Four Years Gone

WOOOAAAAHHHHH! What happened? It’s been four years since I last published a blog! I looked back at my drafts, and I have a blog started that says something like, “Woah!! Two years went by!” That was obviously two years ago.  Ahem.  Anyway.  I had several loyal readers pestering me to revive this thing, and so I finally came around. (Ok, it was only one reader. Probably my only reader.  Love you mom!)

The title “Four Years Gone” has a bit of a negative connotation I suppose, because I don’t really feel like they’ve gone… the last four years have been nothing short of beautiful.  If the title is reminiscent of the Led Zeppelin song, “Ten Years Gone,” you would be on the same page as I am.   A meandering exploration of sorts, the past four years have taught me about the fluidity that is inherently present in life and getting comfortable with change.  It has taught me about the paths we walk, versus the paths we seek.  From “Ten Years Gone,” these lyrics are particularly meaningful:

“Then as it was, then again it will be

And thought the course may change sometimes

Rivers always reach the sea.”

So in a nutshell, here’s what we’ve been doing:

  1. Kai: We discovered the overwhelming love and gratitude of adding Baby Kai to our family. With sleep deprivation so bittersweet and heavy like honey,  Mike and I developed an ebb and flow of nurturing our little dude. At the same time, we gave each other the gift of taking turns with Kai so we could get out in our element, whether that be surf or trails. Being a parent has no doubt been our most difficult endeavor yet, but not a day goes by that we don’t crack up laughing at the things he does or says.  While it’s almost never easy, our home is always filled with love and laughter. And farts. Boys fart SOOOO much.   IMG_5052fullsizeoutput_36b6IMG_5402
  2.  Running: Running in the mountains is everything. My heart still races when I’m driving towards the mountains, and my heart swells with awe. My breath slows as if I’m saving it all for the trail, like I will be nourished by the mountain air more so. Exciting right? I’m excited just writing about it. I still run barefoot, but mostly just in our neighborhood now a few times a week. Trust me, my neighbors think I’m really weird. I’m ok with it. The trails are too rocky/hot or I’m too much of a softie to get out there.  The trails in Portland were way more doable! Anyway, I’m still running in minimalist footwear on the trails with my top three being Merrell Pace Gloves, Luna Sandals, and Vibram Spyridons. The relationship between being a mom and being a runner is also important to note. Being a runner makes me a better mom. I’m so thankful to see my little guy when I return home, after the air drains my irritability.  On the other hand, being a mom has made me a better runner. Running feels easier now, and I’m more grateful, present and peaceful when I’m out there. Taking that time for granted is not an option anymore. Plus, pushing a baby out of your hoo-ha without any pain medication gives you new perspective on pain. 😉  Sitting in my wheelchair in the NICU a couple of days after my child was born, I wasn’t sure what my prognosis was going to be to be able to walk across the room normally, much less climb mountains again. My poor midwife had only seen 4 cases like mine in her 25 year career.  The first time I ran 8 miles on the trail with Mike, about 6 months after Kai was born, I sat at the summit and sobbed for a good 10 minutes. So, so grateful for my son’s health, and mine. IMG_5234IMG_5227
  3. Community: Ventura is still where we live, and it has become our home.  Living in one place for a while, we have found out how a place and its community sneaks into your heart and takes hold.  Mike and I are wanderers, and after moving around the country with minimal belongings, we still feel that wanderlust at times. But when it comes down to it, we love our friends so much. The ones with kids, the runners without kids, Dirtbag Runners tribe, and all the weird and wonderful people that bring us balance.AA16C48F-2BAD-4684-B789-D29C6B57EB9EIMG_7786IMG_7856IMG_7013IMG_5544
  4. Katie: Katie, my childhood friend and my college roommate,  moved to Ventura County to do a couple of rotations as a travel RN.  During that time, she moved in with me, and we were roomies again.  She was so easy to have around, just like when we lived together in college. And hilarious, as usual, telling gross stories over breakfast as she got home from the night shift, and I was just starting my day. Katie and I are about as opposite as you can get, except we both love to run.  Katie and I shared many miles together, both while we were living together in college, and whenever she would come visit me in Portland or out in Ventura.  Over the miles and the years, it was easy to call her one of my best friends.  Trail running came naturally to Katie whenever she would come to visit, but especially when she came here to live.  A creature of habit, Katie ran 4 miles almost every day on the road, but had no problem running 10+ mountain miles with me, even though she hadn’t run a hill in the months living in TX prior. Katie was a badass in her own right, solidified when she became a solo skydiver (I’m sure the skydiving community has a better term for that) and then ultimately a B.A.S.E. jumper. To make a long story short (this really needs an entire blog post), Katie and I hugged goodbye one last time when she walked out the door to jump her self-described “bucket list bridge.”  The Bixby Bridge in Big Sur was the one she always wanted, and it would be her last. Everything felt like it was shattering for days after Katie’s death, and nothing made sense. A sentiment, I imagine, many families are feeling now in the wake of the Las Vegas massacre. Love to all of you in the trenches right now.  Katie visits me in my dreams, which is both heart-wrenching and wonderful, leaving me both tearful and ravenous for just one more minute with her.  Katie was maybe the biggest Led-Zeppelin fan I’ve ever met, so when I was thinking about writing something tonight, the title seemed appropriate.  She even learned to play “Stairway to Heaven” on the guitar and debuted it at our best friend Lindsey’s wedding.  She stood next to me at mine.  She wasn’t perfect, much like anyone else, but this made her more likable and fun to be around. She also wasn’t fearless, like she may appear on the surface.  In fact she was full of fears, however hilarious and irrational they might seem at the time. She was terrified of a ditch one time while we were on the trail, and the rain terrorized her on another run, creating fog and funny sounds.  For some reason, she would duck and say with wide eyes, “What’s that?!” As if ducking would help with the rain situation. This is of course, was all ironic considering she routinely jumped off buildings or antennas. What I’m getting around to discussing, is the daily inspiration I gather from the life that Katie lived. I know for a fact that Katie was terrified of flying in planes, so she decided to start jumping out of them to overcome her fear.  I know for a fact that Katie was filled with anticipation and fear every time she jumped off an object, and that was immediately replaced with joy, adrenaline and the feeling of being weightless and flying. We talked a lot about that moment: The moment where you step off the ledge, and what was in her headspace. I think it was a meditation of sorts for her, that elevation out of her body to a place where fears and anxiety don’t exist.  That’s a place where many of us never have the pleasure of going, or never have the guts to venture there.  The degree to which Katie rose above her fears is knock you off your feet inspiring, and a practice which I’ve recently tried to cultivate in my own life.  It may be to a lesser degree, but getting out of my comfort zone is on the horizon to be sure.   My gratitude for having Katie in my life is never ending.
    IMG_2494
    Last night out on the town together, about a week before she passed.
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    Parachute closing pin
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    We put a cross at the Bridge for her. I hope it’s still there.
    IMG_4129
    Beautiful artwork made by the amazingly talented Emily Spahr after Katie’s passing.

