The Born to Run Ultra Marathon, Life, and Energy Bits

A couple of months ago I was listening to Caity McCardell of http://www.runbarefootgirl.com as she interviewed author Christopher McDougall of Born to Run.  McDougall (who happened to be interviewed right before yours truly) reminded me of Michah True aka Caballo Blanco’s famous oath:  “If I get hurt, lost or die, it’s my own damn fault.”  This oath was taken by all the voyagers in Born to Run before they descended into the Copper Canyons with Caballo as their leader.  Last weekend, as I stood with a bunch of clowns in cowboy hats (including Caity!! What a lovely lady) at the starting line of the Born to Run Ultra Marathon, we obediently raised our right hands and recited the same oath in tribute to the legend Caballo Blanco in the presence of his loved ones, whose hearts are eternally heavy in his absence.  That being said, the overall mood was joyous; both a celebration of his life and all of ours, as we were preparing to take a long journey together.  How can you not be happy, when your race director (Luis Escobar aka the photographer featured in Born to Run) is wearing a mariachi costume while telling us to have fun and not to be a bunch of dicks.

So WAIT a minute, hold up.  Where the hell have I been??  I know all of my readers are wondering.  Both of you!  🙂  I’m in CALIFORNIA!  I CAN’T STAY INSIDE TO WRITE ON A BLOG!  It’s too beautiful here!  Seriously, this place is off the hook.  I have a great new job, I’m house hunting, I’m running all the time, meeting new friends, and it’s sunny! So in my absence, I’ve been exploring this place and doing some sole searching, misspelling intended.  I decided to take a mini break from blogging, because I needed to seek out some answers.  I found myself questioning the minimalist running movement a bit, mostly because of the confusion set in motion by big running shoe companies.  Every major brand now has a minimalist model or two, in addition to the cushioned, stability, and motion control models.  Result: Everyone is confused to the max.  Example: Brand X offers these models: 5 are considered minimalist, 2 are considered “barefoot ride.”  Example Question: Which minimalist shoe do I pick for the way I run?   Or, I have X injury from running in X brand, which other brand would you recommend?

Choosing how to answer these questions in a short amount of time has been my struggle these past few months, like at races or when someone passes me in the hallway.  I’ve finally discovered that the answer is probably not what the person asking wants to hear:  It’s not about the shoe, it’s about the way that you run.  It’s all about the way that you run.  And perhaps the attitude with which you run, but that’s more of an opinion 🙂  Change the way you run and educate yourself.  The best way to change and provide feedback to your body is to run barefoot.  Running barefoot will give you the answers to what you’re doing wrong, teach you to listen and respond to your body’s cues.  If you’re not willing to run barefoot or TAKE THE TIME to change the way you run, you should not wear minimalist shoes.  Switching to minimalist while you’re training for a marathon and you’re 4 weeks out but you want to try because you’re injured in your regular shoes is NOT a good idea.  If you ARE willing to take the time to change, you will find the reward and freedom that so many of us have already found.  The validation I was seeking came in the form of this video from Dr. Daniel Lieberman from Harvard, who has made such a vital impact in the field of barefoot running and movement research:

So anyway, what am I talking about?  Right! The Born to Run Ultra Marathon festival.  What is this thing all about?  I was there, and I haven’t the faintest idea, but I know I’m better than I was before it.  Mike and I arrived just before sunset to set up camp on Friday night.  Our wonderful friends eventually arrived and we danced around the bonfire, played with hula hoops and listened to the band.  Lights out was a little after 9:00, but we were so excited that we stayed up for a little while before dozing off.

BANG, BANG, BANG, BANG.  4:15 AM, 4 blasts of the shotgun followed by LOUD mariachi music.  Now that’s a good wakeup call.  Mike and I enjoyed a hearty breakfast of oatmeal with peanut butter mixed in from the jet boil (I love that thing!) and made some matcha green tea for a little extra boost of energy.  It was cold, probably in the 40’s, but exciting to be camping before a race.  About 20 minutes before the race, I began eating my Energy Bits and Recovery Bits.  30 Energy Bits and 30 Recovery Bits, just like they have recommended in their marathon race plan.

At 5:45 AM, we all stood around the bonfire and took our oath.  I’ve never felt anything like it, surrounded by runners venturing out for 10 miles, 31 miles, 62 miles, or 100 miles.  We seemed eternally connected in that moment, in that strange way that trail running brings people together.  BANG! 6:00 AM, we were off.

