Thursday, December 23, 2010

First (but old) Barefoot Running Injury...

So, this is an old blog post from my Barefoot Runners Society page that I had forgotten to post on here...Was originally posted on 9/22/10...Enjoy!

So, I went out for a quick 3 mile run this evening.  I had reached about the half mile mark.  I was approaching a corner at the end of a dead-end street.  I heard and saw the lights of a car coming from around the corner.  I hopped up onto the curb to avoid being smashed by a car blindly turning right.  Funny thing, there's this construction sign on the corner (passed it many times).  It has square legs that are like an upside-down T.  As I passed it, I managed to kick the end of one leg with my right foot just under my pinkie toe.  I kept running about 3 paces thinking that it kinda hurt and that it was a damn stupid thing to do.  Then I remembered that the end of the pipe leg I just kicked was an open square pipe.  I stopped to look at my foot and realized I had sliced it pretty good.  End of evening run.
Managed to walk about half-way home before realizing I could still run on it.  Made it home, snapped some pictures and jumped in the shower to wash it off.
Bandaged and ready to run again in another day or two.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

The First 100-Miles

On November 14, 2010, I ran the inaugural Stockton Half Marathon.  About two miles into this event marked my 100th mile running barefoot.  This milestone is special to me for two reasons: first, one hundred miles run barefoot is a milestone in itself; second, the race took place in my hometown.  Here is a look back at my first 100 barefoot miles.

My first barefoot run took place almost a year ago.  I had received Christopher McDougall’s book “Born to Run” as a Christmas gift.  At that time, I didn’t know that the book had anything to do with barefoot running.  I had asked for the book because I had heard about the Tarahumara Indians running incredible distances and I was looking for inspiration.  I had been out of running for about two years.  Prior to this break from running, I had run a number of half marathons and three full marathons.  Not long after my last marathon I pulled a muscle in my ribs from a horrendous cough and cold.  After about 6 months of healing and no running, I had lost my built up endurance and with it my motivation for running.

My hope in reading “Born to Run” was to discover just a little bit of Tarahumara knowledge, so I might apply it to my marathon running.  In all my training and racing over 2 years, I could never hit a 4-hour marathon.  All of my training pointed to it, but on race day I could never pull it off.  I had no idea that while devouring that book over 2 days it would lead me to an entirely different perspective on my running.  

On the morning of January 2, 2010, I got dressed in my winter running clothes, but I left my shoes in the closet. It was an invigorating 2.5-mile run around my neighborhood.  I was hooked instantly.  I loved running barefoot.  In the weeks and months to follow I relished in the sensations and feedback that different surfaces gave my feet.  I discovered that I preferred to run on the asphalt of the street versus the concrete sidewalk.  I learned that running across manholes or the wheelchair accessible metal ramps, with their inch-and-a-half circular bumps, on street corners were not fun, even in Vibrams.  I even learned that the bare foot does not like kicking metal L-bars at the base of construction signs - apparently it causes large gashes that require an up to date tetanus shot.  My favorite experiences running barefoot have been running in the rain, splashing through puddles like a kid; and running through mud puddles on the Cinderella Trail 10k while shod runners dodged to the sides of the trail to avoid them.   

However, like many newbie barefoot runners, I did far too much too soon.  I ended up struggling for months with the infamous top of foot pain (TOFP).  I would take a few days to a week off and try again, but I couldn’t seem to shake my TOFP issues.

One of my early goals had been to run the Avenue of the Vines Half Marathon last May.  I opted for the 5K instead of the half marathon due to continuing TOFP and a likely bone bruise.  I finished in a respectable 26:42.8 (sixth in my age bracket).  Afterwards I took about two months off to properly heal my foot and to learn my art. 

During this time, I read up on running form, watched videos, asked questions and contemplated my running goals and how to achieve them.  By August I was back!  Barefoot John and I took on the 10K Cinderella Trail Run in the Oakland Hills.  While my time was not fantastic, 1:35:01, I was able to complete my first attempt at a trail run barefoot. 

Next stop - Half Marathon. 

There are quite a few fun half marathons in my surrounding area in the fall.  However, when I heard that my hometown was holding the inaugural Stockton Half Marathon, I could not think of a better time or place to run my first barefoot half marathon.

I began my half marathon training not long after my first trail race.  With two young children at home, finding time to train can be difficult.  Some weeks I managed to get in two runs.  Some weeks I did none.  Most weeks, I was able to get at least one good run.  In the final few weeks to the race, my work schedule became hectic and running took a back seat.  The most I had run to this point was 6 miles barefoot.  The Saturday before the race I managed an 8-mile run with just under a 10-minute per mile pace.  I had a quarter-sized blister develop starting at mile 5 just behind my toes on my left foot.  I noticed I was pushing off and corrected for the remaining three miles.  I managed not to tear the blister - an indicator of using proper form. 

