It’s been a while…………..but I’m back……….and better (ish) than ever.

So last week marked exactly 7 months since I competed at Challenge Weymouth Ironman.  It seems a lot longer ago than that.

On Sunday 13th April I should have run the Brighton Marathon, which I trained for over the winter.  Sadly I did not run.  I have had a cough now for at least the last 9 weeks (perhaps longer) and decided to pull out of the marathon last week.  It was a very hard decision, but I wasn’t getting enough training in and to be honest my chest hurt when I simply breathed in, let alone ran. So whilst the decision not to run was a tough one, it was most probably the right one.

Two Chestnutters

What I was not prepared for was the sense of utter disappointment I felt in myself for not being able to run.  As any regular blog readers will know, I compete in major events to raise money for Chestnut Tree House and the fact I was letting down the charity that I care for so deeply affected me a lot more than I thought.

Luckily, my grumpiness about not being able to run was fairly short lived.  Mostly this is because my wife does not tolerate any self-loathing behaviour (thank you for that Doc), but also because there are plenty more races and plenty more chances to raise money for Chestnut.  It is just deciding exactly what to do.  

Once again, as luck would have it (and as Baldrick would say), I have a cunning plan.  Part 1 of this plan is simply to sign up again for Brighton Marathon.  I have already done this.  Because I enjoy a challenge and because my catch phrase is “how hard can it be”, I have decided to run the marathon next year barefooted.  More to come on this in future updates. 

Part 2 of my plan is to get organised for a big event again.  I have done an Ironman and whilst I would love to do another one one day, I am fancying something a bit different.  
Enter onto the radar Ride 24, a 24 hour non stop bike ride from Newcastle to London.  This is 310 miles in total, takes on over 6,000ft of climbing on the bike and is a hell of a thing to do.  Doing anything for 24 hours is tough, but riding a bike for 24 hours non-stop is a fairly decent challenge.  

As usual, my Triathlon buddies have rallied around and Bushy, Neil, Mike and Curry are all making noises like they might join in with me.  It’s not until August 2017 and after all, how hard can it be?

I am going to try and update the blog more regularly (for those of you who care), so keep your eyes peeled for future updates.



So what’s next for Iron Snook……………???????

The question I have most often been asked following my Ironman exploits is “what’s next?”

This question is asked with a sort of expectation hanging over it, as if I should have already planned my next endurance event.  A huge number of people who complete an Ironman for the first time immediately sign up for another one.  The buzz that you get from Ironman, the sense of accomplishment and the exhilaration of finishing the race are so huge that you want to feel that way again.

I have not signed up for another Ironman.  Don’t get me wrong, I would love to do another one; however this would need to be some time in the future.  My wife and family sacrificed a lot to allow me to do all the required training for Weymouth.  The stress and worry I put my wife through, competing at Weymouth, is not something I wish to repeat in the near future.  Likewise, with my girls being so young, I owe it to them to have a few summers together where we can enjoy ourselves without having to fit Ironman training around us.  

So if not another Ironman, then what is next?  One thing is certain, I will not be going back to my old lifestyle.  The couch potato is long gone.  I really enjoy exercising now and intend to keep it up.  Also, I love a challenge.  Weymouth was exactly this.  I went, I competed and I conquered.  Another challenge for 2016 is needed.  Some people may not understand this but I need the challenge in my life.  Something to aim for, strive towards.  After all, a rolling stone gathers no moss……..right?

I have been running through a few ideas in my head.  None of them have really cemented.  The closest I have gotten is considering running a marathon every month from April to December.  I already have Brighton Marathon booked up (in April), proudly competing as one of the Chestnut Tree House runners.  It would be easy to book a marathon for each month until the end of the year. Bizarrely though that challenge doesn’t seem big enough.  I am fairly confident I could put my trainers on in the morning and run a marathon.  I am physically fit enough, the rest is just mind over matter.  My experience at Weymouth has taught me that mentally I am stronger than I ever imagined.

Looking back through my blog it has become apparent to me that a little over 12 months ago I couldn’t run at all.  Injury had plagued my running and I searched high and low for answers, eventually finding a solution to my problem in barefoot running.