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    Last long run together, in the rain 🙂 
  5. Vegan: You guys! I went vegan!! It’s amazing! You know I’m doing a whole ‘nother post on this so I can tell you what the hell happened with my health. Returning to the sentient, compassionate person I was meant to be has been nothing short of humbling and amazing. 84266511c1d

 

The last four years! So much happening and not a single blog post.  Haha! I’ve been too busy loving, laughing, running, grieving, and exploring.  The future is so bright!  I have so much hope, intention, curiosity and so many goals that I can’t wait to share  with you.  So, what’s been going on with you? Reach out to me, message me, run with me, hit me up. Community is how we will thrive, and I can’t wait to share with you.  Leigh Scarber on Facebook, bareleigh_running on instagram, and I never use Twitter but you can find me there too 🙂 Peace and love and happy trails.

 

 

13 Reasons Why I Became a Vegetarian

Mike and I recently sat down and watched yet another documentary about  plant based diets, called Vegucated.  It was just another testimony of why I do what I do every day, and I’m so proud to support my health and the longevity of our great planet.  I get asked all the time why I don’t eat meat, and so I thought I would list a few of the reasons.  And no, I don’t eat chicken.  And no, I will not eat soup if it has chicken broth as the base.  And yes, I actually do get enough protein!  And yes, I have more than enough energy to get through my day.  While I do still eat cheese every once and a while, may or may not be addicted to frozen yogurt and allow myself to have some every now and again, and rarely eat fish, I eat no other products coming from animals.  Therefore, I consider myself mostly vegan.

