Wednesday, November 4, 2009
The entire week was such a bundle of fear and worry, I did my best to just curb the stress eating (can you say Halloween candy?), letting exercise and all the happy foot stretches and strengthening exercises go by the wayside. This week, I'm trying to get back on my game. I'm planning on following the Runner's World Barefoot Forum's barefoot running plan, starting with stage 3 (since I've been making the switch to living and running more barefoot since August).
Before getting completely sidetracked by my fur baby, I came to a realization: that even my version of starting slow with the barefooting perhaps wasn't slow enough. I started at 1/4 mile, and slowly increased to 3/4, 1.5, 1.7, 2.1 and so on, but I followed a straight linear progression up to 4.25 miles. What I'm realizing is that I should've hit 1.5 miles, and then continued to run only 1.5 miles for say 2-3 weeks, before then moving up to 2 miles, and running that distance for 2-3 weeks and so on.
So whatever thing in my ankle is hurting, I think I just overused it without giving it a chance to strengthen. So here we go again. And I'm thinking that I'll only ever go in the VFFs as far as I've already learned how to run barefoot. (At least that's my thinking, though with winter coming that may not be realistic. I suppose if I use the VFFs to go longer distances I'll just have to be very conservative with how much longer I go.)
10/31 -- 3/8 mile
11/3 -- 1/2 mile
With such short running distances planed for the foreseeable future, I've *got* to get more gym/cardio time in. That new swimsuit may still have to happen if I'm going to be off the bike for a bit, too.
Monday, October 26, 2009
After a lengthy discussion, it came down to this:
(1) Barefoot running is a useful training tool when done on grass for short distances.
(2) The biomechanical effects of the very slight overpronation in my right foot can best be fixed by a proper orthotic.
(3) The arch strengthening exercises and PF stretches/exercises I've been doing are good for any runner to do (more strength in the feet and ankles is better), but will not change the static strength of my foot.
and...this is my favorite part...
(4) The Pose method (forefoot strike) is appropriate for faster running (ie 7 min. miles or faster), but not for slower running, when a heel strike is "more natural."
It took considerable effort for me to understand this final point that he was making, as it didn't make any sense to me. Once I was finally able to get my head around it, I restated it to be sure I was getting it right. He confirmed that, yes, I was understanding him correctly. But no, it still doesn't make any sense to me.
Round and Round We Go
Pod: When we sprint, we all run on our forefoot. (No argument.) That's the natural technique for running fast, he says. But when we slow down, our natural stride changes, and we don't run well on our forefeet. Thus we adopt a more "natural" technique - a heel strike.
Me: A more natural technique - but more natural in shoes, you mean.
Pod: Yes, of course, you'll never land on your heel barefoot, because your body instinctively knows that will hurt.
Me: Right, so how is it that my body will run naturally, that is, correctly, if I run fast barefoot, but will start running incorrectly suddenly when I slow down?
Pod: Because when you slow down, a forefoot strike produces poor form, and doesn't allow you to run naturally.
Me: But aren't I running naturally if I'm running barefoot?
Pod: Only if you're running fast.
It is just me or does this sound rather circular? If it doesn't sound circular to you, please, educate me! Of all the things I expected to hear, this was definitely something new. He suggested I do a video gait analysis so he can show me "how unnatural it looks" when a person runs forefoot at low speeds versus high. I told him I don't care how it looks if it's what is good for my body! Are we comparing how it looks against the current prevailing image of what running "is supposed to" look like? Because that seems unlikely to be useful. But perhaps I'm just being a contrarian.
And perhaps I'm oversimplifying his point and the gait analysis will show me something useful. I'm always willing to admit that I don't know what I don't know. Besides, I've already met my insurance deductible this year, and I'm willing to get a little more information from "the establishment" to weigh against the massive amount of information I've been gathering on minimalist running.
All that aside, he couldn't confirm the tendonitis I thought I was experiencing. He couldn't put pressure anywhere on the foot that would indicate that the posterior tibialis tendon is irritated. That said, I realized this weekend that the spot I pointed to when he asked where it hurts was off the mark. The day I went in, the ankle wasn't sore (as the ankle isn't generally sore unless I run too far on it). But over the weekend I went for a bike ride, and that irritated the same bit of my ankle that gets irritated when I run. So I realized that I'd pointed him to the wrong spot, but I'm still guessing its a tendon or ligament in there somewhere.