I ran the 50k, which consisted of two 10 mile loops, one of which we ran twice.  The actual course was beautiful:  A private ranch with rolling hills, non-technical dirt/gravel surfaces, and one beautiful ridge that’s totally worth the steeper climbs and descents.  The race advertises that the surface is “barefoot friendly” but I’m not in agreement with that.  I’m a huge wuss baby and do not enjoy running on small rocks for 31 miles.  I know, I have my diaper on as I’m writing this.  I wore my Vibram Five Finger Spyridons that have good tread on the bottom and was totally comfortable the whole time.  I was glad I was wearing them on the second loop, when I would have been sliding otherwise in the steeper sections.  After each loop, we had a chance to run back through the campground where my sweetie pie and friends were waiting and cheering me on as I came through.  They ran the 10 miler, so they were done WAY before I came back through after my first loop.  Those dudes are FAST.  Mike and his buddy, Joe tied for 3rd place and Grundle came in shortly after.  My new friends from Ventura County Trail Runners were running the 50k also, so I was happy to run with them at different points in the race.

My fuel situation was fantastic.  Like I mentioned, I ate 30 Energy Bits and 30 Recovery Bits 20 minutes prior to the start of the race.  Every hour into the race, I ate 40 more Energy Bits.  Why 40?  Because Energy Bits tells you 15-30, so I figured 40 had to be better, right?  I really don’t think I needed the 40, but I admit, I was a little paranoid.  I carried Mandarin Heed in my pack and drank water at all the aid stations.  I ate about half a tangerine and about half a gel at two different aid stations, but I’m not sure I needed that.  But I planned to stop at all the stations, so I felt like I should eat something they were offering!  My energy level was surprisingly high, and I never hit a wall.  Runner’s high was a gross understatement; I’m pretty sure I floated through this race.  Some might argue that I didn’t run the race to my full potential if I felt that good throughout the race, but I would argue that maybe I had the most fun out there 🙂  My time, while unimportant, turned out to be better than I expected at 5:16.

I really don’t know what to say except that this was the happiest race I have ever done.  Simply put, races like this perpetuate our need to be running, our need to be on the trails, and our need to be together.  Every race should be like this, as this is what running is all about.  Although, I’m really not sure if this race is about running at all.  Instead, maybe it’s about celebrating life.  I heard someone compare Born to Run to the Burning Man Festival, which sounds about right.  Afterall, I don’t think anyone knows what either one is about, but everyone comes away a little loonier and starry eyed, claiming that their life is forever changed.

On my last loop, I found myself full of emotion.  Unfortunately, this always seemed to happen on the hills, when I really needed even breathing to successfully get to the top.  I would have this overwhelming feeling of fullness and satisfaction, and I couldn’t seem to hold back the tears.  The Born to Run 50k seemed like the race that I had been waiting for: Almost like a coming of age, or a celebration of the arrival of the next phase of my life.  I always knew I was meant to run, but I never could until I lost the shoes and the orthotics.  Now here I am, two years later with two marathons, four half marathons, and one ultra marathon under my belt.  And here I am, four months after having surgery, running my first ultra marathon.  AND (as if that’s not enough 🙂 ) we just moved to one of the most beautiful, sunny places I’ve ever seen with endless hills and trails.  When I crossed the finish line, I had a great crew waiting for me.  I held back the tears until they dispersed, then boo hoo’d (yes I’m still wearing my diapers) when it was just Mike and I. Best day of my life.  A few minutes later, one of my buddies I’d met from the course preview, David, came across the finish, and both of us were overwhelmed with emotion again as we had just come a long way together.

The Born to Run Ultra Marathon.  Still don’t know what the hell it was all about.  Was it the hula hoops, the authentic Tarahumara ball races, the beer run, the music, the people, the running, the tattoos, the surfboard prizes, the handmade pendant medals, the cows or the race director?  Who knows?  All I know is that this one will be an annual event for us, and I can’t wait to see what’s in store for next year.  Here’s a cute video to leave you with by one of the Born to Runners:

As always, I’m offering 30% off Energy Bits at http://www.energybits.com with the discount code BAREFOOT at checkout.  🙂

Have you ever experienced a race this fantastic? I’d love to hear about it!

