Too Much Too Soon Syndrome FAQ: A Look at Inside Ankle Pain

The most frequent question that barefoot runners ask me is, “Why does the top of my foot hurt?” Second, “Why do the insides of my ankles hurt?”  I will go a bit backward with my posts, because I’ve gotten two inside ankle pain questions in the past two weeks. I will try to address top of the foot pain in my next one.  First of all, what is Too Much Too Soon Syndrome (TMTS)?  TMTS is very common among us newly converted barefoot or minimalist runners.  Many of us have tried for years to run in traditional shoes and failed to run injury free, or failed to meet our goals, or just failed to run happy!  Running happy is the most important thing of all.  So, that being said, when we start running barefoot or even in Vibrams, something funny happens to us.  The first time, it’s a little weird, and we may even vow to never do it again.  All it takes is that second time.  Two barefoot runs, and you may find yourself addicted.  THIS IS FUN!! WHEEE!!!  All of the sudden, running is fun again, and it feels like play.  Sensation is on overload, your awareness is heightened, and you think to yourself, this is great!  I’m going to run my usual five mile route!  Now it’s very difficult for a barefoot runner to do their normal five mile route because their soles will force them to turn around, but this is where many Vibram Five Finger runners get in trouble.  We have a false sense of security from the rubber on the shoe, and we do not pick up the feedback that’s telling us to stop for the day. And that’s when I get an email, or a message on Facebook…

They usually go something like this: Leigh, I tried those stupid shoes (and yes I ignored you when you said to go barefoot first) and I started really slow by walking in them, and then I ran 4 miles.  Or 6 miles.  Or 8 miles.  Now, I can’t walk!  The top of my foot hurts, or my calves are dying a slow death, or the insides of my ankles hurt, or my whole body hates you Leigh, and I can’t even sit on the toilet correctly.  I broke myself.  These are all things that I’ve heard!  And guess what?  I’ve experienced all these things, because I too, am an impatient runner and ignore my own advice.  It’s true, PTs make the worst patients!

Anyway, what am I talking about? Right, TMTS.  So as new barefoot runners, we truly need to appreciate the amount of time it takes to build strength in the lower legs.  Not only that, but the mobility of our foot must be enough to accommodate our new running style which is decidedly different than say, running in a shoe with an 1.5 inch heel.  It is known that it takes about 8 weeks to gain strength and mass in a muscle.  While we may feel stronger after only a few sessions of weight training or barefoot running, this is only due to neurological factors, i.e. the signal from the brain to the muscle to tell it to contract is getting faster.  This is the common phenomenon that may happen when you’re trying to bench press for the first time.  The first time you try it in the gym, the bar wobbles around like a noodle, and everyone laughs.  Yes, it’s happened to me.  But after a few days of persistence, that bar is steady and you get to show off your mad skills.  Are you stronger?  Well, in a way.  You have better control.  But you won’t be maxing out on the bench press with the big boys and girls until you practice for a long time.  And so, there is the parallel to barefoot running. Just because you’ve been a runner, doesn’t mean that you can max out (run 5 miles barefoot) the second time you try.  We are learning to turn on muscles that have been off for a long, long time.

In the past couple of weeks, I’ve gotten questions from two different people about inside ankle pain after ramping up mileage in Vibram Five Fingers.  In both scenarios, the individual ramped up mileage very quickly. Because they were both runners before, they likely assumed they could do this.  Let me start out by saying that if you’re experiencing persistent pain after trying minimalist or barefoot running, please see a physical therapist who specializes in running.  If possible, seek an open minded, knowledgeable PT who has experience in minimalist running.  Physical therapists are movement and musculoskeletal experts, and they can evaluate and treat the specific problem.  While primary care doctors are a good starting point to get a referral to see a PT, they might not necessarily know exactly what’s going on or be open minded to a form of running that’s still considered to be “alternative” or “different.”

So let’s get back to inside ankle pain.  Inside ankle pain is not uncommon because the muscles that support the arch and muscles of the lower leg are usually atrophied from wearing regular shoes or running shoes with an arch support.  The arches including the intrinsic muscles of the feet need to learn to come alive again, but until then, sometimes certain muscles will try to do all the work to hold up and support the arch.  One such muscle that may become overworked while trying to control the arch, is a muscle called the posterior tibialis.  This muscle originates deep in the calf area and its tendon wraps underneath the inside ankle bone (medial malleolus) and connects to a small bone in the arch called navicular, and then attaches by fibrous expansion to many other small bones in the foot.  When this muscle is overworked, one could develop posterior tibialis tendonitis.  The action of that muscle inverts or brings the foot in towards the midline, plantarflexes the foot (points it like a ballerina)  supinates the foot (helps it roll out during running) and helps to control pronation (arch rolling in during running.)

