After getting a massive blister from basketball on Wednesday, I spent Thursday inside whilst the other students trained kung fu. The wound closure strips I thankfully packed in my first aid kit did their best to hold the leftover skin in place, keeping the wound from reopening but letting the open skin get enough air to heal. I felt it was hit and miss whether it would be ready in time for my Saturday run though – my shot at my running target before I left the school.

I figured the best way to swing the balance in favour of running was putting together a new running playlist. Music has always been the ultimate motivator for me to do anything. A combination of songs from Rocky I, Rocky IV, grimy hip hop and anything else that would make me run faster were thrown together in the playlist. In my mind, I was going to at least give it a shot. On Friday, I tested the foot out with a light jog and light kung fu training. It felt good enough to hold, so Saturday I attempted to run my half marathon.

Although I’ve run a half marathon before, this was different because it was the first time I’d done that distance in barefoot running shoes. Barefoot running shoes are flat shoes which, a side from stopping something puncturing your foot, are the closest you’ll get to running barefoot. The ones I use are Vivobarefoot Evo II trainers. No support to cushion the blows of hitting the ground. The idea behind it is that your foot is a masterpiece of human evolution and combined with a well-formed stride prevents injury. It’s slowly becoming known as the “better” way to run. The philosophy hit mainstream with the book Born To Run, which outlines the story of a running magazine reporter attempt to hunt down a mexican tribe of ultra (100+ mile) marathon runners.

With flat shoes you don’t strike with the heel like you would in traditional shoes, but rather the ball of your foot and follow-up with the heel. Traditional running trainers, although providing padding and support, inhibit a natural stride and promote bad technique such that they cause injury (shin splints and knee problems). The difficulty transitioning, is after having grow up “with bad habits”, unlearning those and slowly increasing your distance with it. After the first time I ran in barefoot running shoes, my calf muscles were on fire for days. You basically have to learn to run all over again. For me, the furthest I had run before with traditional trainers was a half marathon, so after transitioning to barefoot running shoes and reducing my distance to start from just 1km again, it was great to catch up.

Although I’ve always thought that running through London at night is the best scenery anyone can ask for, I’ve grown to enjoy running in Dengfeng. Everywhere I look when I’m running has million dollar views of the mountains. The roads towards the mountain are largely void of cars so the air is fresh. I’d be dodging corn stacks laid out on the road, tree branches full of pollen rich flowers and street sweepers who would wake from their dose to give me an acknowledging nod. Stray dogs would follow often me through “their area” and other students at some of the kung fu schools in the area would wave and shout “hullo” as I run by. To them, seeing someone running long distance here is rare. Seeing a westerner is rare too, so I’m probably something akin to Forest Gump to them, just with a shorter beard. 

The foot held up and I completed the run in just under 2 hours totalling 20.6km.

I track all my runs on Runkeeper, an app on my iPhone that tracks your run using GPS and plots your route on a map. Being mountainous area round here, also meant 400m of ascent and descent whilst completing the run too. In order words a half marathon with a damn steep climb. Here’s a link to my online RunKeeper log if you’re interested.