IMG_2099

Dancing into the 3rd loop
Dancing into the 3rd loop
Finished!
Finished!
Friends
Friends
Ventura County Trail Runners
Ventura County Trail Runners

How to Have Your Best Marathon with ENERGYbits

Mike and I are getting settled into Ventura, CA, and I have lots of great posts coming! In the meantime, here is a great tip sheet from http://www.energybits.com that describes how to have your best marathon using ENERGY Bits for fuel.  I was able to run 20 glorious miles this weekend using Energy Bits, and it was perhaps the most blissful run of my life in sunny CA.  That is, until I almost stepped on a rattlesnake sitting just off the trail.  But, the snake was just protecting himself afterall…. Good luck and run happy 🙂 And watch out for rattlesnakes!! Although my friends at Muleshoe Ranch might be able to tell me what kind of rattlesnake this is… stay tuned!  MARATHON RUNNING Have Your Best Marathon with ENERGYbits

20 miles on the trail with Energy Bits!
20 miles on the trail with Energy Bits!
IMG_0053
The rattle snake that did not like to share the trail with me…

 

Want a discount on Energy Bits AND Recovery Bits?  Just enter the code BAREFOOT into the discount area at checkout for 30% off.

Holiday Half Marathon Preview and Energy Bits?

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?

The Bent Knee Concept + Jingle Bell Run Preview

I am currently reading Barefoot Ken Bob’s Book, Barefoot Running, Step by Step, and I highly recommend it.  Barefoot Ken Bob was one of the first people that I’d heard of as a barefoot runner, and that he was the master, the guru, THE MAN.  I’d checked out his website several times, and all I really remember from that was that every other line he was saying, “Bend your knees!”  I didn’t really appreciate this though, until I started reading his book.

Ken Bob has been running barefoot his entire life, mostly out of necessity, due to his sensitivities running in shoes.  Because he has been running for so long barefoot, and because he is THE MAN, he really has some of the best words of wisdom on barefoot running out there. If you haven’t checked out his website or his book, PLEASE do it.

This weekend, I went for a long run on the Wildwood Trail, my home away from home.  I went solo because Mike went surfing, and decided I would try some COLD barefoot trail running.  It was about 37 degrees when I started, so I knew I would have some cold feet if I didn’t warm up first.  I was wearing my VFF Spyridons for the first 9 miles, then took them off for the last 5+ miles for some sweet sole time on the trail.  During the time that I was wearing my Spyridons, I really tried to think about this bent knee deal.  I know that I always bend my knees when I land, but I get the feeling that it’s not ENOUGH.  So I really got into this, and even thought about the image that Ken Bob uses with his landing, which is this:  Your forefoot should swoop into the ground like an airplane coming in for landing.  What?  Yes, that’s right, turn your foot into an airplane.  The point is, if the knee is bent enough, this is quite easy to do.  Sure enough, I was really exaggerating this knee bend on landing, and I started feeling like an airplane.  And my legs started spinning underneath me like I was riding a bicycle.  It was nearly effortless!  It’s funny that I’m using all these other forms of transportation to describe how it felt to run, but honestly, it still shocks me that running can be this easy.  That it can be this rewarding and feel this good.

Going downhill, on level ground and slight uphill did actually feel effortless.  Going up steep hills on the other hand, I don’t think I’ve quite mastered the bent knee there.  Since I used to be a booty runner, I still have that tendency to bend at the waist when going uphill.  I’m constantly reminding myself to tuck my butt and lean my whole body into the hill, not just my upper half. Going downhills, I was FLYING.  I decided to relax into the downhill more than ever and really let the knees bend, giving into gravity instead of resisting it.  It was fantastic, and I felt more confident than I ever have.  I didn’t slip as much in the mud either, because I wasn’t resisting, I was just going with it.

I ran the last 5+ miles barefoot on the trail, which was wildly entertaining.  That is my longest barefoot trail run so far, and you can bet I’ll be doing a lot more of it.  There is simply no other feeling or connection like barefoot trail running.  The pine cones, sticks, leaves, and mud that come in contact with the feet is something that you never feel otherwise.  I never realized how much I was depriving myself by keeping my feet cast away in sloppy, soggy, wet shoes and socks before.

However, I forget that I am still very much the minority among runners and hikers, especially when I run into people like the Tracksuit Poodle Man. Tracksuit Poodle Man is a regular on WW Trail, but this was the first time I’ve seen him when I was totally barefoot. In case you’re wondering, TPM has two standard white poodles that he dresses head to toe in shiny track suits.  I’m laughing out loud just thinking about them!!  They’re always perfectly groomed little boogers, so they stick out quite a bit in the muddy wilderness with their prim and proper outfits.  He’s one of my favorite characters though, so as I was running towards him, I said my usual, “Hi, how are you?” while trying not to crack up.