Many of the statistics below I got from Veg Fest in Portland.  They put together a great pamphlet, and so I’m simply copying from the pamphlet for the actual numbers, but of course I’m adding my opinion in.  I have sources, so if you’re interested, just ask.  The other half, I made up.  Just kidding! Maybe… 🙂

1.  Raw meat grosses me out.  Yes, it’s true.  It always has, even back during the days of college when we used to have weekly cookouts at my house.  My guy friends would be elbow deep in muck, marinating the meat and I would be behind them pretending not to gag. I’ve never been able to prepare meat without wanting to hurl, so I used to leave that job up to whoever else was around.  When I lived by myself on internship, I would go an entire 2 months without eating meat simply because I hated to prepare it! Even lunch meat was too much…  And then I would become OCD about what the meat touched, etc.  When I became a vegetarian, it was such a relief because when I cook, I love to sample everything before cooking, and that’s part of the joy of mostly vegan preparation.

2. Greenhouse Gases.  This was the reason why I originally went vegetarian, because livestock production generates 18% of greenhouse gases.  That is more than all forms of transportation combined (13.5%)!!  If you stop eating meat, your carbon footprint is smaller than if you buy a hybrid car. I drive a Prius too, so how small is my footprint??  🙂  Global warming causes rising sea levels, increasing severity of natural disasters, etc.

3.  Pollution: 64% of ammonia emissions come from livestock production.  These seep into the air, soil, and water. All those animals?  The poop and pee has to go somewhere!  It goes into our water supplies, and the gas goes into the air.  The demand for meat has risen dramatically, therefore so has the poop and pee… and farts! Pig farts anyone?

4.Energy. The same amount of fuel can produce 1 hamburger or 27 veggie burgers.  Feed 1 or 27.  You pick. In 2002, more than 1/3 of all fossil fuels produced in the U.S. were used to raise animals for food.  Drill baby drill?  How ’bout eat less meat?

5.Common Sense.  Here’s what I mean:  The animals we raise for livestock eat tons of grain. It takes 13 kg of grain to produce only 1 kg of beef. 80% of the world’s soybean crop and more than 50% of all corn go to global livestock.  If we simply ate the grains that were raised for animals, it would reduce energy, but it would also feed our hungry children.  Here’s some stats: If Americans reduced their intake of meat by 10%, it would free 12 million tons of grain.  That’s enough to feed 60 million people.  In the U.S. alone, food eaten by livestock could feed 1.3 billion people.  To further drive this point in, every 5 seconds, a child dies of starvation.  820 million people in developing countries go to bed hungry every night.

6. Forestry, or lack thereof.  70% of Amazon forests have been turned into grazing land or land to grow soybeans for feed cattle and chicken.  And cattle are supposed to eat grass… hello bacteria in the belly, which I’ll get to later.  An area of rainforest the size of 7 football fields is destroyed every minute to make room for grazing cattle.  And last but not least, 100 species become extinct daily due to tropical deforestation.

7. Livestock is taking over our land.  Livestock occupies 30% of the land surface.  80% of agricultural land in the US is used to raise animals for food, only 7% are used for growing plants for humans.  In the same time span, the same amount of land can produce 1kg of meat, 160 kg potatoes, 200 kg tomatoes.  Hmmm….

8. Water.  Agriculture sector uses nearly 70% of world’s freshwater supply, within which the heaviest water use is by the animals we raise for meat.  To produce 1 lb of lettuce, it takes 23 gallons of water.  1 lb of wheat takes 25 gallons water. 1 lb of apples takes 49 gallons of water. 1 lb of chicken takes 815 gallons of water. 1 lb of pork takes 1630 gallons of water. 1 lb of beef takes 5214 gallons of water.  WOW!

