Jingle Bell Run Review and Portland Monsoon Season

This time of year in Portland, OR is infamous for forcing one to question their own sanity for choosing to live in this place.  This place where it rains ALL THE TIME.  When the interstates are flooded and cars are stalling out due to high water in a place like this, you KNOW it’s seriously pouring outside.  Apparently, the Pineapple Express from Hawaii is here, and it’s also wreaking havoc in Northern Cali.  The Pineapple Express might sound like a happy little train with pineapples and tropical joy, but it’s actually the monsoon that’s beating on my windows and convincing my two little dogs that they should stay inside instead of ducking their head into the wind and rain to go out and poop.

meh... too much rain señorita
meh… too much rain señorita
Mom, it's raining out
Mom, it’s raining out

Unfortunately, the ugly Pineapple also wreaked havoc on some big races in California over the weekend.  The California International Marathon in Sacramento looked like a scene from the movie 2012, and the North Face Endurance Challenge was cancelled on Sunday after Saturday’s 50 milers got pummeled by the storm. http://instagram.com/p/Sv_wFIl8oY/

Miraculously, on Sunday morning in Portland, the clouds lifted and the sun shined brightly on all of us Jingle Bell Runners.  It was predicted that we were going to be destroyed by heavy rains, but instead it was quite the opposite.  The big orange ball in the sky was nearly alien as it pushed its head through the clouds and we all stared at it bewildered and blinded as we tried to find our place in the lineup.  Dumb and blinking like crazy, I asked someone, “Where in the heck do the runners go?”

“Left!” he said, looking to the right.  Finally, I think we got lined up in the correct spot, where other runners were waiting for the gun.

The Jingle Bell Run is a nationwide event that benefits the Arthritis Foundation and is a wonderful fundraiser.  At our event, there was even a costume contest before the race which Mike and I of course, took very seriously.  I raided the thrift stores and found the perfect Mrs. Claus and Santa outfits.  Mike and I decided not to race this one, but instead run with friends, which made our costumes even more fun to parade around in.  We were also able to meet up with the Portland Barefoot Runners before the race, and they were hysterical as always.  The chapter president’s husband was wearing women’s red lingerie with jingle bells on his ta tas, making him the unofficial winner of the BEST costume at the entire event.

Also, our wonderful co-worker Becky was there with her husband Shane and their cute little elf, Bella.  Bella won the cutest elf award, that’s for sure.  Becky had on a killer christmas sweater, and Shane was Buddy the Elf.  I LOVE BUDDY THE ELF!  They are great runners, and Bella is surely going to be a runner herself!  She loves to be in the stroller in the fresh air, and apparently sings along as Shane and Becky run.  CUTE!

Mrs. Claus and Santa
Mrs. Claus and Santa

Our friends Ellen and Nate decided to run, and it was Ellen’s first race.  It was very exciting to be able to run with them for Ellen’s first 5K!  Nate and Ellen made it clear that they were not planning on running with Mike and I and that we could go on ahead, but we had other plans.  We decided to force them to run with us, even though we were embarrassing as Santa and Mrs. Claus.  Ellen’s goal was primarily to run the entire race and secondly to come in under 35 minutes, a great goal for her first race.  I had my Garmin watch and knew that if we kept at least an 11 minute/mi pace we would come in under 35 minutes.

Before the gun, I took off my Xero Shoes/huaraches and prepared for my very first totally barefoot race.  The ground was pretty cold, so I tried to dance around in place and ignore all the open mouthed stares.  Surely, they must have just been admiring my green and red painted toe nails.  They were sparkly.

Sparkly toenails
Sparkly toenails

The gun went off and slowly we started to ease forward toward the starting line where we got held for the second wave.  Finally, we crossed the timing mat and off we went through the streets of Portland, the alien sun pressing on our shoulders.  The streets of Portland are ROUGH!  It took me about a half a mile to really get used to the feeling of the chewed up asphalt streets.  We started out just a little slower than our goal pace, so after getting the ok from Ellen, we quickened our steps and quickly got down to 11 minutes.  The race was out and back, so it wasn’t too long before we started seeing the speedsters heading back towards the finish line.  It was really exhilarating to see everyone go by!  I got to see a couple of the barefooters flying by, light and nimble.

