There comes a time in training for an event that you think to yourself, “Wow, I can never run that mileage that I’m supposed to run during training!” Then, there’s that pivotal moment when you realize that not only have you done the training, but you’re faster and stronger than before. That’s the beautiful thing about running. You only get out of it what you put into it. So when that moment comes that you realize you’re a BAMF, (I just learned what BAMF means) celebrate your strength and say, “Hey Jack! Hey, you’re gonna do this race boys.” On a side note, I’ve been watching WAY too much “Duck Dynasty.” Have y’all ever watched that show? I think I’m slowly turning into Uncle Si.
This coming weekend, Mike and I are doing the Foot Traffic Holiday Half Marathon in downtown Portland. I am still putting my costume together. I’m thinking tacky Christmas underwear over my tights with a Christmas turtleneck. At the very least, anyway. Now usually, I am content to have a goal of just finishing the race, but for some reason Mike and I both decided to actually go for a PR. My goal time is 1:45 or around an 8:00 min/mile pace, and Mike’s is 1:30 which is about a 6:45 min/mile pace. Yes, he’s fast!
My husband was hit by a car in April of this year, and ever since then, he has had a zest for life that is difficult to keep up with. Ok, I’m totally exhausted. He has always been athletic, but I’ve never seen someone so determined to recover from an injury. He was obsessive about his rehab and has carried that over to his training for the Portland Triathlon in October, (hit by a car and 6 months later racing again) Run Like Hell 10K, and the upcoming Holiday Half Marathon on Dec. 16. Needless to say, his energy is contagious and I decided to actually try to run faster too.
We found a half marathon training program that was labelled intermediate, but if you ask me, it’s harder than that. I still have this ingrained fear of running more than 2 days in a row due to my history of injuries over the last 15 years give or take. I now realize that I can run more than two days in a row, or even three or four, without getting injured due to my barefoot running and veggie fuel. And I’m a BAMF. So I’ve been running 30+ miles per week for the last several weeks, which is more mileage than I’ve ever logged during back to back weeks consistently. That may not sound like much to some, but to me, it’s still not even real.
For fueling runs, I typically use Clif Shot Gels, which have never done me wrong. But, they may not be as right as I’d like them to be. I’m getting picky now! All gels in general are pretty sugary, and so even the ones without caffeine can leave me feeling a little jittery at times. I’ve already known some about the benefits of adding super foods to the diet including spirulina and chlorella, two forms of algae, as I already use Catie’s Greens. Anyway, I was snooping around the Twitter, and I kept seeing posts about bits and Energy Bits and #PoweredByBits. I was curious, so I checked out their website. I will go into much greater detail on a later post, but the Energy Bits are basically pure, compacted spirulina. Obviously, an all natural, plant protein superfood magical tablet. Sold. I talked with one of their ambassadors, Ray Jackson @RayRunsLong who is an ultra runner, and was convinced when he told me they could fuel his long runs. So long story short, I ordered a bag and off I went. I will officially review Energy Bits later when I’ve logged more miles with them, but these things are great so far.
So that pivotal moment, the one when I realized that I am going to meet my goal time this weekend, was last night when I ran 8 miles after eating 20 or so Energy Bits. After skiing 3 hours in the morning. Man, I felt good! So I think I will use the Bits this weekend when I fuel up before the race vs. my usual Clif Gel. It’s a little scary, but I’m going to take the risk based on how I’ve been feeling while using them. Just a pure, happy energy during running.
In the meantime, a QUESTION FOR YOU! WHAT DO YOU USE FOR FUEL, and WOULD YOU EVER TRY ENERGY BITS?
Yesterday I got my new Vivobarefoot Achilles in the mail, and I was so excited to run in them for the first time today. I went skiing all day at Mt. Hood, so I knew I would only go a short distance, but couldn’t resist taking them out for a test drive. By the way, Mt. Hood Meadows was off the hook! Great new snow today, had a great time with Mike and Kyle.
The Achilles are a little odd looking 🙂 But that’s never stopped me before, so I took them out for a short 1 mile run because my legs were a little sore from skiing. I think their appearance is already growing on me and I really like the strapping system.
