Barefoot Running in the Cold on Gravel + Getting Kicked off the Nike Campus

Portland fall/winter weather has officially arrived, bringing with it a sense of calm, stillness, and quiet solitude.  Yes, it’s cold as hell, but with cozy cold weather running gear, lots of blinky things and a trusty head lamp, the exploring doesn’t stop when the darkness descends upon us.  Just to be clear, the darkness descends upon us in this part of the country around 4:00 PM in the winter time. 

It’s also that time of year when the running questions shift from, “What if you step on broken glass/needles/ebola virus/poop”  to, “Don’t you get cold, what if your toes freeze off your foot, can you really wear VFF’s in snow?”

Earlier this year in March, Portland got a light dusting of snow, resulting in a couple of inches sticking to the ground at higher elevations.  I decided to take the Prius up to Forest Park and run a nice 18 mile training run through the mud and snow in preparation for the Eugene Marathon.  I bundled myself up, strapped on my Injinji socks and Vibram Bikilas, and set off down the Birch Trail to connect to Wildwood.  I got about 30 seconds into the snow and muck, and decided this was a dumb idea.  My toes were already numb and uncomfortable and I was COLD!  While I was used to running in the cold mud in Forest Park, I’d never added snow to the equation. 

Well, I take that back.  There was one time when I was visiting my in-laws just outside of Boston in December, 2010 when I ran in the snow in my Vibram TrekSports.  But that was when I was just starting this journey, and I could run only about 30 minutes at a time.  The snow was just perfect there too, a cute, soft little squeak as I gently caressed the surface and sunk down just a little.  It was more like running on hard packed sand, a perfect running surface.

Back to the slop fest in Forest Park last March.  The running surface I was dealing with that day was nothing like the perfect, white, flawless festival beneath my feet in Boston.  We’re talking muck and snow up to my ankles with every frosty step.  Yep, 18 miles to go.  Something told me to keep going, but I was honestly thinking that I might have black, frost-bitten nubs for feet by the end of this. Surprisingly, about 5 minutes after starting, my feet sprang to life.  Hello again feet!  They nearly felt alien, as I slowly became aware of each little appendage reaching out and gripping the rocks and roots as they normally do.  “Don’t worry mom, we’re fine!”  That’s what I imagined they were saying as they yawned back to life. 

That 18 mile training run is to date, one of the best runs I’ve ever had.  The snow no longer strangled my foot with each step.  Instead, it became a welcome houseguest in Forest Park, decorating the trees and logs, adding beauty and diversity to the normally green trail.  Remember the joy of jumping in puddles?  I came up with a new word that day, “smuddles” which is a snow and mud puddle.  I know, I’m a total cheeseball.  The people on the trail that day were few, but they were also some of the most fun, outrageous folks I’ve seen.  “GREAT DAY FOR A RUN!!” one man shouted, throwing his head back and laughing hysterically.  “It’s so beautiful!!” said a sweet lady with a dog that was covered in mud and snow as he bounded along.

That day was truly an awakening, because I realized that running barefoot or in VFF’s (or any other minimalist shoes) probably didn’t have many limits.  If I can run in snow/slush for 18 miles and keep all 10 of my toes toasty warm, anything is possible.

Fast forward to the first cold snap this season.  Now, I consider myself somewhat of an expert minimalist footwear runner, and an amateur barefoot runner.  The best way I’ve found to ward off those feelings of anxiety about your feet hitting the cold ground is to start with the shoes on.  Whatever your preferred footwear, (mine are my VFF SeeYas or my new Invisible Shoes) run with these on for about the first 0.5 mile, then go ahead and take them off and carry them along as “hand weights.”  Your feet should be sufficiently warm by this time to go ahead and go bare.  To date, I’m up to 7 barefoot miles on pavement without any discomfort.  I still feel amateur however because I’m not great on rougher surfaces like trails, woodchip paths, and especially gravel.  So my new goal is to build up the soles of my feet in order to be comfortable running barefoot on any surface.  Sounds easy, right?  Well, not so much when you live in the suburbs with lots of buttery smooth sidewalks to run on.

However, it just so happens that I live about one mile away from the World Nike Campus.  That’s right, the nucleus, the brain, the empire of Nike is spittin’ distance from my doorstep.  Nike’s campus is nothing short of beautiful, with it’s glittery, shiny buildings, duck ponds, waterfalls, and other man-made marvels.  Fortunately for me, Nike has a beautiful woodchip trail winding through it that’s at least a couple of miles long.  They also have a brand spankin’ new path that winds through the woods behind me that is a fine gravel surface.  Unfortunately for Nike, they have a wannabe barefooter that frequently trespasses on their pretty little trails barefoot, wearing running sandals, or Vibram Five Fingers.  Muahahahaha….  You see, they put these little signs up that nonchalantly say, “Use for Nike Employees Only.”  So even though they have these wonderful trails, they are supposedly to be used only by Nike employees?  Nah, seems like all of the community should be able to use them.  Afterall, they’re so awesome! Right? 