I ran barefoot to rehabilitate myself from injury.  It worked.  As soon as I was healed I went back to running in shoes as I had to do fairly big mileage for the Ironman and was not going to compete at that barefooted. It made sense to run in shoes.  Ever since I have neglected my barefoot beginnings, running over 800km in my trusty Brooks running shoes.  Recently I got an email from Strava (the run logging app) advising me that I had run past the 800km mark and I needed to buy some more shoes.  Apparently you are not supposed to run more than 800km in shoes.  You need some new ones at that point to protect your feet.  That has gotten me thinking…………….

I know from my barefoot running that you do not need running shoes to protect your feet, especially when running on tarmac.  Our feet are strong, and have 1000’s of receptors in them that constantly feed back to our brain in a beautiful subconscious loop.  Just like our fingers and hands, our feet and toes are sensitive.  To perfect the art of running, to truly understand my body mechanics and how it works, I need to run barefooted.  To become better at playing the guitar or making a clay pot you would never dream of wearing gloves. It would dull your senses and make it harder for your brain to receive the feedback that it wants to.  Wearing shoes and socks does the same for our feet.

Now obviously I am not going to try playing guitar or making a clay pot with my feet.  These are both artistic endeavours, requiring the dexterity that your fingers have.  You would not necessarily think of running as an art form, but in a lot of ways it is.  Similar to many things in life, running (done badly) is doing nobody any favours. If you run with poor form, you will get injured.  If you don’t listen to your body, you will over train and hurt yourself.  Our feet are the number one way that our body has to tell us if we are over training when running.  They will hurt before we injure ourselves, forcing us to stop.  Encasing them in shoes and socks can stop this feedback loop, leading to running with poor form and injury.  This happened to me once before.  I have no intention on letting it happen again.

As such, Iron Snook will be reborn as Barefoot Snook.  It is my intention to set myself the challenge of completing a major running race barefooted before the end of 2016.  Depending on how I get on, this may be an autumn marathon.  Alternatively I might make it an autumn half marathon, or perhaps a 10 mile race (like the Great South Run).

Compared to an Ironman this may seem like small beer; however teaching myself to undo all of the bad habits that years of wearing shoes have taught me will not be easy.  Wearing shoes with raised heels (as almost all shoes have) has shortened my achilles tendons, shortened my calf muscles and weakened the bridge of my foot.  I will need to take it slowly to allow my body time to adapt to that of a barefooter. I also need to build up the foot and leg strength required for barefoot running.  Finally I need to make my running form as close to perfect as I can get.  Barefooting will allow me to do this.

Of course there will be more info to come from me over the next few weeks as I re-start my barefoot journey.  For the time being Iron Snook is having a rest and Barefoot Snook is rising from the ashes like the mythical Phoenix.  



Just when I think it is all going so well.

So I am feeling a lot fitter, managed a 10K PB and am feeling good.  

I decided to go out for a slow 10K on Tuesday night this week to stretch the legs and keep up the marathon training.  I ran the first 6km with no trouble, then I started to feel a acute pain above my ankle bone on the inside of my left leg.   

I have felt this pain before, but never as acutely as I did on this occasion.  I was 6km from home with only one real way to get back so I decided to push on and run with the pain.  My logic here was that at some point in both the upcoming marathon and the Ironman race I am going to have to run through some pain so this was a good opportunity to practice.

My pace slowed from 6min/km to over 7min/km and I laboured on, trying to keep my run form good through the windy, rainy conditions.  My ankle didn’t get any more painful; however it was already a solid 7 out of 10 on the pain meter.  The kilometers slowly and painfully rolled on and eventually I got home.

Having had a bit of time to think about why this injury might have occurred and what to do about it I have come up with the following self diagnosis.

My Lunas

  1. I pressed hard at Stubbington 10K and may have aggravated something.  This was then made worse when I went out running again only 2 days after the race.
  2. Running in minimalist shoes (in my case Luna Sandals) can hammer your Achilles and other tendons in that region if your calves / tendons are not used to the strain or strong enough.
  3. When other muscles in my body tire out (hamstrings, glutes, quads etc) my form suffers and this could compound any lower leg injuries.
How scientific this diagnosis is I cannot say; however the more I train and read up about training / injury prevention the more I am understanding my body and how it works.  Based on the above I have decided on the below as a solution.

