Monday, June 29, 2009

If running barefoot is a mistake, it is mine to make

"Freedom is not worth having if it does not include the freedom to make mistakes."
**Mahatma Gandi**

I had a fantastic run today. It wasn’t long (only 3 miles), it wasn’t fast (actually, I didn’t check so it might have been), but I was focused and it was beautiful outside with the birds and trees, and all the things that make it wonderful to be outside and full of life.

I’m learning to be much less conscious of running barefoot. Not that I don’t watch the road, pay close attention to my form, or forget that I’m shoeless, but rather that I don’t brace myself for comments or funny looks by people I pass. It adds to the sense of freedom when you can finally let go of the fear of scrutiny.

On Saturday, I met a couple from my running club at the trail head for a 5 mile run. The whole area was buzzing with activity, people stretching, chatting, beginning and finishing their runs or walks. I had never seen so many people there at once! With so many people came many comments: “Where are your shoes?” “Did you forget your shoes?” “Why aren’t you wearing shoes?” Some people are just looking for a smile and a wave, others really want an explanation. When that is the case, I’ll talk with them for a few minute, enjoying how they relax as the understanding of what I’m doing takes away the concern and tension on their faces. In one case, a gentleman was very worried that I didn’t know what I was in store for. He kept listing the hazards of rocks, twigs, gravel, and broken oyster shells one at a time, as if one more danger would snap me back to reality and send me scrambling back to my car for my running shoes, horrified at the near miss by disaster. There was only one negative response, an old granny pushing a stroller scowled at me with all the disdain and disapproval she could muster. I found it rather sad that she would waste so much energy on a complete stranger that was not threatening her in any way.

Sunday I was sore from a couple of blisters obtained while sliding up and down the hills on the trail, probably because I wasn’t focused enough on my form, due to the overwhelming heat and humidity dominating my thoughts. I figured 3 miles around the neighborhood would be alright though, so I clipped the leash of the dog, and headed out. Again, it was hot and sticky and I had to stop 3 or 4 times to give water to my panting pooch, who was becoming less and less enthusiastic about “walkies” by the minute. Unfortunately, with my focus on the dog, and still being tired from the day before, my form was horrible and I ended up with sore calves and stinging feet.

Which brings me to today. I really didn’t feel like running, my feet hurt, it was already getting hot, and I was tired from not sleeping well, but I knew I wouldn’t get to run tomorrow and with a race coming up on Saturday, I needed to get my runs for the week in early so I can rest for a couple of days before the race. I decided not to take the dog, but to really focus on my form and figure out what is giving me blisters. The first mile was agonizing. I didn’t want to be there, but I concentrated on keeping my torso straight, my knees bent, picking up my feet, and staying aerobic. The second mile was better and I was finally feeling into the groove enough to let my mind wander a bit. Near the end of the second mile, I passed an older lady out for a walk who looked at me astonished, and blurted, “You’re running without shoes?!” To which I replied, “Yes, Ma’am!” Her comeback was, “[laughing] You must be from Carolina.” “Nope, California.” I could hear her laughter as we continued in our opposite directions. Shortly after beginning my last mile, a police officer on a motorcycle rolled up next to me. I thought to myself, “Oh great, here it comes, he is going to tell me I have to have shoes on.” The police in my little town are well known for being a bit over the top, mostly because they don’t have a lot to do. He looked at me curiously, no doubt watching my body language to get a read on whether I was up to no good or not, and then started the usual conversation, “Runnin’ without shoes?” “Yes, Sir” followed by my list of reasons to run barefoot. He responded with chatter about how he never wore shoes as a kid, slipping in a question about where exactly I lived, and for the next half mile we discussed kids, TV, races etc. By the end of the interview, I guess he decided I was harmless, told me to have a Blessed Day, and motored away. I’ll never know if he spotted me on a routine round of the neighborhood (I’ve never seen a motorcycle cop in my neighborhood in 2 years of running here) or if someone called to complain about a raving lunatic running barefoot down the street, but it is nice to know I passed the test and now have police consent to be running unshod.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Hills, Heat, and Bare Feet: 10K race report

“Follow the path of the unsafe, independent thinker. Expose your ideas to the dangers of controversy. Speak your mind and fear less the label of 'crackpot' than the stigma of conformity. And on issues that seem important to you, stand up and be counted at any cost.”
**Thomas J. Watson**

WOW! What a day! I ran my first barefoot (BF) race!

I signed up for the "Chesty" Puller Memorial 10K, long before I considered running it BF. I was warned it was a tough one, just like its name sake, the Marine hero Chesty Puller. We ran past his childhood home, up over a huge bridge, back over the bridge, and then over and back on another huge bridge. That is 4 Bridge crossings in 6.2 miles, with the thermometer nearing 80, and the humidity at about 90%. I haven't run a 10K since the Turkey Trot back in November of 2007, when it was cool and flat, so I really wasn't planning on a personal record. Once I decided to run it BF, my goal was simply to finish without shoes or blood.