So the other day, on my second or third run out in my new Invisible Shoes huaraches, I decided that I was going to run over to Nike and try them out on the wood chip trail.  I’ve never actually been stopped by a security guard on the campus, so I didn’t think anything of it when I turned into the waterfall entrance and ran past the barriers.  “M’am?  I need to see your Nike employee ID please?”  Huh? A very serious looking security guard was looking me up and down, but mostly down at my naked feet in my Invisible Shoes.

Look how cute my pendant is!

“Um, I don’t have that.”  I said, trying to keep a straight face although a smile was creeping up before I could stop it.

“What in the heck are you wearing?”  He managed, before beginning to laugh himself.

“Huaraches!” I said proudly, working on my pronunciation.  “They’re running sandals.”  It was quite obvious at this point that I didn’t work for Nike.

“Well I’ve never seen those before!  I’m sorry, but I can’t let you in.”

“Ok thanks anyway!!” I tried to say cheerfully.

“Be careful in those,” he said, sounding genuinely concerned for both my safety and my mental state.

I happily ran off back toward the road, and then proceeded to cut through the trees and onto the wood chip path that I knew was there.  Woohoo!  Success.  While I don’t encourage trespassing, it’s sort of known that even though you’re supposed to be a Nike employee to run on the trail, many people in the community use it as a running trail, and I think it’s great that they’re usually pretty flexible.  I suppose it was just pretty obvious that I wasn’t an employee on this particular day.  I also have to admit, it’s a bit thrilling to run injury free and barefoot or almost barefoot in the lap of the running shoe giant.  A giant which I consider to be the main creator and distributor of a thick, padded, heeled shoe and therefore the cause of many running injuries, including all of mine.  That’s over a decade of running injured that I didn’t really need, but was manipulated by the ideals that Nike created for a profit.  However, Nike probably also increased the popularity of running and fitness in general ten-fold, so you win some, you lose some.  But now, as a physical therapist, I’m trying to undo a lot of the brainwashing that has been ingrained for so long.  And people think I’m the nutty one!  🙂  Well, maybe I am, a little.

 I was very happy that my sandals held up wonderfully on the wood chips, and the sensation of the chips brushing my toes was uplifting.  So much so, that I got the courage to take my shoes off and run barefoot along the wood chips which was even more exciting.  Let’s just say, I still have work to do in this department.

Last night, I had another Nike encounter.  I was just finishing up a delightful 7 mile run in my new Invisible Shoes, and turned on to my street to head home.  I’m really beginning to like those shoes!  Again, my toes were a little cold in the beginning of my run in the 38 degree weather, but quickly warmed up.  I spied the fine gravel Nike path winding through the darkness into the woods, and couldn’t resist taking my shoes off and trying another go at it.  The other night, I tried this and could only manage to walk gingerly over the gravel for about 3 minutes.  That stuff’s no joke, sharp little boogers digging into all the spots on my feet that don’t normally hit the ground.  So I whipped off my shoes and began carefully walking over the gravel.  I decided to start channeling Jessica Lee from the Barefoot Runnning movie with Michael Sandler.  They say that when running over a rough surface, try to bend your knees and get low, closer to the ground.  Straighten out your arms and swing them like a monkey to try to land as light as possible, increasing the surface area that is hitting the ground to try to distribute the forces coming into your feet.

So, with a burst of confidence, I began swinging my arms like the best of apes and off I went, running lightly, low to the ground through the darkness with my headlamp switched on. It was pretty dark in there, but note that I was actually only about 10 feet away from the brightly lit sidewalk, an important safety consideration.  I was doing pretty well actually!  I let a couple of “ooh ouch eeks” slip out as a few gravel pieces were really hitting where it hurts.  Running on gravel is supposed to be one of the best surfaces for pad development though, so I was determined.  I was really starting to do my best monkey impression and might’ve let out a few “ooh ooh ah ahs” when one of the hazards of cold weather running hit me.  You know what I’m talking about.  Snot.  Yep, when it’s cold outside,  let’s face it y’all, we have to let the snot fly.  My husband, Mike, taught me how to blow an expert snot rocket, so I wasn’t too worried.  As I monkey waddled along, I turned my head to let the snot rocket fly.  I must have really been into this moment, because I didn’t even hear the head to toe dressed Nike employee or perhaps sponsored runner flying towards me to pass by.  I looked up just as the snot flew, mid monkey stance, mid “ooh ooh ah ah”.  My headlamp shined across his face just in time to see his horrified, confused look.  What?  I wondered.  Oh, right.  I’m barefoot running on the Nike trail, like  a monkey, blowing snot rockets, while this guy is dressed to a T in his neon Nike running jacket and neon Nike shoes as he blew past me.  I listened to his jacket flapping as he ran off, then started cracking up as I began to put myself in his shoes.  Well, at least I was having fun!!  He looked a little too uptight for a Friday night run.  I was actually quite pleased that I could run like this on the gravel!  Thanks Jessica Lee, for your perfect monkey running demo in the movie.  I was able to do a 3 minute gravel run versus a 3 minute gravel walk from the other night.

