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Tag Archives: Vibram Five-Finger

Barefoot Running: Why, Where, and How

I have started running barefoot again.  For the last few days, I have run at least 1 mile each day with no shoes or socks on my feet.

Why am I running barefoot?  Because I want to improve my form.  The logic is this:

    1. We were created to run.
    2. We were not born wearing shoes.  We added that later.
    3. Hence, our natural running style will emerge if we run in bare feet.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not giving up shoes.  Shoes were created to protect our feet from a variety of things that can cause pain.  Shoes are good.  The problem is that it has been so long since I ran without shoes, that my feet and legs have adapted to running in them.  Too much support and protection has allowed my naturally active foot and calf muscles to relax and take it easy.  My form has suffered.  Eventually, I became less efficient.

This was not always the case.  When I was 8 years old, I would play outside for hours with no shoes.  I specifically remember sprinting down a hot blacktop street in the middle of summer.  I could make it as far as Johnny Williams’ house before my feet were too hot to continue on the pavement.  I clearly remember the relief of stepping into the cool grass and eventually into the shade under the big tree in John’s yard.

How is this relevant to my current goal of running a marathon under 3 hours?  Simple.  When I sprinted down the street at 8 years old, my form was natural.  I leaned at the ankles, not the hips.  I didn’t put my foot too far in front of me.  My strides were short and efficient.  I landed near the forefoot.  None of these things were true of my form when I turned 44 a few months ago.

After decades of running in shoes, I knew that I needed to get back.  For the last few months I have studied books, web sites, videos, and anything else to find out what the best form for running would look like.  I tried to emulate the best ideas that were consistently in the most trustworthy resources.  Nothing felt natural.  It all felt forced.  I ended up pulling muscles trying to force myself into an efficient stride and footstrike.

How can I return to my natural, efficient running stride?  As I studied, one of the themes that emerged was that the most efficient stride is our natural barefoot stride.  Once I gave up the fight and accepted that I needed to try barefoot running, I stepped out on to the hot blacktop.  That is when my memory was triggered.  I could see that bright summer sun back in my old neighborhood.  I could feel the heat coming up from the driveway of my old home in St. Louis County.  I could feel myself start into a sprint, driven by the intense heat as I stepped onto the blacktop surface of Fairmeadows Lane.  I remembered the thrill of accelerating to a full sprint and being in wonder at how fast I was passing the mailboxes that lined the path to Johnny’s house.

At that moment, as this memory overwhelmed me, all of that running research made a lot more sense.  Run like a barefoot kid on hot pavement.  Don’t worry about form.  Just take your shoes off and run.  I realized that I do not need to work on my form.  I need to run barefoot and allow my form to emerge.

How do you run barefoot without pain?  I don’t.

Skin:  My eyes guide me around big rocks and other dangers, but I can’t avoid the tiny rocks that scrape my feet.  Over time, my feet are getting acclimated.  There is less pain every day.

Joints/Muscles:  As for the support that shoes provided, I am a pronator and always enjoyed soft cushioned shoes with motion control.  Barefoot allows for none of those things.  What pains have I experienced because of that?  Very little.  That is the point.  Shoes actually caused the need for all of that support.  My natural stride and footstrike have emerged as I run barefoot and try to avoid these pains.  My muscles are getting stronger.  I do not pronate because I have no shoe to lean on.  I have to stand up on my own.  If I run barefoot with poor form, a pain will start to emerge.  I naturally begin to tweak my form based on the feedback from my body.

In short, better form means less pain and more gain.  This is the reason to adopt barefoot running as a part of your training regiment.  I am not forcing myself into good form, I just listen to my body and naturally move towards good form.

My transition was made much easier because I have been running in Vibram Five-Fingers shoes.  I started using these for the same reason that I run barefoot.  Vibrams are very thin and have no support, so training in them has moved me towards good form.  I am adding barefoot runs to keep me moving in that direction.

It is worth repeating:  Better form means less pain and more gain.

I am using barefoot running to move me that direction.  If you can manage to improve your form without going barefoot, then do it.  If you are struggling to find that good form, then think about trying some barefoot running.