9. Animal welfare.  It probably goes without saying that animals that are raised for food production really aren’t treated very well.  There are countless videos you can find online of animals being mistreated during the time they’re being raised, transported and slaughtered, and this clearly is not monitored… at all.  During the past 50 years, worldwide meat production has increased fivefold.  56 billion land animals are slaughtered globally for human consumption each year, and that is expected to double by 2050.  In the U.S alone, more than 9 billion chickens are raised for flesh every year, a million killed each hour.  And this free range stuff??  Chickens are required to have 3 feet of space to be considered “free range” and this is not closely monitored by any governing body. Therefore, chickens are still stuffed in warehouses with their “3 feet of space” even though many can’t even walk that far, due to being pumped full of hormones to grow at an exponential rate.  Their bodies can’t keep up, they become top heavy and have great difficulty walking around… many suffer from heart conditions and other diseases due to their organs being unable to support their growing bodies appropriately.  Pigs are known to be very intelligent, social animals, and they are kept in deplorable conditions, with mamas in tiny cages where they can’t turn over or interact with others.  And hello!! Pigs are so cute!

little piggy pie
little piggy pie

10. Our welfare.  Due to the high demand we put on livestock production, they are forced to produce larger animals, more animals, etc.  To meet this demand, the animals are crammed into small spaces creating more opportunity for disease, fed despicable food laced with antibiotics to ward off the disease, given hormones for rapid growth, and being raised in unsanitary conditions therefore needing chemical treatment to rid the meat of bacteria.  Meat, dairy, fish, and eggs in the market are loaded up with those same antibiotics, chemicals, hormones and bacteria.  No wonder we are becoming an antibiotic resistant society, with more food borne illnesses, and spiking cancer rates. Do you really know what you’re putting into your body?  We should be nourishing ourselves and our families.

11. The China Study.  The China Study, directed by Dr. T. Colin Campbell, is recognized as the most comprehensive study ever conducted that looks at the relationship between diet and risk of disease.  Guess what they found?  Those communities that ate a plant based diet were disease free or had very low rates of disease in the community.  Other communities that incorporated meat into their diet had significantly higher risks of obesity and therefore diabetes, heart disease, and cancer.  There are many other studies that have found the same relationship, but this study is by far the best one as it spanned 20 years and looked at over 6000 people.  The study advocates a plant based diet free of dairy, processed foods, and meat.  It also relates that a plant based, whole foods diet will reduce, prevent and reverse disease.  A separate study conducted by Dr. Campbell, but not at all unrelated, was his study of rats.  Dr. Campbell had two separate groups of rats, one of which was fed 20% animal protein (casein) and one was fed 5% animal protein.  All of the rats that were fed 20% animal protein developed liver cancer, and the ones that were fed 5% animal protein did not.  Then, he went even further when he found that he could turn on and turn off the cancer cells by discontinuing feeding the animal protein and starting it back up again, proving that a plant based diet could actually reverse the growth of cancer cells.  This is the premise for the Gerson Therapy, a plant based, whole foods diet to reverse diseases such as cancer, heart disease, etc.  But since it is illegal in the U.S. to treat cancer with anything other than chemotherapy and radiation, the Gerson clinics are strategically placed outside of the U.S.  The meat/dairy industry as well as the pharmaceutical giants have a firm hold on our government and our healthcare system.  Therefore, even though we know the solution to our growing problem, money talks.  There’s big money in livestock production and drugs.  Not so much money in eating well and actually getting healthy, right?  Did I go off on a tangent? This happens sometimes…

12. Healthcare costs.  We spend a lot of time talking about reducing the cost of healthcare these days.  After my last tangent, this one doesn’t need much explanation.  Obesity is an epidemic, which is a precursor to diabetes, heart disease, cancer, COPD, etc. etc.  Need I go on?  We need to start reducing cost of healthcare by thinking about what we are putting into our bodies.  People say things to me like, “Adopting a vegan or vegetarian diet is so extreme.”  Well, it depends on your definition of extreme, really.  I see “extreme” every day, when I see my patients suffering from these diseases.  They are living an extreme lifestyle, depending on supplemental oxygen to breathe, taking over 20 prescription drugs to keep their blood pressure down and their glucose levels under control, and relying on open heart surgery to solve their problems.  Open heart surgery costs over $300,000 alone, not to mention the follow up and prescription medications that are still required following the procedure.  That is what I consider to be extreme, especially when we know that many procedures and medications could be  prevented or eliminated with a whole foods, plant based diet.