To sum up this post, cold weather barefoot and minimalist running is possible and quite enjoyable.  If you’re not having fun, it’s not worth it!  Be prepared to have some cold feet during your initial warm up, but realize that as your core temperature heats up, vasodilation occurs and you will enjoy warm blood coming into your toes and feet as they work hard to capture the ground.  Additionally, try playing with varied surfaces including concrete, asphault, wood chips, gravel, and best of all, natural trails to encourage pad development.  Even if you’re running in shoes, the different surfaces will help to prepare your muscles for anything.  Trail running will encourage lateral movements which we don’t encounter very often running on pavement.  In turn, we are stronger, happier runners by increasing our strength and changing the scene every so often.  And light yourself up in the dark so you can be seen!

The Unwanted Attention From Running Barefoot. Or Perhaps, Running Female?

It’s official.  While running barefoot tonight, a guy wrecked his car while craning his neck to stare.  Now, as runners, we’ve all had our share of honks, cat calls, whistles, and the occasional, “Run Forrest, run!”  However, I admit that since I’ve been venturing out more in my bare feet, people REALLY STARE.  Sometimes, I entertain myself by watching people drive by in cars and coming up with their thought bubbles.  Here are a few of my favorites:

“What the…”  I can usually see people mouth this at stoplights.

“Crazy hippie.”

“Is she?  No.  Wait, yes she is!”

“That b**** is cray cray!”

“She’s gonna catch the Herp.”  I often insert other random diseases here.

“What if there’s glass?”  Insert other objects here too.

And my favorite, “That girl is a huge badass!”  I’m not sure anyone has actually ever said that, but we can dream.  Either way, it’s all in good fun, watching the folks drive by and wondering what they’re thinking.  That is, until tonight.

I went out for a run tonight around 8:00, uncertain of how far I was going to go.  I decided to go barefoot, but brought my VFF’s just in case my tootsies got sore.  It was a beautiful evening, but pretty chilly at about 45 degrees.  I always run on well-lit, main roads if going out after dark and light myself up with neon reflectors and as many blinking lights I can fit on my body. 

I arrived at a smaller intersection just as a car was getting ready to turn left onto the street that I was about to cross.  I pushed the walk signal and waited for him to make his turn.  This is when I noticed that he was proceeding slowly, leaned over his seat so he could see me as he turned.  Then, it all happened very fast as I realized that he was swinging way too wide, and I jumped back from the street so he didn’t sideswipe me with the right side of his old blue Suzuki.  I stood there with my jaw hanging open as he rammed into the curb, sending sparks flying and some unknown piece of purply blue plastic flew through the air.  Shortly after, his car popped up onto the curb, putting the tiny thing at a terribly awkward angle.  The Suzuki came to a brief stop, then the engine revved and it lurched back onto the street and tried to speed off.  I stood there stunned for a moment, then realized the walk signal was on and I continued on, shaking my head.

I was still thinking about how weird that was a few minutes later, but was beginning to shake it off and I even began to enjoy myself a little bit.  That’s when I noticed a car slowing down next to me on the busy road that I was running on, which was very odd.  I looked, and it was the same blue Suzuki, looking notably more beat up than the first time I saw it.  He rolled down the window and yelled something at me.  Luckily, I have no idea what he said because there was noise from other cars, but I’m sure it was nothing good.  Yikes!  He must have circled back around and found me again.  Afterall, I was still on the same main road.  I had a sinking feeling, but I was happy that I was in a well-lit area and there were plenty of other cars around.

A few minutes down the road, I came upon an auto body shop that has a sizeable parking lot.  It’s usually empty this time of night except for the fleet of trucks for the shop.  But there it was, the blue Suzuki.  Fortunately, I was really on my toes tonight (literally and figuratively hehe) because I saw what was about to happen and I was able to respond quickly.  He sat idling in the parking lot, obviously waiting for me to approach the driveway.  He peeled out into the driveway, effectively blocking my path to cross and began to roll down his window.  Fear pricked my spine, shooting out signals to my skin, standing my hair on end.  Adrenaline coursed through my body, and my eyes shot open wider in preparation for the events that were about to unfold.  I jumped back away from the car and back-peddled to increase the distance between us.  I quickly sized him up:  white guy, glasses, heavy, facial hair.  Judging by the way that he was spilling out of his tiny car, I decided I could definitely out-run him.  No problem.  Judging by the way his car looked after wrecking into the curb, I decided I might be able to out-run that hunk a junk too.