  1. No running at all for a minimum of 10 days (give myself a good chance to heal up)
  2. When I do run again, start with only a couple of miles maximum and build back up slowly.
  3. Plenty of stretching / calf strengthening exercises to supplement the running.
  4. Go back to running in shoes.
Now of all the points above number 4 is by far the most controversial.  Most people think I am mad for running either barefoot or in the Luna Sandals; however when I took up barefoot running I could not even run to the end of the road without getting shin splints.  

The barefooting seemed to stop the shin splints from occurring and only now my distances have increased barefooting has started to cause alternative problems (eg this achilles/ankle tendon injury).  The only reason for this is that I have had to increase my distances too fast; however this was necessary in order to get up to marathon running distances in time for the Brighton marathon in April.

Running barefoot means you to land with a “forefoot strike”, which many running coaches promote as the best form for running. If you imagine jumping up and down on the spot barefooted you will be landing on your forefoot.  Running is essentially landing on one foot over and over again.  Modern running shoes make it possible to land on your heel when running as they are highly padded.  This is known as heel striking. It would be hugely painful to jump up and down barefooted whilst landing on your heels (try it if you don’t believe me).  The shock of this though your legs can cause all sorts of pain just doing it once, let alone again and again when running.The padding on modern running shoes allows you to run landing on your heels, and 90% of all recreational runners will be running using a heel strike.  

It is my opinion that regular heel striking in running shoes was sending shocks through my lower legs causing my previous shin splints.

Since taking up barefooting, I now land on my forefoot with a much softer landing.  This instantly reduced the load on my shins and the shin splints have not occurred.

The drawback from forefoot striking either barefoot or in minimalist shoes is that you put a lot of stretch through your achilles tendons and other tendons in your ankles.

If your calves are tight (which mine definitely are) this stops the tendons from being able to stretch and therefore they take a bit of a bashing and respond by getting inflamed and causing pain.

During short runs (10K or less in my case) this does not seem to happen to me unless I really push the pace.  Longer runs seem to cause these issues.  Building calf flexibility takes a long time; therefore I have decided to revert back to running in shoes to protect my tendons whilst at the same time making my calves stronger and more flexible.

The good running form that barefooting has taught me can also be applied to running in shoes; however there should be a bit less overall strain and I should be able to run for longer.

This is the plan and I am sticking with it.  It leaves me woefully short on time for getting up to speed for the marathon; however it does mean that I should be in fine form come the Ironman.

Fingers crossed this plan works.


Stubbington Green 10K – The Acid Test

It’s 7am on Sunday 18th January and my alarm has just gone off, must be time for the Stubbington Green 10K.

Now as this is my first event of 2015 I was understandably excited and keen to get going.  My reaction to the alarm going off was to set it to go off again at 8am and get back to sleep.  God knows why I was getting up so early for a 10am race start.  What was I thinking?

So, it’s 8am on Sunday 18th January and my alarm has just gone off (for the second time), must be time for the Stubbington Green 10K.

Up out of bed, shower, running gear on, bowl of porridge and I am out the door on the way to Stubbington.  The weather forecast was for it to be cold but the rain to stay away.  The look of the sky as I got closer to Stubbington said otherwise and as I parked my car I was hoping that the weather would hold and it would not rain.

Really, running in the rain doesn’t bother me; however I run either barefoot or in my Luna Sandals (picture on the right) most of the time and barefoot running in the rain is no fun.  Your feet get cold and the wet ground has a much more abrasive effect on your feet than when it is dry.  Deciding to stick with the sandals I put my rain jacket in my bag (just in case) and headed towards the main race area at the community centre.

Having already collected my race number, I only had to drop off my bag and then I was ready to go.  Now when I say it was cold it was cold.  Too cold for standing around in running gear, so after a quick trip to the loo I slowly jogged towards the start.

The start was set in waves, with me going in the green wave (second to last group) as my projected run time was around 60 minutes and the organisers would not want a plodder like me holding up the swifter runners.

It was my plan to meet up with Curry before the race; however he had given me the cryptic directions to meet him “where the closed Budgens used to be”.  Now I had now idea where this might be in the village of Stubbington so just decided to keep an eye out for him at the start.  Sure enough I spotted him whilst I was jogging on the spot and doing a bit of stretching to keep warm.  