I will do a full review on the Achilles after I put some more mileage, but here are my initial thoughts: My left foot took issue with the plastic betwixt (I love the word betwixt and will use it at any opportunity) the toes, and I might have even developed a little blister on my left middle toe if I’d gone further. This was an issue for some other reviewers as well. I do think one could get used to this if devoted to running in them. Other than that, my left foot was so happy and free in the Achilles!
My right foot had an entirely different issue. My right foot has questionable anatomy, possibly even a little abnormal. Yes, I will admit I’m abnormal. I have an extremely large space between my big toe and my middle toe. Seriously, I could fit another big toe in that space. When I was in high school, my friend’s mom was convinced that I’d lost a toe, and she had to resort to slowly counting my toes to be sure that I had all my appendages. Anyway, the result of this deformity is that my right middle toe was like a misbehaving child in my new Achilles. My middle toe kept jumping out of its little plastic cage and trying to wander away. This was really a problem, especially at the beginning of the run, but seemed to get better somehow. Time will tell if this is really a problem for me, my wild ass middle toe. I wonder if it was because I had my foot crammed in a ski boot the entire day and the toe couldn’t be restrained any longer? Run free middle toe. Other than this issue, I know that running in them would have been pure bliss.
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.
“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 other day, I watched a video on YouTube called “Sh*t Barefoot Runners Say,” which I of course thought was hysterical, in case you didn’t see my Facebook status, tweet or last blog post that I put the video in. Here is the video, yet again, in case you missed it:
Apparently, the mastermind behind this video is Steve Sashen out of Boulder, CO who is CEO of the shoe company Invisible Shoes at invisibleshoes.com. Invisible shoes are also known as huaraches, or the running sandals of the Tarahumara Indians. These cute little shoes were made famous by Christopher McDougall’s earth shattering book, Born To Run. Half asleep the other morning and procrastinating on doing my patient paperwork from the day before, I decided I HAD TO HAVE a pair. Steve was so likeable in his video, I thought to myself, I want to do what this guy’s doing! So I finally ordered my very first pair of huaraches after being such a loyal Vibrams wearer for two years now.
The shoes are custom fit, so I had to send in a tracing of my foot, which I found very exciting. My very own custom shoes, we’re gettin’ fancy now. They have a video on the website that gave me step my step instructions, so I didn’t mess it up too terribly. I also decided to splurge and so I ordered a custom charm of a tribal sun to adorn my ever so beautiful Tarahumara feet. When I say splurge, I should mention that these are actually the cheapest shoes I’ve probably ever bought. $39.95 for the shoes, plus $4.50 for the ever necessary decorative pendant. I picked blue cord for the shoes and opted to have them go ahead and make them for me, tied and all. You also have a choice to buy a kit and make them on your own, but I would surely destroy them so I decided to take full advantage of the custom services.
Two days later, literally, I received my shoes in the mail. Holy hell, that was fast! I didn’t believe it was the shoes at first, because they just came in a thin envelope that weighed about as much as a few pieces of paper in there. With the help of the “Tying” section of the website, I got my laces adjusted and started wondering around in the shoes. What I immediately noticed was that I would probably have to fiddle around with the lacing a bit to get the fit just right. I realized that I probably tied them too tight, but decided to go out for a “short” run anyway.
Six miles later, I realized I should probably call it a night in my new friends, considering it was my first go round with them. I was having a blast! The laces were definitely too tight and left little indentations around my heel and top of my foot, but otherwise I didn’t even notice the straps. I was really surprised that the strap between my toes didn’t bother me at all.
As far as ground feel, you could almost feel the stems of the leaves through the soles, which are 4mm thick. Or 4mm thin, to be more accurate. Invisible Shoes does sell 6mm thick soles as well if you want a bit more protection. The ground feel was different compared to Vibrams, not necessarily in a good or bad way. The difference was that when I stepped on a stick for example, the whole sole bends a bit to form around the stick whereas when barefoot or in Vibrams, I feel my foot forming to the stick a bit more. My feet also seemed a bit wider and longer in these shoes, probably because the soles extend slightly beyond the parameter of your foot just like any sandal would. Again, I think that this was neither good or bad, but probably something that would take some getting used to.
