Woman with short black hair, wearing green sunglasses and white cap, stands in desert eating a cake.
Credit: Alia Pike

We interviewed UKRunChat community member Alia Pike all about her running: how she is trying to be greener, how its impossible to get lost while running in Salford, barefoot running and running in the desert.

Listen to the full interview with Alia here

Follow Alia here

Getting into running

I started running back in 2008. I changed jobs and decided to quit my gym membership and take up running, because it’s a free activity. I found it really difficult and hard but I persevered with it. Then I joined a running community. There was a shop in my local town that had a free running group so I joined them. We got places in a 10k and I thought, “Wow, 10k is double figures!” and then carried on from there. I realised that 10k was 6 miles, which isn’t far from 10 miles, and it built up. It’s become quite a wonderful thing to do, and I really enjoy it now.

What’s lovely is that sometimes I still see people I used to run with at the group (the shop that organised it has closed now) at Manchester marathon cheering people on and we always wave to each other and still recognise each other from running even though we started over ten years ago.

I’ve run Manchester Marathon 4 times I think (it’s terrible I can’t remember) and I’ve sometimes gone down and run bits of the course. About 10 metres trying to keep up with some of the faster runners! Sometimes 5 or 6 miles with friends. One year I ended up running twenty miles with a friend. They’d trained and it had been cancelled (COVID), so they’d trained again and it had been cancelled again, and when it finally happened I met them and thought I’d only run a few miles with them but I just stayed with them. We ended up doing about twenty miles together, I helped them to kind of finish because I think they would have stopped in Altrincham. We ran/walked the rest of it.

Entering events

I took a year off events while I was studying for my masters. I’m thinking this year about how to be a little bit more green with my running, and perhaps not to enter some of the big events. I really want to do some more trail running too. I live in Salford which is a concrete jungle, but I love being out in nature, exploring.

I’ve gone up to forty five miles so I’d really like to run further. I definitely think I could do 50 miles. I’ve done two forty-mile ultra runs— one hilly, one flat. The flat one left me feeling strong, like I could run more. I also did Endure 24, a five-mile looped race, and managed 45 miles. But I do wonder about the impact of fuelling. On a hot day, I randomly ate lots of watermelon at an aid station. It felt great, but I question if it was the best choice.

And then there’s something about reaching 60 miles, 100km. I don’t know if there’s much more beyond that, but then I hear about ultra runners in their 50s and older clocking up hundreds of miles. It’s exciting to think about what I could achieve with better and more consistent training. That’s my plan for this year – more consistent training.


Despite not planning many events this year, I have entered the Hastings Half Marathon, which is where I’m originally from. It’s quite hilly, so I’m incorporating hill training. I did hill reps this week, and despite it not being my favourite, I was pleased with the results. I did more than I planned and even got a Strava crown. Now I’m tempted to keep it and do more hill reps.

While I count chasing my husband around at parkrun as speed work, I’m considering incorporating proper speed work too. There’s a local trail near me know as the “Jelly bean,” it’s an 800-meter track around meadows. I could see myself doing run and rests around it. Despite enjoying speed work, my preference is for long, slow runs where I explore new routes without any agenda. I’m fortunate not to get lost easily where I live, thanks to the Hilton Hotel and the M60. It’s the joy of running, enjoying the views, and experiencing the freedom to go wherever my feet take me.

Yet I’m still drawn to the trails. Trails are softer on my body, and the experience is lighter. I love getting caked in mud, being out in the rain— it’s all part of the fun. I’ve even practiced downhill running, which is crucial to avoid muscle strain and build confidence. I’m not an expert, but I’ve improved and gained confidence in running downhill. Watching experienced fell runners navigate steep hills is truly impressive.

Barefoot toe shoes

I’ve been running in barefoot toe shoes for over 10 years, and I absolutely love them. They are so comfortable, and I don’t get blisters. I did the Beachy Head Marathon on the South Coast with chalky cliffs, grass, and pebbly trails. It’s not too technical, so I did the whole marathon in my toe shoes. However, if it’s a technical trail with lots of rocks, I have a pair of trail shoes that I wear. But in general, if I can wear my toe shoes, I absolutely love them. Even on pebbles, you get used to it. Sometimes a stone might catch my big toe, but I just keep going. They are so comfy. I wear them all the time, even with dresses at parties and weddings.

When I first started wearing them, I didn’t notice a significant difference in how they felt under my feet, but my calves really ached those first few times after running in them. I started with short runs, about half an hour around the block, following the advice that came with the shoes to gradually build up. I ran in them for a year alongside regular trainers. Eventually, a podiatrist advised me to commit to one or the other, and I chose the toe shoes. It was a slow process. I remember running in them, and later that day, my calves would ache. You need to get used to using your muscles in your feet and legs differently. Now, I love them. Wearing regular trainers feels clunky.

They have changed how I stand. I used to be very flat-footed, and I even wore orthotics in my trainers. Now, when I stand up, my arches naturally lift, and that flat-footedness has reduced. It’s hard to say if it’s just the toe shoes or if I’ve become more aware of my body through running more, but it certainly has helped. It was a slow process when I started, but now I can even move my big toes independently.

Warming up and cooling down

For warming up, I do squats, leg raises, and funny walking to stretch my legs. For cooling down, anything over ten miles includes at least a 10-minute walk, and for 15 miles and more, I include a 20-minute walk. Years ago, when I first went under 5 hours in a marathon, I always walked the last mile of my long runs. It made a significant difference in reducing post-run aches. Especially on trails, where more walking is involved due to undulating terrain, hills, and stops for photos. Unlike pushing for a flat 2-hour run on concrete, including more walking reduces post-run aches. I’ve also started focusing on stretching exercises, like sitting on the floor with a cushion and leaning forward to gently stretch my hamstrings. Years ago, I did gentle yoga, using cushions for stretches. I’m trying to incorporate more of that now, aiming for a bit more flexibility to take care of my body and run longer.


