Thursday, January 28, 2010

Barefoot Running in Nature

Maybe I'm suffering the wrath of Benjamin Franklin's ghost for invoking his words in the context of barefoot running.  I'm awake in the middle of the night.  Apparently, ol' Ben used to take "cold air baths" reading naked in a chair in the middle of the night.   Thanks Ben.  On the other hand, this might be normal.

But here, in the middle of the night, watching YouTube, not quite naked, in a chair, I came across this video on barefoot running from Nature.

You might want to watch it on YouTube directly in it's full 720p glory.  It has some nice footage of forefoot strike running verses heel strike running.

After a bit of searching the interwebs, I found that this professor has a site with even more on the subject.  Notice, though, the disclaimer at the bottom of the page that this research -- and therefore the video -- is sponsored by Vibram, makers of the Fivefingers footware.  That said, I didn't find too much bias in the information presented and would recommend the read.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Safety or Freedom

I've taken a week off and just started running again yesterday.  Torrential rains plus having gone a bit too far too fast and being sore for it convinced me to take a week off and reflect on progress.  Let's go through an inventory:
  • Fewer aches and pains?  I'd have to say that they've only moved.  My feet feel better than running with shoes.  Hamstrings are tighter and seem to be getting more of a workout.  IT-band issues about the same.  
  • Faster?  Maybe.  I'm still going such short distances (2+ miles) it's hard to say.  My comfortable pace is still pretty slow at around 7 to 7.5 mi/hr.
  • More fun?  Yes with bare feet, maybe not with the Vibrams.
Maybe the novelty will wear off, but the barefoot experience is still exhilarating.  My feet tell me a lot about how fast I can safely run.  I get a thrill from feeling the temperature and texture of the concrete, rocks, sticks, etc.  It takes my full concentration looking for obstacles, landing gently, etc.

Gravel paths are still challenging

With the Vibrams, it's closer to the shod experience.  I'm more likely to get lazy and revert to poor form.  I don't get the input from the environment.

Ben Franklin is often paraphrased about those who choose safety over freedom deserve neither.  Is the same true for running?   It's probably a stretch, but I'm leaning towards more barefoot fewer Vibram runs.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Quick Check-in
Where am I?  This week was my longest barefoot run to date at a whopping 2.5 miles.  Here's the summary:

Jan 6
Jan 8
2.04 mi @ 6.4 mi/hr
2.54 mi @ 7.6 mi/hr
Warm, dry pavement
Cold, wet, pavement + gravel trail
Issues running
Pain in right knee, right groin muscle, left achilles
Feet stinging
Post run issues

Slight detour -- I've been using Cardio Trainer on my Nexus One to track miles and pace.  The app also tracks elevation change and has some other nifty features, but I'd have to say that the killer feature is that it talks.  I was actually shocked to hear it the first time I used it.  I was running along and after a bit it called out my pace.  A bit later, it called out the distance I'd gone.  I've used a Garmin wrist GPS before, but the talking aspect is much better as I don't have to focus on a small screen as I run.

Back to the main program.  The good news is that my feet performed like champs.  Or alternatively, I've learned to be gentle on them.  The cold and wet is a bit uncomfortable, but the dry pavement feels great.

In the 'not so great' category, I've got work to do on being gentle on the rest of my drive-train.  During the run, my knees felt tight and my right groin muscle felt like I'd pulled it.  I'm not sure if it's technique, weak muscles, not enough stretching (or too much stretching?).  Time will tell.

Sunday, January 03, 2010

True Love

Is there anything as wonderful in life than to be totally and unconditionally supported by someone?  I think not.  I wasn't expecting to find someone other than my parents who I could include in this category, but then I met my lovely wife.

As previously reported, like 99%+ of the rest of the country, my wife thinks barefoot running is crazy.  And yet, on Christmas morning, I was given a single box containing not one but two (count 'em, two!) pairs of Vibram Five Fingers shoes.  A pair of each the Sprints and the KSOs.  Can you say kid in a candy store?  I was shocked.

I was particularly shocked because the Five Fingers have a very precise sizing system which requires you measuring your feet with a ruler.  Did she just guess?  Measure my feet in my sleep?  Nope.  Measured the impression on my shoe insoles.  Very clever, that wife of mine.

She got it as right as she could have if she'd measured my feet directly.  But still not quite right.  Why?  My right foot comes out at just a hair over 11 inches but my left foot is right at 10.5 inches.  I never knew.  Total freak-show.  I'm off to join the circus.  "Come see the man with different sized feet!"  Okay, maybe it's not that uncommon to have different foot sizes.  I've read somewhere of a barefooter reporting that his shoe size gradually shrank as the muscles in his feet grew stronger.  Maybe mine will even out eventually.

I'd worn them all morning, but had been too busy putting together our Christmas feast to take them on the road.  With the turkey in the oven, I had a bit of time to kill.  My brother, though 2 inches taller, has almost the same foot-size.  He took the KSOs and I the Sprints.

Yeah, I'm the shrimp at 6' 2"+.

How do I like them?  I like them very much.  They let my feet flex and roll very much like with no shoes at all and protect my feet from all but the biggest bumps.  They're also possibly the most grip-ey foot ware I've ever put on -- they corner like crazy.  Gone are the worries of broken glass, splinters, gravel, and road-borne toxins.

On the downside, it isn't like running barefoot.  I can't feel the concrete and don't get as much feedback from my feet on how to land lightly.  There's still some sense of breaking the mold and stickin' it to da man, but not like being bare.

And then there's the problem of my long right foot.  What problem could this possibly cause?  Well...the amazingly sticky tread covers the front of the big toe.  In my first outing, I lost concentration for a bit and dragged my big toe.  My toe curled under and errrrrrrip!

No damage to my toe, mind you.  Is this a design flaw, an anatomical defect, a lapse in concentration or a perfect storm of all three?  I'm not sure, but it's happened on two separate runs so I'm beginning to think it isn't a random happening.  I am finding that concentration is one of the keys that I'm developing in barefoot running.  More on that later.

And my brother?  I was surprised when he told me that he felt like his toes were being spread more than in his regular shoes but otherwise didn't notice much difference.  He's been following his own path of running discovery and trying to incorporate Tai Chi teachings.  More on that later as well.

I'm excited to run in the Vibrams again today.  I think I'll mix it up with some completely barefoot and some Five Finger runs.  Each have advantages and drawbacks.  I'll have to see if one ends up winning.