The number one question I was asked was, "Why are you running barefoot?" My answer was honed down to: 1. To improve my running form, 2. To rebuild the muscles in my feet, 3. To slow or halt the damage of RA to my toes, and 4. To decrease the impact on my joints when I run. Generally the person would focus on one of these and ask more questions.

I got a lot of positive comments along the route, including a shout of, "Impressive!" from one of the front runners passing me after the turnaround, COOL! The best part was that my back didn't ache after my run, and any joint that started to hurt caused me to reassess my form and fine tune it, which always made the tenderness fade away. My single biggest problem was the bridges. Not because they were high, which they were, or because they were steep, which they also were, but because the concrete was grooved to give the cars traction. The grooves consisted of a deep ¼ inch wide cut, every ½ inch. I had to really focus hard on my form to keep from scuffing my feet going up or down. There was also a lot of debris on the road. I'm guessing there are a lot of logging trucks that pass through this area because the side of the road was littered with large and small chunks of wood, in addition to the usual gravel and junk that accumulates on the side of the road. It turned out that the wood wasn't a problem, and I only hit one rock hard with the outside edge of my foot. I ran the next 10 minutes with that foot falling always on the painted white line and by the time I had to turn off, it was feeling much better. With ½ mile left to go, I was feeling a blister coming on just below my second toe. Again, I checked my form, relaxed, and focused on not popping it with a twist or a scuff of my foot. It worked because my Garmin recorded my last .1 of a mile with a 7.5 minute per mile sprint and my blister never opened up.

The break down of the mile splits were:
Mile 1 (11:31) "Okay, cool, I can do this, the pavement isn't too bad."
Mile 2 (11:42) "Yikes! That is a really big bridge!"
Mile 3 (11:02) "So far so good, the bridge isn't so bad, I can do it again. This is a nice neighborhood, kind of need to resurface the road though."
Mile 4 (11:41) "Crap, another dang bridge."
Mile 5 (11:07) "OMG, will this bridge ever end!"
Mile 6 (11:14) "This road is a LOT rougher than it was on the first pass."
Mile 6.1 (0:40) "To heck with it, I'm sprinting across the finish line!"
Post race, "Can I have a second bottle of water to pour on my steaming feet?"

Sitting on the steps watching the awards being given, I talked to a couple full of questions. The wife, who won the first place plaque for my age group, was really interested in how BF running has taken away my back pain, a constant problem for her. I lamented the fact that if I had been 6 months younger, I would have had a 3rd place plaque (seriously, who would have thought women over 40 were SO fast!) All in all, I may have limped a bit walking back to my car, but it was so worth it! I'm tired, but not as tired as I usually am after a race. My feet are a bit sore from the blisters, but not from the muscle fatigue that I usually have after a long run. Most of all I'm excited to be part of the small minority that has the courage to kick off their shoes and go for it.

Morning after post script: This morning the mild tenderness in my hips (most likely due to hills) is gone, the blisters are dried and don’t hurt, and everything else feels great! I’ll take a couple of days off to rest, but I can’t wait for my next barefoot adventure!

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Feeling Prepared

Feeling prepared

I have to type fast this morning because it will be a crazy day! The packed schedule for this weekend is what prompted me to run my long run yesterday. I knew I would feel better knowing I had it behind me.

It was the first really good running day we have had in a couple of weeks. Temps were in the very low 70's, overcast skies, and almost drizzling, MY FAVORITE!! Actually, totally perfect would have been temps in the 60's, but heck, for June in the South I'll take it.

I started out with plans to just make it a 6 mile LSD, but most of all, I didn't want to watch my Garmin like a hawk. I needed a relaxed feel good run so, although I did take it with me and wore my chest strap, I put it on my fuel belt and left it alone. My first 4 miles were at a comfortable pace, breathing easy 3 steps in and 3 steps out, with the occasional yawn or deep cleansing breath. As usual, the first mile was tough, second was comfortable, third was tough, and the rest was smooth sailing.

After mile 4 I decided to step it up and finish my run strong. I push some, but not hard, again avoiding my Garmin and going by feel and breathing. At mile 5 I decided to do a complete 10K, and really push my last 1.2 miles. As I stepped it up, warmed up and feeling really good, I increased my breathing rate, but never pushed to the point of huffing and puffing. The temp had crept up a bit and I was drenched in sweat, but it was still comfortable and not stifling like a few days ago. I finished feeling exhilarated, but drained. I definitely put in a good effort, but not a race effort.

When I got home and checked my Garmin, I was really pleased with my result. My slow comfortable miles had been around a 12:35 mpm, my slightly stepped up mile was 11:24 and my last fast mile was 10:15! The total for my 10K distance was almost to the second the same as the 10K I ran a year and a half ago, and I was really pushing then. I have a couple more weeks to get ready for my 10K on June 20th, but I'm really feeling good for a PR, despite the warnings I've gotten about the bridges. The biggest factor will be the weather. If it is hot and sticky, I won't shave much time off, but if it is cool, I will be golden!!