After the long discussion with the podiatrist, I asked what to do next. Essentially, we spent so much time discussing the background of my PF, barefooting, and related issues, that I need to make another appointment for him to get a better handle on what specifically is hurting me now (with the gait analysis and some other tests) to move forward. Understandable. But since there's no appointment available for all that stuff to happen at the same time until November 13, I'm left pretty much deciding my own course for the next couple of weeks. (He did suggest that I go out and get a new pair of Brooks in the meantime, since I told him that's what I used to run in. But, um. No thanks. He's got a remarkably long way to go to convince me that that's the right course of action.)
Rest/Protection Mode for This Week
That said, the podiatrist outlined the importance of looking at injuries in three stages (1) rest/protection, (2) rehab/recovery, and (3) return to activity. This was not new information, but a good reminder for the importance of not rushing stage 1. So regardless of what this current ankle business is, it makes sense to me that right now (at one week since the serious Green Lake ouch) I'm still in rest/protection mode. I felt today like I might've been able to go out and try to see how a little run might feel. But I've already decided I'm going to wait a second whole week before I try any running at all. I'm also going to stay off the bike, since that seems to aggravate the same part of the ankle. So if I'm going to exercise this week, it's going to be time to buy a new bathing suit (this summer I finally threw away the horribly saggy one I bought in 1989. Yes, seriously). Or maybe I'll just stick to weight training and/or yoga for the week. We shall see.
Monday, October 19, 2009
I've made an appointment with a podiatrist at the sports medicine clinic I used to go to (years ago with a previous running injury) to see if my self-diagnosis is correct and just to make sure there's not anything I'm missing. But I honestly suspect this to just be more of the same: back off and RICE while it's painful, go slow and pay attention as I start back up. I'm certainly learning patience, if nothing else.
Friday, October 16, 2009
It was pouring this morning, but I decided to get out and see what barefoot running in the rain is like. Wet, and cold at the start, but otherwise ok. I started getting a hotspot on the ball of my left foot where I'd mussed with one of my callouses. Note to self: Leave your feet alone! The little bits of dry skin around the callouses wear off easily enough as I run, but if I muss with them and pull them off myself, I'm only removing some of the protection my feet have been working so hard to build. And this leaves me with hot spots the next time I run barefoot. So after a mile today, I decided to put on the VFFs.
On the bright side, there's no worrying about puddles with the VFFs. I was able to slosh right through them! Tell me how that's not just super fun?! I love the rain, and now I love that I no longer have to avoid puddles. I was also pleased to run about 4 miles before my ankle started to feel sore. I thought I'd just walk for a bit and then finish up for a total distance of 5 miles. But if I stop to walk, and then try to start running again, the ankle seems to freak out. Shooting pain with the first two steps. I had to stand there with my foot up in the middle of the path just waiting for it to chill out for a bit, as I couldn't put any weight on it at all. Slowly, slowly I tried walking... and then running, but that didn't last so long. So I walked/ran back to the car.
When I drove home and got out of the car - same shooting pain in the ankle again. I had to just stop and slowly try to adjust the foot to a position where it would allow me to put some weight on it so I could hobble inside. Grr. Glad to have made it 4 miles before having issues. Frustrated to be having issues at all!
(10/13/09) 2.5 mi. VFF (Wedgwood)
Ankle got sore pretty quick, but given the tired foot after the weekend, I'm not terribly surprised. Will try again tomorrow.
Monday, October 12, 2009
Guess I'll see how the running goes this week. The wedding went well though. It was my first at the Dome Room at the Arctic Club Hotel. It's a beautiful space, and I really enjoyed the couple I was working with. Good times.
Wednesday, October 7, 2009
I did manage to get out for one run this week before the wedding I'm coordinating this weekend, but it didn't feel great. Maybe just because my head was distracted with the busyness of the week.
Friday, October 2, 2009
Well, I'm gradually running longer before the ankle hurts, but not in leaps and bounds of distance. Ah well, slow and steady (emphasis on slow) will work I suppose. I'm noticing that the neighborhood sidewalks are not nearly so challenging to run on anymore. They're not as easy as the Burke or Greenlake by any stretch, and I'm still going quite a bit slower on them than the smooth asphalt, but still I feel it getting a little more comfortable for my feet. Guess those callouses are starting to do their job!