 

Ok, so did I get too serious for a while?  It goes without saying that I am passionate about the health and wellbeing of others, especially when I see patients daily that could have had a much better quality of life.  So, I’ll try to end on a lighter note.

13. Vegetarians are better poopers.  That’s right!!  Don’t believe me?  Eat a lentil/black bean burger with flax seed, put spinach on top and eat it on Ezekiel sprouted bread.  You know what you’ll be doing in the morning?  Sittin’ on the toilet.  More fiber in your diet equals a happier colon that is more regular. More pooping equals less belly bloat and discomfort.  Yessir, poopin’ is good.  This topic needs a whole ‘nother blog post, so prepare to hear more about this later.  In the meantime, here’s a happy song for your morning toilet time.

 

 

Holiday Half Marathon Preview and Energy Bits?

There comes a time in training for an event that you think to yourself, “Wow, I can never run that mileage that I’m supposed to run during training!”  Then, there’s that pivotal moment when you realize that not only have you done the training, but you’re faster and stronger than before.  That’s the beautiful thing about running.  You only get out of it what you put into it.  So when that moment comes that you realize you’re a BAMF, (I just learned what BAMF means) celebrate your strength and say, “Hey Jack! Hey, you’re gonna do this race boys.”  On a side note, I’ve been watching WAY too much “Duck Dynasty.”  Have y’all ever watched that show?  I think I’m slowly turning into Uncle Si.

This coming weekend, Mike and I are doing the Foot Traffic Holiday Half Marathon in downtown Portland.  I am still putting my costume together.  I’m thinking tacky Christmas underwear over my tights with a Christmas turtleneck.  At the very least, anyway. Now usually, I am content to have a goal of just finishing the race, but for some reason Mike and I both decided to actually go for a PR.  My goal time is 1:45 or around an 8:00 min/mile pace, and Mike’s is 1:30 which is about a 6:45 min/mile pace. Yes, he’s fast!

My husband was hit by a car in April of this year, and ever since then, he has had a zest for life that is difficult to keep up with.  Ok, I’m totally exhausted. He has always been athletic, but I’ve never seen someone so determined to recover from an injury.  He was obsessive about his rehab and has carried that over to his training for the Portland Triathlon in October, (hit by a car and 6 months later racing again) Run Like Hell 10K, and the upcoming Holiday Half Marathon on Dec. 16.  Needless to say, his energy is contagious and I decided to actually try to run faster too.

We found a half marathon training program that was labelled intermediate, but if you ask me, it’s harder than that.  I still have this ingrained fear of running more than 2 days in a row due to my history of injuries over the last 15 years give or take.  I now realize that I can run more than two days in a row, or even three or four, without getting injured due to my barefoot running and veggie fuel.  And I’m a BAMF.  So I’ve been running 30+ miles per week for the last several weeks, which is more mileage than I’ve ever logged during back to back weeks consistently.  That may not sound like much to some, but to me, it’s still not even real.

For fueling runs, I typically use Clif Shot Gels, which have never done me wrong.  But, they may not be as right as I’d like them to be. I’m getting picky now!  All gels in general are pretty sugary, and so even the ones without caffeine can leave me feeling a little jittery at times.  I’ve already known some about the benefits of adding super foods to the diet including spirulina and chlorella, two forms of algae, as I already use Catie’s Greens. Anyway, I was snooping around the Twitter, and I kept seeing posts about bits and Energy Bits and #PoweredByBits.  I was curious, so I checked out their website.  I will go into much greater detail on a later post, but the Energy Bits are basically pure, compacted spirulina. Obviously, an all natural, plant protein superfood magical tablet. Sold.  I talked with one of their ambassadors, Ray Jackson @RayRunsLong who is an ultra runner, and was convinced when he told me they could fuel his long runs.  So long story short, I ordered a bag and off I went.  I will officially review Energy Bits later when I’ve logged more miles with them, but these things are great so far.

