Like many a keen amateur runner, the prospect of shaving a second or two off my personal best is enticing. I'm not striving for anything extreme: running a 5K in under 30 minutes is the target. I last managed this in 2016, but the intervening years had not brought a repeat performance, no matter how often I tried. Sure, I have my excuses: I weigh more than 12 stone (76kg), have a love of red wine – and, oh yes, I'm 80 years old. (The weight and the wine count against me far more than the years do.)
I've been running since the 1950s, when I was a student at the University of St Andrews. I ran in the cross country club, usually towards the back of the field as I never really was any good. I ran all through my career as a journalist and writer in London and in Scotland, heading out at 6.30am in my trainers before starting work at 8am.
I ran the first ever London Marathon in 1981, when I was 42 years old, completing it in just over three hours. Even now that I'm in my ninth decade, there isn't a day I don't run. Some days, it's only a 3km jog; once a week it's a 16km run. Typically, it's 6 to 8km, off-road along the cycle ways of Edinburgh, with only my thoughts for company. (Music I find far too distracting.) For me, it's become a routine as intrinsic to my day and wellbeing as brushing my teeth in the morning.
Since moving to the Scottish capital from Fife three years ago, I've taken part in the city's Parkrun each week, joining the 80- to 85-year-old group, but generally finding myself on a par with new mothers who are in their early 30s. My best time so far this year had been 30 minutes and eight seconds to cross the finish line.
Not bad for an old duffer, you might think. But what if I could do better? The question had not overly troubled me until I happened across a recent newspaper article about a pair of £240 ($480) Nike trainers that were said to be dividing athletics.
The Nike ZoomX Vaporfly Next%, to give them their ridiculous full name, were worn by the Kenyan athlete Eliud Kipchoge when he broke the two-hour record at a marathon run in Vienna last month. They were worn by Brigid Kosgei when she set an incredible new women's marathon world record in Chicago last month, crossing the line in two hours, 14 minutes and four seconds, and shaving a full 81 seconds off the time set by Paula Radcliffe in London 16 years ago.
Before Kipchoge wowed the world with his stunning performance, the past five fastest official men's marathon times were claimed by runners wearing the same trainers. So effective has this footwear been, it is currently mired in controversy, with some questioning whether athletes who wear it are conferred an unfair advantage.
A group of elite athletes did, in fact, complain about this to the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) last month. "The challenge is striking a balance between spurring development of 'new technologies' while preserving 'the fundamental characteristics of the sport'," said the IAAF in a statement. It is expected to rule on the running shoe's acceptability on the circuit by the end of the year.
There was no need for me to wait this long to see if I too could benefit from the seemingly magical trainers, even at my advanced age. I wrote to a newspaper to bemoan that, having just completed 100 5K runs, I still could not improve on the sub-30 minutes I had managed in 2016.
"Being Scottish," I explained, "I am not about to pay £240 for trainers. I have a collection of brands bought at various prices, and no particular pair makes me go faster."
This was when The Telegraph stepped in. An editor obtained a pair for me and had them dispatched to my home. The result defied all my expectations.
Setting off on my Parkrun on Saturday, my feet were propelled in a way I'd not experienced before. The carbon plate built into the sole of the shoe helped me spring forward with a bounce I wasn't used to. I felt myself expending less energy than usual.
But three kilometres into the race, calamity! My shoelace came undone and flapped around my foot like a mad thing. "Ignore it," said the man running next to me. "You'll be alright, seriously, keep going." I did, and indeed it paid off: I equalled my 2016 time of 29 minutes and 17 seconds to the finish line.
Now, I'm someone who's naturally sceptical. I'm happy to remain quite shambolic in my general attire, even if my wife frequently has other ideas.
I've never spent more than £50 ($100) on trainers before, and still believe one certainly doesn't need to. Anyone who can walk can also run (give or take) and there's no greater way to keep fit, to stay healthy and to maintain robust mental health. There truly are no barriers to entry, and the risk of the recent fixation on wearable tech and the like risks distracting us from what really matters.
But despite this, I have to admit that even for a duffer like me, the flashy kit really can make a difference. I'd be being untruthful if I was to pretend it didn't thrill me to achieve my old record once again. At my age, that's a pretty good feeling. So I'll be keeping those trainers and seeing what more I can achieve.
There are people who tell me I should really take it easy now I'm old. But I always ignore this advice. To anyone no longer in their prime I would say keep doing what you're doing for as long as you still get away with it. Your speed isn't actually what matters. If you find you're going slowly, go slowly. But if, like me, there's a marker you're eager to hit – to borrow a phrase from Nike, just do it.