He looked like he might be sick as he was staring at my bare feet.  “Looks like you forgot something at home,” he growled, still looking vomitous.  Well, I suppose not everyone is a fan of us barefooters.  But then again, when looking at me versus TPM, an outsider would probably say we are both a little odd.

What is up with the gravel though?  I suppose they’re trying to prevent erosion, so they lay down gravel along sections of the trail.  This does not help the barefooters’ image (we all know image is the most important thing right?) because as I was running past the fellow hikers on the trail, I would frequently get the question, “Barefoot eh?  How’s that?”

If it happened to be on a gravel section, which happened a few times, I would grit my teeth and say a little too loudly, “It’s GREAT!  BEST DAY OF MY LIFE!”  Under my breath, I was cursing the gravel.  I have to admit though, the gravel was serving a purpose other than supposedly preventing erosion.  It was preparing my feet for this weekend, The Jingle Bell Run in downtown Portland!!  In case you haven’t seen the roads in downtown Portland, they appear to be eaten, chewed up, spit out and pooped on.  Hopefully not pooped on.  But seriously, those are the roughest asphalt roads I have ever seen/felt in my life.  During the Portland Marathon, the rough roads taunted me when my mental strength started to waver.  And I was wearing my VFFs.  This weekend though, no sir, I’ll be barefoot!

This race benefits the Arthritis Foundation. I happen to firmly believe that my barefoot running prevents me from having early onset osteoarthritis, so I will definitely be barefoot.  I will also be Mrs. Claus and Mike will be Santa!  I did lots of thrift store shopping today, here is a sneak peek of my costume.  Full body Mrs. Claus shots to come, but only after the race.  She’s killer.  One thing’s for sure, this Mrs. Claus will be bent knee barefootin’ through the streets of Portland this weekend!

Pilates & Running Go Together Like PB & J

A few months ago, my sister innocently posted a link on my Facebook page that talked about sustainable living and an eco-village in Costa Rica where the kind folks live in tree houses.  With one click to that page, my sister had created a monster.  Mike has been talking about moving to Costa Rica ever since I met him, so one mention of this place, and he was in the other room packing.  Here is a link to the photo gallery of the original village we liked, called Finca Bella Vista.  How can you resist?  A sustainable eco-village where we can raise our kids off the land and have fresh fruits and vegetables year round?  A simpler, more fulfilling existence where we can tread lightly on the earth and possibly play with monkeys?  Yes please! 

Then, we found another village that seemed to be a bit closer to the ocean, which is necessary for Mike to be able to surf. This village was called Osa Mountain Village, and the entire property is a giant, living, growing salad.  Want a mango?  Walk out your door and eat it.   Just one problem:  After researching for a few weeks, I discovered that it would take up to four years to obtain a physical therapy license in Costa Rica, and maybe longer to obtain citizenship to work there.  Crap.  Then, I had another glimmer of hope when I saw that you can start a business at Osa Mountain Village, and they needed a Pilates studio.  Great! I’ve taken a handful of classes at my gym, I like Pilates!  I could just own a Pilates studio.  Again, unfortunately, Costa Rican law makes it nearly impossible to work as a foreigner in their country, so we reluctantly gave up our Costa Rican dream.

This ridiculous story does have a point.  As crazy as it sounds, this was the beginning of my journey to Pilates.  The Costa Rican dream made me realize that while I probably can’t and shouldn’t move to Costa Rica, perhaps I should do something for myself here in the ol’ US of A to enrich my life.  I began researching Pilates, and I found the STOTT method of  Pilates, which happens to have a rehab certification for physical therapists.  Of course, I live in Portland, which happens to be the home of Pacific NW Pilates, the Harvard of STOTT Pilates training.  I decided that before I embark upon the journey to rehab certification, I should probably start actually practicing Pilates.  I remembered driving by Poise Studio in Beaverton and began checking out the website.  Poise is a boutique studio located in a funky, old house in Beaverton where they have Pilates, yoga, belly dancing, and other special series.  I discovered they actually practiced the STOTT method there, and so I quickly signed up for my first “Intro” class the following week.

My “Intro” class was enlightening.  Jacki was my instructor, and I was actually the only person taking the class that day, which was to be followed by the regular evening Mat Pilates class.  What I immediately noticed was how small the classrooms are, creating an intimate and focused atmosphere.  Jacki and I got to talking and I found out that she is actually a physical therapy student at Pacific University, what are the chances?  I was excited to find out this information, because I realized that this person has a strong background in anatomy and the way the body moves.  The evening class followed with about 4 other people that night, and Jacki made sure that I was comfortable and she provided necessary tactile cues when I flopped awkwardly into different positions.  Jacki is a wonderful instructor, evidenced by the group of folks that show up to her evening classes religiously.  She is soft spoken, has a familiar order to her classes that make them seem homey, and yet she still manages to teach me something new each class I take with her.