My biggest fear going into the half marathon was that I had not done enough training.  I was fearful of what would happen when I past 8 miles.  Would I get a TOFP type injury?  Would I be unable to finish the race?  The last thing I wanted was to be the lone barefoot racer and have a bad showing.  I didn’t want to hear the “see, I told you so” commentary.

Fortunately, it appears that my feet have finally made the transition to barefoot running.  Despite not having been able to complete all of my training runs, I have made up for it in focus and proper form.  I was able to complete my first barefoot half marathon without any problems. 

While I still feel that I have a lot to learn about barefoot running, I believe I have developed the initial foot strength and basic knowledge to take it to the next level.  Having met my initial goal of a barefoot half marathon, I am now looking to complete a barefoot marathon (possibly a trail marathon).  I have recently become interested in the possibility of venturing beyond the marathon and into the realm of the ultramarathoner. 

Here’s to the next 100 miles and beyond!

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Cinderella Trail Run 10K: A Newbie’s First Trail Run

August 14, 2010 - It was a cool, misty, wet morning in the hills above Oakland, California.  Costal Trail Runs was putting on a 10K, half marathon, marathon and 50K ultra.  The drive to Joaquin Miller Park had been without traffic (a rarity for the San Francisco Bay Area) and I arrived earlier than expected.  I walked down to the registration area in my VFFs, got my number, hit the restrooms and then wandered back to my truck to get out of the chill morning air.  The temperature was about 56 degrees.  Not terribly cold, but enough to chill someone in running shorts. 

Being an Eagle Scout, I consider myself fairly well versed on hiking trails, but this Saturday, I dared to try something new - a trail run.  Not only that, I decided to run it barefoot.

So, there I sat in my truck trying to keep warm.  After about 15 minutes, I decided I was bored enough and headed back toward the starting area to look for fellow BRS member, Barefoot John.  By the time I made it down the hill, John was there waiting.  There was about 15 minutes until the start.  We chatted a bit then headed to the growing line for the restrooms.   A couple of the runners in line noticed my VFFs and asked if I was running in them today. 

“Nope.  I just don’t want to walk in the bathroom barefoot,” I said.  “We’re both running barefoot today.”  

John and I talked about our experiences running barefoot - how long we’d been running bare and what distances we were running.  Afterwards, we walked back to the start area.  By now, the clock had ticked down.  I stripped off my VFFs and strapped them to my water belt.  John had his Terra Planas tied to the back of his.  We wandered into the crowd of runners milling about the start/finish area.  A few last words from the director and we were off and running...well sort of.

The race began in a wonderfully soft, field filled with grass and clover.  As the runners raced toward the edge of the field, the run quickly became a walk and then a stand.  I guess 255 people moving in a field 50 yards across to a trail that is no more than 6 feet wide causes a bit of a bottleneck. 

Start/Finish Area

For the first mile or so, John and I managed to stay together, walking, standing, and running up the hillside.  The ground felt great.  There was a mist drifting through the tall oaks and redwoods.  The dripping trees left the ground wet that morning.  There were lots of cool, squishy, mud puddles to splash through.  John and I thought that it was quite humorous to watch all of the shod runners frantically running to the edges of the trail to avoid the mud, while we enthusiastically plowed through the middle of every one in our path.

After the first mile, John and I became separated by several runners.  I spent a little time trying to catch up.  However, I recalled my first marathon when I expended lots of energy to catch a friend after stopping to use the restroom.  Not wanting to sap myself of energy at the start of my first trail run, I decided to just go with the flow. 

The initial adrenaline from the start had settled a bit allowing me to slip into a rhythm and focus on the ground in front of me.   A physical therapist, curious about barefoot running, struck up a conversation with me.  We chatted and ran together for about the next mile.  He was curious, but not convinced enough to try barefoot running himself, let alone recommend it to his patients. 

A bit after the 2-mile mark, there was a bit of confusion as to whether we were to take what looked like a fire road off to the right or the trail to the left.  I had been so focused on the ground in front of me I hadn’t noticed the turn marker leading up to the intersection.  A group of about 15 had gathered at the intersection offering their opinions, until someone noticed a marker about 50 feet down the trail to the left.  The small crowd was off and running again.  By now, I was feeling great and the trail was relatively smooth and soft. 

I reached the aid station at just under the 3-mile mark.  I paused for a moment, trying to decide if I would partake of the refreshments.  I decided against drinking the CLIF beverages since I had never trained with it.  The last thing I wanted to be doing was copping a squat in the forest somewhere off the trail.  I took a drink from my water bottle and headed down the fire road as some of the 10k leaders were coming off the loop and heading for the finish.

