Saturday, February 27, 2010

Advice... It's worth what you pay for it

I'm celebrating.  I've had my first week after starting this barefoot running experiment where I have no soreness the day after a run.  Gravel paths have gone from "ouch!" to "interesting...".  I'm thinking it's a good time to reflect on what I've learned getting here.

Before I go into what worked for me, I have to say that this is not advice.  I started this crazy project by reading everything I could from others who'd been there and done it.  Many of them had advice about stride length, body position, arm-swing, name it.  Looking back on my struggles, I'd have to say I would have been better off without reading what I'd read.  I screwed my self up, but good, trying to follow the advice of others.

That said, I think there is possible insight to be gained by reading the struggles of others as a basis for working through problems.

So what worked for me?  After ending up sore trying to follow the advice of others, I came up with a simple rule: If it hurts, try something different until it doesn't.  Yeah, yeah, okay, what about more specifics?  I have a few thoughts below.

Problems and solutions

IssuePresumed CausePresumed Solution
Sore archesWeak foot musclesBarefoot long walks
Sore foot-padsWeak foot and leg musclesBarefoot walks, building running distance slowly
Sore calf muscleWeak calfBuilding running distance slowly (disappeared after a month or so)
Sore calf tendon (Flexor Digitorum Longus)Swinging arms too-far side to sideArms move nearly straight forward/back.  Someone from the Chi Running camp can tell me how I'm screwing up my mechanics on this one.
Sore, tight hamstring (semitendinosus)REALY weak hamstringHamstring stretch, foam roller, hamstring exercises.  I particularly like the single-leg romanian deadlift while holding a weight as it works all the balance muscles in my foot and leg.  
Tight, painful back musclesHolding muscles tight during runningFocusing on relaxing during running -- keeping spine straight and vertical, relaxing abdomen.

One might ask, did all this need fixing?  That is, if I was just running in shoes, would this be necessary?  Some of it, like the tight back muscles was a problem when running with shoes as well.  I'm banking a bit on the research that indicates better long term joint durability from running barefoot.  And how can I complain about having stronger feet and legs with better balance?

I'd love to hear about other's experiences of failures and triumphs. Feel free to comment, or send links to your blogs to

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Between work and new baby, I'm finding it hard to get in as many runs as I'd like.  I'm finding that just walking barefoot helps tremendously in keeping my feet muscles strong and soles tough.

As I leave the house for a stroll with Liam, I'm hearing my wife's words echo in my head. "They won't let you into ____", where ____ is whatever store I'm on my way to -- Whole Foods, the taqueria, etc.  I worry on my trip that she may be right.  Am I going to come home grocery-less and sans burritos?  A complete failure as a father?  My wife was good enough to take a picture of this failure-in-making on my way out the door.

I'm thinking at some point in history, bare feet became associated with poor or crazy or both.  Poor because you're crazy, or crazy because you're poor.  Any shopkeep worth their salt would do their darndest to keep these miscreants out.  The good news seems to be that times have changed, at least here in San Francisco.

Whole Foods?  Nothing but broad smiles and "What can I help you find?".  Taqueria?  Two burritos, no waiting.  Ha-ha!  Now mad with power, I'm going barefoot everywhere on the weekends.  I got in 5'ish miles last weekend tootling around the city.

My wife is still not particularly happy being seen with me.  She let me know this in no uncertain terms during last weekend's trip to a furniture store.  She claimed that nobody approached to help us because she was with a crazy man.  Maybe.  I interpreted it as politely waiting to help us at the slightest indication.  This is still the topic of lively debate.  If anyone knows folks who work at Room and Board in San Francisco, please ask them and let me know.