Tuesday, November 8, 2011

100-Up Challenge

I'm going to be participating in the 100-Up Challenge, stemming from the NY Times article the other day.  I'm really interested to see what, if any, changes that I notice!  The idea of building that muscle memory in makes a lot of sense.  Whether it is a fix for all that ails me... well, that remains to be seen.

My first run was a 2-ish mile run along the West River Road here in Minneapolis.  It was, as usual, slow and sluggish.  I did it barefoot, so my knees didn't hurt much, but still feels like I'm really working at each step.  I'm probably overthinking it.  It was SLOW (and by slow, I mean that 80 year old man with the cane could probably pass me).

In 30 days, I'll be trying the same run again, and we'll see if I notice any appreciable difference.  Through the process, I'll keep y'all posted on my thoughts (because really, my thoughts are fascinating, right?).  I'd love to hear from anyone else that decides to give this a try, especially if you are not currently barefooting!

Monday, November 7, 2011

Awesome and Interesting Article

If you are interested in barefoot running and haven't already seen it, check out this article:

The Once and Future Way to Run

I found it very interesting, and will definitely be giving the "100-Up" exercise a shot.  Seems to be validating some of the stuff I've found so far, although obviously we'll see how it goes in the long term.  Makes me feel like I'm a little bit less of a crazy person for trying it in the first place, anyhow!

Expanding my barefoot horizons...

So, as part of my never-ending battle with my weight, I decided to try to add some additional strength building workouts into my routine.  So I figured, I write a barefoot blog, let's try it barefoot!

I hit the gym at St. Kate's, and plotted my course.  After a warm up, I would run 2 miles (26 laps of the gym), doing a different strength building exercise after each lap.


Actually, I kind of feel like I could take on the world right now.

I had the gym to myself, so I was able to even kick off my VFFs (and we all know what those are now, right!), and do the whole thing truly barefoot.  It was interesting.  I noticed that without uber-supportive shoes, I had to pay a lot more attention to my form, and found that some of the things I did worked muscles I wouldn't have guessed, and that my core got maybe a bit more workout because of it.

Have to admit, I kind of dug it.  Plus, it was a nice way to work in 2 miles of running barefoot.  I'm shooting for a barefoot 5k on Thanksgiving.  We'll see how it goes.  Most importantly is not getting hurt.  I was actually able to work out the always-present cramp in my lower medial soleus (inner calf, for those not trying to memorize anatomy like me :) ), and am feeling pretty good at the moment.

Off to guzzle a gallon of water and then sit through lecture.  Must remember to stretch some more before bed, as I suspect my muscles are going to hate me tomorrow. :)

So if you're curious about barefoot, but maybe not up to running, try kicking off your shoes while you try something else.  You may enjoy it.  I'm planning to keep it up until administration notices and makes me put on shoes. :)

Sunday, November 6, 2011

What the heck are VFFs, anyway?

I've had it pointed out to me that throwing out initials for things that people aren't familiar with is just confusing. :)  So, to rectify that issue, here's my take on VFFs, or "shloves", as my friend (and amazigly talented artist) Kevin calls them.

VFFs are a common shorthand that I've seen in a lot of barefoot blogs for Vibram FiveFingers.  They are a popular "barefoot" or "minimal" shoe, and I got my first pair last spring from REI.  I have a pair of these (named for this guy, not this guy, no matter how I mispronounce it!).  I'll give you my very informal take on them, from a newbie perspective.  If you want a really good, in depth review, go check out the Maple Grove Barefoot Guy, who does some really great shoe reviews.

The first question I get, is "are they comfortable?".  The short answer is, "Yes, extremely".  The longer, more involved answer is yes, once you get used to them.  Getting into them is probably the hardest part, it took me a bunch of tries at the store.  As your feet get stronger and you have more control over your toes, it gets a lot easier.  It can be a little weird having your toes separated at first, but I got used to it really quickly.

They are a minimalist shoe, so they have a zero heel-drop (which means the heel of the shoe is not raised higher than the toe).  Look at most of your shoes, almost all of them probably have at least a slightly raised heel.  This can be a little weird to get used to, but is the #1 feature of a barefoot shoe.  They also have zero padding.  To me, this means that most people are going to have sore feet the first few times they wear them.   It is also why they tell you to ease into them (don't go walking around the State Fair all day the first time you wear them).  After about 6 months of wearing nothing but minimalist shoes, I can pretty much walk around in mine all day with little to no foot soreness. 

