Jingle Bell Run Review and Portland Monsoon Season

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mrs. Claus and Santa
Mrs. Claus and Santa

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

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

Sparkly toenails
Sparkly toenails

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Look how cute my pendant is!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Initial Review of My New Huaraches From Invisibleshoe.com

The other day, I watched a video on YouTube called “Sh*t Barefoot Runners Say,” which I of course thought was hysterical, in case you didn’t see my Facebook status, tweet or last blog post that I put the video in.  Here is the video, yet again, in case you missed it:

Apparently, the mastermind behind this video is Steve Sashen out of Boulder, CO who is CEO of the shoe company Invisible Shoes at invisibleshoes.com.  Invisible shoes are also known as huaraches, or the running sandals of the Tarahumara Indians.  These cute little shoes were made famous by Christopher McDougall’s earth shattering book, Born To Run.  Half asleep the other morning and procrastinating on doing my patient paperwork from the day before, I decided I HAD TO HAVE a pair.  Steve was so likeable in his video, I thought to myself, I want to do what this guy’s doing! So I finally ordered my very first pair of huaraches  after being such a loyal Vibrams wearer for two years now. 

The shoes are custom fit, so I had to send in a tracing of my foot, which I found very exciting.  My very own custom shoes, we’re gettin’ fancy now.  They have a video on the website that gave me step my step instructions, so I didn’t mess it up too terribly.  I also decided to splurge and so I ordered a custom charm of a tribal sun to adorn my ever so beautiful Tarahumara feet.  When I say splurge, I should mention that these are actually the cheapest shoes I’ve probably ever bought.  $39.95 for the shoes, plus $4.50 for the ever necessary decorative pendant.  I picked blue cord for the shoes and opted to have them go ahead and make them for me, tied and all.  You also have a choice to buy a kit and make them on your own, but I would surely destroy them so I decided to take full advantage of the custom services.

Two days later, literally, I received my shoes in the mail.  Holy hell, that was fast!  I didn’t believe it was the shoes at first, because they just came in a thin envelope that weighed about as much as a few pieces of paper in there.  With the help of the “Tying” section of the website, I got my laces adjusted and started wondering around in the shoes.  What I immediately noticed was that I would probably have to fiddle around with the lacing a bit to get the fit just right.  I realized that I probably tied them too tight, but decided to go out for a “short” run anyway. 

Six miles later, I realized I should probably call it a night in my new friends, considering it was my first go round with them.  I was having a blast!  The laces were definitely too tight and left little indentations around my heel and top of my foot, but otherwise I didn’t even notice the straps.  I was really surprised that the strap between my toes didn’t bother me at all. 

As far as ground feel, you could almost feel the stems of the leaves through the soles, which are 4mm thick.  Or 4mm thin, to be more accurate.  Invisible Shoes does sell 6mm thick soles as well if you want a bit more protection.  The ground feel was different compared to Vibrams, not necessarily in a good or bad way.  The difference was that when I stepped on a stick for example, the whole sole bends a bit to form around the stick whereas when barefoot or in Vibrams, I feel my foot forming to the stick a bit more.  My feet also seemed a bit wider and longer in these shoes, probably because the soles extend slightly beyond the parameter of your foot just like any sandal would.  Again, I think that this was neither good or bad, but probably something that would take some getting used to.

They probably weigh about 3.2 ish oz, as Steve has on his website that a men’s size 9 weighs 3.4 oz.  I wear a women’s size 6, so you get what I’m saying.  They felt very light, and I felt myself running more aware, similar to the awareness when I’m barefoot running.  When I’m in Vibrams, I think I tend to sleep-run a bit more because I know that I’m still protected if I hit my toe…while this is good for sleeping, it can lead to form deterioration, which of course is not good for healthy running.

I also felt the muscles in my legs and core were really activating as in barefoot while running in my new huaraches.  It’s amazing how just that little tiny bit of flexible material on the VFF soles does support your foot and arches just enough to where you do not get the same strengthening benefit of being totally bare.  I will say that I think these new huaraches will be a great addition to my “barefoot footwear,” which is of course, ridiculous to have as much minimalist footwear as I do!!  They really did feel as if they were a part of my foot by the end of the run, which is what I was hoping for.  In the beginning, they felt a bit awkward because my foot felt overall larger hitting the ground, but it didn’t take long to get in the groove.  I should mention this was a road run, I’ve yet to try them on the trails.  I’ll try to hit the trails with them this weekend and provide an update after that magic happens.