“You want to speak to me??”  He barked out of his window, menacingly.  He had an accent that I couldn’t place, and I began to wonder what on earth he wanted.  Was he mad because it was somehow “my fault” that he wrecked his car?  Was he hitting on me?  Did he just feel like harassing a random person tonight?

“No!” I yelled back emphatically, trying to gather all the confidence in my body.

A stare down ensued for what felt like an hour, and I was still ready to bolt at the slightest move.  “Good!”  he finally snapped back and then squealed off in his car.  What just happened?  I was so freaked out that I forgot to get his plate number.  I’m usually so good about that stuff!  I hauled off towards another main road that I knew was less than 1/4 mile away.  Meanwhile, I watched every car go by, watching for him to come back.  I turned off down the other main road and made a giant loop to get  home, hoping he wouldn’t know which way I turned. 

Success, I never saw him again.  I have no idea what he wanted or why he was after me.  Come to think of it, I have no idea why he was staring so much that he wrecked his car in the first place.  As runners, (or walkers or cyclists, etc.) we always have to watch out for motorists, but we should not have to be subjected to harassment.  I haven’t experienced anything like what happened tonight in a long time, but I’ve certainly been harassed before. 

While running barefoot certainly gets more attention than usual, running as a female has always been interesting.  I’m convinced that anyone running with a ponytail or running tights is more at risk for these types of dangerous encounters.  I can remember back in middle/high school calling the police on a stalker that would harass  me nearly every time I went out for a run.  How did he always know when I was out there??  He was banned from the neighborhood, but then he got a new car and started doing the same thing until I called the police again.

So the moral of the story is, please be safe when out running.  Watch for motorists doing strange things, wear reflectors at night, run in daylight if possible and run in well-lit areas at night. If listening to music, keep one headphone out and keep the music on low so you can hear cars and people approaching.  Mike got me some pepper spray to carry, I really wish I’d thought to carry that tonight.  Please be aware and run happy!  Most importantly, don’t let weirdos discourage you from getting out there and doing your thing, because we will prevail!

My Journey to Becoming a Barefoot Runner, Part 1

Tonight, I had one of the top ten best runs of my life.  No, top five, for sure.  Fall weather has finally descended upon us here in Oregon, unpredictable and wild.  I got home from Pilates feeling energized and decided to go for a barefoot run.  Let me be clear: When I say barefoot, I mean naked feet, not running in Vibram Five Fingers or VFF’s for short.  Although I do run in VFF’s often, I’ve been venturing out more and more in my nudey feet.  The streets were wet, but it was only misting outside and the temperature was a perfect 60 degrees. 

Off I went, taking in the fresh evening air.  About half a  mile in, the rain came, exploding  from the sky with such focused energy that it literally startled me.  My first thought was, “Crap!”  My second thought was, “Sweet!! LET’S DO THIS!”  It took less than one second for my mind to switch gears and begin to feed off the strength of the rain that was quickly flooding the streets.  My feet were on sensory overload with the wet leaves, twigs and giant puddles that crossed my path and I took in all in with gratitude.  As the rains raged on in the darkness, I was running faster and faster, my clothes plastered to my body and smiling the whole way.  As I ran past the McDonald’s drive-thru, a lady sitting in her car stared at me like I was a total lunatic as I fist pumped my way through the monsoon.  I even got up the courage to wave to her to come join me, but she acted as if she was more interested in her Big Mac than joining me for a barefoot romp in the slanted rain.  Weird.  For five glorious miles, the rain poured and I was soaked and full of joy.  So how did I go from an injury ridden cushioned shoe heel striker to the loony neighborhood barefooter?  Great, I’m glad you asked.  Let me tell you:

In October, 2009 I encountered one of the nastiest injuries I’ve had to date.  I was running in St. Augustine, FL on the flattest beach you have ever seen.  I had just returned from an internship in Vermont, where I spent my weekends running a few miles on the beautiful paths of the Appalachian Trail, so I was feeling pretty confident of my footing on the beach.  I should note that I was also sporting custom orthotics, a heel lift in my left shoe, and the best stability shoes on the market with a huge built up heel and medial support.  All of the sudden, a giant sea shell rose up from beneath the sand and attacked my foot.  I didn’t really feel it with all that stuff under my soles, but the next thing I knew, I heard my ankle make a sickening SNAP and I fell flat on my face.  NOT GOOD.  Tried to get up.  Fell again.  NOT GOOD.  Finally, I made it to my feet and tried to “walk it off.”  It was terribly painful.