And then, I met Alli Breen.  Alli can only be described as the most passionate and meticulous Pilates and fitness instructor I’ve ever come across.  In addition to teaching Pilates, she is also a Pilates Fusion instructor and wellness expert.  Her journey to health is an inspiring one, which can be seen on her new website, Today Is Your Tomorrow.  She also has a podcast which is super fun to listen to!   While I don’t know all the details, I know that she is a vegan and she has lost quite a bit of weight over the past couple of years.  Here is a picture I found on her website that gives one an idea of just how far she’s come. 

One of her star students, Jillian, said the other day during our advanced mat pilates course, “When people tell me Pilates is easy, I tell them they’re not doing it right and they’d better train with Alli.”  This is true, you will never have an “easy” class if Alli’s teaching it.  There are many a time when I have found myself zoning out and thinking about something else, only to be quickly snapped out of it by Alli’s wrath.

“LEIGH! FIX YOUR SHOULDERS!  What are you doing with your ribs?  Your knees!  YOU KNOW BETTER!”  Oops!  Haha, I just laugh and fix my form.  Afterall, I want to have near perfect form, if a long term goal of mine is to teach Pilates to my patients.  I’ve learned that form, awareness, activation of core musculature, and breathing is key to one’s success in Pilates.  Since balance is also a key concept in Pilates, it’s likely that you’ll fall on your face eventually if you make a habit of snoozing in class.  Because we don’t typically use weights in Pilates, it is important that movements are purposeful to effectively use your own body weight to develop strength and grace during transitions.   

In the 3 months that I’ve been taking Pilates at Poise, Alli and Jacki have really helped me with these concepts not only in class, but in life in general.  Thanks to the mental focus and increased core strength, I’ve been able to carry my new body awareness over to running.  One of my favorite things to do is take the 9:00 AM Pilates class with Alli and follow that with a long training run on a Saturday.  I have had some of my best runs after this, because my core muscles and lateral hips are already activated, providing the perfect foundation for my running posture.

A common misconception about running is that movement is only occurring in the sagittal plane or forward and backward, but mostly forward of course :).  However, running is truly a multidirectional movement, as the trunk must rotate as we jump from one leg to the other, and the pelvis needs to be stabilized to avoid too much rotation and lateral tilt.  For these reasons, it is vitally important that runners have a strengthening program that focuses on core strength to include the lateral muscles of the hips.

I have known this for most of my life thanks to my marathon mama, so I have been regularly going to a gym ever since the dreaded gray sweatpants day.  My gym routine has evolved greatly over the years however, going from using mostly machines, to free weights to mostly my own body weight.  I used the Bosu, the stability ball, a decline ab bench, maybe one set of dumbbells, and an exercise mat at the gym and had a fantastic routine if I may say so myself.  I was going to Bally’s in Beaverton, which had a giant core workout area, and I regularly had it to myself or shared it with the trainers.  It was HUGE!  Then, tragically, Bally’s was taken over by LA Fitness and they quickly closed our gym.  We were shuffled over to a pre-existing LA Fitness in Beaverton, which became overcrowded with both the original LA Fitness members plus the Bally’s folks.  The worst part about this new meat market, er, gym, aside from the excessive grunting, and talk of biceps and protein shakes was the “core” area.  The “core” area was a narrow corridor with way too much equipment that might make you claustrophobic with a meer glance.  As I walked up to the front desk on my first day there, I tried to ignore the stares and grunts from the meat gallery.  What is it about certain gyms??  They all have a different vibe.  Anyway, once at the front desk, I asked, “Is this your only area for core/body weight workouts?”

“What do you mean?  We have a great core area with stability balls, mats and mirrors!  And did you see all of our machines?  I can give you a tutorial if you’d like!”  While this guy was obviously enthusiastic about his job, he didn’t really get it.  The trainers on the other hand, shared my exasperation with the limited amount of space to do body weight exercises.  I heard them complain continuously about the space issue, which got worse as they put old equipment in the corridor, crowding it further.  Needless to say, after I began Pilates, I quit going to the gym.  I quit because I obviously was unhappy with the gym, but I wanted to do an experiment.  Could Pilates be enough?  Could I continue to run injury free with just Pilates?