Rocky Road

Unlike the first half of the course, this section of the trail was quite exposed to the sky.  The ground was dry and rocky.  Gone were the cool mud puddles.  The beginning of the loop was a long steady drop.  As I approached about 3.5 miles, I heard a small group of runners approaching from behind.  Since I was pussyfooting my way down the rocky downhill, I figured I’d step to the side and let them pass.  Just as they were passing, I felt a small, but fiery pain in the crook of my right elbow.  For a moment, I thought I had stupidly let my arm catch a thorn-ridden vine.  I looked down at my elbow and noticed a bee or wasp of some sort stuck in the fabric of my shirt.  More fiery pain.  I flicked the bugger away and thought, “Oh, crap.  What am I gonna do about this?” 

Though I am not allergic, I have been known to have various body parts swell up from mosquito bites over the years.  I figured that maybe if I got the blood flowing again the pain might subside.  So, I took off down the trail at a good clip for about a half-mile.  By now, the pain had subsided to the point of a dull ache on the front and back of my elbow. 

As I approached mile 4, there was a long steady climb ahead.  I recalled looking at the elevation map of the course, it was going to be ugly.  It turned out to be about a half-mile straight up with a gain of about 400 feet.  There was another runner on the hill with me training for the Tahoe marathon.  We both decided that the hill was really too steep to run and decided to walk up this one. 

One of the most common questions I most encounter is, “What if you step on a rock?”  My usual response is, “I don’t step on the rocks.”  Ironically, while barefoot “running” this course, I did fine.  However, while “walking” my way up this hillside, I stepped on a baseball-sized rock at the exact center of my arch.  I winced but did not let on to my hill climbing companion of the moment that I had made such a stupid mistake.  This mistake later turned into a quarter sized blue patch on the bottom of my foot the next day.

I made it to the top of the hill and back to the aid station.  At this point, I decided that a cup of CLIF drink couldn’t hurt me now with only about a mile and a half to go on the course.  I downed a cup and headed back out on the trail.  For the next half-mile or so it was nice, soft dirt and the occasional mud puddle, with little rock to trouble my feet.  I quickly reached the turn off for the final loop down to the finish. 

About the 5-mile mark proved to be one of the most challenging sections of the trail.  It was dry, completely littered with rocks, and very steep.  There was no way of running this section.  I began carefully picking my way down the trail as fast as I could.  A couple I had passed at the turn was now gaining on me. 

The man shouted ahead to me, “Hey, did you read Born to Run?” 

“Yep!”  I replied.

As he shot past me down the rocky trail, he said, “Are you still glad you read Born to Run?”

“Yeah, but this section isn’t fun.”  I joked.

Just before reaching the bottom of this torturous hill, I heard a noise and turned to see about 10 mountain bikers bouncing down the trail.  Several of us stood to the side to let them pass. 

I wanted to say, “You know, we’re kinda on a clock here.  Could ya speed it up?”

I made it down the final 50 or so feet to the bottom of the hill where it intersected the final path to the finish.  I recognized this section from scouting the area with my family a few days earlier.  I guessed I was about a half-mile to the finish.  (My Garmin had lost satellite reception a while back.)  I kicked up the pace, since the trail was wide, flat and full of soft dirt.  I entered the big grassy field and saw the FINISH tent and made a dash for it. 

Finish time for my first barefoot 10k trail run 1:35:01.  Barefoot John had made it just ahead of me with a time of 1:28:28.

Several times along the trail I had contemplated throwing on my VFFs, but I really wanted to experience my first trail run fully barefoot.  With the exception of the bee sting and the bruised arch, I was thrilled to have completed my goal of running a trail barefoot!  

This past week I read Jason Robillard’s blog about his recent barefoot marathon.  In his blog Jason mentions the idea of using “the most minimal shoe for the job.”  Having completed my first barefoot trail run, I completely understand where Jason is coming from.  Having thoroughly enjoyed my barefoot trail run, I definitely see more trail running in my future. Should the trail be barefoot friendly, I will be barefoot.  However, having the choice of “minimalist” options given the terrain is something I will surely consider.  As a person who prefers to run barefoot, I see no reason to risk injuring myself on a trail or other surface just to be able to say, “I ran it barefoot.”  But you know what?  I did a 10K trail run and yeah, I did it BAREFOOT!

 My post-race feet

My Muddy Toes

 Barefoot John

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Good As New!

I'm back!
I took a hiatus for 6 weeks from running after my 5K barefoot race due to TOFP and worries of a possible stress fracture in my left foot (5th metatarsal area). 

On Sunday, I met up with fellow BRS member, barefootjohn, for a BF run in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park.  We were hoping for a few other members, but as luck would have it there was just the two of us. 

Leading up to my 5k race in May, I had been struggling with TOFP and a worrisome bruise-like feeling in the 5th metatarsal area of my left foot.  I was concerned that I had pushed it too hard and had a stress fracture as a result.  So, after the 5K I was determined to rest my foot.  NO RUNNING.  This was difficult to do.  I had really gotten a groove with barefoot running and wanted to do more.  However, I knew I needed to heal completely before going back to running.