Important guidelines for Barefoot and Minimalist running:

  1. Start slowly.  VERY slowly.  Many experts suggest going barefoot 3 times a week to start.
  2. Start short. VERY short.  Your first few weeks should go from 50 yards gradually up to a quarter-mile.
  3. Build lower leg & foot strength.  Exercise your feet by picking things up with your toes.  Do calf raises.  Stretch your calves and feet regularly.

I have worked on  these three things on and off for months before I worked up to doing a daily mile in bare feet.

I have not decided how far I will end up running in bare feet.  I may build up to doing a few 5k races, but I have no intention of doing my long runs in bare feet.  My goal is better form, and that is starting to work.  I’ll let you know how it goes.  :)

Happy Running!

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What I Learned from the "7 Bridges Marathon"

Wow.  There is so much to say about this race.

I did  a lot of thinking and analysis before this race.  My previous PR was 3:55:59.  In that race, I began to slow down at about mile 17.  I had run low on energy and electrolytes.  I was also low on water, but I did not understand that at the time.  What I did believe was that I could have run 10 or 15 minutes faster if I had a better nutrition/hydration plan.

The goal I set for the 7 Bridges marathon was to demolish the old PR through what I had learned.  In training, I practiced drinking and nutrition.  I had my fuel belt loaded with Gatorade Pro to drink along the way.  I also dropped by water fountains on the long runs to add more.  I practiced with different gels and foods until I finally settled on Power Gels.  After months of preparation, I believed I had the right amount of everything prepared.

As for time, my training runs had gotten much faster in the month before the race.  I actually ran a 5:21 mile in the middle of a short run.  I managed to hold a 7 minute pace for several short runs.  I had not pushed it so much on the long runs.  I knew that I could hold an 8 minute mile pace for a very long way, but I had not tried it for 20 miles.

Two weeks out, I knew that I had a small chance of qualifying for Boston.  At my age, this would require a 3:25:00 to qualify for the 45-49 age group in the 2013 race.  This was my pie-in-the-sky-lofty goal.  If the wind was at my back the whole way AND I actually had the right nutrition/hydration plan, then I could reach this lofty goal.

Not wanting to be too unrealistic, I set one other goal.  My I-would-be-happy-with-this goal was anything in the 3:30’s.  Anything slower than that would be a dissappointment.  I had already finished 2 marathons.  I already went sub-4.  I was getting faster.  I needed to at least reach the 3:30’s.

My race plan:

Hydration: My fuel belt was loaded with Gatorade Pro & I would drink water periodically along the way.

Nutrition:  I had 5 packets of Power Gel with caffeine.  The calories in the Gatorade added to this.

Electrolytes:  The Gatorade and Power Gel both had electrolytes.  I also took Endurolytes before the race.

Pace:   I actually wrote the following info on the palm of my left hand in permanent marker…

5      0 :35
10   1:10
15   1:45
20   2:20

I did not actually plan to run 7 minute miles, but I wanted to run faster than 8 minute miles.  For me, it was easier to do the math this way.  My intention was to run as close to that time schedule as possible in the first half and then see how well I could hang on in the second half.  If I could be anywhere close in the first part, that meant I could ease up and still have a shot at the lofty goal.

The actual race:

I followed the nutrition/hydration plan very closely.  I paced the Gatorade & gels throughout and had a few drinks of water periodically.  If anything, I drank a little more water than I had planned.

The pace plan started out very well.  I sprinted out a little fast, but then stopped to stretch for a few seconds.  When I rejoined the race, I fell into a steady pace that was just right.  In the first half of the marathon, I ranged from 7 minutes per mile to 7:39.  My time at the half-way point was about 1:37, which is about a 7:24 pace.

I held that for a little while longer but pacing became more difficult.  It was a small race and there were not many people to pay attention to while I ran.  I have a $12 watch from Walmart, so I can’t really tell what my pace is until I pass another mile marker.

By the time I reached the 16th mile marker, a lot of my get-up-and-go had got-up-and-went.  I still maintained around an 8 minute mile pace.  At this point, I was still way ahead of pace to meet my lofty end goal.  In miles 16 to 21, I just sort of floated along the Chattanooga Riverwalk.  This was a really cool scenic area that you should visit some time.  I did not have the same intense focus as before, but I kept checking my watch and my pace was still going to get me there in plenty of time… or so I thought.