I felt very native and wild in my new huaraches, which was totally exciting. I considered doing a few tribal yells or maybe some dancing, but figured that would be overkill in suburbia.  Of course, everyone passing was staring at me anyway.  I wore my Portland Marathon Finisher shirt just to prove I was hardcore and not just some crazy banshee running around.  Afterall, looks are the most important thing right?  At least I looked good. 

This is day two with my new huaraches, and I’m wearing them now as I sit here and write this.  I spent some time loosening the straps today and they feel so much better already.  I’m so excited, I think I’ll go out for another 5 mile run now.  But not before I share some pictures with you!  Behold, my beautiful feet and caveman huaraches.  Er, please ignore the dirt/mud, I can’t ever seem to get all of it out from under my toe nails during Portland mud season.  I know, I know. 

SO WHAT DO YOU THINK?  HAVE YOU EVER WORN HUARACHES, OR DO YOU WANT TO TRY THEM?   

Look how cute my pendant is!

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

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

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

“Crazy hippie.”

“Is she?  No.  Wait, yes she is!”

“That b**** is cray cray!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I had the distinct pleasure of flying to Hilton Head, SC last weekend to watch one of my best girls, Andrea, marry her prince charming.  Ah, the beach, with its perpetual sand, sun, water and fresh air is a perfect recipe for a vacation to relax and reconnect with the earth.  In fact, 72% of Americans prefer a beach vacation according to a poll by ABC news, and that number increased to 83% when families had children under the age of 18. 

So why is this?  Well, there’s the obvious benefits to going to the beach including epic sandcastle construction, finding the best seashells, burying people in the sand, surfing and splashing in the water.  But did you ever stop to think that maybe this is the only time that you’re barefoot outside for any length of time?  “Toes in sand.”  Google that phrase and over 16 million results pop up.  Say it to a co-worker and they’ll have a thirty second escape, daydreaming about the warmth of the sand on their naked feet.  It’s no coincidence that Americans’ favorite spot to revive themselves is with their bare feet on the ground.

Why Bare is Better:

  1. Anatomy of d’ feet.  Your feet are totally awesome, in case you didn’t know.  You have 28 bones, 107 ligaments, and 19 muscles and tendons which provide a springy effect that stores and returns energy with each step.  Commonly, when you have a foot, knee, or hip problem, someone may recommend to you that you need arch supports, custom orthotics, or super stability shoes to control the overpronation of your foot.  Overpronation is common when we don’t strengthen our feet and we confine our feet to modern shoes.  Let’s consider this for a moment:  When you break your arm and wear a cast for 6-8 weeks, the muscles in your arm are nearly non-existent when you remove that cast.  They have atrophied, and it takes a significant amount of time to rebuild your strength and your muscle mass via physical therapy and exercise.  Now, apply that same principle of muscle atrophy to the foot.  If you support your arch in the foot with an arch support or custom orthotic, the muscles in the foot no longer have to do their job because they are held up by that support.  They will begin to atrophy even more, leading to weaker feet, increased overpronation without the artificial support, and increased injuries.  If any other muscle was atrophied in the body, we would strengthen the thing, right?  So why then, in the case of a wimpy, weak foot do we tend to rely on an artificial support instead of utilizing the powerhouse foot to its full potential?
  2. Shape of the Foot.  Dr. Ray McClanahan is a local podiatrist in Portland, OR as well as one of my personal heroes.  “Dr. Ray,” as I’ve heard his patients affectionately call him, is a proponent of restoring natural movement in the lower extremities by encouraging proper footwear and the usage of his rad creation, Correct Toes. 
    Correct Toes

      

These images can be seen on the NW Foot & Ankle website.  One of my favorite items that Dr. Ray discusses is the shape of a newborn baby’s foot.  We were all born with beautiful feet, feet which are widest at the toes!  By taking a glimpse at modern footwear, you would never know this with the narrow toe boxes and curve to the shoe.  And guess what?  Our feet become deformed as we stuff them into these narrow shoes, causing our big toe and pinky toe to turn inward leading to bunions, crooked toes and an endless array of other foot impairments.  We can just call them by my favorite umbrella term “Toeliosis,” a nod to an awesome clinical instructor in Waitsfield, VT.  Dr. Ray discusses the shape of the foot and encourages natural movement in this video