As the N. California BRS group run date approached, I was concerned because although my TOFP had completely disappeared, there was still a lingering stiffness and light bruised feeling along the outside of my left foot.  I did some reading on the BRS site and found some discussion of pain along the peroneal tendon.  This seemed to fit my pains more than the idea of a stress fracture.

Sunday arrived and I drove out to SF.  Barefootjohn and I met up at Spreckles Lake in Golden Gate Park.  It's a manmade lake about half a mile around.  It's quite an interesting place with a large group of people doing Tai Chi and turtles basking on a giant stone turtle in the lake.  There is a paved path around the lake that varies from nice and smooth to painfully eroded.  John and I took two laps around completely barefoot.  On the third lap, John decided to run with his Terra Planas.  After the run, we chatted a bit about running and future plans for races and whatnot. 

The outcome of my first run after 6 weeks was GREAT!  Of course the extremely rough pavement gave my feet a good raw feeling as well as a very tiny, quarter inch blister at the center of the ball of my left foot.  As for the side of my left foot??? EXCELLENT!  No stiffness and the bruised feeling seems to have mostly disappeared. 


Saturday, May 22, 2010

California Chapter of the Barefoot Runner Society

 Hello Barefoot Runners!!!

I would like to announce that I am the California Chapter President of the new Barefoot Runners Society!!! 

From the BRS website:

"Changing the running world one odd look at a time"
  • To offer resources that unite barefoot runners from around the country.
  • To promote barefoot running and minimalist running around the country and at race events as a competitive sport.
  • To educate the running public on the health benefits of barefoot and minimalist running.
  • To dispel the myths associated with barefoot running that negatively impact the sport.

If you are a barefoot runner, especially if you are in California, I have invites to join the BRS.  I'll be organizing events in California and coordinating with the national group for larger events to come.  Contact me if you're interested in receiving an invite. 

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

My First Barefoot Race

Sunday, May 16, 2010 at 7:15 a.m. I officially started my first barefoot race - Avenue of the Vines 5K in Lodi, California. 

First of all, to those of you who are just finding my blog.  I began running barefoot this past January after reading "Born to Run" by Christopher McDougall.  My goal was to run the Avenue of the Vines Half Marathon.  Due to two illnesses (in the final 9 week training ramp up) and some transitioning difficulty, I decided the weekend before the race to run the 5K.  Better safe than sorry.

Rewind to Friday Evening . . . 

I walked into my local running store to sign up for the 5K.  The lady at the table was putting together my envelope with the timing chip, race bib, etc.  She was adding the little zip ties to the envelope when I told her, "I don't need those.  I'm running the race barefoot."  She gave me an 'odd look' (to steal a phrase from the Barefoot Runners Society) and simply replied, "Oookay."

I began walking across the store to pick up my t-shirt when I spotted the owner.  I shouted across the store that I wanted to talk to him before I left.  He shouted back, "You and I have nothing to talk about.  You're a BAREFOOT RUNNER now!"  He was joking, of course.  We knew each other from several of his half and full marathon training groups I had trained with.  We spoke about minimalist shoes and barefoot running.  He mentioned reading my letter to the editor of the local paper about barefoot running and how I was stealing business from him.  I asked if he carried the neoprene triathlon chip strap for my timing chip.  He said no, but I could attach them to my SHOES!  We laughed and I left the store.

Arrival at the Race . . .

I arrived about an hour prior to the race because I wanted to be able to find a good parking spot that would allow me an easy escape after the race.

Decision to make... Do I wear my VFFs while walking around for the hour or do I ditch the shoes in my truck and go barefoot for an hour?  After a couple of ins and outs of my truck, I decided that I didn't want to have to find my way back to my truck just before the race to ditch my Vibrams.  So, I went barefoot.

It was a bit chilly that morning and standing on cool pavement without my shoes didn't help much.  I wandered around the various vendor booths and checked out the starting area.  I'll admit I felt a bit odd standing around barefoot.  I wasn't part of a training group and hadn't found anyone I knew yet.

The Race . . .

When people start lining up at the start, I usually find a good spot in the middle to front.  I am careful about starting so far up front that I'm a pain to those faster than me and on the flip side don't want to have to dodge people slower than myself.

Being that it was my first 5K and barefoot, I didn't want to get too caught up in the adrenaline rush and start out too fast.  I moved myself to at least three-quarters of the way to the back.  HUGE MISTAKE.  Again, being that it was my first 5K, I had no idea that there would be so many strollers, walkers and teams of walkers.  This proved to be quite the obstacle for almost the first half of the race.  Some teams spanned out almost the entire width of the roadway.  When I used to run shod, I would just go onto the shoulder and pass.  Barefoot on a country road, no way that was going to happen.  There was way too much large gravel, thorny-weedy grass and other undesirables for a newbie barefooter to deal with.

By the time I reached the mile mark, things had gotten better.  I had started to get into a groove at about an 8:50 pace.  I was taking it easy as not to aggravate my tender left foot and I also didn't want to blow all my energy at the start.  Just prior to my reaching the mile and a half marker, the lead runners were heading full steam on their way back.  (By the way, it was an out and back course.) 