Good Picture of Posterior Tibialis

So what can you do for this ailment? Well, for starters, RICE.  Rest, ice, compression, elevation.  Yes, it works!  Then, it will be necessary to restore normal mobility and strength in the feet and lower legs.  This is important for anyone who is considering barefoot/minimalist running!  So the question is, is there anything that could cause inside ankle pain other than the posterior tibialis tendon?  Of course! That’s why it’s important to talk to your PT.  But, these exercises below will be beneficial to ANYONE who is considering minimalist running, so you really can’t go wrong with them.

Stretch!

1. Gastroc/Soleus Stretch: Please perform this with knee straight and then bent to stretch both gastroc and soles muscles.  Soleus (knee bent) is of utmost importance as you will be eccentrically loading this guy with your barefoot running.  I like to hold this one for up to 1-2 minutes and repeat 3 times to really change the tissue and increase the dorsiflexion range of motion. Additionally, I like to use a slant board to obtain even more of a stretch. It is necessary for barefoot runners to have lots of dorsiflexion range of motion!

2.Ballerina Stretch: This will ensure the top of the foot has sufficient range of motion so that the muscles/tendons in back of the leg are not overworking. 

3. Roll Out!  Roll your calves out on a foam roller.  Get in there!  Also, roll out the arch of your foot on a golf ball.  Get in there! This should be a “good hurt” and the area should feel looser and freer afterward, not damaged and painful. The muscles/tendons need to be free of adhesions, rolling out can help bring circulation to the area.  Increased circulation means increased blood flow and oxygen, which brings the good stuff we need to repair tissue.

Strengthen!

1. Direct Isolated Posterior Tibialis Eccentric Strengthening: Tendonitis and eccentrics are enemies.  This one is a great addition to your toolbox! 

2. Short Foot Exercise: Janda’s genius idea.  This one is fantastic for intrinsic strength, so that posterior tibialis does not have to compensate for intrinsic weakness. Sanatan calls this the invisible arch support exercise:

3. Calf Raises with Eccentric Lower: Great strength exercise for minimalist runners, as we must have eccentric control via the muscles of the lower leg and foot to decelerate upon landing on the forefoot.  Please be sure that your weight is focused over the big toe.  In other words, do not allow the foot to roll out when lowering down. I use this daily! 

4. Calf Raise 100’s: Love this! 

5. Functional Posterior Tib Exercises: During the second video, you can stop watching at about 3:30, unless you want to know about the navicular drop test.  

These exercises are just a few things to put in your toolbox for minimalist barefoot running.  The most important thing to remember is that patience is key to success in your transition, and the reward in the end is well worth your time.  Run happy and run strong!

Have you experienced any TMTS injuries? What are/were they?  

Holiday Half Marathon Race Recap with ENERGY BITS!

Wow this race recap took a while for me!  Sometimes, life gets in the way…  I am still at home recovering, so I have some time to catch up.  The Holiday Half Marathon and 5k is a festive little event in North Portland near the Adidas campus that took place on December 16, 2012.  This was my second year running it, so I felt pretty confident I could beat my time from last year.  Last year, I ran it in 1:47:23.  My goal time going into the race was 1:45, and I felt that was a perfectly attainable goal.

My mistake with this race was not getting my things ready the night before…Hehe, I think it’s safe to say I was a bit over-confident.  “It’s going to be fine!” I thought to myself, no problem.  We sat around, had a nice dinner, and went to bed.  We woke up with plenty of time to eat some breakfast, but realized that we didn’t have any coffee.  I am not a coffee drinker, but it’s my tradition to have a small cup of coffee before a race to give me an extra kick in the pants.  Caffeine has certainly been shown to do that with running, so I was insistent that we get coffee somewhere.  So we decided we would hit the 7-11 before the race, which was the only thing open that early in the morning on a Sunday.  The absence of coffee in my pre-race routine must’ve been the thing that kicked off the chaos that ensued.