I had a non-running-related injury that kept me from running back in 2010. I hit myself with a spade, had surgery on my ankle, and that was a turning point. It made me realize how much I love running because I couldn’t do it and missed it. A few years ago, I had Achilles tendinopathy, and it flares up occasionally, especially if I’m not consistent in my running. It’s all about the load issue. If I’m not consistent, my Achilles protests. It flared up a few years ago, and I was fortunate to do rehab with Salford University. They had a Ph.D. student studying Achilles pain. I commit to rest, good warm-ups, and cool-downs. I have a physiotherapist in Salford who looks at my whole body, not just the specific pain area. Fortunately, I’ve never had knee issues. I had bursitis and a neuroma in my foot years ago, and it strangely disappeared after diagnosis. Sometimes, I worry if it’s all in my head. But my physiotherapist in Salford is fantastic, looking at the broader picture. Hopefully, with proper care, I’ll continue avoiding injuries and run for longer.

The Jordan Impact Marathon

Thanks to UKRunChat, I won a competition to go to the Impact Marathon on the Isle of Mull. Afterward, I followed Impact Marathons and saw they had one in Jordan. It looked amazing, but I thought it might be a luxury trip. Then, during my MSc studies, I decided to celebrate finishing it by going to Jordan. I’d never been to a desert, and Impact Marathon Jordan offered a unique experience. We stayed in local hotels, ate in local restaurants, and partnered with the Invictus Games Foundation, supporting injured military veterans through sports.

During the week, we visited “Greening the Desert”, a project turning a desert into a lush garden using rain runoff. We planted trees and learned about the water issues in Jordan. Then, we headed to the Wadi Rum Desert, a red sand desert near Saudi Arabia. We stayed in Bedouin tents, and the marathon wasn’t timed. We had all day to run. The experience was incredible, with moments like seeing wild camels and wondering if Jesus ever walked there.

My Strava data says I moved for about 7 hours 15 minutes, and for an extra hour and a half, I wasn’t moving, just soaking in the desert. The finish was special, with a makeshift archway, and everyone got to run through a finishers’ tape. It was one of the only marathons where I didn’t want it to end.

Running isn’t just about personal bests; it can be about so many other things. It’s a common connection that leads to other connections in other areas of your life. I’ve made friends through running who share this love for the sport, and that’s truly special.

Greener running

I’ve been thinking about what races to enter and how do I travel to places. I also quite like the idea of people who run and pick up rubbish as well so I want to try a little bit of that when I’m out, especially on the trails. The whole Jordan trip has really made me want to think about how can I be more environmentally friendly. The irony of flying all the way to Jordan to think about that is not lost on me. Could I make my own sandwiches or cakes rather than taking single-use plastic items to fuel me when I’m out?

Just before COVID I committed to not buying any new items. I have loads of race T-shirts. It’s important to take care of your clothes so they last. I’ve got 2 sports bras that I bought back in 2019 that I always wash in a laundry bag so they last. I do look and see shiny new things and think “Oh, shiny new race jacket!” but I don’t need one.

I got some Pair-Ups for my mum’s trainers because she wears her shoes out in a certain place. The rest of the shoe is fine but they’re being worn in one place because of the shape of her feet and so I repaired them for her.

Quick fire questions

Preferred running surface

Definitely trail

Morning or evening runs

Evening runs.

Favourite post run snack

Somewhere between crisps and some kind of potato-y thing. I like warm salty hash browns.

Music on the run?

No music. Sometimes I listen to podcasts but particularly for trails I like no music and just the chatter inside my head. I enjoy the UKRunChat podcast, the Guilty Feminist podcast, the Ultrasound System podcast, which is quite funny because they have a Spotify playlist which I’m never going to listen to because I don’t really like listening to music on the run. I also listen to some podcasts around youth work and youth ministry as well.

Cross training

I grew up by the seaside so swam for years and I used to be beach lifeguard so I’ve always done a bit of cold water swimming. I swim in a local water park near me, or at Salford Quays, and also head out to some reservoirs and other open spaces and do a little bit of wild swimming. I say swimming, but when it’s really cold, it’s dipping. Quite nice if I’ve done a long run on the weekend then go for a little dip on Monday before work.

Dream place to run

The Arctic. That sense and nothingness and the cold. What a totally different environment. I think it’d be amazing to run there.

Running pet peeve

Runners who don’t wear any reflecting clothing or nothing bright, and just run in complete black. It’s really hard to spot them. Wearing bright clothing could potentially save your life.

Preferred race distance

My preferred is ten miles. It’s really rare to find a ten mile race and it’s a nice distance: double figures.

A superpower that would enhance your running?

To never ever ache, to never have any DOMS

Most unusual or memorable running encounter.

I’m trying not to think of toilet-related ones. I think one of my most memorable was the first time I went under an hour in a 10k. That was the Wigan 10k and I remember being so happy thinking, “I’m going to get under an hour and no one else knows.” I think that experience reminded me that no one else is bothered. They’re just my arbitrary times that I’ve created, so while it was kind of special to get under that hour, it also made me realise that people are just clapping because I’m running and I’ve finished something – they don’t care what time I’ve done. Quite a memorable moment.