So that pivotal moment, the one when I realized that I am going to meet my goal time this weekend, was last night when I ran 8 miles after eating 20 or so Energy Bits.  After skiing 3 hours in the morning. Man, I felt good! So I think I will use the Bits this weekend when I fuel up before the race vs. my usual Clif Gel.  It’s a little scary, but I’m going to take the risk based on how I’ve been feeling while using them.  Just a pure, happy energy during running.

In the meantime, a QUESTION FOR YOU!  WHAT DO YOU USE FOR FUEL, and WOULD YOU EVER TRY ENERGY BITS?

Recipe: Mike’s Vegan Lentil Quinoa Bowl

Reason #176 why I’m a vegetarian: The food is heaven.  Opening the mind to new possibilities, new ingredients, and discovering the palate are just some of the side effects of vegetarianism.  This recipe does not have pictures because of course, I devoured everything before I thought to take one.  I’m still new at the blogging thing, so I don’t think about these things right away!  Anyway, this is one of the best tasting things ever.  EVER.  So it’s worth a shot even if you can’t see what it looks like 🙂  I just had to write it down for everyone!

Ingredients:

  • 1/4 cup chopped onion
  • 1 clove of garlic
  • 1/8 cup of chopped green pepper
  • nutritional yeast (we love the stuff so we usually toss in a bunch)
  • smoke seasoning (we get this at Trader Joe’s, any smoky flavor seasoning would work)
  • 2 tbsp blackstrap molasses
  • 1 tbsp soy sauce (we use low sodium)
  • 1/2 cup Daiya mozzarella “cheese”
  • 1/4 cup lentils
  • 3/4 cup quinoa
  • 1-2 tbsp Sriracha Chili Sauce
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • optional sun flower seeds for extra flava

1. Bring 2 cups of water to a boil with the lentils and quinoa, simmer until all the water is gone, about 15 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, toss a little bit of olive oil in a pan, heat it up.  Toss in the onions, cook until translucent, then add the garlic and green pepper. Cook for a few minutes, then remove from heat.

3. Once the lentils, quinoa, garlic, green pepper and onion are cooked, toss them in a large bowl with the other remaining ingredients. Mix well.

The original plan was to make burgers out of this recipe by forming them into patties and cooking on the stove top on our griddle.  The problem was, it was SO good, that we couldn’t even wait to do that.  Instead, we just put the stuff in bowls and mowed it down.  Another option would be to bake the patties in the oven at 400 degrees until it firms up a bit.  If making patties, I would suggest adding a flax seed egg as a binder.

I’m obviously not a food blogger, so forgive my amateur recipe writing skills, but this was simply too good not to share.  This recipe probably would serve 3-4 people easily, but of course Mike and I ate all of it, just the two of us.  Things never change, this girl likes to eat.  Now, I just eat the good stuff!  This recipe is packed with complete protein thanks to the quinoa and nutritional yeast, tons of fiber via the lentils, and a whole lot of love thanks to Mike’s killer cooking.

 

nutritious lentils
nutritious lentils

http://healingfeast.com/SteamedLentils.cfm

Mike’s Vegan Energy Bar Recipe: Real Food for Fuel!

It’s no secret who the better cook in this family is.  If we want to eat a really good meal, Mike’s in the kitchen.  I can also make a really good meal, but it will probably take twice as long (I’m a perfectionist, I can’t help it!) and I have to follow a recipe exactly.  If we don’t have an ingredient in the recipe, I may or may not break out in hives.  Ok, it’s not that bad! Maybe. 

Mike’s been making these amazing vegan energy bars, and I snack on them obsessively.  It’s a good thing they’re great for you!  He’s eats them on long runs and never has any GI upset.  This weekend, he did a 15 mile trail run fueled by these energy bars without any crashes or trots.  You don’t want the trots.  I personally have not tried this particular recipe out on the trail before, but I’ve tried other variations without any trouble.  Here’s the recipe, I just have to share it!  Sorry about the picture, this was actually the very last energy bar of the batch.  I was able to snap a picture before devouring the delectable little guy.