They probably weigh about 3.2 ish oz, as Steve has on his website that a men’s size 9 weighs 3.4 oz. I wear a women’s size 6, so you get what I’m saying. They felt very light, and I felt myself running more aware, similar to the awareness when I’m barefoot running. When I’m in Vibrams, I think I tend to sleep-run a bit more because I know that I’m still protected if I hit my toe…while this is good for sleeping, it can lead to form deterioration, which of course is not good for healthy running.
I also felt the muscles in my legs and core were really activating as in barefoot while running in my new huaraches. It’s amazing how just that little tiny bit of flexible material on the VFF soles does support your foot and arches just enough to where you do not get the same strengthening benefit of being totally bare. I will say that I think these new huaraches will be a great addition to my “barefoot footwear,” which is of course, ridiculous to have as much minimalist footwear as I do!! They really did feel as if they were a part of my foot by the end of the run, which is what I was hoping for. In the beginning, they felt a bit awkward because my foot felt overall larger hitting the ground, but it didn’t take long to get in the groove. I should mention this was a road run, I’ve yet to try them on the trails. I’ll try to hit the trails with them this weekend and provide an update after that magic happens.
I felt very native and wild in my new huaraches, which was totally exciting. I considered doing a few tribal yells or maybe some dancing, but figured that would be overkill in suburbia. Of course, everyone passing was staring at me anyway. I wore my Portland Marathon Finisher shirt just to prove I was hardcore and not just some crazy banshee running around. Afterall, looks are the most important thing right? At least I looked good.
This is day two with my new huaraches, and I’m wearing them now as I sit here and write this. I spent some time loosening the straps today and they feel so much better already. I’m so excited, I think I’ll go out for another 5 mile run now. But not before I share some pictures with you! Behold, my beautiful feet and caveman huaraches. Er, please ignore the dirt/mud, I can’t ever seem to get all of it out from under my toe nails during Portland mud season. I know, I know.
SO WHAT DO YOU THINK? HAVE YOU EVER WORN HUARACHES, OR DO YOU WANT TO TRY THEM?
When I started this journey, I’m pretty sure I started a little backwards. I ended up with the best possible outcome, but that’s not to say I didn’t encounter some major speedbumps. So, I believe a cautionary tale is in order: If you think that you can go out and run the same distance barefoot or in minimalist shoes as you do in your conventional running shoes right away, you better check yourself before you wreck yourself. For real! Thanks, Ice Cube, for that throwback to the early 90’s.
First, (after I sprained my ankle again) I went out and bought a pair of Vibram Treksports. Here’s a picture of my muddy feet in them:
When I first bought them, I didn’t try to run in them right away. I’d been wearing cushioned shoes for so long, that I couldn’t even stand barefoot in my bathroom to get ready for work without pain, so I knew running in these was pretty much a death wish. I walked around most of the day in them and realized, oh, I have a pinky toe!! Apparently that appendage is actually a separate entity from the rest of the foot. It blended in for so long, I was surprised to hear it screaming at me from the ground. OUCH! You’re stretching me out! But I was excited to see that I could walk around pretty well in them despite recovering from an ankle sprain.
A couple of days later, I finally got up the nerve to go for a quick run in them. I strapped them on, and stepped onto the sidewalk feeling like an alien. Awkwardly, I began slowly running down the sidewalk. I imagine I looked something like one of these guys, this absolutely cracks me up:
That day, I ran 2 minutes in one direction away from my house, then 2 minutes the other direction away from my house, so I was never far from home in case of a disaster. I ran for a total of 4 minutes, and oddly enough, my ankle didn’t hurt. A few hours later, the calf soreness set in…
The next day, walking was a chore. I was having trouble with stairs, and thought about borrowing a cane from a patient. Over the course of the next couple of months, I slowly built up to running 3 miles, then 5 miles. My first 5 mile day, I was ecstatic. My this time, alien running was really feeling good. I was light, energetic, and best of all, no ankle pain. I felt so good, that the next day I went out and did it again, the same 5 mile route despite the lingering soreness in my calves. This is where the problem resurfaced, the problem of being both a runner and a PT. There’s that deranged runner on one shoulder shrieking, “WHEEEE!!! This is fun, do it again, again!!” And then the sensible PT on the other shoulder saying, “Come on, you know better than to do this, you’re not ready!” It seems that the runner always wins the first round.