Being a physical therapist and a runner is a funny thing, really.  You see, the physical therapist sits on one shoulder and tells you, “Do the right thing and stop running because you’re obviously flat on your face and injured.”  The runner sits on the other shoulder and has no common sense at all, because she tells you, “Keep running you worthless turd, you’re fine!  Walk it off!”  Unfortunately, I listened to the runner on this occasion, and ran the two miles home.  I didn’t really see any other choice, I needed to get home!  My ankle was a pretty, purple softball when I got home.

As it turns out, I had a partially torn calcaneo-fibular ligament (CFL) and a completely torn anterior talo-fibular ligament (ATFL), two ligaments that are commonly involved in a lateral ankle sprain.  The podiatrist used ultrasound imaging to confirm this, although he said there may be a single string left in my ATFL.  If there was, it sure didn’t look or feel like it.  I was terrified to walk on my foot for fear it would give out again at any moment, so I resorted to wearing a beautiful orthopedic boot for a while.  I developed a complication with the healing process called Anterior Impingement Syndrome, which was likely my anterior capsule of the tibiotalar joint getting pinched every time I dorsiflexed or brought my toes up towards my nose.  This happened with every step as well as when trying to stretch my Achille’s tendon, which was painfully tight due to wearing the boot.

Over the next year, this improved slowly, but I was still battling chronic ankle pain on a daily basis.  My running was not going well, and I was only up to about 4-5 miles at a time with my huge shoes and equipment inside.  By this time, it was October, 2010 and I was living in Portland, OR working as a P.T.  Almost a year to the day of my first ankle sprain, I went out for a run on a rainy October evening.  I made it about 2 minutes down the road before I was flat on my face in the middle of the sidewalk. “NOOOO!!!” I shrieked to no one in particular, and followed that with a slew of profanities.  I had sprained the same ankle again on an unknown piece of uneven sidewalk that I never saw or felt coming.  A scared, elderly gentleman was in the nearby storage center and kindly asked if I needed an ambulance.  I told him I would survive (although I wasn’t sure) and hobbled back to my apartment where I knew my husband, Mike, was working out in the gym.  I burst into the gym soaking wet and panicked and asked Mike (also a physical therapist) to test my ankle and determine the damage.  The test confirmed my greatest fear, that my ligaments were totally incapable of supporting my ankle.  I had a full blown MELTDOWN.  It’s a good thing I have such a wonderful husband because he stood by while I rolled around on the floor like a wounded animal and decided that I would never run again. 

The next few weeks was filled with icing my ankle and brainstorming.  Let’s face it, I was a lousy runner.  I’d had nearly every running injury possible and hadn’t even come close to my longterm goal of running a marathon.  Sometime over the next month or two, I was on Facebook, when my friend Ryan (also a physical therapist) posted something about running in Vibrams.  That’s right, those goofy shoes with 5 toes.  Gorilla shoes.  I was intrigued.  Coincidentally, Ryan was also the person who showed me an article about barefoot running while we were in school that always stayed with me.  At the time, I thought I could never run barefoot, and anyone who did had probably lost their mind.  I also remembered the seed that Steve Vighetti, PT had planted in my brain when rehabbing the first ankle sprain.  He was convinced I didn’t need all the junk in my shoes, and maybe I should go back to the basics.

Then, a funny thing happened.  I started using my brain and thinking about all the knowledge I had acquired over the past few years.  I finally stopped listening to the people who told me for all those years that I needed support, custom orthotics, and a giant marshmallow shoe.  I donated my new cushy running shoes, and I went out and bought my first pair of Vibram Five Fingers, the Trek Sport model.  My friend Ryan had successfully inspired me to buy them along with my very own copy of the now famous book Born to Run, by Christopher McDougall.  I devoured Born to Run and breathed new life into my legs and feet by beginning to run and walk for very short distances in my TrekSports.  Much more about this in the next post, along with how to properly increase your running distance in your bare feet or minimalist shoes.  I will also provide much more insight into why bare is better and point you to some fascinating research studies that have confirmed this. 

In the meantime, if you see a crazy person running barefoot in a monsoon, I would love some company.  You don’t know what you’re missing!

How to Survive Your Husband Being Hit By a Car Without Soiling Your Running Skirt and the Eugene Marathon

This whole week leading up to the Portland Marathon has been bittersweet.  I have been so pumped up and excited that I’m ready to run the thing fast enough that I pick up a sponsor like Lululemon.  Or Athleta.  Or any sportswear company for that matter.  In fact, I’m going to deck myself out like a sucker in a neon Lululemon racing tank and cow spotted Lululemon shorts just in case they notice and decide that I’m the perfect specimen to parade around in all their clothes.  Ha!  I don’t think they regularly sponsor midpackers but we’re allowed to dream,right? I’m thinking I’m going to sport this outfit but maybe with the neon yellow shirt this time.  This is from the Wildwood Trail Half Marathon back in July:

Anyway, my point is, this week is remniscent of my first marathon back in April 2012  because I wish my husband Mike was going to be running it with me.  When I say with me, I really mean about an hour ahead of me, but you catch my drift.  On April 22, 2012, exactly a week before the Eugene Marathon, Mike decided he was going to go for an “easy” bike ride to “spin his legs.”  About 15 minutes later, I got the call that no one wants to receive:  My husband had been hit by a car.  Luckily, he was smart enough to call me and tell me so that I wouldn’t panic.  So, I did what any wife would do.  I got off the phone, and had a full blown PANIC ATTACK! 