Finally, we started the ascent up the bridge to the turnaround spot.  Halfway already!! And Ellen was looking great with Nate by her side.  While the hill on the bridge didn’t bother me, the bridge surface was really rough!  That was the main area where I noticed my feet.  Ouch, my feet were a little tender at that point.  I found some relief however, when I began running on the white lines of the road.  We turned around and headed back down the bridge, breathing a sigh of relief that we were halfway done.  I was secretly hoping that Ellen wasn’t paying attention to the Negative Nancy next to us complaining about how we were only halfway and she’d never make it to the finish.  Our glasses were half full, whereas hers was apparently half empty.

On our way back to the finish line, we had the chance to see all the walkers who were more dressed up in costume than the runners.  They were so entertaining!  To top it all off, Mike was literally yelling “HO HO HO!!!” the entire way back with Mrs. Claus at his side cracking up, asking the childrens what they wanted for Christmas.  I had a lot of pointing and staring at my feet too!  All of the sudden, we rounded the corner onto the riverfront, and we were about a half a mile from the finish line.  As the finish line loomed into view, I saw Ellen put her head down and get ready to dig in for the finish.  She looked determined.

We all charged across the finish line at what turned out to be about 34:55, 5 seconds to spare for her 35 minute goal.  We were all so excited! I had such a good time running that race with Nate and Ellen, because I loved seeing the pure grit and strength from Ellen as she powered through the race.  Afterward, she looked like pure joy as she told the barefooters her time and that she was able to run the WHOLE RACE!  She was so proud, and it was delightful to see her glowing face after she crossed the finish for the first time.  Mike and I could have tried for a new PR, but I truly think we had a much better time seeing the results of Ellen’s hard work after completing the Couch to 5K program.  So while the costumes were fun, the highlight of the race was seeing a new runner spread her wings, so to speak.  So Ellen, welcome to health, welcome to your new-found strength, and welcome to your new status.  You’re a runner!

Mike, Leigh, Nate and Ellen
Mike, Leigh, Nate and Ellen

IMG_0629Running this race barefoot was also significant for me and my cause to promote barefoot running.  I was told in my early twenties that I had decreased space in my right hip as seen on XRAY, possibly indicating early onset osteoarthritis.  This, I was told, may lead to the need for a hip replacement at a young age.  Afterall, I had a leg length discrepancy, the right leg was just going to take more stress and that’s it and that’s all.  At the time, of course, I was trying to run in the most supportive shoes on the market, leading to higher impact on the ground with my right heel as my foot searched for the hard surface, leading to more hip pain and inflammation.  My light, low impact barefoot running style has eradicated any trace of hip pain, knee pain, etc.  Welcome to a stronger body and a peaceful mind, as the foot just barely kisses the ground while traveling forward.  Along with healthy, plant based eating, barefoot running may just be the key to maintaining a healthy weight and building lower extremity strength, thereby reducing stress on joints.  Reducing the stress will decrease inflammation and deterioration of the joint space, greatly reducing the number of osteoarthritis cases.  So for me, the Jingle Bell Run for the Arthritis Foundation was my chance to demonstrate to others that they have other options besides the most expensive shoes on the market and custom orthotics.  I know that if I had seen other folks running races barefoot back when I was arthritic, I would have done my homework sooner.  Luckily, we had a great turnout from the Portland Barefoot Runners, so there were several examples of healthy, barefoot runners.

Next race will be Portland Holiday Half Marathon!! Stay tuned for more holiday costume madness.  Hopefully the Portland Monsoon will take a hiatus again for the Holiday Half and our orange, spherical alien friend will come back to join us. For an hour or two anyway.

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!

Initial Review of My New Huaraches From Invisibleshoe.com

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?   

Look how cute my pendant is!