After I hit the turn around, I had really found a sweet spot.  I had increased my pace to about an 8:30.  I was passing lots of runners now.  I was really focusing on my cadence and stride.  Then I remembered something that Barefoot Jason had written - SMILE.  I was having fun, so I began to SMILE as I ran.  I could hear conversations of people pointing me out.  One lady still on her way out shouted, "Doesn't that hurt?"  I smiled big and replied, "Nope!"  By now I could hear the announcer at the finish calling out names.  I became very excited.  The finish line was approaching!  I was about 2.5 miles in now.

I could see the race photographer.  I smiled big and gave a big two thumbs up as I approached.  I reached the final turn and noticed that the asphalt was very badly worn.   I took the turn wide down the middle of the roadway.  I could see the finish line now.  I increased my pace once more for a final dash as a shod runner tried to beat me into the chute.

The running store owner called out my name as I crossed the finish line.  I had finished my first BAREFOOT race!  Twenty-six minutes and forty-two seconds after I had started, I crossed the finish line.  I ranked 46th out of 321 runners overall.  In my age bracket (30 - 39) I placed 6th out of 27.

Then came my favorite moment of the entire morning.  I approached the volunteers retrieving timing chips.  The high school aged volunteer looked at me, looked down at my feet, and looked back at me. He was speechless.  As he looked to his friend, I said, "Hold on, I'll take care of it."  I bent down, undid the neoprene strap around my ankle and stripped the chip off of the band.  As I stood back up, I handed him the chip.  He stood there looking at the chip in his hand as if it was from outer space or something.  I smiled big and walked away to get some water.  I think he stood there for a good 30 seconds after I left holding the chip in his hand.

Final Thoughts. . .

Truth be told, my left foot was a bit sore due to my TOFP issues (as well as dropping a desk leg across the top of my barefoot 3 days prior to the race).  However, it has been two days since the race and the pain had begun to subside.  While I didn't get to do my barefoot half marathon, I am very glad to have my first barefoot race behind me.  My plan now is to allow my foot to rest and to start back a little slower to allow my feet to fully strengthen.

Stay tuned for some exciting news related to some work I will be doing for the Barefoot Runners Society. . .

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Good News. Bad News.

I'm a week away from running my first barefoot half marathon.

GOOD NEWS... I had been struggling in training with being sick and TOFP.  I took a hiatus for 2 weeks for TOFP leaving me 2 1/2 weeks to prepare for my half marathon.  I went out this morning in my VFFs to attempt a 10 mile run to see if the foot would hold up to the mileage.  When I reached about 2.5 miles, I was feeling winded.  I was worried that I would not have the endurance to complete my 10 mile goal.  However, by mile 4 I was moving smooth!  I had found my zone and was feeling great.  I got to mile 5 with no pain whatsoever!

The VFFs were giving me a little hot spot on the inside ball of my right foot, so I thought I'd take them off for the run back home.

BAD NEWS. . . I made it about a mile barefoot before the TOFP returned.  I put my VFFs back on to see if they would alleviate some of the stress/pain in my foot.  They did somewhat, but not greatly.  I made it to about mile 7 before I was running with walking breaks. 

FRUSTRATION!  I'm stubborn enough to try the half marathon in VFFs.  I'm not stupid enough to believe I can do it completely barefoot at this point.  The question is how bad is this round of TOFP- is it a day or two thing or the 2 week kind???  Good thing is I haven't signed up yet.  I might just settle for the 5K and do that barefoot.  Who knows?

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Possible treatment for TOFP - Alpaca Shearing!!!

Hello all!
Last Thursday I ran an easy 4 miler.  It was supposed to be 5 miles.  However, I started to feel a little bit of that TOFP creeping back, so I cut my run a little short.  When I got home and showered, the realization that I was having a relapse of the dreaded TOFP set in.  Fortunately, the pain was not as bad as my previous run in 3 months ago which sidelined me for 2 full weeks.  With my first barefoot half marathon looming 5 weeks away, I was fearful that another 2 week hiatus would crush my chances. 
Enter alpaca shearing.  This weekend I went up to my friend's ranch to help them shear 50 alpacas.  To say this job is exhausting is an understatement.  Try wrestling one of these beasts to the ground (some weighing up to 200 lbs.) to be shorn against their will.  Then do it 49 more times.  But here's the great news - my TOFP was gone by the end of the first day!
How do I think this happened?  Well, in shearing alpacas you do A LOT of kneeling and bending.  There are times when I was kneeling, sitting back on my feet with the tops of my feet flat to the ground.  Other times I was squatting and up on my toes.  These two positions forced my feet into positions that ultimately stretched the muscles repeatedly over an extended period of time.  Essentially I stretched my foot muscles a lot.
My true hope is that I don't get TOFP again, but should it happen...I'll be kneeling and squatting a lot. 
If anyone else has had any experiences with TOFP and was able to get it to stop with anything other than rest, rest, rest, let me know!