The next day, walking was not even an option. I had successfully acquired my first too much too soon injury from minimalist running, also known as TMTS in running lingo. Retrocalcaneal bursitis, welcome to your new home in my ankle for the next few weeks. Oops, I got a little too excited and and ran two back to back 5 mile days. You see, the reason for most injuries resulting from minimalist running are due to user error. It’s not the shoe’s fault. Or your foot’s fault. It’s your own damn fault, you deranged runner. 🙂 I spent plenty of time icing the golf ball on my heel over the next couple of weeks and realized that I needed to listen to my body. Afterall, this was something brand new, and you have to respect that.
The easiest way to avoid the TMTS injuries is to take the shoes off. That’s right, nudey foot time. Strip down to your bare soles. Even if the Vibrams or other “barefoot shoes” feel like nothing on your feet compared to what you’re acquainted with, they still disguise the precious feedback coming in from the sensory nerves in your feet. Have you ever tried to find something in your purse or your pocket when you’re wearing thin liner gloves? It’s like being blind! I always end up getting frustrated and taking the things off to find my chapstick.
That being said, when we first introduce our bare feet to the ground, it’s like waking up and seeing the sun for the first time. Holy hell, that thing is bright!! We will be using muscles that have been sleeping for years in your shoes, heck I’d be sleeping too if I didn’t have anything else to do. A good rule of thumb that I’ve used when we begin running this way is this: If it hurts, acknowledge the pain and where it is. Continue running for another 10 seconds or so, and if it still hurts, head home. Preferably, stay close enough to home so that you can get there easily. More importantly, Michael Sandler, author of one of my favorite books Barefoot Running, says, “Stop barefoot running when you stop having fun.”
If we begin barefoot, we won’t get far because our soles won’t be tough enough to get the job done. If we begin in minimalist shoes, we have more chance of being injured because we will not get the sensory communication from our feet, leading to overdoing early on. Beginning barefoot for short distances allows our skin on the bottom of our feet to toughen up, while simultaneously strengthening the muscles and tendons. Strengthening the muscles and tendons gradually will facilitate the gentle tugging on the bones they are connected to, in turn strengthening those bones and preparing them for the increased weightbearing load that they were originally designed to hold. Have you ever heard that resistance training (lifting weights) can help to prevent osteoporosis? Bingo! The bones respond to the gentle tugging from the muscles and tendons by building stronger bones, resulting in a stronger overall body and increased bone density.
Now don’t misunderstand, we can begin this journey in minimalist shoes instead of totally barefoot, but know that injury/soreness is more likely, and we have to learn to rein in our deranged runner tendencies. Heck, I did it, but I’m a physical therapist who still was dumb enough to go through 2 separate but short episodes of retrocalcaneal bursitis (“WHEEEE!!!”) and some killer top of the foot pain for a week or two. While these brief discomforts were nothing compared to the chain of injuries I had before, they were still discouraging. But in my case, I really didn’t have the option to go back to shoes, so I stuck with the alien running. Lucky for me, because I’ve been totally injury free for a year and a half. All of my TMTS injuries (3) were in the first 5 months of running inVibrams and lasted 2 or 3 weeks at most. All my fault, I might add. 1. Back to back 5 mile runs in the first month or so. 2. Half marathon followed by launching into full blown marathon training the next week (top of foot pain coupled with retrocalcaneal bursitis on the other foot)
In the case of minimalist running, it’s no secret that there is a new crop of injured runners experiencing ugly things like stress fractures and the above injuries. But on the bright side, this is easy to prevent as long as we educate ourselves and retrain our bodies to run properly by giving ourselves enough time to build strength in the muscles that have been napping for a while in our cushy shoes. In my next post, I would like to go into preparation, form, and progression of barefoot/minimalist running. In the meantime, a great book to read is Michael Sandler’s Barefoot Running. The book along with the DVD, which I also highly recommend, can be found on his website, http://www.runbare.com/. Here is a picture of my copy of the DVD! It’s filled with great philosophies and instructions on form as well as preparation exercises. Also, visit Minimalist Mondays You Tube channel which is a program hosted by local PT, Sanatan Golden and local podiatrist, Dr. Ray McClanahan. They are doing a fantastic service for the community, and I will certainly reference several of their exercises next time when I talk about preparation.