Mike’s Vegan Energy Bar

Ingredients:

1 can pinto beans, drained and rinsed

1/4 cup peanut butter

1/8 cup flax seed meal

1 banana

1/4 cup honey (not vegan, please use raw agave nectar for vegan or real maple syrup)

a few shakes of cinnamon (again this is Mike, not me)

1 cup whole grain oats

a shake of nutmeg

3/4 cup veggie protein powder (we use chocolate MRM from Whole Foods)

1/4 cup dried cherries (we used Craisin cherry flavor this time)

1/4 cup sunflower seeds

Suggested add ins that he’s used before but not this time: chia seeds, pure cocoa, vanilla extract, instant coffee (Wheee!) coconut, other nuts, chocolate chips or carob chips.  Carob is yum yum.

1. Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees, grease down a cookie sheet with coconut oil or other oil of your preference.

2. Toss the beans, peanut butter, flax seed, banana, honey (or agave/maple), cinnamon, nutmeg  into a food processor.  Process until smooth.

3. Add in the oats, veggie protein powder, cherries, sunflower seeds and other suggested add ins, pulse until it makes you happy.  Mike would like you to feel the love.

4. Take out all that goodness from the processor, spread it on the cookie sheet using a spoon if you’d like, and even everything out. 

5. Bake for about 25 minutes total.  Mike suggests taking it out at 15 minutes, cutting it up a bit and flipping it to bake both sides.  After it’s done, let it cool then cut into bite size pieces of your preference.

6. Congratulations, you have gooey goodness to fuel you for miles.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Look how cute my pendant is!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When I started this journey, I’m pretty sure I started a little backwards.  I ended up with the best possible outcome, but that’s not to say I didn’t encounter some major speedbumps.  So, I believe a cautionary tale is in order:  If you think that you can go out and run the same distance barefoot or in minimalist shoes as you do in your conventional running shoes right away, you better check yourself before you wreck yourself  For real!   Thanks, Ice Cube, for that throwback to the early 90’s.

First, (after I sprained my ankle again) I went out and bought a pair of Vibram Treksports.  Here’s a picture of my muddy feet in them:

  When I first bought them, I didn’t try to run in them right away.  I’d been wearing cushioned shoes for so long, that I couldn’t even stand barefoot in my bathroom to get ready for work without pain, so I knew running in these was pretty much a death wish.  I walked around most of the day in them and realized, oh, I have a pinky toe!!  Apparently that appendage is actually a separate entity from the rest of the foot.  It blended in for so long, I was surprised to hear it screaming at me from the ground.  OUCH! You’re stretching me out!  But I was excited to see that I could walk around pretty well in them despite recovering from an ankle sprain.

A couple of days later, I finally got up the nerve to go for a quick run in them.  I strapped them on, and stepped onto the sidewalk feeling like an alien.  Awkwardly, I began slowly running down the sidewalk.  I imagine I looked something like one of these guys, this absolutely cracks me up: 

That day, I ran 2 minutes in one direction away from my house, then 2 minutes the other direction away from my house, so I was never far from home in case of a disaster.  I ran for a total of 4 minutes, and oddly enough, my ankle didn’t hurt.  A few hours later, the calf soreness set in…

The next day, walking was a chore.  I was having trouble with stairs, and thought about borrowing a cane from a patient.  Over the course of the next couple of months, I slowly built up to running 3 miles, then 5 miles.  My first 5 mile day, I was ecstatic.  My this time, alien running was really feeling good.  I was light, energetic, and best of all, no ankle pain.  I felt so good, that the next day I went out and did it again, the same 5 mile route despite the lingering soreness in my calves.  This is where the problem resurfaced, the problem of being both a runner and a PT.  There’s that deranged runner on one shoulder shrieking, “WHEEEE!!!  This is fun, do it again, again!!”  And then the sensible PT on the other shoulder saying, “Come on, you know better than to do this, you’re not ready!”  It seems that the runner always wins the first round.