Friday, April 9, 2010

My response to a local newspaper article: So-called "health risks of being barefoot"

So, I opened my local newspaper today at lunch and saw this article. . . and my poor co-workers got to hear an earful from me about barefoot running. 
Granted, this article is not referring to barefoot "running".  Additionally, I am NOT opposed to individuals in any country, let alone a developing country, not having access to shoes.  However, the article cites the "health risks" of being barefoot without even explaining what those "risks" are.  Now, I can see that children or adults wading through some toxic trash heap without shoes is not healthy in any way, shape or form.  However, maybe the real issue there is that there is a toxic trash heap in their neighborhood, NOT that they are barefoot.  I would imagine that wading through a toxic waste dump with shoes is just as unhealthy.
I plan to write a letter to the editor to bring our message of healthy, strength building barefoot running!!!  GO Barefoot Runners Society!!!

UPDATE:  Letter was published on 4/23/2010.  Here is the link to the newspaper.  It was edited slightly, but not much.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Barefoot Running Form

In training for my first barefoot half marathon, I ran 5 miles last week (longest distance to date barefoot).  Unfortunately I got my first blisters after 3 months and 40 miles of barefooting.  I gave my feet about a week to recover - I didn't want to drain the blisters lest I get an infection on my foot and have to wait longer to run bare. 
Last night I ran just about 4 miles.  I focused on two main things - putting my foot down as vertically as possible and no pushing off (my mantra was "lift the foot, lift the foot).  I got back from my run without any issues.  Important observation #1 - I didn't tear my blisters.  I think this was my best indicator of proper running form.  I figured if I got lazy like on my 5 mile run, I'd tear my blisters for sure and come limping home.  Observation #2 - no hot spots.  On occasion at the end of a run I would often have a couple spots on the balls of my feet that were a little sensitive.  NOT A SINGLE ONE last night!!!
My conclusion is that prior to my 5 mile run, I was doing okay on form.  The blisters at 5 miles were indicative of me slacking off.  Focusing on proper form not only prevented the tearing of the old blisters and no appearance new blisters but eliminated all hot spots.
Lesson learned - take your time, run with attention and have FUN!!!

P.S.  Saw a boat load of glass on a 20 foot stretch of road even in the dark with only a little light from the street lamps.  Ran through most of it with my eyes open.  Hey mom, I DIDN'T STEP ON IT!  Followed the advice from Last Place Jason - made a mental map of the area and placed my feet accordingly.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Iskiate: Home-brewed Red Bull???

I began training for my first marathon in January 2006.  I struggled with nutrition for my runs.  I generally only carry water and eat peanut butter on bread before a run.  The reason being that in almost every race I've struggled with food and drink.  In my first half marathon I was over-hydrated, felt bloated and wanted to vomit.  In my first marathon I was dehydrated and dry heaved every other mile or so.  In my second marathon I had a cold/cough.  I took cold medicine the morning of the race and dry heaved from mile 7 to 25.  To say I've had it rough is understating it.  I freely admit that I don't have a cast iron stomach.  However, I'm not one to quit. 

The training groups I was a part of suggested things like Power Gel, GU, Clif Shots, and others.  These supplements do not agree with my palate no matter the flavor.  The only supplement that I've had some level of success with was Jelly Belly Sports Beans.  I would describe them as jelly beans with Gatorade in them.  One problem I did have with them was that after running 20+ miles the sweetness factor would overcome me and make me want to heave.  I had to counteract the sweetness with pretzel sticks.  As for drinks, I tried drinking Cytomax.  Cytomax works great for me as a recovery drink, but on a run it sometimes, well, gave me the runs.  GU20 is a little better, but not much.

So, what to do?  Water and peanut butter sandwiches?  Why not try Iskiate?

Iskiate, also known as chia fresca, is a drink that the Raramuri of the Copper Canyons in Mexico use for energy.  It is comprised of water, chia seeds (yes - as in Chia Pets), lime juice and agave nectar (or sugar).  Christopher McDougall describes it as home-brewed Red Bull in his book Born to Run.  Couldn't be any worse than anything I'd already tried.  Besides, it was natural, not engineered.

After I had begun barefooting for a couple of weeks, I got curious about iskiate.  I did a quick websearch to see if there was a recipe of some sort.  On the blogsite  for the No Meat Athlete he discusses the recipes for both iskiate and pinole.  I went to my local health food store and bought a small pouch of chia seeds.  It was a bit pricey, but I didn't want to buy a large supply unless I knew it was worth it.