The dead skin on my left blister-turned-callous (the red spot that was under my pinky toe shown in the picture a while back) came off while running tonight - but no biggy. I didn't notice it until I got home and the skin beneath is completely fine. Now that both those spots are back to newer skin, I'll just keep an eye on them as they start to callous back up again (sans blisters this time, I hope).
Wednesday, September 30, 2009
Well apparently the post-blister tenderness is pretty much healed, because I was able to run a full 4 miles barefoot tonight. I didn't set any land speed records or anything -- can you say 12 min. miles?! -- as the sidewalks around here are tough for barefooting! Good for building up the callouses and foot strength, though, I suppose. I stopped because the ankle hurt, but at least I made it a little farther this time.
For the record, I've been stretching the plantar fascia most mornings before getting out of bed (and occasionally when getting up from the desk after working for long periods) and I often spend some time before getting out of bed in happy baby pose, fully extending and fully scrunching my toes, pointing and flexing my feet, and rotating my ankles (among others). These past two weeks I've been consistently doing several arch strengthening exercises: one leg balance with eyes closed, resisted eversion and inversion exercises, stepping sideways with a rubber band around my ankles (advised by my chiropractor for strengthening the peroneus), deliberately holding my arches in a neutral position while standing and walking, and heel raises upward and outward (from a source I've now forgotten). There. Now that I've put it in writing, I'll really have to maintain my consistency!
Monday, September 28, 2009
Good news! I think I was right about letting this post-blister heal up a bit more before I can go out barefoot again. Tonight I went to Green Lake and had a great run in the VFFs. I even felt like starting a second lap, though I didn't make it too far before my ankle pooped out. That's ok, though. I hit an avg. pace of 8:47. Speedy for me! And just so Em knows that some day I will be able to keep up with her again....Miles 2 and 3 were at 8:41 and 8:42. Everything felt really good.
And then it got better! Just as I was finishing up my first lap, I passed a handwritten sign in the grass that said "Complimentary Fitness Training" and I saw a small group of people gathering with some very fit-looking trainer types. I had hoped to be able to keep running, so I passed it by. But after making it only another 1/2 mile or so before having to call it a day, I decided to go back and see what they had going on.
As I approached the guy manning the sign, I asked "Can anyone play?!" He cheerfully invited me to come on up and join them, as the group (of about 8 exercisers and 2 coaches) was just getting warmed up. Turns out it's a training team called Furious Fitness, and they've been doing outdoors bootcamp style training "camps" at Green Lake all summer. I was able to stop in as a first-timer and try out the class for free, but several of the other folks there had already been attending for a couple of weeks. We started with some interval training in pairs. While one person sprinted "to the tree and back," the waiting partner had to do squats. When the runner came back, we switched. We did 3 sets. For the second round, the non-running partner had to do standup/pushups while waiting (stand up with hands above the head and then down into a pushup, then back up to hands above the head, and so on). After 3 sets of that, we did another round where the non-running partner had to lay on their back and do low scissor kicks. Given the sprints in between, I was good and pooped at the end of all that.
Since I had stopped running because the ankle was sore, I was a little nervous about the intervals, but they were a short enough distance, with stopping in between, that it wasn't a problem. After the intervals, we went back and did combos of jumping jacks, and one-leg hopping exercises, planks, lunges, and some other combos of fun fitnessy stuff. We ended with some ab exercises and stretches. I have to say that during the crunches, it was pretty cool to hear the guy say "keep your eyes toward the sky" and to actually be looking at the sky.
It turns out they're currently charging $135 for 12 classes, and I'm seriously thinking about doing it. At some point, when the weather makes it necessary, they take the training into a gym of some kind (no details on that yet). I'm already a gym member, but have long considered working with a trainer. But this seems like it would be a nice affordable way to maybe get a couple more weeks of outside workouts, with some small group training in the mix as well. Anyway, it was a great unexpected workout that was both challenging and fun. Their website says they're usually there at 6:30pm on weeknights if you want to stop by and try it out. I didn't stick around afterward to talk with them more, as it had started raining toward the end (and had gotten fairly dark - we were working out for 45-60-ish min.), and people were scattering pretty quick. But I did get a packet of info, and a friendly invitation to come back again. What a great way to end the evening's run!