Curry in his “short shorts”

Curry clearly does not feel the cold like I do, as he had on a pair of shorts that really did not leave very much to the imagination.  Have you ever heard that song “Who Wears Short Shorts” by The Royal Teens?  If you haven’t, allow me to explain.  In the song they sing “Who wears short shorts?”.  Well the answer to that question is that Curry wears short shorts.  I have enclosed a picture on the left to give you an idea just how short his shorts were.  

Anyway, after I got over the initial shock of just how short Curry’s shorts were, we had a brief chat before it was time for the off.  Curry jogged ahead to join his wave (as he is a quicker runner than I am) and I headed back down the queue of starters to join in with the fellow green wave competitiors.

Before the race I had two ideas in my head.  Firstly I wanted to try to get under 60 minutes, with a stretch target of under 55 minutes if I felt good on the day.  Secondly I wanted to run a negative split.

A negative split is when you run the second half of the race faster than the first half.  This is standard practice for most professional athletes.  Also it works brilliantly for each leg of a triathlon as you get time to adjust to the new discipline as you swap between swimming/cycling/running.  Practicing running a negative split is always a good idea.

Crossing the start line I start my Garmin running and set out at a comfortable pace.  Glancing down at my watch after a few minutes I noticed I was running at 5:15min/km pace.  This is a bit quick for me; however I felt good and my heart rate was around threshold so I decided to stick with it.

Quick note on threshold heart rate.  This is between 82% and 87% of your maximum heart rate and is an intensity that you should be able to maintain for an hour.  My maximum heart rate is 191, meaning that threshold occurs somewhere around 156-166 beats per minute. 

Running downhill, then up, I was quickly past the 2km mark and then the 3km mark.  I still felt good and was holding steady at around 5:30min/km with a steady heart rate between 155 and 160bpm.  Things were going well and I felt great.  It was superb to be running with such a large group of fellow athletes (2000 registered for the event) and I was even overtaking a few people.

Grabbing a bottle of water just before the 5km mark I had a couple of swigs, dropped the bottle in the bin then had a think about what I should do.  I was through 5km in around 27 minutes and felt OK.  It was always my plan to run the second half of the race faster than the first, but how much faster?  Kicking on I made a concerted effort to keep my pace as close to 5:10min/km as I could.  This was all going well until we got to the only major hill on the course.  Determined to get up this hill quickly and not let it slow my pace I pushed hard and remarkably my body responded well.  I flew past a good few runners and getting to the top of the hill felt fine.  My heart rate was up but recovered quickly and I was back to pace again.

It was at this point that a huge smile came across my face.  I realised that I can actually do this running business.  My race plan was working.  All of the hours I have spent in the pool, on the bike and running the dark cold streets of Pompey were paying off.  I couldn’t help thinking about Trevor (Triathlon coach) and the gang who I train with on Monday’s and Wednesday nights.  All of those evenings spent with Trevor putting us through punishing intervals were for exactly this.  There is danger of me becoming a proper Triathlete yet!

Pushing on past the 7km mark for the final 3km I felt brilliant.  My pace remained at around 5min/km and I was overtaking even more people.  With 2km to go I picked up my run rate determined to put in a quick end to the race.  With 1km to go I matched the very lithe and extremely quick fella next to me stride for stride right up to 50 metres from the line (where he finally put the burners on and lost me).

Over the line I stopped my watch and was gobsmacked as it read 52:36.  52 minutes and 36 seconds!  I, James “Iron” Snook, had run 10K in 52 minutes and 36 seconds.  This is a whopping 11 minutes faster than I had ever run 10K before.  To say I was pleased was an understatement.

My race plan had worked perfectly.  I ran a negative split, never ran out of energy and felt great for the entire run.  I attacked the uphills, relaxed on the downhills and really really enjoyed my race.  

As I sit on my sofa writing this I simply cannot wait for the rest of the 2015 season.  I will keep training hard, keep trying to eat right and hopefully go onto another personal best at the Arundel Lido Triathlon in May (my next event).

I hope that you and your family have had a great weekend.  Keep your eyes peeled for another blog update soon.



