A 45 year-old runner, from Oxford, is getting back to basics in his attempt to become the first runner to complete our 10in10 Marathon event practically barefoot.
Robert Dallison, originally from Tonbridge, in Kent, moved to Oxford in 1985 after securing a place at Oriel College to read Classics. After graduating, in 1989, Robert travelled extensively before spending 7 years working in Miami, Florida, where at the age of 42, he began to run for the first time.
Although he had dabbled at sport whilst at school and university, playing the occasional game of rugby and cricket, serious exercise was anathema to him. Although he had been forced to compete in several cross-country runs he found the experience an ordeal, one that he was prepared to avoid at all costs.
However, Robert’s life changed forever when, just 3 years ago, he accompanied his fiancée on a 2 mile run in her preparation for a corporate running event in Miami. He enjoyed the adrenalin rush so much that he ran the next day and on several more occasions that week.
The climate, at that time of the year, had been ideal and the immediate gratification was such that just 6 weeks later he completed the Coral Gables Miami 5K run. He then proceeded to complete a further four 5K runs in the following 6 months.
In order to fit his training regime into his working day Robert was waking at 5am in order to finish his training by 7am. His dedication, and natural ability, paid off and just 9 months after his first run he entered his first Half Marathon in Fort Lauderdale, in November, 2009. And if this wasn’t impressive enough within 11 months of him finishing his first run he competed in the Miami Marathon in January, 2010.
Although Robert completed his first marathon in a respectable 4.37 he spent the next 12 months preparing himself to do a sub 4 hour marathon. He upped his training regime and through gritty determination he completed the 2011 Miami Marathon in an impressive 3.53.
However, between his two marathons he made a startling discovery! Robert stumbled across a magazine article that suggested that running without shoes was the most efficient way to run. The article claimed that if you run, as nature intended, without the appropriate cushioned footwear, your feet are strengthened and your stride is improved. The article also went on to claim that traditional running shoes inhibit your natural running style.
Whilst running barefoot may not be feasible for everyone the article pointed to minimalist runners who wear specially designed running shoes that are extremely flimsy. They offer little or no support and are viewed as being the next best thing to running barefoot.
Curious to see if this method would be beneficial to his performance Robert took the decision to try minimalist running for himself.
As Robert explains: “Changing to minimalist running is something that you can’t just do overnight. You have to transition from running in typical shoes to practically no shoes at all. Right from the start I found that my style of running changed dramatically so I had to begin by running shorter distances and then gradually increase my running times.”
As one would expect running practically barefoot has many hazards, as well as benefits, as Robert explained: “Whilst I began to utilise different muscles in my feet and legs I had to be aware of the possibility of injury from sharp objects. Increased stress on muscles and tendons, that hadn’t been conditioned for this type of running, can also result in stress fractures and tendonitis.”
But amazingly Robert’s running improved. His running became more efficient, his stride improved and his times were quicker. So much so that just over a year later he now stands on the verge of running greatness wearing what looks like nothing more than a pair of gloves, designed for the feet, to protect him from the elements!
So confident is he in his own ability, and his gossamer light footwear, that he starts the greatest running challenge of his life, our very own 10in10, on Friday 11th May. Ten marathons, in ten consecutive days, around England’s largest lake, Windermere, is sure to put minimalist running to the test!
Brathay Trust spokesman Mark Bushell said: “Robert has put his life on hold for a year in order to get himself into the best possible shape for this event. It’s not only a tremendous physical challenge, due to the undulating nature of the course, but will also test his mental strength to the full. The ‘Groundhog Day’ effect of running the same course, day in day out, has seen some of the finest runners fail to complete the challenge in the past and is one of the reasons that make this the greatest endurance run in the world. It’s going to be fascinating to see how Robert fares against runners in traditional running shoes.”
Only time will tell if Robert will match the achievements of the Olympian Greek god Hermes! Will his minimalist footwear similarly fly him around Windermere as swift as any bird? Will his performance become legendary, talked about by generations to come? If he completes the challenge he will certainly deserve the hero worship, which will surely come his way, from the minimalist running fraternity.