In closing, here is a funny video about us barefooters:
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.
“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!
I had the distinct pleasure of flying to Hilton Head, SC last weekend to watch one of my best girls, Andrea, marry her prince charming. Ah, the beach, with its perpetual sand, sun, water and fresh air is a perfect recipe for a vacation to relax and reconnect with the earth. In fact, 72% of Americans prefer a beach vacation according to a poll by ABC news, and that number increased to 83% when families had children under the age of 18.
So why is this? Well, there’s the obvious benefits to going to the beach including epic sandcastle construction, finding the best seashells, burying people in the sand, surfing and splashing in the water. But did you ever stop to think that maybe this is the only time that you’re barefoot outside for any length of time? “Toes in sand.” Google that phrase and over 16 million results pop up. Say it to a co-worker and they’ll have a thirty second escape, daydreaming about the warmth of the sand on their naked feet. It’s no coincidence that Americans’ favorite spot to revive themselves is with their bare feet on the ground.
Why Bare is Better:
Anatomy of d’ feet. Your feet are totally awesome, in case you didn’t know. You have 28 bones, 107 ligaments, and 19 muscles and tendons which provide a springy effect that stores and returns energy with each step. Commonly, when you have a foot, knee, or hip problem, someone may recommend to you that you need arch supports, custom orthotics, or super stability shoes to control the overpronation of your foot. Overpronation is common when we don’t strengthen our feet and we confine our feet to modern shoes. Let’s consider this for a moment: When you break your arm and wear a cast for 6-8 weeks, the muscles in your arm are nearly non-existent when you remove that cast. They have atrophied, and it takes a significant amount of time to rebuild your strength and your muscle mass via physical therapy and exercise. Now, apply that same principle of muscle atrophy to the foot. If you support your arch in the foot with an arch support or custom orthotic, the muscles in the foot no longer have to do their job because they are held up by that support. They will begin to atrophy even more, leading to weaker feet, increased overpronation without the artificial support, and increased injuries. If any other muscle was atrophied in the body, we would strengthen the thing, right? So why then, in the case of a wimpy, weak foot do we tend to rely on an artificial support instead of utilizing the powerhouse foot to its full potential?
Shape of the Foot. Dr. Ray McClanahan is a local podiatrist in Portland, OR as well as one of my personal heroes. “Dr. Ray,” as I’ve heard his patients affectionately call him, is a proponent of restoring natural movement in the lower extremities by encouraging proper footwear and the usage of his rad creation, Correct Toes.
These images can be seen on the NW Foot & Ankle website. One of my favorite items that Dr. Ray discusses is the shape of a newborn baby’s foot. We were all born with beautiful feet, feet which are widest at the toes! By taking a glimpse at modern footwear, you would never know this with the narrow toe boxes and curve to the shoe. And guess what? Our feet become deformed as we stuff them into these narrow shoes, causing our big toe and pinky toe to turn inward leading to bunions, crooked toes and an endless array of other foot impairments. We can just call them by my favorite umbrella term “Toeliosis,” a nod to an awesome clinical instructor in Waitsfield, VT. Dr. Ray discusses the shape of the foot and encourages natural movement in this video.