Secondly, you are probably wondering how they are to run in.  I enjoy running in them.  They aren't as great as running really barefoot, but for days like today when the pavement was just too cold, or the fact that I live in NE Minneapolis and therefore frequently run through piles of broken glass, they are great.  I find them definitely a little stiffer than just going barefoot, but still pretty good ground feel.  They are a little hot in the summer for my taste, which is when I will be switching back to my huaraches for hot pavement.

Now, lets face it, they turn heads.  They are strange looking, and tend to be bright, obnoxious colors.  Wear them, and you are going to get noticed.  Strange people will stop you and ask you about your shoes.  It's something I'm learning to deal with, although I'm really shy.  Given their unique appearance, they can be a challenge to wear certain places.  So far my work is letting them slide, but I doubt I'll get away with wearing them to clinicals.  I have yet to figure out a really good way to wear them out and NOT get noticed.

This will be my first winter barefooting, and I'm hoping to wear them all winter.  We'll see how it goes.  I wore them to my husband's hockey game the other night, along with a pair of Injiji toe socks, and was pretty comfortable for about the first hour.  The last 30 minutes got pretty cold.  I have run all winter in my Brooks, so I don't think they will be appreciably colder for running on plowed or broken trails.

There used to be a pair of fuschia suede VFF mary jane's that if I ever see again I'm snatching off the shelf.  I think they've stopped making them though.

I like my VFFs.  For me, they are about the 3rd best thing to being truly barefoot. :)

Thoughts?  Questions?  Things you would like to me address, now or in the future?  Feel free to post a comment!

Friday, November 4, 2011

First Rule of VFFs...

Be careful where you wear them.  Not because you might hurt your feet, but because people, for whatever reasons, will feel it appropriate to grab your toes.  No, seriously.  Total strangers have actually grabbed and wiggled my toes. 

But, if you handle it well, it's a good way to get conversations started about barefooting. 

I am, however, continuing my search for barefoot shoes for the winter that aren't quite as, well, obvious as my VFFs.  In summer I mostly wore my huaraches, which grabbed attention, but nobody grabbed my toes. :)  I'm wearing my VFFs pretty much every day now that it's cooler, but I know there are situations where they just aren't going to be accepted.  So far, that's probably my biggest trouble with converting to barefooting. 

Time to head off to bed, so I can hopefully be up early tomorrow and get in a run on one of our probably last nice fall days.  

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Stumbling block (literally)...

Remember when I said on my run the other night, I could hear "scuff scuff scuff" when I got tired?  Well, I also wasn't picking my feet up high enough, and stubbed my toe on some uneven sidewalk (the joys of urban barefooting).  Didn't think much of it at the time, it smarted, but didn't break the skin or do more than make me take about 2 hopping steps and swear.

Well, I jacked it up good.  Granted, this is the same toe I've broken a few times, so I can jack it up by *looking* at it wrong.  Pretty painful and doing a lot of popping when I bend it.  I don't think it's actually broken, though.

So, a couple of days off of running, and perhaps a run or two in my cushioned trainers to make sure that it heals up completely before I run shoeless again.  Kind of sucks, since I know we're not going to have weather like this much longer.  But I've learned my lesson well enough, both shod and unshod, to let injuries rest.

So, if I get all my homework done tonight, hopefully I'll be able to fill in the time with some musings on my "shoes" in the next couple of days.

Happy Running!

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Running Silent

Discovered on my run today an unexpected plus to barefoot running... how incredibly quiet it is.

I've always been a fairly quiet runner, even before with my uber-heel strike.  I think landing light is the only thing that has let me get away with running this long with my arthritis.  Today, without shoes, it was... silence.  And it was... amazing.

I took a minute, and I turned off my iPod (my constant running companion).  All I could hear were the leaves rustling on the pavement, a crow calling, and my own breathing.  There was a light tap, tap, tap when my Vibrams hit the pavement.  When I took them off, just quiet.  Running along I was able to get within arms reach of a turkey.  Got a much different reaction from the local wildlife than I usually do, or see other runners get, smacking down the pavement.  Squirrels kind of looked at me, decided I wasn't a threat, and went on collecting their food for the winter.  It was a pretty amazing way to feel like part of nature, even in urban Minneapolis.

Another observation I had about my own form... as I got tired, I started to hear a "scuff, scuff" as my feet landed.  A big sign that I was getting tired and my form was slipping... I was no longer making those light, quick touches with the ground, and this is probably about the time when I start developing some good blisters.  Luckily, I recognized it early, corrected my form, and made it home with no ugly-buglies on my feet.  Will definitely be turning my iPod off and listening to my feet on occasion as a way to check in on myself.