While I was pouting around the house about the missing coffee, I began putting my race clothes on.  I had this really silly ugly Christmas turtleneck from my Mrs. Claus costume from the Jingle Bell Run, so I decided to wear that to be “cute” and festive during the race.  I also donned my striped elf socks over my tights for a little extra flair.  My running jacket happens to be green, which was perfect for the theme so I put that on too with the intention of converting it to a vest during the race. Knowing that we needed to stop and get coffee, we hurried out the door with probably not enough time…

We got coffee and headed downtown.  About 2 minutes onto the interstate, I realized I’d forgotten my watch.  Now ordinarily, I really wouldn’t care that much because I’ve never been much for wearing the watch anyway, but today, I was going for a PR!  OH NO!!!  I would need to monitor my pace in order to get the time I wanted right?  PANIC!!  I was driving, so I obviously started beating the crap out of the steering wheel with my clueless husband sitting next to me with his mouth hanging open.  “I FORGOT MY WATCH!!”  We really didn’t have time to go home and get it, because parking down there is a complete nightmare.  As in there’s none right around Adidas, so you have to take a shuttle if you don’t get there early enough, which of course, we didn’t get a ticket for.  So we kept on heading downtown, and I was frantically coming up with ideas.  “Can’t you download a thing on my thing? You know what I’m saying??” I was practically shrieking.

My husband is wonderful, and knows how to translate.  “A GPS running app for your iPhone?” he said, trying not to laugh at me.  Of course he could laugh, he had his stupid GPS watch.  He got to work on my iPhone as I continued to curse myself for forgetting my watch and for wearing such a silly turtleneck.  I realized this was going to be a problem because it was pouring rain.  Now, a cute Christmas turtleneck from Goodwill is one thing if it’s nice, sunny, weather, but it’s a terrible idea if it’s down pouring.  Heavy cotton is the last thing you should be wearing in the pouring rain and wind.

When we pulled up to Adidas, we realized we were too late, because they’d already shut the roads down so we couldn’t get through to try to find a parking space.  We were directed down to the parking lot a couple miles away, so we would need to take the shuttle.  Which we didn’t have a ticket for.  We were screwed!  The guy mercifully let us onto the shuttle, so I plan to contact Foot Traffic to see if we can donate some money to them or a charity of their liking for letting the bandits on the bus, wearing an ugly Christmas turtleneck nonetheless.

On the bus, I tried to familiarize myself with my new running app on my iPhone thanks to my wonderful husband.  I also realized at this point I’d forgotten a hat, which would have been pretty crucial in the weather.  We pulled up to Adidas for the start with a few minutes to spare to check our bag and prepare to start.  The line for bag check was wrapped twice around the garage.  Wow!!  I think they underestimated the amount of people at this race!  Here we were, 20 minutes until the start with hundreds of people trying to check bags, and the line was immobile.  The porta potty situation was pretty poor too, forget about going to the bathroom before the race.  There must have been more people than last year!  Either that or our planning was terrible, I’m not sure which. Probably a bit of both.

In line, I adjusted my Injinji socks and my VFF See Yas, which were just starting to get a little hole in the pinky toe.  Wow, I’ve been putting some mileage on these!  I suppose I’ve had them since April now, that’s pretty good for such a thin sole. 3 or 3.5 mm if I remember correctly?  I feel almost sentimental towards those shoes!  I also counted out 40 Energy Bits and swallowed them with some water.  Here goes nothing!  First race with Energy Bits!  I’d been training with them, so I knew I could expect a wonderful surge of energy that would carry me through the race, despite a pretty low start to the morning.  No one to blame but myself for that though…

Because it took us so long to get our bags checked, we were stuck in the middle to the back of the crowd.  It was raining pretty hard at this point, and I realized that I had also forgotten to convert my jacket into a vest and check the sleeves.  I had no choice but to take the sleeves off and pack them into the back of my jacket, which makes me appear to have a giant booty bouncing around from far away.  I’m told it’s pretty entertaining!  You’re welcome, to the people running behind me 🙂  I had my iPhone in my front pocket of my jacket, which also felt big and bulky to say the least.  I started the iPhone as I crossed the timing mat, which was pretty awkward because I was juggling my phone and some red “throw away” gloves.

There were lots of turns during the first part of the race, so I was effectively blocked in by runners as we funneled through the narrow streets.  I was pretty antsy, so I scurried over to the sidewalk with a couple other runners who were doing the same in order to pass some of the others.  This seemed to work pretty well and I was trying to make up the time that I’d lost being blocked in earlier.  I finally fished out my phone to see how fast I was going, and I was holding a 6:30 min/mile pace at that point!  Ok, ok, that’s too fast!!  To get a time of 1:45, I would need to hold 8:00 min/miles, or slightly less.