The answer surprises me.  Not only am I continuing to run injury free, I’d venture to say that I’m running stronger than ever.  I’m practicing Pilates 2-3 times per week in addition to running and eating well, and my core and hips feel and look healthier than ever.  Another bonus was that I lost the pesky 3-4 pounds that I couldn’t seem to shed, no matter how I altered my gym routine.  I’m noticing the biggest difference in the way my legs look and feel.  They’re much lighter as I’m running, and I’m starting to appreciate the way they look!  I suppose we all have our trouble spots that we have a hard time accepting, but with Pilates and a new appreciation for the way my body moves, I have more confidence than I’ve ever had.  A positive body image is so important for overall health and wellbeing, and I believe I have achieved that after searching since my awkward teen years.  The body change is evident to me in the following photos.  The first image is from Eugene Marathon in April 2012, when I was at least 4 pounds heavier.  The second image is from Portland Marathon in October 2012, after I’d been practicing Pilates for a couple of months:

At least I was smiling!!

While running these days, I also notice my mental focus is unwavering.  Today, my husband and I decided to go on a 12 mile trail run in Forest Park.  It was a moody, Portland day, but markedly better weather than yesterday when it poured most of the day.  There is a giant, long hill in Forest Park that my homegirl, Christy, and I are not a fan of.  Mike, on the other hand, practically lusts after this hill.  There’s something wrong with him, he really enjoys sprinting up hills.  Ever since he was hit by a car in April, he has had this unbelievable zest for life and is on a quest to be a FAST runner and triathlete.  We are running the Holiday Half Marathon on December 16th, and he has a goal time of 1:30, which I’m pretty sure he will destroy.  It’s a beautiful thing, really.  Anyway, today when running up the dreaded hill, I honestly felt great.  Sometimes, I felt like I could even hear Alli, “Don’t you quit!”  My focus was on point, and my form was precise and purposeful as I took each switchback up the beast.  As I was applauding my mental stamina thanks to Pilates, I was simulataneously questioning my husband’s mental stability.  A few minutes before, at the bottom of the hill, Mike flew past me foaming at the mouth.

“I’LL SEE YOU AT THE TOP!!!” he shrieked with his head thrown back and a wild ass look in his eyes.  He was like a rabid dog being released from its cage, devouring the hill with a satisfaction of which no sane human would be capable.  I got to the top of the first switchback, and he was gone.  Already flying up beyond where I could see.  What the hell?  I got to the top of the hill, which was our designated meeting spot, and all I saw was Mike’s water bottle sitting on the picnic table.  I calmly waited, unsure if Mike was going to pop out of the trees.  Was he puking from sprinting up the hill?  Peeing?  Pooping?  Anything is possible.  Just when I was about to start searching, he tore up the fire lane where I was standing.  Oh.  Since he apparently didn’t get enough hill from tackling the beast, he decided to go run the firelane hill too, just for kicks.  “THAT WAS GREAT!!”  Oh good lord.

I truly do believe that Pilates and running go together like PB&J.  Pilates is the perfect strengthening routine for runners because of the emphasis on mental awareness/focus and activating the core via flexion, extension,lateral, and rotatory movements.  Poise Studio is a wonderful place that seems to embody the Pilates movement and teachings.  The fantastic instructors there really make a difference.  I would encourage others to seek out a Pilates studio with educated instructors who are certified in the STOTT method.  I promise, if you have a great instructor, Pilates definitely could never be easy.  And even if we never make it to Costa Rica, at least I found Pilates!  But I still want to live in a treehouse…

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!

My Journey to Becoming a Barefoot Runner, Part 3: The How to Begin

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:

RUN LIKE HELL, Portland’s Freaky Halloween Race 2012

Ah, Halloween, one of my all time favorite holidays.  I’ve come to appreciate Halloween even more now that I live in one of the freakiest cities in the United States.  I have no data on that, but it has to be true.  Afterall, people walk around in costume daily  here; you can’t even begin to imagine what people come up with when they’re actually going to a costume party.  Even better, how about a Halloween race?  Runners are mostly a bunch of weirdos anyway, so the costumes were just the icing on the cake at Run Like Hell, 2012.

Run Like Hell supports one of my favorite charities, the ALS Association.  I’ve had a handful of patients with ALS over the years, and am treating one now.  ALS, aka Lou Gehrig’s disease, is a devastating, progressive disease leading to weakness and eventually paralysis.  The ALS Association is a lifeline for these individuals, providing support for the entire family as well as medical equipment when needed.  My first question to my patients is always, “Are you hooked in with the ALS Association?”  These people are real live angels walking this earth.