When the feet become deformed by the use of modern footwear, we run into the problem of “overpronation” as well.  In one of my favorite Dr. Ray videos, he demonstrates how when the normal foot shape is restored by bringing the big toe back out into proper alignment, “overpronation” is virtually impossible.  This is incredibly fascinating, as so many of us are wearing improper shoes and suffering from the results in the form of foot, ankle, knee, hip and low back pain.  When barefoot or in proper footwear that closely resembles the shape of the foot, this allows for normal functioning of foot mechanics. Therefore, the foot becomes stronger and the rest of the kinetic chain is much happier.  Dr. Ray’s website also has articles by Dr. William Rossi, another podiatrist that discusses the benefits of being bare.  Here is a link to those articles.

3.  Schumann Resonance.  Wha?  Natural healing through the earth’s transfer of energy right through the soles of our feet.  Sound screwy?  It’s for real!  I will admit this is a bit over my head, but I will attempt to sum it up here.  The earth has a frequency of approximately 7.83-ish Hz.  This frequency is important to us, as humans, because our brainwaves also vibrate at 7.83-ish Hz.  So that means that our human vibrations are perfectly paired up with our Earth mother’s, connecting us at a level that many of us haven’t ever thought about.  So here we humans are, buzzin’ along, directly in sync with the Earth, as long as we are connected to it by the soles of our feet.  The trouble begins when we separate ourselves from our Earth mama by driving cars with big ol’ rubber tires, wearing big ol’ rubber soled shoes, and living in our suburban houses set high off the ground.  The benefits of being connected to the ground are many, but as a wannabe athlete, the one I like best has to do with inflammation.  This paragraph from one of my favorite books by Michael Sandler, Barefoot Running, sums it up perfectly:

“Second, when you reconnect to the negatively charged electrons on the surface of the earth, the build-up of positively charged free radicals in your body that leads to inflammation is neutralized.  Chronic inflammation has been implicated in all types of serious health issues including diabetes, Alzheimer’s, cancer, leukemia, heart disease and autoimmune disorders such as rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, and many others.  When research subjects were connected to the earth, medical thermal images showed decreased inflammation in only minutes.”

Obviously, the easiest way to connect to the earth is just by stripping off your shoes.  There are other devices called grounding pads or earthing pads that exist to mimic the connection to the earth, and they are being used by athletes and us regular folks with chronic pain to increase energy and speed healing time.  Needless to say, I totally want one!  Afterall, I have more energy after a barefoot run than I do all day driving around in the car.

Another pseudo fact is that the NASA space program was using a device called a Schumann Resonator attached to their ships when they send their astronauts out into space.  I say “pseudo fact” because I have yet to confirm this with NASA, it seems they are too busy to answer my silly questions… they must be doing something more worthwhile I suppose.  Or doing nothing at all, since my husband just reminded me that NASA is no more.  Rumor has it that the astronauts that were going up into space were becoming quite sick when away from Earth’s precious frequency and only returned to their normal state when reconnected to the ground.  The solution was to send this device that emits the Earth’s frequency with the astronauts on the ships, and this seemed to solve this problem altogether.  Great!

So, could it be that we feel rejuvenated after a beach vacation because we’ve had our happy feet stuck in the sand and reconnected ourselves to Earth mama?  One full week of Earth’s healing effects to try to propel us through the next work week.  Perhaps that’s why we feel the post-vacation buzz linger for a while after we get home.  Now imagine connecting to the Earth daily via a barefoot run or walk, and consider the lifelong benefits.

4.  Heelstrikin’ (Or lack thereof).  When we run in giant marshmallow shoes with a high heel, aka traditional running shoes since the time of Nike’s takeover, our foot lands way out in front of our body smacking the ground with our sweet little heels.  Poor things, they certainly weren’t designed to absorb all that shock.  Check out this picture:

I apologize, I’ve had this picture for so long that I’m not sure of its origin.  Anyway, when we attach a cushioned heel to our shoe, it takes away our profound ability to feel the ground like when we’re barefoot.  In search of feeling the ground, we land harder to try to feel the surface with the eyes (nerve endings) of our feet.  One of my favorite studies that was featured in the book, Born to Run, was the gymnast study out of McGill University headed by Dr. Steve Robbins and Dr. Edward Waked.  They found that the thicker the mat, the harder the gymnasts landed, theoretically in search of the stability of the ground.  This could be directly related to the thickness of our running shoes!  The thicker the heel and foot cushion, the harder we land, seeking out the stability of the firm ground.