Sunday, September 27, 2009
Saturday, September 26, 2009
I was only able to do a mile again today before the ankle started hurting, but now I have a theory as to why. The other night, the skin on one of my blisters/callouses came off while I was 'sanding' down some of the extra callousy bits on my feet (just to clean 'em up a little -- goodness knows I'm happy to have the callouses!). No biggy, it had been there for days so it was plenty healed up underneath, but the new skin is still just that, new skin. So a little tender. And this little spot (if you look back at the photo of my feet from last week) is just under my pinky toe on my right foot. (The one on the other foot never actually blistered, just calloused right up.) So I think the issue yesterday at Green Lake, made more noticeable this morning when running on my rougher neighborhood streets, is that my foot was trying to avoid putting pressure on that still tender skin toward outside of my foot, thus leaving me running more on the inside of my foot. Which is precisely the movement that causes me pain, and thus precisely the movement I've been trying to avoid with all these arch strengthening exercises and such.
I came up with the theory when I had shoes and socks on this afternoon and found that my foot felt much better than it had earlier in the day. Having that tender area protected made me realize just how much it had been aggravating me and affecting my gait earlier. I was going to test my theory by going for a run in the VFFs, which would protect that skin, but since we're planning a long bike ride tomorrow, I figure instead I'll just take the rest of today and tomorrow to let that skin heal. I'll see how it is on Monday before deciding whether to go BF again or take a day with the VFF's.
Friday, September 25, 2009
After a week of more-consistent-than-some-weeks strengthening exercises, productive chiropractic visits (my tight lower back is feeling considerably better than it has for three weeks), and short runs, things seemed to be moving along well this week. But today my heel was noticeably on the sore side. As I headed out to Green Lake, my foot was feeling like it had just finished a run even though I was just getting started. Just over a quarter mile in, the ankle was pretty uncomfortable, and by 0.8 miles it was downright painful. That was going to be it for the day.
Since I ended up walking back to the car, I took the opportunity to do some work on my soles by walking on the (pebbly!!) dirt path. Ouch! Yep, that definitely had me treading more slowly and gingerly. Eventually I opted for the grass. Reminding myself to focus on what I can do rather than on what I can't, I headed to the gym to get some weight training in. Perhaps the ankle was still a little pooped from the 34 mi. Red Hook ride we went on yesterday (though fortunately it didn't bother me during that ride like it did last week)? Who knows. Even with this not-so-great outing, I still feel good about how this barefooting business is going.
Thursday, September 24, 2009
Tuesday, September 22, 2009
I run Green Lake a lot less often these days than I once did, but I think that's about to change. What a smooth run for barefooting! I made it all the way around and back to my car without my soles screaming. I kept feeling like I was stepping on a pebble under my left foot, though, and kept trying to wipe it away. I finally realized that what I was feeling was a developing callous! I think there's one spot that's still just a little tender, so it feels like something's poking me when it's not. I ran on the grass for a short stint, but stuck mostly to the path. This was easily my best run in weeks, and boy am I grateful for it.
Surface: Super smooth asphalt, so much nicer than Wedgwood sidewalks!
Ankle: Definitely fatigued, but not that painful twinge this time.
Time: 9:40/mi average (considerably faster than my first barefoot attempts of 11:30/mi), with one mile in the middle at 9:01 (which is a good pace for me no matter what's on my feet!).
Oh, and I finally made it into see my chiropractor (Dr. David Weber) yesterday. He adjusted not only my tight lower back, but also my jammed up ankle. That was new.
Sunday, September 20, 2009
Later in the day I followed this up with a 37 mile bike ride - and faced yet another new challenge. That ankle twingy thing kicked in while I was riding. I've had it happen very briefly, in the first couple of minutes upon returning home from a few long rides, but it's never been an issue while riding. (It's that sharp pain you get when you feel like your ankle really wants to pop but won't). This time it started about 30 min. into the ride, and was with me for the next 2 hours. I am not a fan. I'll be checking in with my sports medicine doctor and/or chiropractor very soon.
Friday, September 18, 2009
1.8 mi. BF (Wedgwood)
Could've gone longer, but I had an appointment to get to. Besides, I'm happy to let that blistered area heal a bit more.
1.75 mi. BF (Burke Gilman Trail)
Ah, the Burke feels like Heaven compared to the sidewalks around my house! The blisters were fine since I took a few days off to heal them, but the skin around them was still a bit tender by the time I finished. I stopped because the ankle was hurting, not the soles.