After I gathered myself enough to operate a vehicle, I drove to the scene of the accident where I saw a tiny boy (the driver was 16 years old) who looked like he might also be having a panic attack.  I was so angry with him at that moment that I had tears streaming down my cheeks and I got out of the car and stared him down.  This, by the way, did no one any good at all.   In fact, he’s probably still having nightmares about the Devil Lady with Horns who tried to curse him that day.  After that brief, joyous moment, I ran over to Mike and found him with a worthless ice pack on his knee that was already lukewarm.  But he was ALIVE!  I was a little worried though, because he wasn’t making any sense at all.  His first words were, “Well, this may slow me down a little bit at the marathon next weekend.”  What??  He couldn’t bear weight on his left leg, it was growing in size by the second, and he couldn’t even bend it to get in the car to go to the ER.  I didn’t want to ruin his day any more, so I quietly agreed with him.  Secretly, I was reminding myself to have them check his head in the ER.

After 6 hours in the ER, Mike had an Xray, a couple of pain pills, some killer road rash, and a giant knee immobilizer for his giant knee.  I should note that no one checked his head or checked for internal injuries.  We got him home around 10:30 or so, and he decided that he was going to take an ice bath to try to get the swelling down.  About 10 minutes later, I was helping him out of the tub because he couldn’t bear weight on the leg and things started going downhill.

 First, Mike wants me to be sure to include the fact that I was checking out his bod, so I didn’t notice right away how his face was quickly losing color.  We sat him down on the toilet lid to get dried off, when all of the sudden, Mike was gone.  Lifeless, like a rag doll.  And then there were the convulsions and twitches that you never want to see happening to a loved one.  PANIC ATTACK!!  Thoughts of internal injuries, head injuries, and other terrible thoughts were flooding my mind.  I quickly drug him down onto the floor and put his feet up on the toilet seat.  Apparently, adrenaline can make you pretty strong…  I ran out of the room in search for my phone, called 911 and told them my dilemma.  By the time I got back into the bathroom, he was awake!  So much so, that he’d actually gotten himself back into sitting on the toilet.  Apparently, when I ran to get my phone, he woke up, realized he was on the floor, and climbed back onto the seat so that I wouldn’t worry.  He was trying to tell me he was fine, but he was slurring his words and still looked like a ghost, so I told the ambulance to come take him away. 

The ambulance crew arrived and I already had him back down on the floor in the living room compulsively taking his blood pressure, heart rate and oxygen sats.  I saw the look when they walked in, you know, the subtle exchange between medical personnel that says, “This lady is batshit crazy.”  They slapped an EKG on him and were whispering to each other about ST segment elevation, etc etc. 

“WHAT?!”  Oops, I let batshit crazy lady come out.  ST segment elevation can be a sign of a number of medical issues, but the one that was sticking out in my mind was MI, also known as a heart attack.  Based on their leads, the ambulance drivers were suggesting acute pericarditis, also known as swelling in the sac surrounding the heart.  They swept him off, back to the ER.  I had a moment in the house to gather myself and some warmer clothes for Mike, considering he’d just come out of the ice bath.

When I arrived at the ER again, I found Mike hooked up to yet another EKG.  This one was not showing ST segment elevation or any other abnormalities except for Mike’s usual bradycardia also known as “slow ass heart rate.”  Mike has a resting heart rate that averages around 40 bpm,which qualifies him as superhuman.  After another 4-5 hours, Mike was diagnosed as having a fainting spell and sent home again.  Thanks to pain pills and exhaustion, Mike slept fairly well that night.  Unfortunately, his batshit crazy wife stayed up half the night checking to be sure he was still breathing.

The next week was hard.  One of the hardest weeks of my life.  I was still scared something else was going to happen to him, I was scared I wasn’t doing a good job caring for him, and I was terrified of what was to come with his knee and other orthopedic injuries.  Mike is an incredible athlete, so I thought he might never get back out there.  However, please remember that my sport is running, and when runners get hurt we think that we will never run again.  Oh the drama!

My parents came in town the next weekend for the marathon.  My marathon mommy was planning to run the second half of it with me.  Such a badass!  It was nice to have family around for the marathon weekend, what an experience that was!  Mom always said she would come and run it with me if I ever actually succeeded, hell I’d only been trying to run one for 6 years.  Thanks to minimalist running, I ran a half marathon within 5 months of wearing those cray cray toe shoes.  I hadn’t run over 10 miles since the My Hip is Going to Fall Off Disease incident, which was 5 years prior to beginning to wear Vibram Five Fingers.  More about VFF’s and how to begin running in them in future posts.