By the time I hit the 23 mile marker, I was just happy to still be running.  I knew I had slipped to a 9 minute pace, but I had gained so much time earlier, that I still thought I would be good.  So here it comes…if I can run the last two miles at a 9:30 pace, I would meet my lofty goal and qualify for Boston.  Unfortunately, the gas tank hit absolute zero.  I was draggin myself through the last mile.

As I crossed the seventh bridge, I was 3:23 into the race with less than 1/2 mile to go.  I got most of the way across and I could see the finish line down below me when it hit me.  Every muscle in my legs tried to cramp at the same time.  I stopped, relaxed as much as I could, and mustered the strength and composure to jog the last bit.

I realized that I had missed my lofty goal, but I was still exceeding my happy goal.  Given that, it was easier to relax and enjoy the scenery of downtown Chattanooga.  Once again, I saw the smiles on the faces of the people cheering.  I saw the cool little shops that I passed along the riverfront.  As I turned to enter the park for my victory lap, I saw various runners and families hanging out in the park.

I smiled as I approached the finish line.  I stopped across the line and gave a Hulk Hogan pose.  I went to the snack area and munched and drank.

I was a little light-headed.  I was very tired.  I thanked the volunteers.  I went  for some extra fluids.  I was dehydrated and my blood sugar was a little low.

What happened to my plan?  I followed it.  It almost worked as well as I had planned, but I fell short by about a liter of fluid and several hundred calories.

Post-Race Feelings:

At first, I was angry and generally upset about missing the cut for Boston.  I knew I had run really well.  I knew that I am still basically a rookie because it is only my 3rd full marathon.  Still, I was mad at myself for not getting it just right.  It was difficult to stay mad at myself, however, as I reported to my friends and fellow runners that I had beaten my previous PR by almost half an hour.  That rocks!

The results were slow in coming, but I finally heard…

Time:  3:27:27
Place:  21st out of 261 finishers
40-44 Age Group:  5th place

Here are some conclusions that I have come to:

I have been allowing the Boston Athletic Association define excellence.  Qualifying for Boston was the end-all of my existence as a runner.  I had to give up that standard and realize… I had a great race when you take everything into account.  I am excellent.

There were a few other minor things learned from this experience but here are the big 2…

My new guideline:

Excellence as a runner is defined by you. You set goals. As you reach them, you excel. The more it happens, the more excellent you are.
My new hydration/nutrition strategy:
Get so much faster than “goal pace” that frequent breaks for consumption (or elimination) will be of no concern.

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I believe that with these 2 new guidelines in place, I will be able to enjoy the races more and continue to push & excel.

I have set new goals for myself.  As I seek them, I am determined that I will continue finding the joy in running while training AND racing.

Happy Running!

 

 

Whose shoes do you use?

In my running careers, I have run in Keds (no, I am not kidding), Nike, Reebok, New Balance, Asics, Vibram Five-Fingers, & Brooks.  I had a unique reason for including every pair.  I am happy to say that I have never bought a pair of running shoes because they look cool.  I tend to be more about two very important purposes: protecting my legs & getting faster.

A good pair of shoes can provide support, comfort, protection, and perhaps even mechanical advantage.  Track spikes, for instance sink into the track just enough to make sure you don’t slip.  This gives you the mechanical advantage of grip so that you can make sure that every ounce of energy you expend actually helps you move forward faster.  The racing flat does a great job on race day, but would not provide enough support for most runners on the daily run.

So here is the question of the day:  Whose shoes do you use?  Do you stick with one brand?  Do you use different brands for different purposes?  Do you have multiple pairs of the exact same shoe so you can rotate them and help them last longer?

The shoes I use?  I currently train in Vibram Five Finger.

I love the Bikila LS because it feels almost like barefoot running, but with the advantage of not having my skin ripped up by rocks and other debris along the way.  I also have some Nike Zoom for racing and short runs.  I still have a pair of Brooks Beast that I wear from time to time.  They are the polar opposite of the Vibrams because they offer tons of cushion and support.  Hence, I am likely to use them on relatively slow and easy runs when my legs are a little sore.  Still, on the long runs, running up and down ridges, track workouts, and anything of substance I will keep going back to my Vibrams Bikila LS.  They fit like a glove and they encourage me to run with a more natural stride.  In the long run…figuratively and literally…that means that my legs are happier and that I am running faster, which makes me happier.

So… whose shoes do you use?

Happy Running!

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