I slowed down to about 7:30 min/miles, but I am incredibly stubborn and could not convince myself to go any slower than that.  I honestly don’t know what’s wrong with me sometimes.  I just feel SO GOOD during the first half of the race!! I can hold this, it’ll be great!  I fell into running with a group of ladies that looked very strong, a local running group.  I was feeling great, so I tried to talk to them a little, saying some encouraging things.  By this point, we were starting to see some of the leaders coming back, which is always inspiring to pick up the pace a bit.  The race is mostly out and back, but it’s a bit further out than it is back.  I said something like, “Wow, it’s great to see the really fast people coming back!  It gives me a little more energy!”  The ladies I was running with were not amused.  They apparently all knew each other and did not particularly want to associate with me.  Oh, I forgot to mention I was also wearing Christmas underwear over my pants.  Superhero style.  With the Muppets character, Animal on them.  So I guess wearing a soaked Christmas turtleneck and underwear is not quite as cool as their slick tech running club shirts! Oh well, that’s ok.

During the race, it began to monsoon.  That was some of the most killer rain and wind I’ve ever run in, much less raced in.  The rain and wind made things irritating.  My gloves became sopping wet, and I couldn’t work my phone with them on, so I decided to throw them out.  I then tried to shelter my freezing hands with my shirt, but it was also dripping cotton.  My jacket, which I was wearing as a vest, is supposed to be water resistant, but nothing could resist the pelting rain and wind. My vest offered no protection to my phone, which became totally soaked.  My fingers were so cold, that at about mile 9, I was totally incapable of working it.  I’m pretty sure my phone also just completely pooped out at that point and decided to quit.  The only real problem I have with this race course aside from the terrible weather that struck is the cant in the road.  The cant is quite severe on many parts of the course, and I felt like I should have been in a velodrome.  The road was so slanted, sometimes I found myself running from side to side because I couldn’t stay on a straight path!  Cant is a bit of a pet peeve of mine, but it could be because I’m a PT and notice things like that.  I even began to imagine at one point that I was developing hip pain from the awkward surface, but decided it was all in my head.  (It was.)  On the bright side, there are some nice neighborhoods that we ran through, as well as a pretty view of the river.

Along the road with the pretty view, the wind was threatening to blow us over.  My race number, poor thing, couldn’t hang.  Probably about the same time I lost the ability to use my fingers and my phone, my race number took flight.  I’d noticed that one of the four holes had ripped, so my race number was hanging by three safety pins and flapping provocatively in the wind.  I was trying to bow my head into the wind, which was coming from the right on the way back, when all of the sudden I saw a race number flying around.  “Oooh, that sucks, bummer for that person,” I thought, looking around for the idiot without a race number.  It took me about 5 seconds to realize that I was the idiot!  Oh no, my race number with my chip is flying around!!  I started chasing it around on the ground, but of course,  as soon as I came up to it, the bastard would fly away again.  Finally, the rain worked in my favor and held it to the ground long enough for me to get it.  Mind you, my fingers were still not functional so I sort of balled up the number and held it in my left hand.  I had to keep looking down to make sure I was still holding it!

My pace stayed at 7:30 until about mile 6 when I decided I really needed to slow down.  I slowed down to 7:45 or so until right after the turn around, when we started going uphill and into a headwind.  At that point, I looked down at my phone and I was going 8:30 min/miles!  Luckily, it was at that time that my lifeboat arrived.  I felt strong and the Energy Bits were working.  I kicked it up a notch, bowed my head into the wind and took off.  I checked my phone again and kept it steady at 7:45 min/mile throughout the rest of the race.  I think, anyway, but I’m not sure since I couldn’t look at my phone after mile 9.  But I must have, based on my finishing time.  I felt strong, and hammered through those last miles despite the conditions absence of the ability to use my fingers.  I couldn’t even stop at the last water stop because I was incapable of grabbing a cup!  Again, totally my fault.  I was figuring that I had maybe a mile left, when all of the sudden, I looked up and saw the mile 13 marker.  What?? I only have 0.1 mile left?  That set a fire under my Animal underwear, and I took off!  I tore for the finish, and was so happy!  My finishing time was 1:42:16, 5 minutes faster than last year, and a new PR for my half marathon.  Mike blew my mind with a finishing time of 1:27:33!!  That’s a pace of 6:41. He never ceases to amaze me.

