Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Unorthodox = No orthotics

There are so many titles I could have used for this post... "Tender Feet", "What would I do without my Tevas?", "Two steps forward, one step back", "Yes, my feet can feel" or simply "I hate blacktop." But let's start with the fun part.

I have been following my barefoot training routine of run one day, rest one day, run one day, and so on with 1 mile barefoot and 2 miles with shoes. Last Thursday as I put on my shoes they felt like heavy weights - the infamous invisible sandbags were back at their dirty work again. I have also been noticing that it's difficult to land on the mid and front part of my feet with my orthotics in. So I did the logical thing at the time, I took my orthotics out. I can see the doctor cringing now. It wasn't too bad, actually. I didn't even notice they were missing and it was easier to run on the mid section of my foot. After so many years of being told not to run without them - I even put them in my racing flats in college because I thought I'd get hurt running without them for a 4 mile race - I was still nervous so I put them back in for my Saturday run (but then took them back out today). Brainwashed or a good patient? You decide. Either way, I think I'm going to keep rotating them in and out for now.

Last Saturday on my run my husband, Renzo, biked alongside me and timed my pace. I was running about 10 minute miles with my shoes on and then 8:30 minute miles with my shoes off - and they felt like the same pace to me. I was ecstatic, flying high; that is until I stopped running. I knew this particular blacktop I was running on wasn't like the smooth blacktop or soft grass I was used to, but I decided I felt fine and kept going. I kept repeating "it's like a pumice stone, it's like a pumice stone" in my head, thinking I'm alright since I'd been pain-free in my feet up until now. And then I felt the little sore spots on the balls of my feet - below my 2nd and 4th toes. The sore spots are hard to describe. They tingle, get a little inflamed and then disappear within 2-3 days. I can't even walk barefoot in the house the first day I get these because my feet are so sensitive. I'm forced to wear my soft Teva flipflops. I took 2 days off after Saturday's run and tried again today. I had no pain in my feet today until I was halfway through walking home barefoot from the bus stop (in total it's a 1.5 mile walk). I still went running with 1 barefoot mile and 2 with shoes and I am no worse for the wear, but I'm back in my Tevas tonight.

On a good note, I am happy to report that I can now run a full mile barefoot without any achilles pain. In fact, I am itching for more distance and feel ready but promised myself to take it slow and I need to watch my feet. I hope to try out a mile and a half on my next run... this time I think I'll stick to the grass!

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Awkwardness: the new way of being

I have to admit that after last Wednesday's barefoot mile my right achilles was sore for a day or two. It wasn't so sore that I needed ibuprofen or ice, but it definitely let me know that this is still a very new experience for some of my muscles and tendons. Don't get me wrong - last week's foray in barefoot running was awesome, however, when I ran I immediately noticed how tight both of my achilles were, most likely due to the fact that running shoes prevent our achilles from stretching all the way. The initial tightness made my running so awkward, but then again everything feels awkward while trying to find a new stride. You're probably wondering, "why do you need to find a new stride? what's so special about barefoot running?" That is an important topic that needs a blog entry of its own (which I will write about soon). For now, check out this training video by Vivo Barefoot on the bottom right-hand side of the page. It is the best I've found so far that describes the difference between how we run with shoes and how we run barefoot.

I wondered if my achilles were extra sore last week because I ran on blacktop so today I tried the grass. I think it was gentler. I warmed up with 1.5 miles in my shoes, ran 1 mile barefoot, ran another 1.5 miles in my shoes and then went barefoot for a little over a mile while walking the dog. I think the walk helped loosen things up because I am still a little sore and tight. Most training suggestions I've found online suggest starting with a 1/2 mile run, take a day off, and then if there is no pain increase the mileage slowly (1/8 mile each time) until you reach 3 miles pain-free. Since I started at 1 mile instead of a 1/2 mile, I think I should be able to run 1 pain-free mile after 3 more times of running 1 mile. At least that's the plan for now. I'll give it a rest tomorrow and try again on Thursday.

Here's a picture of my feet after running and walking the dog today - notice how clean my arches are after running and walking on damp, sometimes muddy ground! They were definitely not this clean after running on blacktop. I have some pride looking at my arches, knowing how well they are holding me up.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Day 10: Breaking the Rules

I'm only 10 days into my barefoot training schedule and I already deviated from the plan. Oops. Most barefoot running sites recommend walking barefoot for the first 2-3 weeks. This includes walking around your house, in the grass in your backyard, and eventually on the sidewalk. At first I was like "you're kidding me right? walk for 2-3 weeks? but I want to run!" An overwhelming number of sites recommended walking first, leading me to believe that there had to be some logic for this suggestion. So I obliged... for 10 days. Looking back, not that I'm an expert, I recommend their advice.