When the feet become deformed by the use of modern footwear, we run into the problem of “overpronation” as well. In one of my favorite Dr. Ray videos, he demonstrates how when the normal foot shape is restored by bringing the big toe back out into proper alignment, “overpronation” is virtually impossible. This is incredibly fascinating, as so many of us are wearing improper shoes and suffering from the results in the form of foot, ankle, knee, hip and low back pain. When barefoot or in proper footwear that closely resembles the shape of the foot, this allows for normal functioning of foot mechanics. Therefore, the foot becomes stronger and the rest of the kinetic chain is much happier. Dr. Ray’s website also has articles by Dr. William Rossi, another podiatrist that discusses the benefits of being bare. Here is a link to those articles.
3. Schumann Resonance. Wha? Natural healing through the earth’s transfer of energy right through the soles of our feet. Sound screwy? It’s for real! I will admit this is a bit over my head, but I will attempt to sum it up here. The earth has a frequency of approximately 7.83-ish Hz. This frequency is important to us, as humans, because our brainwaves also vibrate at 7.83-ish Hz. So that means that our human vibrations are perfectly paired up with our Earth mother’s, connecting us at a level that many of us haven’t ever thought about. So here we humans are, buzzin’ along, directly in sync with the Earth, as long as we are connected to it by the soles of our feet. The trouble begins when we separate ourselves from our Earth mama by driving cars with big ol’ rubber tires, wearing big ol’ rubber soled shoes, and living in our suburban houses set high off the ground. The benefits of being connected to the ground are many, but as a wannabe athlete, the one I like best has to do with inflammation. This paragraph from one of my favorite books by Michael Sandler, Barefoot Running, sums it up perfectly:
“Second, when you reconnect to the negatively charged electrons on the surface of the earth, the build-up of positively charged free radicals in your body that leads to inflammation is neutralized. Chronic inflammation has been implicated in all types of serious health issues including diabetes, Alzheimer’s, cancer, leukemia, heart disease and autoimmune disorders such as rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, and many others. When research subjects were connected to the earth, medical thermal images showed decreased inflammation in only minutes.”
Obviously, the easiest way to connect to the earth is just by stripping off your shoes. There are other devices called grounding pads or earthing pads that exist to mimic the connection to the earth, and they are being used by athletes and us regular folks with chronic pain to increase energy and speed healing time. Needless to say, I totally want one! Afterall, I have more energy after a barefoot run than I do all day driving around in the car.
Another pseudo fact is that the NASA space program was using a device called a Schumann Resonator attached to their ships when they send their astronauts out into space. I say “pseudo fact” because I have yet to confirm this with NASA, it seems they are too busy to answer my silly questions… they must be doing something more worthwhile I suppose. Or doing nothing at all, since my husband just reminded me that NASA is no more. Rumor has it that the astronauts that were going up into space were becoming quite sick when away from Earth’s precious frequency and only returned to their normal state when reconnected to the ground. The solution was to send this device that emits the Earth’s frequency with the astronauts on the ships, and this seemed to solve this problem altogether. Great!
So, could it be that we feel rejuvenated after a beach vacation because we’ve had our happy feet stuck in the sand and reconnected ourselves to Earth mama? One full week of Earth’s healing effects to try to propel us through the next work week. Perhaps that’s why we feel the post-vacation buzz linger for a while after we get home. Now imagine connecting to the Earth daily via a barefoot run or walk, and consider the lifelong benefits.
4. Heelstrikin’ (Or lack thereof). When we run in giant marshmallow shoes with a high heel, aka traditional running shoes since the time of Nike’s takeover, our foot lands way out in front of our body smacking the ground with our sweet little heels. Poor things, they certainly weren’t designed to absorb all that shock. Check out this picture:
I apologize, I’ve had this picture for so long that I’m not sure of its origin. Anyway, when we attach a cushioned heel to our shoe, it takes away our profound ability to feel the ground like when we’re barefoot. In search of feeling the ground, we land harder to try to feel the surface with the eyes (nerve endings) of our feet. One of my favorite studies that was featured in the book, Born to Run, was the gymnast study out of McGill University headed by Dr. Steve Robbins and Dr. Edward Waked. They found that the thicker the mat, the harder the gymnasts landed, theoretically in search of the stability of the ground. This could be directly related to the thickness of our running shoes! The thicker the heel and foot cushion, the harder we land, seeking out the stability of the firm ground.
