thing to see someone you depend on for your survival become completely hopeless. I didn’t understand what had caused it then, but remembering the symptoms I saw and piecing things together its kind of obvious this is what happened. Right now, you wouldn’t be able to say she had experienced a stroke, but not everyone is that lucky.

I know this challenge is going to be hard physically and mentally in parts, but I’m still going to do it. I have relatives who has survived the hard ships of persecution in WWII for being polish and know that the suffering part is going to be optional.

You think you’ve placed your finger on my motivation and drive to get this challenge completed?  Maybe you have, but there’s a little something hidden that is hard to admit, even to myself.  Like many and selfish as it may be, I do this as much for me as I do for a charity.  I am guilty of neglecting that unspoken duty to visit him when he was ill and getting worse.  I grudgingly visited him once after his first stroke, and when morals and doing the right thing where the most important, I put myself first and avoided those meetings.  This is why this whole thing, raising money and raising awareness is important to me, but the act of running is my way of recognising the incredible strength that both my grandparents posses, having lost all during WWII’s persecution.

I have no interest in the attention that doing something like this is undoubtedly going to bring.  I have no interest in setting records.  I know that it will appear that this is a self serving enterprise, and you are right…  It is, but not for the reasons that seem apparent at first.

So on the 26th of July, at Land’s End, I will pick up a pebble and I will carry it the length of the country, and on returning home, I’m going to place that pebble on my Grandfather’s headstone.  My way of acknowledging everything he did in his life time.  It will just be a pebble, but it’ll hold countless memories and like the old custom, let him know that he is not forgotten.

What if something goes wrong or I run out of time?  I’m going to keep that pebble and train harder and keep repeating the task until I complete the task at hand and that pebble makes an uninterrupted journey between the two furthest points in the UK.

Thanks for reading such a self serving post, but I guess that is the nature of blogging.

You can donate if you see fit at the link below, with the money raised going to Stroke Association who do incredible work with both sufferers and also their families, along side funding research into treatments and prevention of strokes.

www.justgiving.com/barefootlejog

Facebook Page Here

Acknowledging The Thresholds Of Potential Failure

1206 miles of running is not a small and easy task.

There is no plan for failure, but there are points where I will have to say it is time to stop.  The potential for failure because of random events gets higher the longer a challenge is, and a potential 6 weeks makes that random chance huge, but I’m not concerned with it.  Part of my training has been doing things wrong and pushing what is sensible to find what happens in a controlled way.  But there is one thing that I will have to stop for and I think I need to put the reason why out there…

I am a teacher and with that have responsibilities that I take seriously.  I teach and keep working hard because I genuinely want the best for the students that I interact with.  Doesn’t matter if they are in my classes.  I’m not unique in this.  All teachers have this sense of profound responsibility, which is why they work the way they do, and tend to put work first where others wouldn’t.

So, here it is.  I will have to stop 6 weeks after starting regardless of how close I am to John O’Groats.  There is not provision for teachers to have additional time off and even if there was, the impact it would have on the students that I look over as a tutor and those that I will be teaching in my classes is too high.  I’m sharing this so people understand early on that I will push my body and mind to the point of breaking just to complete this challenge, but when the decision to stop and return to work comes, I will stop!

It’s not a decision I’ve come to easily, but I know it is the right decision to make about the challenge.  I may be doing it for a good cause but is it more worthy than the potential future of the children and young adults I will be responsible for?

I think not, and I hope others understand why.