Remembering Where I Came From: The Last Running of the Wildwood Trail.

Today, I went for what will be my last long run on Wildwood Trail, in Portland, OR.  I was having a very nostalgic day, as I ran the path I’ve been frolicking on for the last 2.5 years.  My old friend Wildwood decided to give me one hell of a ride today, which I obviously expected.  I should’ve known that the last one would have to be a doozy.  That damn trail has chewed me up, spit me out, tripped me, whipped me with branches, left me bloody and bruised, and given me the worst conditions I have ever experienced in my life.  Ever.  And yet, I am so enamored by the mere thought of running on it, you’d think there’s something really wrong with me.  And maybe there is!  But getting laid out over and over again has taught me a very important lesson in life:  Always get back on your feet.  As many times as you fall, get back up.

The forecast today said that it might be in the 50’s and sunny.  HAHA!! It’s springtime in Portland, I don’t think so!  I left my house wearing tights, two long sleeves, and a vest just in case it was cold, gloves and my backpack.  It’s a good thing I wore all that, just in case.  It started out cloudy, but things quickly took a turn for the worst.  It started pouring rain, then that turned to sleet which came down with such ferocity that I started looking for an overturned tree just in case I needed to take cover.  That turned to snow, which came down in huge, soft flakes.  One landed on my eye, which I’m sure would’ve been entertaining for a passerby.  Looked like a giant cotton ball was affixed to my eyelid.  Then, as if someone hit a switch, it became blissfully  sunny.  The sun sparkled off every surface due to the sleet and snow on the ground, and I felt a burst of energy.  It stayed sunny for about an hour and a half, then started sleeting and then pouring rain again.  What a ride!  18 miles of crazy weather, one near face plant with an end result of a really cool half-cartwheel, and one epic 10 foot slide down an especially muddy hill.  Ok, maybe it was only 5 feet, but 10 sounds better.

I arrived back to my car sopping wet, muddy, and smiling.  The thing is, that trail has lit a fire within me.  Wildwood was the first trail I ever ran consistently, and it’s made me who I am.  It has created in me a love of running and experiencing the outdoors.  It has showed me that hills are not impassable, but rather a change to be embraced and overcome.  It is because of Wildwood that I now realize my potential to be an ultra runner, and I am stronger of mind and body.  In fact, it was two months ago exactly that I had surgery, and I know that trail running has helped me with recovery.  I was strong before surgery because of the trail, and I know it mentally prepared me for the demons that I faced.  I will always remember the lessons that Wildwood has provided me.

While I was running today, I also thought back to my recent trip to California with Mike and my side of the family.  I had a rare chance to run with my mom and dad, who are my original inspirations.  They are why I run, this I know for sure.  We ran together in Santa Barbara, 4 miles of sunshine.  My mom is still faster than me.  She is crazy!  Off she went, trotting ahead as my dad and I laughed at how we couldn’t keep up.  She recently won Grand Masters in a half marathon, and I really hope I’ll be able to keep up with her one day. Maybe when she’s 80?  My dad never ceases to amaze me either, as he never has any running injuries with as long as he’s been running.  He sure is noisy though, burping and blowing snot rockets every few minutes.  He even blew snot on me twice!  As I rounded a corner today, blasting up a hill, I blew a misguided snot rocket that landed right on top of my foot.  Ah yes, I can see myself in both of them.  A strong, snotty woman.  I won’t forget where I came from: I’m forever a runner because of two strong parents and I’m forever a trail runner because of Wildwood.

I decided today that either the universe was angry with me for leaving Portland or it was showing me a big flashing sign that it’s time to move on.  Again, thinking back to our California trip with my family, I have warm, sunshiny memories of running next to the ocean with my parents, running on the Arroyo Verde trail with Mike, and a feeling of home in Ventura.  I do feel that it’s time to move on, but it sure will be tough to leave my old friend, The Wildwood Trail.  But alas, I know it will always be right here in Portland, OR whenever I need a good ass beating.

Here are a few pics of my family from our California trip:

cute parents!
cute parents!
Mom, dad, Mike and I, Jill and Corey
Mom, dad, Mike and I, Jill and Corey
The ladies
The ladies
Dad and I
Dad and I

Here are some pictures from the Wildwood Trail today:  And yes, this is the same day!

Sunshine!
Sunshine!
The blue diamond, mark of the Wildwood.
The blue diamond, mark of the Wildwood.
SNOW
SNOW
18 miles on the trail with Energy Bits! Don't forget to get 30% off with the code BAREFOOT and www.energybits.com
18 miles on the trail with Energy Bits! Don’t forget to get 30% off with the code BAREFOOT and http://www.energybits.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

Good Picture of Posterior Tibialis

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

Stretch!

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

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

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

Strengthen!

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

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

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

4. Calf Raise 100’s: Love this! 

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

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

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

Holiday Half Marathon Race Recap with ENERGY BITS!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nutritional highlights of Spirulina:

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

Summary:

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

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

IMG_0653 IMG_0654 IMG_0656

The Underside of the Tapestry

Sometimes when we think we’re at the top of our game, life gives us a good whack to bring us back down to earth.  I thought I was pretty invincible and ready to have the best start to 2013 with two big races and one epic fun run coming up.  The Mac Ass 25K with lots of elevation gain, followed running the entire Wildwood Trail (31 miles) in Forest Park, followed by the Hagg Lake Mud Run 50k.  I’ve been chomping at the bit, running up and down mountains, running at high altitude, running on snow, and cross training with skiing down double black diamonds in Jackson Hole, WY.  Invincible, right?

Wrong.  On Thursday evening and into Friday of last week, I experienced a medical emergency.  My illness was totally unrelated to running, but nevertheless, I ended up in the ER with my wonderful husband at my side.  Both of us pale faced and in disbelief, we finally accepted the fact that things would be different for a while.  We would need to recover emotionally and I would need to recover physically.  One at a time, doctors told me that I needed to rest including no work, no strenuous exercise, and definitely no running.

Crap.  Today, it is difficult for me to get up the stairs.  It is difficult for me to bend over and put on my socks and my shoes.  I was so tired after showering that I had to sit on the couch for half an hour before attempting my next move.  My point is, this is one of the most emotionally draining and humbling experiences of my life.  That being said, here’s what I’m thankful for:

  • My prior heath and fitness level to keep me strong during recovery
  • My beautiful partner in life, my husband Mike to hold my hand
  • My family who has been so supportive and knowledgeable in our time of need.  Thanks Jill, Mom, Dad, Claudia, Ken, and Lauren!
  • My friends who are my second family, they’re calling and texting and sending love.
  • My co-workers who are working overtime to see Mike and I’s patients when we cannot be there.  And my supervisors who are like family at this point and sending their love and compassion.
  • The future prospect of health, running and new life.

My friend, Emily, gave me a beautiful image to get through this difficult time.  She said that the underside of the tapestry is twisted in knots and tangles, and sometimes it’s easy to get lost in the endless web.  It takes some time, but eventually you will be able to see the top of the tapestry, which holds a beautiful, intricate design.  Without the knots and tangles holding it together, the design wouldn’t be as beautiful or well put together.  Thank you Emily, for that healing thought.

In the meantime, here are some pictures that we snapped before our setback:

IMG_0717IMG_0712 IMG_0700 IMG_0711 IMG_0710 IMG_0696 IMG_0705 IMG_0691

Holiday Half Marathon Preview and Energy Bits?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Bent Knee Concept + Jingle Bell Run Preview

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pilates & Running Go Together Like PB & J

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

At least I was smiling!!

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

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

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

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!