The next day, walking was not even an option.  I had successfully acquired my first too much too soon injury from minimalist running, also known as TMTS in running lingo.  Retrocalcaneal bursitis, welcome to your new home in my ankle for the next few weeks.  Oops, I got a little too excited and and ran two back to back 5 mile days.  You see, the reason for most injuries resulting from minimalist running are due to user error.  It’s not the shoe’s fault.  Or your foot’s fault.  It’s your own damn fault, you deranged runner.  🙂  I spent plenty of time icing the golf ball on my heel over the next couple of weeks and realized that I needed to listen to my body.  Afterall, this was something brand new, and you have to respect that.

The easiest way to avoid the TMTS injuries is to take the shoes off.  That’s right, nudey foot time.  Strip down to your bare soles.  Even if the Vibrams or other “barefoot shoes” feel like nothing on your feet compared to what you’re acquainted with, they still disguise the precious feedback coming in from the sensory nerves in your feet.  Have you ever tried to find something in your purse or your pocket when you’re wearing thin liner gloves?  It’s like being blind!  I always end up getting frustrated and taking the things off to find my chapstick.

That being said, when we first introduce our bare feet to the ground, it’s like waking up and seeing the sun for the first time.  Holy hell, that thing is bright!!  We will be using muscles that have been sleeping for years in your shoes, heck I’d be sleeping too if I didn’t have anything else to do.  A good rule of thumb that I’ve used when we begin running this way is this:  If it hurts, acknowledge the pain and where it is.  Continue running for another 10 seconds or so, and if it still hurts, head home.  Preferably, stay close enough to home so that you can get there easily.  More importantly, Michael Sandler, author of one of my favorite books Barefoot Running, says, “Stop barefoot running when you stop having fun.”

If we begin barefoot, we won’t get  far because our soles won’t be tough enough to get the job done.  If we begin in minimalist shoes, we have more chance of being injured because we will not get the sensory communication from our feet, leading to overdoing early on.  Beginning barefoot for short distances allows our skin on the bottom of our feet to toughen up, while simultaneously strengthening the muscles and tendons.  Strengthening the muscles and tendons gradually will facilitate the gentle tugging on the bones they are connected to, in turn strengthening those bones and preparing them for the increased weightbearing load that they were originally designed to hold.  Have you ever heard that resistance training (lifting weights) can help to prevent osteoporosis?  Bingo!  The bones respond to the gentle tugging from the muscles and tendons by building stronger bones, resulting in a stronger overall body and increased bone density.

Now don’t misunderstand, we can begin this journey in minimalist shoes instead of totally barefoot, but know that injury/soreness is more likely, and we have to learn to rein in our deranged runner tendencies.  Heck, I did it, but I’m a physical therapist who still was dumb enough to go through 2 separate but short episodes of retrocalcaneal bursitis (“WHEEEE!!!”) and some killer top of the foot pain for a week or two.  While these brief discomforts were nothing compared to the chain of injuries I had before, they were still discouraging.  But in my case, I really didn’t have the option to go back to shoes, so I stuck with the alien running.  Lucky for me, because I’ve been totally injury free for a year and a half.  All of my TMTS injuries (3)  were in the first 5 months of running inVibrams and lasted 2 or 3 weeks at most.  All my fault, I might add.  1. Back to back 5 mile runs in the first month or so.  2. Half marathon followed by launching into full blown marathon training the next week (top of foot pain coupled with retrocalcaneal bursitis on the other foot)

In the case of minimalist running, it’s no secret that there is a new crop of injured runners experiencing ugly things like stress fractures and the above injuries.  But on the bright side, this is easy to prevent as long as we educate ourselves and retrain our bodies to run properly by giving ourselves enough time to build strength in the muscles that have been napping for a while in our cushy shoes.  In my next post, I would like to go into preparation, form, and progression of barefoot/minimalist running.  In the meantime, a great book to read is Michael Sandler’s Barefoot Running.  The book along with the DVD, which I also highly recommend, can be found on his website, http://www.runbare.com/.  Here is a picture of my copy of the DVD!  It’s filled with great philosophies and instructions on form as well as preparation exercises.  Also, visit Minimalist Mondays You Tube channel which is a program hosted by local PT, Sanatan Golden and local podiatrist,  Dr. Ray McClanahan.  They are doing a fantastic service for the community, and I will certainly reference several of their exercises next time when I talk about preparation.

In closing, here is a funny video about us barefooters:

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.