The marathon was amazing.  Well, mostly.  I had to pee just about every porta-potty stop, and waited at least 3 minutes for one.  I guess I was excited about the race and my body’s response was PEE EVERY 5 MINUTES!  I also got choked up around mile 22 thinking about how Mike would probably be finishing the race if he was running.  My mom saw it happening (as mommys usually do) and redirected me so that I wouldn’t totally lose it and go into PANIC ATTACK mode again.  I don’t think I hit the infamous “wall” except for maybe at mile 25.  I literally wasn’t sure if I was going to finish the race.  One mile seemed like a holy eternity away, but luckily the last half mile was inundated with good natured folks cheering us on.  Then there was that lady again, who somehow was in three separate spots on the course, holding up a sign that said “Smile, you’re fresh as a daisy!”  Not only was she holding up the sign, but she was saying it over and over again with a huge smile on her face.  How do you not love that lady?  I wanted to tell her she saved my life!

Crossing the finish line was very surreal.  My mom was there and it was one of the most memorable moments of my life.  Not to mention, the Eugene Marathon finish is on the famous Hayward Field, the ol’ stomping ground for Steve Prefontaine.  Show love.  I finished under 4 hours, which was my secret goal.  My public goal was to drag myself willing or unwilling across the finish, dead or alive.  My time was 3 hours, 58 minutes something or other.  I’m convinced if I didn’t have to pee so many times, I would’ve come in a few minutes prior.  For the upcoming Portland Marathon, maybe I’ll take my co-worker Becky’s joking advice from this morning and just pee myself.  Just kidding! Maybe. 

Despite Mike’s leg continuously swelling during the long hours that I was out running, he cheered me on to the very finish.  Thanks to crutches from a local Portland company, Keen, and our wonderful co-worker Farah, Mike was looking pretty fly with his black cadillac crutches and knee brace.  Here are some pictures of us at the marathon:

So what’s the most important thing we learned from this experience?  We are incredibly lucky.  Let me count the ways, for real. 

1. Mike is alive and well and is training again.  He just destroyed the Portland Triathlon.  And he just went surfing last weekend. 

2. Mike got hit by that car, but the sweet, sweet mother and her 3 babies crossing the road were spared.  She was our guardian angel who was there right when the accident happened to console him and prevent him from trying to get up when he was disoriented.

3. We understand that there is a bigger reason this happened.  Because of this, we could not be more in love.  We also appreciate every day just how fragile our bodies are and have learned what we can do to speed the healing process.  We truly believe that the things Mike ate and how he took care of himself after the accident are directly related to his superhuman healing capabilities.  More about healing foods in posts to come.

4.  We have a new appreciation for our patients and the caregivers who care for them.  Those relationships are so precious and so incredibly difficult at the same time.

This has certainly been a rockin’ year for us, but we have big plans for 2013.  Mike is making a comeback!  Now if I can only catch up…

How to Recover From Your Running Disease(s)

I haven’t always been this way.  I haven’t always been vegetarian, and although I grew up as a pseudo on-again-off-again runner, I didn’t always stick with it.  What I can tell you is that I grew up with two active parents who have always quietly inspired me.  I say quietly because they never asked me to be a runner and they never asked me to be more active.  They simply lived by example, they walked the walk. 

When I was eight years old, my mother ran the Boston marathon.  It was April 18, which also happens to be my birthday, and I also happened to be a stinky, miserable mess because I had some unknown GI tract disease that I was sure was going to be my demise.  I have never been so pissed at my mom for not being with me at that very moment in all my misery.  I remember speaking with her on the phone, and she said to me, “Leigh, I want you to remember this day because you’re going to be proud of your mom one day for running the Boston marathon.”  I had no idea at the time precisely what that meant, but now that I’m adult, of course, she was right.  I’m not sure if it was that day, but somewhere along the way, my mom and dad must have planted a seed, because I now have a new disease:  The Running Disease.  It’s very serious.

Growing up, I ran a few 5k road races here and there, sporting some traditional, supportive, motion control running shoes.  Even at a young age I was told by running shoe gurus, docs, and the orthotist that I had another type of disease:  I was an Overpronator.  It turns out that this is also a very serious disease, because my shoes got more expensive and I had to wear something called custom orthotics, even in my soccer cleats!