Run Like Hell features three distances, the 5K, 10K and half marathon as well as a kids race.  This year, the theme was “Super Heroes” which was nothing short of hysterical.  Last year, the theme was zombies and Mike and I made the mistake of going downtown to breakfast that morning only to realize that we would be eating with the living dead.  The sweaty living dead I might add, considering they had just run a race!  Mike and I decided we needed to go along with the theme, so he was The Riddler and I was Cat Woman from The Dark Knight.  It would probably help if I had actually seen The Dark Knight, but you do what you can.  Here are some pictures of our costumes:

My costume came with ears, but they kept falling apart so I decided to go without.  I think people still got the idea!

When we got downtown for the start of the race, it was POURING!  And cold, in the lower 40’s when we arrived.  We huddled with some other heroes underneath the precious canopy of Starbuck’s in the middle of Pioneer Square.  Mike was getting quite a bit of attention, especially from the ladies, which isn’t unusual 🙂  The start of the half marathon was delayed by 15 minutes, so the higher ups decided that all races would be delayed by 15 minutes.  Mike ran the 10K and I ran the 5K, which would now be starting at 8:35 and 9:25 respectively.

The Joker was the race announcer, and the 10K started off with a bang.  I watched Mike tear by in his Riddler costume, people shouting “Riddle me THIS!!” after him.  Around the middle of the pack, I saw a pack of barefooters happily running along with Barefootrunners.org painted on their backs.  One guy was wearing a loin cloth with painted toe nails and another guy was a Hawaiian in a grass skirt.  I made a mental note to find them later and pick their brains.

Meanwhile, I had plenty of time to kill, so I wandered around for a while and met some Ninja Turtles, The Hulk and Wonderwoman, and The Ambiguously Gay Duo to name a few.  The Ambiguously Gay Duo was made up of two of the funniest guys since SNL, and they were not so ambiguous.  During the Best Couple costume contest later on, they dutifully shoved whole bananas in their mouths as the announcer introduced them.  I was on the ground laughing!

I knew my race was supposed to start at 9:25, so I decided to head to the porta potty around 9:10.  Have you ever tried to go to the bathroom when you’re wearing a full body suit?  Take off gloves, take off backpack, take off jacket, take off belt, unzip body suit, take off sweatpants, hover (hello, this was a porta potty!)  By the time I made my way out of there, I was sweating like hell despite the cold weather.  How’s that for a warm up?  I headed over to clothing check and checked my bag quickly and began to jog over to the starting line.  By this time it was about 9:16 or 17, so I figured I had plenty of time to take a little warm up jog, because there were still plenty of 5Kers milling around in Pioneer Square.  It’s a good thing I took the back way to the starting line, because when I showed up at around 9:17, the announcer was saying, “Ok folks, we’ve got about 30 seconds to the start!  The countdown begins!”

WHAT?  I guess they decided to start early!  I fumbled around with my Garmin watch and it began searching for satellites.  Not an easy feat when you’re smack in the middle of downtown with skyscrapers around.  There wasn’t a chance that thing was going to pick up a satellite in the next 20 seconds.  I desperately held my arm up in the air as if that might help and even tried a few white-girl jumps to get my arm closer to the invisible satellites orbitting above.  Failed.  The race started and off we went.  WHEEEE!!  I love race starts, they  never get old.

My Garmin continued to search for satellites for what turned out to be the first 1.5 miles, until all of the sudden, there was the dreaded “DING DING DING” of a train barricade coming down.  “STOP RUNNERS!” shouted the officers as they formed their own little barricade across the tracks as if to prevent any renegade runners from darting across at the last moment.  Although I had no idea how fast I was going, I was disappointed by the train’s appearance because I had a feeling I was going to get a PR if I kept up my pace.  I really have no concept of pace unless I have a watch to monitor it, so all I knew was that I was near the front of the pack and I felt like maybe I was going faster than usual.  Miraculously, my watch decided to find a satellite as the train slowly chugged by, so I was back in the know.  Except since there were no mile markers that I saw, I really had no clue how much further I had to run. 

All of the sudden, I saw a marker for mile 6 for the 10K course, as the 10K and 5K courses came together at some point.  What?  That means there was only .2 mile left to get to the finish line.  I looked ahead, and sure enough, there was the balloon arch signifying the end.  I was totally confused, and prepared to turn off somewhere to finish the 5K because there was just no way I could be done already!  Then I saw a sign for mile 13 for the half marathon, indicating there was only .1 mile left.  I think it was then that I realized I was almost done, and I sprinted for the finish.  Success!  It turns out that after you run a marathon, a 5K seems incredibly, wonderfully short.  I’ll take it!