More to come in the next few days, thoughts on shoes, etc.  With it getting colder, I suspect I'll need to be wearing shoes on my run a bit more often.  I'll give you an idea what shoes I have now and how I like them.  And of course, shoes, in general.  Because really, what's barefoot running without an obsession about shoes? :)

It was a little chilly out today, but once my feet warmed up, it wasn't bad.  A couple of obnoxious passer-bys who couldn't help but point out that it was cold and I was going to catch my death, but I could have pointed that out about their cigarrettes. :)

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Things I learned from doing it wrong...

As I've mentioned, I started running barefoot this past spring.  I took some time off, and have just really started running again.  After my first run back, I had some thoughts about what I learned this spring and why this time will be different:

1.  When they say start small, yes, they are talking to YOU.  And they mean it.

After I went for my first 1/4 mile barefoot run, I had so much fun, I decided I was going to go out and be a barefoot runner.  Pretty quick I was up to 3-4 miles barefoot or in my huaraches (more on shoes to come in the near future).  Subsequently, I ended up with feet that looked like they had been through a meat grinder, and 10 days in a boot to heal up tendonitis.  Your feet are weaker than you think, after years in regular shoes.  I've been either barefoot or in minimalist shoes all the time since, but not running.  Just walking, going around my daily routine, and my feet are MUCH stronger than they were. 

2.  If it hurts, STOP.

This was probably my most important lesson, and the one that was the hardest for me to learn.  I've run a bunch of marathons (albeit not recently), and am used to pushing through pain and discomfort.  "My feet hurt" was not a valid reason for me to cut a perfectly good run short.  Hence, the 10 days in a boot, hobbling around and unable to run.  It's a different kind of "listen to your body" than marathoning is.  I know when I'm running a marathon it's all "ignore the pain, push through those last few miles".  Barefooting, it's more like "oh crap, I'm a block in and my feet are cramping, time to stop."  And that does NOT make me a wuss.  That makes me a smart runner.  Accepting that stopping early is not a sign of weakness has been really tough for me.

3.   Blisters suck, but they'll tell you a lot.

I blistered.  I blistered like crazy.  But those blisters taught me important things... like the fact that I was pushing off, rather than quickly lifting my feet off the ground.  Take care of your blisters, learn from them, and most importantly, don't run your feet raw.  You'll be out of commission for several days and you WON'T be happy.

So, I guess, mainly what I've learned is "go slow, have fun, and listen to your body".  Pretty much exactly what experienced barefooters had been telling me.  :)  My feet are stronger now, and my last run went well and was a blast.  As I move forward, I'm hoping to learn new things that I can share with you to make your barefoot experiences better. 

You may be asking "If you got hurt, had pain, and blistered your feet, why are you trying again?".  Here's the interesting part...  I have degenerative arthritis in my knees.  Pretty bad.  Kills me after a long enough run in my cushioned trainers.  I hobble on stairs on a regular basis.  I have NOT experienced knee pain during or after any of my barefoot runs.  None.  It's pretty amazing.  And if barefooting will keep me on the roads and extend my running life, well heck, I'm willing to give it a hell of a go.  I don't know if it will work, if it was coincidence or truly that the barefoot mechanics work that much better with my knees, but I intend to find out.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Stepping Out...

A few months ago, I discovered Barefoot Running, and became quite fascinated.  Really?  What WERE these crazy people doing without shoes.  But what the heck, it's free, so it's worth a shot, right?

After a few false starts, crazy summer, and unrelated hip issue later, I decided to get off my couch, get out there, and get running again.

One thing I've noticed in the last few months of researching and reading about barefoot running, is that there are very few women barefooters.  Why is that?  And those that I did find, were these perfect, tiny, Barbie-like Boston-qualifying ladies.  While I look up to them, I'll never be there.  Where were all the "normal" ladies like me, out there plodding along in their bare feet?  I've seen lots of women like me out doing marathons, but in our big, clunky, heavy cushioned trainers.

I want to see what happens when a typical, overweight, injury-prone, 5 hour marathoner goes out and tries barefooting.  Will it be the "miracle cure" I keep hearing about for my ailments?  Will I find that I'm just too much woman to plod along unprotected on the pavement?  All I know is that so far, I'm finding a wonderful childlike joy in my bare feet hitting the pavement, crunching through fallen leaves and puddles.

Just watch out for those acorns.  Trust me.