When heel striking, we disengage the natural marvel of the foot’s mechanics during running.  When hitting midfoot/forefoot, we activate the springy effect of our bones, muscles, and tendons which absorb the shock from the ground, store that energy and release it with power to propel us forward.  When hitting at the heel, we absorb the shock up through the bony heel, which has no way to dissipate that shock.  Therefore, the shock travels from the heel to the knee joint to the hip joint to the back and on up.  This is the very reason why my injuries became more frequent when my shoes became thicker and more cushioned, with a price tag to boot.  I always liked that saying, “to boot.”  What does that mean, anyway?

Take a look at the two pictures above again and you may notice how the heel striker would be the less efficient runner as his heel is acting as a braking force, impeding forward propulsion.  On the other hand, the forefoot striker will continue to glide along easily, as the foot is hitting underneath his center of gravity and his body will continue to propel forward.  This results in a smooth, easy ride and the storing of energy for use later on during a long race, just when you need it most.  The heel striker may tire out quicker with all the stopping and starting, leading to the infamous bonk.

5. The Pelvis.  For me, the position of my pelvis is one of the most important aspects of running injury-free.  When I was in physical therapy school, we learned in our neurology class how the position of the foot can impact the position of the knee and therefore the pelvis.  If we put our foot into plantarflexion, (pointed toe like a ballerina) even slightly like in a high heel or traditional running shoe, this creates a knee extension moment.  In otherwords, when your foot is in a high heeled running shoe, the knee will have a tendency to be locked out straight.  This also results in anterior rotation of the pelvis.  Translation: Your booty sticks out and the curve in your low back increases.  You seen them booty runners?  It’s ok to laugh a little, it’s funny.  I’m allowed to laugh because I used to be one. 

This rotation at the pelvis creates total disconnect between your upper and lower body because the core musculature is imbalanced and can’t hold everything together.  This is a disaster, because much of our power, balance and forward propulsion should be coming from strong stomach, back and hip muscles where our center of gravity lives. Additionally, your quads and hamstrings which are attached to your femur and your pelvis, are wildly trying to recruit and activate at a bad angle resulting in injuries all the way down the chain due to shortened quads and overstrained hamstrings.  Hello hip and knee injuries!  The Dr. Rossi article has a nice picture of what happens to the pelvis in high heels in Fig. 1.

Contrarily, when the foot is in dorsiflexion, (bringing the toes up towards the nose) this creates a knee flexion moment, or bent knees.  Have you ever seen someone walking around in ski boots?  To my knowledge, there aren’t any running shoes on the market that put your foot in dorsiflexion, but there are some walking shoes.  But this video is just pure entertainment, and you can see how this would not be a favorable running position either.

When barefoot, and with a little postural reeducation for those of us who’ve been sticking our booties out for a long time, the pelvis can be restored to its neutral position.  The pelvis can truly be the center of power for your stride and I never even realized this until I began running bare.  I will talk about how to properly position your pelvis in my next post, which will be the “how to” section.

In closing this post, I want to reiterate that running barefoot not only reconnects us to our Earth mama, but we begin to feel the connection between us and others as well.  Thinking back to the races I’ve done over the years, I only really began noticing other people when I took away the inch or so of rubber beneath my feet.  When you’re closer to the ground, the energy that you feel not only comes from Earth, but also from the people surrounding you as you all vibrate along at the same frequency.  I can honestly say that I never had much of a desire to run with other people before, but now that I am the way I am, you can bet that if you ask me about running, I will invite you to run with me.  My running buddy, Christy, and I were talking last night about the effortless conversation that flowed between us the day that we met, which also happens to be the day we did a 19.5 mile trail run together.  My husband and I have run for miles through the woods together without saying a word, appreciating the quiet solitude yet connecting to each other through the ground that we tread upon.  So whether or not you have a beach vacation planned, take off your shoes and get your feet on the ground!

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

My Journey to Becoming a Barefoot Runner, Part 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How to Recover From Your Running Disease(s)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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