I still had no idea of my time, but quickly found Mike waiting for me at the finish line.  We then headed over to the post race celebration in Pioneer Square in search for the brews from Lagunitas.  One of the best parts about racing in Portland is that you almost always get a couple of post race beers with your race number.  While standing in the clothing check line, Mike continued to get lots of attention in his costume with the standout being his neon green contacts in his eyes.  One girl wearing some sort of  leather dominatrix outfit (so not Superhero) asked him, “Are those contacts?” 

Mike, always the jokester, replied, “Oh no, these are real!”

Ms. Dominatrix replied, “Yeah right, so are these!” and shook her ta tas around in a way that was not so kid friendly.  Did she just shake her boobs at my husband?  Time for a beer!

Beers in hand, we made friends with some friendly costumed people in front of the stage, where a bluegrass band played.  They were awesome, I wish I got the name of the band so I could go see them around town.  I got to talk with the barefooters too, they were great!  I totally wussed out today because I was thinking about running the race barefoot, but my feet were so numb at the start due to my inadequate warm up that I wore my VFF SeeYas.  I talked to a great guy named Mike with barefootrunners.org, and it turns out theres a Portland chapter that meets for group runs.  Their Facebook page apparently is the place to get all the info for their get togethers.  I joined today and I’m excited to go forward!  I really wish I had remembered to get a picture with them.

Eventually, we heard a rumor that the results were in, so we made our way up to the results tent.  On our way, we ran into a Giant Banana.  This wasn’t just any Giant Banana though, it was our friend Dennis Le!  Dennis is a personal trainer who coached me before my wedding.  Thanks to his expertise, I pushed myself harder than I ever have in the gym.  I gained physical strength, but the mental strength that I found within truly made it all worthwhile.  Several months have passed since I last saw Dennis, and I have to say, he looked great!  Then, I glanced down at his feet and saw that he had crossed over.  Yes, he was wearing Vibram Five Fingers, what looked to be the KSO model for men.  I always wore them when he trained me, and he asked me about them a few times, but you could tell that he really thought I was nuts back then.  It turns out that Dennis developed plantar fasciitis some time ago, and decided to make the switch to minimalist footwear.  Guess what?  Plantar fasciitis gone.  This is what happens when you strengthen your feet and allow your body to move naturally!  I really regret not getting a picture with Dennis either, see what happens when you drink beer after races?  Dennis said, “Thank you, thank you guys,” and continued telling us how much better he’s doing.  Talk about pulling at the ol’ heart strings!  This is just one of the reasons why I’m so passionate about minimalist running, it’s truly a gamechanger and a lifesaver.  Made my month.  I salute you, Giant Banana.  You can find Dennis Le training at Boom Fitness in Tanasbourne. 

We finally arrived at the results tent, and found our results.  I’m terrible at remembering times, so I went somewhere around 21:30ish for the 5K (2nd in my age group, I got a ribbon yay!) and Mike went 39:30ish for the 10K.  He’s fast.  Ridic.  He was hoping to break 40 minutes in the 10K and he did it!  Look at that, hit by a car in April and setting new PR’s in October.  I’m so proud! 

Meanwhile, the announcer on stage was saying something about Best Villain costume, and so Mike took off running for the stage.  As soon as he hopped on stage, he was playing the part, egging on the crowd and acting like a crazy mofo.  Here’s a pic to prove it.   

Of course, Mike won first place for Best Villain!  He won a great prize too, $30 off entry fee for any Terrapin Event in 2013.

After the race, we headed to Morning Star Cafe for breakfast, costumes and all, in memory of last years zombie breakfast.  All in all, it was a great day for a great charity.  We both got new PR’s in our respective races despite a train, and the weather cleared up just in time for the start of the races.  The sun even came out!  Racing is truly a great way to improve your level of fitness and get out there and meet new people, even if we’re all a bunch of freaks here in Portland.  Just cover your kids’ eyes when Mrs. Dominatrix comes around.

My Journey to Becoming a Barefoot Runner, Part 2: The Why

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:

  1. 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?
  2. 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. 
    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!

Through running and reconnecting to the ground, we can improve our overall health and wellbeing.  I’ll leave you with links to a couple more articles:  How Humans Ran Comfortably and Safely Before the Invention of Shoes and Running Shoes May Cause Damage to Knees , Hips and Ankles.

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!