When heel striking, we disengage the natural marvel of the foot’s mechanics during running. When hitting midfoot/forefoot, we activate the springy effect of our bones, muscles, and tendons which absorb the shock from the ground, store that energy and release it with power to propel us forward. When hitting at the heel, we absorb the shock up through the bony heel, which has no way to dissipate that shock. Therefore, the shock travels from the heel to the knee joint to the hip joint to the back and on up. This is the very reason why my injuries became more frequent when my shoes became thicker and more cushioned, with a price tag to boot. I always liked that saying, “to boot.” What does that mean, anyway?
Take a look at the two pictures above again and you may notice how the heel striker would be the less efficient runner as his heel is acting as a braking force, impeding forward propulsion. On the other hand, the forefoot striker will continue to glide along easily, as the foot is hitting underneath his center of gravity and his body will continue to propel forward. This results in a smooth, easy ride and the storing of energy for use later on during a long race, just when you need it most. The heel striker may tire out quicker with all the stopping and starting, leading to the infamous bonk.
5. The Pelvis. For me, the position of my pelvis is one of the most important aspects of running injury-free. When I was in physical therapy school, we learned in our neurology class how the position of the foot can impact the position of the knee and therefore the pelvis. If we put our foot into plantarflexion, (pointed toe like a ballerina) even slightly like in a high heel or traditional running shoe, this creates a knee extension moment. In otherwords, when your foot is in a high heeled running shoe, the knee will have a tendency to be locked out straight. This also results in anterior rotation of the pelvis. Translation: Your booty sticks out and the curve in your low back increases. You seen them booty runners? It’s ok to laugh a little, it’s funny. I’m allowed to laugh because I used to be one.
This rotation at the pelvis creates total disconnect between your upper and lower body because the core musculature is imbalanced and can’t hold everything together. This is a disaster, because much of our power, balance and forward propulsion should be coming from strong stomach, back and hip muscles where our center of gravity lives. Additionally, your quads and hamstrings which are attached to your femur and your pelvis, are wildly trying to recruit and activate at a bad angle resulting in injuries all the way down the chain due to shortened quads and overstrained hamstrings. Hello hip and knee injuries! The Dr. Rossi article has a nice picture of what happens to the pelvis in high heels in Fig. 1.
Contrarily, when the foot is in dorsiflexion, (bringing the toes up towards the nose) this creates a knee flexion moment, or bent knees. Have you ever seen someone walking around in ski boots? To my knowledge, there aren’t any running shoes on the market that put your foot in dorsiflexion, but there are some walking shoes. But this video is just pure entertainment, and you can see how this would not be a favorable running position either.
When barefoot, and with a little postural reeducation for those of us who’ve been sticking our booties out for a long time, the pelvis can be restored to its neutral position. The pelvis can truly be the center of power for your stride and I never even realized this until I began running bare. I will talk about how to properly position your pelvis in my next post, which will be the “how to” section.
In closing this post, I want to reiterate that running barefoot not only reconnects us to our Earth mama, but we begin to feel the connection between us and others as well. Thinking back to the races I’ve done over the years, I only really began noticing other people when I took away the inch or so of rubber beneath my feet. When you’re closer to the ground, the energy that you feel not only comes from Earth, but also from the people surrounding you as you all vibrate along at the same frequency. I can honestly say that I never had much of a desire to run with other people before, but now that I am the way I am, you can bet that if you ask me about running, I will invite you to run with me. My running buddy, Christy, and I were talking last night about the effortless conversation that flowed between us the day that we met, which also happens to be the day we did a 19.5 mile trail run together. My husband and I have run for miles through the woods together without saying a word, appreciating the quiet solitude yet connecting to each other through the ground that we tread upon. So whether or not you have a beach vacation planned, take off your shoes and get your feet on the ground!