Prior to my next run I mixed up a small batch of iskiate and downed it.  I went out on my run.  I don't know what I was expecting.  Was I going to go and run 100 miles like the Tarahumara?  Was I going to vomit?  What would happen?  Well, nothing overly dramatic really happened.  I felt great on the run.  At the end of the run I still had a lot of energy to spare.  My stomach felt fine.  I wasn't weighed down by the drink.  My first impressions of this drink are highly positive.  The drink appears to give me energy to last my run with more to spare.  It also does not appear to give me any issues with my stomach.

I plan to continue to use the drink before runs.  Since my barefoot mileage is a little more than 3 miles per run, I can't say if the iskiate will prove to be a true "home-brewed Red Bull" on a long run.  In the coming weeks, my mileage will be increasing due to my preparation for my first barefoot half marathon.  I will keep you posted as to the success/failure of iskiate on my sensitive stomach.  I also plan to start making pinole (recipe from No Meat Athlete) as a food source on my runs.

The recipe for iskiate from No Meat Athlete is as follows:
  • about 10 oz of water
  • 1 Tbsp dry chia seeds
  • a few teaspoons lemon or lime juice
  • honey or agave nectar, to taste (optional)

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Vibram Five Fingers KSO

After I started running barefoot, I looked into the minimalist shoes that Barefoot Ted wore in Born to Run, the Vibram Five Fingers.  I enjoyed running barefoot, but wanted to have the option of more protection depending on the road conditions.  Being that it was just after Christmas they were VERY hard to come by.   I wanted to try on a pair before committing to buying some. 

My first thought was REI - my all-time favorite store.  However, they only sold them online not in their stores (at least not in my town). So, I went to my local running store.  They didn't carry them - kinda figures.  I searched the web for the best price, but every time I found a good price, they were out of stock for my size/color.  Ultimately, I ended up back at the Vibram site and ordered them directly from the manufacturer.

When they arrived I was very excited.  I stripped off my socks and began trying to work my toes into the little individual toe pockets.  For me, it was almost an exercise in futility that first time.  I must have fought with each shoe for ten minutes that first day.  Once I got them on, I wandered about the house in my new barefoot shoes.  They were very flexible.   It was strange, but cool.   The VFFs have a very flexible sole.  They move very easily with every movement of your foot.  I had a little discomfort with my little toe.  It didn't want to follow the shape of the shoe.  That discomfort faded after wearing them a few times.  If you are like me and cannot find them in a store near you, be sure to measure your foot exactly as the Vibram site recommends for a good fit.  They are snug, but comfortable.

I'm fortunate that I live in a temperate area of California.  Generally speaking the coldest I've run in is in the 40s.  My feet have been fine on these runs.  If it was much colder, I'd probably wear my VFFs a lot more.  Other than the cold, it's been raining a lot.  I actually love running barefoot in the rain.  Feels great and the feet are cleaner! 

I took my Vibrams out for a 2 mile run.  They were great!  They offered protection from the rough road and rocks while maintaining most of the feeling of barefoot running.  I took them out for another  2 mile run.  Again felt great!   I was able to feel the differences in the surface of the ground from asphalt street to smooth sidewalk, to fluffy grass.  It felt like the grass was actually between my toes!

The one drawback that I experienced is that the VFFs allow me to cheat slightly on my barefoot form.  Since the soles of my feet are protected, I noticed that I could hear myself scuff the balls of my feet across the ground.  When I scuff my feet running barefoot, the feedback is painful enough that I don't want do THAT again.  Since I'm focusing a lot on developing my barefoot form, I've gone back to straight barefoot for my runs.  I'll probably go back to the VFFs when I start to explore trail running later this spring or summer. 

Currently, I am using my VFFs as my shoes when I'm out and about.  The VFFs allow me to go almost barefoot when I can't be barefoot.  My goal is to strengthen my feet as much as possible by going barefoot or near barefoot all day.   I'm hoping that this will translate into better runs.  Unfortunately, I don't think my work would allow me to wear them.  I want to look into the Terra Plana Vivo Barefoot Aqua shoes.  I think I might be able to pull that off at work!

Friday, March 5, 2010

Too far, too fast. . .TOP OF FOOT PAIN

I would imagine that I am like any other runner or person for that matter.  When you get excited about learning something new, you want to practice it a lot.  As for runners, when you get bit by the running bug, you want to run more.  The same goes for barefoot running.  Beware of Top of Foot Pain. . .

As I mentioned in my last post, I had been out of running for about 2 years.  I was looking for new inspiration and found the book "Born to Run" by Christopher McDougall.  I never in my wildest dreams imagined I would have an interest in barefoot running.  I just wanted to understand how the Raramuri could run so far and try to apply some of it to my running life.  I didn't even know the book talked about barefoot running.  Well, the book did what I had hoped and more.  It re-inspired me to run again but the twist - run barefoot.

