Saturday, January 14, 2012

My journey from a traditional to barefoot runner

Hello world. 

Like a lot of runners I have read the book.  Of course I am talking about, Born to Run by Christopher McDougall, the true story about a tribe of natives in remote mountainous villages in central Mexico that can reportedly run mile upon mile wearing nothing more then thin rubber strips lashed to their feet with some rope.  How can these dudes run 30, 40, 50 miles or more at a time with out heel counters, EVA midsoles, polyurethane arch support or any of the other innovations marketed to us by the well paid engineers at Nike, New Balance, Adidas, etc.?

I suppose now is a good time to mention that I had plenty of time to read this book this past summer because I was laid up for about 6 months with a wicked case of plantar fasciatis.  After have run about 3-5 days per week since 1999 I think my body was about to teach me another lesson.  I did a lot of research on line as well as talking to friends and fellow runners, and I started to think that maybe barefoot running could be the answer.  Maybe Phil Knight, founder of Nike, was wrong!  After all he's not a doctor, not a exercise physiologist, not a human bio-mechanist (does that even exist?).  He was just a runner at the University of Oregon.  Ok, so he was a really fast runner (good enough to run for Oregon, but according to legend he was often injured and rarely placed in even the smallest meets), but does that make him qualified to tell me that millions of years of human evolution is wrong and a wedge of foam rubber glued to a kitchen experiment is better for me as a runner?

So I decided to transition myself to a barefoot runner.  Like the dudes in Mexico I want to run a 50 mile race in "barefoot shoes" (I actually like the oxymoronic vibe of that).  Whenever I coach an athlete, either myself or a friend or a client, I always preach caution.  Build up slowly, build strength first to prepare for the task at hand, rest often.  To that end I decided that as I dip an intrepid toe in the water I will start with what the the well paid engineers call step down shoes.  I will also be so cautious as to only run about 5-6 miles per week and every month add about 2-3 miles per week on average.  I am not even going to introduce totally flat or barefoot shoes until about the 5th month of the plan, and then do so for only about 2 miles per week on average.  Eventually, like around Feb '13, I hope to be back up to 20 miles per week, all of them in some sort of barefoot shoe.  If I can make it there safely I'll start to build up to a Fall marathon (NYC!!! finally) and my final exam of sorts will be to check off the JFK 50 (or maybe some other trail ultra) from the life list in Nov '13

Step down shoes are supposed to be a step down back towards natural evolution, towards the natural running gait our bodies were designed for, which is more of a mid-foot to fore-foot strike.  Traditional running shoes have about 14-16mm of cushioning in the heel, which promotes a solid heel strike.  These step down shoes have about a 4mm rise.  The plan is to slowly get back into running in the Brooks Pure Flow, which by the way are the most hideous florescent green you could imagine, they look like something that would be worn by the Green Hornet or Elton John circa 1977, I think they can be seen from space.  I can now safely run at night. 

The plan here for this blog is to recount my experiences as I train my body to learn to run in the manner it was born to do, as a forefoot striker.  It might hurt, it might work well, it might take a few months, it might take a few years, I might just say screw it and get back on my bike and ride.  If anybody reads this blog and wants to be entertained or enlightened or informed or advised on how to live life keep reading.  I will find it hard to not include personality to my words.

I've been back on the road for about 2 weeks now.  I ran/walked 3 miles on Christmas day, before we ordered Sweet and Sour Chicken and Kung Po Beef. and have done 3 other runs of about 2-3 miles each.  Actually one run was more like half a mile.  Although I love running as a fitness activity and as a mental and emotional regulator I seem to have forgotten how hard it can be, especially when you start engaging different muscles then your body is used to.  I have found that it is a little easier to run barefoot when I pick up the pace a bit.  But since I haven't run a step since Mid-June (DC Tri I believe) running fast is hard, so I usually pepper in some walking breaks. 

I also am now hyper-aware of any little ache and pain in my body, particularly in the lower legs.  As soon as I feel something not right I stop to walk until I can run again.  I am averaging 10 min/miles.  I used to be able to cruise at about a 7:30 pace.  This transition might be hard.  Some of the new sensations I have felt include tightness in the glutes and hammy's, soreness in the calf muscles, and one time I felt like I actually strained a tendon in my big toe (it was fine the next day).

I look forward to the day when I can cruise thru a trail run and let my mind wander as the trees and streams move past me. I miss racing, I miss the trails, I miss running.  But for now I am focused on the perfect foot strike.  Stay tuned for more

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