Let’s jump ahead to my college years. I always owned a pair of running shoes, but they were quickly gathering dust in the corner.  The orthotics were moldy, I’m sure of it. I’d forgotten about running for a while and was known as the girl who brought a 6-pack of Bud heavy tallboys to the party along with a BBQ chicken calzone from Oscar’s in Knoxville, TN.  In case you were wondering, I finished all that.  By myself.  Also, in case you were wondering, a calzone consisted of a large pizza crust folded on top of itself to create the calzone.  More or less, (probably more) I was basically eating a large pizza to myself on any average Tuesday evening.  Real talk:  I was overweight.  I still remember the day that I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror as I was walking across my room in baggy gray sweatpants and bra.  My skin looked old, my hair was stringy looking, but most importantly, the face looked unhappy and swollen.  WHO THE HELL WAS THAT??  I suddenly saw myself going down a bad road.  Why didn’t I see it before? 

That day, I decided I was going to make a change.  I hadn’t been on a scale in years, so I hopped on my roommate’s scale to get an idea of the damage.  This was bad.  Really bad.  The next day, my beautiful roommate, Katie,  took me to the local Bally’s where she belonged and we did 25 minutes of running followed by 20 minutes on the elliptical trainer.  THOUGHT I WAS GOING TO DIE.  After the workout, I was shaking like a leaf and starving, so I rewarded myself with a cheese pizza.  Afterall, I deserved it right?  I’d burned off all the calories, right?

Over the next 5 years after the gray sweatpants incident, I would lose a significant amount of weight through diet and exercise, but usually gained it back because I was doing the Lean Cuisine deal, the Lean Pockets (diet cheeseburger Hot Pocket anyone? Check out the sodium in those!!) Slim Fast, you name it and I probably tried it. 

I also attempted running again and was pretty decent at the shorter distances, so I began running 5k races again.  One day, when I was 21, I decided I was going to try to run a marathon.  I had some aches and pains, but I figured that comes with running.  Everyone gets hurt running right?  I went for my first 10 mile run without too much excitement except for some mean chafing between my thighs. Otherwise I thought I’d escaped unscathed.  The next day, THOUGHT I WAS GOING TO DIE.  I had a new disease, the My Hip is Going to Fall Off Disease.  More about this in future posts. 

To make a long story short, I spent the next 5 years fighting different ailments that I associated with running such as Runner’s Knee, ITB syndrome, Leg Length Discrepancy, Possible Torn Labrum of the Hip, Iliopsoas Tendonitis, Tendonosis, Rectus Femoris Tendonitis, Lateral Ankle Sprain, SI Joint Pain, Low Back Pain, just to name a few.  Sound familiar to anyone?  :)  So what was the treatment?  There were many suggestions:

  1. Surgery to fix the torn labrum in the hip and torn ligaments in the ankle
  2. More expensive, supportive running shoes
  3. Custom orthotics because you are an Overpronator (which by the way, when combined with the most expensive stability shoes on the market may directly contribute to a lateral ankle sprain)
  4. Grow your left leg to be as long as your right (I still haven’t figured that one out yet)
  5. Stop Running

I gave number 2 and 3 a valiant attempt, leading to more and more injuries.

Then, there was one suggestion I had not considered before.  Steve Vighetti, a physical therapist at the University of St. Augustine, was assisting in my treatment for my lateral ankle sprain.  He was someone that I greatly respected, as he was a FAST runner, and the go to guy for running injuries.  In fact, I was calling out splits at our school’s 5k sporting my sweet boot for my sprained ankle when he ran by.  Or at least I think he ran by.  All I know is, someone flew by with a cute little boy in jog stroller, his hair blown back, cheeks flapping in the wind, giggling uncontollably.  I’m pretty sure the guy pushing the stroller was in first place at that point.   My sweet friend, Melissa said, “that little boy probably thinks he’s in a wind tunnel!”

Anyway, Steve kidnapped my expensive running shoes one day and pulled out my custom orthotics, my medial wedge for my Overpronation, and my heel lift, and threw them on the floor like abandoned children.  “What are you doing?” I asked him, terrified. “I NEED THOSE!” 

“Do you ever think that all this junk may in fact be your problem?”  He asked me matter of factly.  I’d never thought about that before.  However, that day, Steve successfully planted another seed.  Fast forward another 3 years, and I now have another disease: The Barefoot Running Disease.  This is by far, the best disease of all…

So you see, I haven’t always been a barefoot runner, and I certainly haven’t always been vegetarian.  What I know now is that my lifestyle choices today allow me to feel more alive and more excited about running and eating than ever before.  The journey to today has not been an easy one, and this is why I need to share my story.  I’ve had as many or more running injuries as the average runner, and I’ve struggled with eating for most of my life.  Today I feel like my body is strong and lean, and ready for the upcoming Portland Marathon with the support of plant foods, my Vibram Five Finger See Yas http://www.vibramfivefingers.com/products/Five-Fingers-Seeya-Womans.htm, and my loving husband, Mike.  This will be my second full marathon and I hope to follow it with a 50 miler next year.  So here we go, come along with me.  Happy Reading!