What I want to really focus on, is how Energy Bits got me through this race.  One couldn’t ask for worse conditions and worse planning on my part.  A poor start to the morning was followed by pure energy, focus, and the ability to stay above the intrinsic and extrinsic barriers that I faced during the half marathon. I truly felt I could rise above the weather, the cold, and the idiotic wardrobe choices.  So have you heard of Energy Bits?

Let’s talk about them. I discovered Energy Bits when I became interested in using real food for fuel vs. the sugary gels that I’ve used in the past. Don’t get me wrong, I still use Clif gels for a kick in the pants, but prefer to use cleaner energy if possible.  Energy Bits have one ingredient.  One.  Spirulina, which is a form of algae, has been recognized as the most powerful, nutritionally dense food in the world.  And that happens to be the one ingredient in Energy Bits.  The minimum recommended “dose” is 30 bits, but more is obviously more beneficial to your performance.  I took 40 before the race and it really seemed to do the trick for me.  During training runs, I ate Energy Bits and had some of the fastest training runs I’ve ever had.  And I typically don’t train fast, which is a flaw of mine, but these things just facilitate a stronger, faster run.  Not to mention, a happy run!  It sounds silly, but I always feel really happy, or almost elevated, or dare I say high?  Keep in mind, Spirulina is NOT a drug, it’s just an amazing superfood!  While it may sound hard to believe, healthy, pure, nutritional food is the key to our health and therefore our performance in athletics.  We are unfortunately, a society that is run by pharmaceutical companies and gimmicks to put a band aid over our problems and provide temporary fixes, as well as temporarily boost our performance.  Overall health is about enriching our lives with the best foods on this earth, and increasing our longevity.  That’s what Energy Bits are about.  Health, performance, and longevity via the simplest route you can think of:  Find the most nutritious food on this planet and grow it organically for the most pure supplement and performance enhancer.  Did I go off on a tangent too much?  🙂  Don’t get me started on pharmaceutical companies…

Anyway, on the Energy Bits website,  they discuss the performance aspect of the bits for athletics:

“For any sport or workout, you need glucose and protein and for a really top performance, your muscles need rapid access to them. This is why nitric oxide is so important. It opens up blood vessels so key nutrients can quickly get where they need to go. Our algae tabs are the trifecta of nutrition because they provide your body with glucose, protein and even nitric oxide. All naturally too. Our algae tabs have the highest concentration of protein in the world (over 60%), all in amino acid form so it quickly converts to glucose. This gives you an energy boost and mental wake up without chemicals, sugar or caffeine  All for just one calorie per tab. We recommend our ENERGYbits® algae tabs (which are 100% spirulina)  for any athletic or high endurance activity.   Spirulina algae has been a favorite of Olympic athletes and trainers for decades. You’ll find out why the first time you try them.”

I am so impressed by this company, that I recently became a proud ambassador for them.  If you have any specific questions for me, please ask me as I’m happy to answer.  I should mention that the bits are going to be a powerful tool for me while I’m recovering from my medical emergency, as I’m slightly anemic due to blood loss.  I couldn’t tolerate an Iron supplement, so I’ve started taking the bits daily to see if this is beneficial for getting my hematocrit levels to rise.  Here is a little snapshot of some of the nutritional highlights of Energy Bits and spirulina, taken from the website:

Nutritional highlights of Spirulina:

  • Provides 12 times the amount of bio-available protein as steak
  • Is composed of 60%-64% protein compared to meat (27%) or soy (34%)
  • More beta carotene than any other whole food
  • 58 times more iron than raw spinach
  • 12 times more iron than beef liver
  • Richest source of antioxidants – necessary for health, and anti-aging
  • Richest source of vitamin A (which helps your eyesight)
  • Richest plant source of GLA to reduce cholesterol and blood pressure

Summary:

To summarize the half marathon, a poopy start to the race followed by even poopier weather and slanted roads ended up ending on a high note as I finished 5 minutes faster than my fastest half marathon, and 3 minutes faster than my goal time thanks to Energy Bits as fuel and my Animal Christmas underwear.

Interested in ENERGY BITS?  ASK ME QUESTIONS!!  INTERESTED IN A DISCOUNT?  USE the code BAREFOOT at checkout at EnergyBits.Com for 30% off!

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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.

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!

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!

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:

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

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

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

“Crazy hippie.”

“Is she?  No.  Wait, yes she is!”

“That b**** is cray cray!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.