PS – If you are wondering about how Curry got on in his short shorts, he did rather well.  He also recorded a 10K PB of 51:33.  Perhaps there is something in these short shorts?  They really were so short!

Everything is in place………I might just pull this off

For the first time since I undertook the challenge to complete an Ironman I am starting to feel that it might just be possible.

When I first told my loved ones of my intention to compete in an Ironman Triathlon I received the following comments:

My Mum         – “Are you sure James.  It sounds like a lot to take on”
My Friends     – A mixture of utter astonishment and general sniggering
My Nan          – “Well my dentist does Triathlons dear and he is much fitter than you”
Cat (my wife) – “You’re going to die”

Now of course all of these comments were completely fair.  I was out of shape.  Very out of shape.  I weighed over 16 stone, couldn’t run to the end of the road without stopping, hadn’t ridden a bike since I was about 10 and the last time I swam anywhere was when I swam from the side of the pool to the pool bar on honeymoon.

Over a year later and things are rather different.  For the first time in forever (to quote from Frozen) I am starting to feel fit.  Weight is slowly dropping off, despite my tendencies to eat entire bags of Doritos and quite a bit of chocolate.  Also I have recently had a great success………..

I CAN RUN !!!!!!!!

All be it not very far (haven’t done more than 6k for a while) but I have no shin pain, the post run calf pain is starting to disappear and I am really starting to feel very positive about this whole endeavour.

Good thing too, as I have a charity place for the Brighton Marathon.  Bushy and I are running for Chestnut Tree House, which is the hospice that cared for Amber and her family, towards the end of her fight with Neuroblastoma.  The marathon is in April and is a great target to aim for.  I can’t wait to strap on my Luna Sandals on the start line, raising some money for this incredible charity and ticking off an important milestone on my way to the Ironman in September.

Some of my regular readers may wonder how I have suddenly managed to start running injury free and why I am starting to feel a lot more fit all of a sudden.  I can put this down to a few factors.  The first one is my discovery of barefoot/minimalist running.  To do this topic justice would require an entirely separate blog post and it is my intention to post this soon.  The second reason is down to one man, Mr Trevor “Tufty” Payne.

Trevor runs two Triathlon training sessions at a gym here in Portsmouth.  The first one is a mobility class, perfect for improving my flexibility and mobility (which is something I sorely need).  The second session is a Bike/Mobility/Swim or a Bike/Run/Swim session.  Lasting 2.5 hours, this is an intense workout and is absolutely superb.

Bushy and I have been attending these sessions for over a month, with Curry joining us recently.  Trevor is an ex professional Triathlete, specialising in Iron distance races during his career.  He is a superb coach (even if he does take the piss out of Bushy and I rather a lot) and I find his sessions hugely inspirational.  He has given me exercises to do at home which I do every day, agreed to write me a training plan specific to Challenge Weymouth and is generally a huge asset to my training.  

So to wrap up this post I would like to say a thank you to Trevor for his help so far and for his excellent training sessions that I love attending.  I was never really a believer in having a “coach”; however I am very glad I met Trevor and can’t wait to see just how fit he can get me ahead of Challenge Weymouth.  I must also mention a special thanks to Josh Smith, who is one of the readers of my blog and was the person who put me onto Trevor in the first place.  Look forward to doing some training with you when you are back in the UK Josh.

Finally to all of the readers of this blog and to those of you who have sent me nice comments about it, a huge thank you to you all.  I’m really starting to love all this training and am pleased that as the winter progresses I will be able to share with you my increasing fitness and join as many of you as I can for a run/swim/bike, or perhaps just a pint!



PS – If any of you are looking for a Triathlon or Fitness coach please check out Trevor’s website.  You won’t regret getting in touch with him.

Barefeet – the way forward

As some of you who read my blog and others of you who have seen me do it will know, I recently converted to running barefoot.

My reasoning was sound.  I have suffered running injuries for years and was searching to understand why.  I read some books, converted to barefoot running and have been injury free ever since.  Granted I haven’t done mega mileage barefoot, but I have done enough to be confident if I continue this way I will strengthen my feet and be a lot less injury prone.

I am intending on doing a big write up on this with links and information in the next few days.  In the interim (and to whet your appetite) here is an article on how to choose children’s shoes that will get you thinking a bit.