They are correct that walking barefoot before running barefoot helps you focus on strengthening unused muscles - namely your achilles and calves - gives your feet time to reconnect with Mother Earth and start firing those underutilized, shoe-protected nerves, and increases your attention to any hazards that may be in your path (e.g., glass, dog poop, small rocks). Why look out for small rocks instead of large rocks? Large ones are obvious and you subconsciously move out of their way, while the small ones lay waiting out of sight with a greater chance of impact. Hence the reason to tread lightly!

I have also come to understand some hidden reasons for walking the first 2-3 weeks, or 10 days.

1. The suspense. If you are as excited about the possibility of running barefoot as I am, then waiting soooo long to try something raises anticipation and boosts your willingness to get out there. If I can get through this, then I get to run!

2. Knowing what the ground feels like. This may sound silly, but after wearing shoes for so long you begin to have preconceived notions about what the ground feels like. I can now describe what the sidewalks and streets feel like in my neighborhoods. The newer, smooth, white squares are so smooth you feel like you are gliding over chalk. The older, pebbly squares feel like a pumice stone. The street can be a little warmer, since it is blacktop, and this is where you have to watch out most for hazards. To my surprise, people in my neighborhood keep their sidewalks clear of hazards - so much so that I don't look down anymore.

3. Build your self-esteem. It's unusual to see a grown adult walking barefoot - I have yet to see one myself. As a result, I get a lot of stares. Usually I am out walking barefoot while walking the dog, so it's not as "weird". But sometimes I go running in my shoes and then walk the last 1/2 - 1 mile home while carrying my shoes and socks in my hands. I knew the day would come - and it did last week - when I was asked if I needed a ride home!

All 10 days of barefoot walking prepared me for today, when I took off my shoes and just went for it. I had just completed 2.5 miles in my shoes with on and off knee pain - and the imaginary sandbags were weighing heavily on my feet. Websites recommend  a 1/2 mile for your first barefoot run, so I went about that or maybe a little more. It was.... AWKWARD! I felt so clumsy. People were staring. I felt like I couldn't find my stride. I started over-analyzing everything my body was doing. Again, people were staring. It felt like I had never run before.

And then it was amazing! My stride found me. My feet started auto-correcting themselves on the different surfaces. My legs felt like they were moving without me. My breathing was so relaxed I liked to think that the people staring were thinking "wow, she makes it look easy." And amazingly my knees didn't hurt! I saw a dog doing his business in the grass and thought "someday I may step in that hazard", but that's fine by me because today I felt like I was flying!

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Barefoot Beginnings

I am training to be a barefoot runner. Go on, ask the questions. It's okay, you won't be the first. "You can do that?" "Doesn't it…. hurt?" "You mean, like outside?" "Why?"

The answers so far are… yes!... don't know yet… yes!... let me tell you a story.

I've been running with my dad since I was in middle school. During our runs we would talk about my races and work on solving life's big problems, like friends, school, and the unknown. I ran my first half-marathon alongside my dad and he cheered me on in my first marathon in 2005. I have definitely not always loved running, but I do love running with my dad.

With father's day around the corner, I was brainstorming what to give my dad. I looked into recently released books on running and two caught my eye: Unbroken and Born to Run. Both were fantastic - purchased for father's day - and that's when this crazy venture started.

First of all, as background, I recently took  6 months off of running while living in Africa and have been struggling to get back in the groove. It's hard enough to find the gumption to run outside in Minnesota's cold, never-ending winter let alone with imaginary sandbags weighing you down.

I've also been wearing my current running shoes for almost 2 years and even ran a marathon in them, in 2009. According to many people my shoes have seen their best days, exceeded their 300 mile - 1 year max and need to be replaced. I also have orthotics - that I've worn for over a decade - that saw their better days many years ago and have been screaming for a makeover.

So, I started contemplating what to do for my next pair of shoes. Should I get another pair of Nike Air Structure Triax - the same brand that I've worn for over 10 years? Maybe I don't quite need new shoes because my knees don't hurt too bad yet - the tell-tale sign that I need new shoes stat. Maybe I should try some of those eco-friendly shoes? I have a hard time throwing shoes in the trash, when I know it can take up to 1000 years for a typical running shoe to break down.

After reading Born to Run I found an answer to my shoe dilemma - no new shoes are needed (at least not yet) - and I also found renewed running energy. This blog is about my journey and experiment with barefoot running. Over the past few weeks I have been scouring websites upon websites for information on barefoot running and minimalist running (basically running with a slipper on your foot for protection but with no arch/heel support). I watched videos, read blogs, researched minimalist running shoes, broke the news to my family and began my training. As I could not find many blogs detailing the experiences of barefoot beginners, I hope you find my ramblings and observations useful… whether you decide to take the plunge with me or prefer to read about the so-called crazy things that others are doing.