I started running 2 to 3 days a week about 2 to 3 miles each run.  I loved it.  But there was a tiny but important bit of information that I was ignoring.  In the various barefoot bloggers and barefoot websites I had learned (but obviously not listened to) that newbie barefoot runners should take it slow at first.  Take lots of short distance runs and barefoot walks to get the muscles acclimated.  Well, I was excited.  I had the bug.  My runs were going well.  No problems.  Well, not exactly.  I started to notice after some runs a slight pain on the top of my left foot.  I convinced myself it was just my muscles acclimating, right.  I'll just train through it like I did with the initial calf soreness (which disappeared after my 3rd run).  WRONG.  The pain got worse.

After running for about 5 weeks, I thought I was getting the hang of it.  My sister-in-law, who was coming back into town, would be running a 7 mile training run.  I wanted to get up to that distance and quick.  So, one fateful afternoon I went for a 5 mile run.  Well, I tried to anyway.  I got about a mile and a half from the house and the dull pain that had been plaguing me for a week or two was getting worse.  I got to a point on my course where I was supposed to loop or I could start to head back.  I thought I would run another few blocks to and pick up the loop on the other end depending on how my foot felt.  I got to that point and my foot was in definite pain.  Now I was about a mile from my house, barefooted and in running clothes.  Me being the stubborn type didn't want to walk home like that.  So I ran.

I made it to the park around the corner from my house, when I heard a boy with his family shout, "THAT MAN HAS NO SHOES!  DAD! DAD!  THAT MAN IS RUNNING WITH NO SHOES!"  I smiled.  The dad replied, "Well, he looks like he's comfortable."  I continued to smile and said, "Hi," as I passed.  Doing my best to keep my form strong despite the dagger-like pain that was in my left foot.  I cut straight across the park.  I didn't care about mileage anymore, I just wanted to get home and off my feet. I cut across the park on the soft grass (which was a blessing) and back to my house.

After I got home and showered, I searched the blogs and websites for that little bit of information that I had glossed over.  I found out more about "TOP OF FOOT PAIN" or TOFP as many refer to it.  I had it for sure and had it bad.  Going up and down the stairs was torture, walking around the house was torture.

For the next week and a half I perfected the art of an inside/midfoot foot strike and roll to the outside.  I don't know if I looked like an idiot, but it felt better to walk that way.   I was almost convinced that I had a stress fracture in my foot.  I talked to my buddy who is a runner and orthopedic surgeon.  He informed me that I could break a bone in my foot and not really know it.  He had done it (not while running).  A nurse at the school I work at had a "mini-shock" therapy device that chiropractors use for redirecting pain around other nerves.  There was a spot on bottom of my foot under the 4th and 5th metatarsals that I could not feel the shock.  Damn, I thought.  Now I can add nerve damage to broken foot.

Fortunately for me, by the end of the second week my foot was feeling much better.  I went for an easy 1 mile run.  When I got home the pain was mild and disappeared the next day.  I went for a second easy 1 mile run.  No pain afterwards or the next day.  I waited a couple days and went for a mile and a half.  Beautiful!  No pain.  I was healed!

I learned my lesson.  Take it easy.  Don't push too far.  Don't push it too fast.  Now, I'm back in the game.  This time I'm taking it a little slower.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Did you say BAREFOOT running?

"WHAT IF THERE'S GLASS? BAREFOOT!!!! ARE YOU CRAZY? OH, MY GOD!" my mom said as I stepped into my house, barefoot, after a run. "Then I don't step on it," I replied calmly.

On January 3rd, 2010, my sister-in-law, who was training for her first half marathon, asked me if I wanted to join her for a run around my neighborhood. I had been engrossed in the book "Born To Run" by Christopher McDougall for the past two days and had just finished the night before. So, that morning, I put on my running clothes and stepped out the door, sans shoes.

What I experienced that first day of running barefoot was almost indescribable. I felt a huge rush of adrenaline. My senses were inundated with all kinds of tactile information. I felt the bumps and cracks of the asphalt, the flat but rough surface of the sidewalks, the soft grass, and of course an occasional small rock. It was awesome! I ran 2.5 miles that morning, but I felt like I could have run more. I was energized! Barefoot running had it's hooks in me.

It has been almost 2 years to the day since my last marathon. I have not run in almost as long. Maybe a half dozen runs up to 2 miles last summer. The running bug is back and back with a vengeance. Since that first day of barefoot running, I've run about 25 cumulative miles almost exclusively barefoot (about four miles have been run in Vibram Five Finger KSOs). I am running 2 to 3 days per week all barefoot now. I'm getting ready to train for my first barefoot half-marathon.

My mom still thinks I'm crazy for running barefoot and always asks, "What if there is glass?" When I talk to people about my training, they always do a double-take and say, "Did you say BAREFOOT running?" "Yep," I say with a big grin on my face. "I'm running barefoot."

Coming up in future posts, I'll discuss my setback with the dreaded "Top of Foot Pain" or TOFP as referred to by barefoot runners. I will also discuss my experiences with iskiate using chia seeds as a pre-run beverage. I hope you enjoyed my first blog post. Hope you visit again!