Sunday, September 13, 2009
1.5 mi. BF (Wedgwood) I figured out that the sidewalks by the church are smoother than everywhere else, so I included a few loops around that block. I had planned to try 2 mi., but this time had to stop because of the ankle pain, not because of my soles. However, when I got inside, it turns out I was developing a really decent blister on the ball of my right foot by my little toe. So it's probably a good thing the ankle made me stop.
1 mi. BF (Wedgwood), but felt I could've run a little more. Soles were not an issue right after the run, but were tender a little later. I'm shocked at how much farther I was able to go than just two days ago!
0.7 mi. BF (Wedgwood)
0.5 mi. barefoot in Wedgwood (tough, tough sidewalks/streets). Soles were stinging and continued to sting for the rest of the afternoon!
Tuesday, September 8, 2009
A little research suggests that I might be having an issue with my posterior tibial tendon (Dr. Google not being a real doctor and all, I'm totally self-diagnosing here). This seems to be an issue that can be caused by weak arches, and since I overpronate slightly and have been wearing arch supports (aka arch weakeners) for years, it's no surprise at all that my arches might need some help.
Full-time barefoot runners (www.runningbarefoot.org) say that you should only run as far as you can run barefoot. Since I'm currently experiencing pain at about the 3.5 mile mark (in the VFFs, not totally barefoot), I'm guessing that means that that's as strong as my arches currently are, and that I need to continue the strengthening/stretching that I've been doing, as well as the short-distance minimalist running to keep working my feet, calves, and ankles (my right ankle has been extremely stiff ever since this PFF business started). One interesting site that suggests that you can strengthen your arches by practicing standing and walking with your arches in neutral position. Sure enough, if I stand with my arches in a neutral position for about 10 minutes, the muscles all up the outside of my legs, and other muscles in my feet and ankles get surprisingly tired! They clearly aren't used to having to work so much to keep my arch strong, but by gosh they are going to learn! I also read that balancing on one foot with your eye closed is a good arch strengthener. Fortunately, I've been doing these all summer. And sure enough, it's amazing at all the muscles and bits that engage in the foot/ankle/leg doing this!
Square One? Naked Feet
In addition to adding more focus on standing and walking with a neutral arch, I'm thinking of taking this barefoot thing from the other direction. Full-time barefooters argue that you shouldn't transition down from shod running, but should rather go the other direction. Get rid of the shoes entirely and start running barefoot, and build up distance and pace as your body allows, aka as your body learns to run softly and strengthens the parts that need strengthening. If that means that either your skin or muscles or whatever can only handle 1/4 mile at first, well, then you should only be running 1/4 mile. This seems untenable for a runner used to running long distances. But guess what. News flash. I'm not running long distances these days. So do I really have anything to lose by starting uber-slow, if it ultimately means healing well, and eventually getting to a place where I'm running injury-free well into the future?
I have to admit that I'm not planning on being a full-on naked barefoot marathoner, but I am pretty much thinking that the VFFs are my new forever running shoe. So building back up some distance by barefooting, and then using the VFFs only after the barefooting has done its work, may be the way I go for a while. Tomorrow morning I'm going for a barefoot run, first thing in the morning. It shouldn't take long as I don’t expect I'll get very far (the sidewalks around here are super rough). If something hurts, I'll stop. Maybe I'll try that for a week or so and see how it goes.
Wednesday, August 26, 2009
Thursday, August 20, 2009
After a couple of mixed-shoe runs, I decided my old shoes were just not cutting it. Too heavy, too stiff - and just noticeably uncomfortable when worn right before one of my other lighter, more flexible pairs. Unfortunately, though, I made the classic runner's mistake and tried doing too much too soon (TMTS). My marathon partner started training for her next marathon in early August, and since I was getting back into running, I agreed to help her kick off her training by running with her for the first couple of lower mileage weeks. That still meant an 8 mile run one weekend, and a 9 mile run the following, with 5-6 mile interval and tempo runs in between. After three months with virtually no running (except for my little drills and exercises), does this sound like a smart plan. Noooooo, of course not. Did I do it anyway? Yeeeeees. Yes, yes I did. Dumb@ss.
After the 9 miler my PF was really screaming at me, and I admitted what I already knew: that no amount of proper running technique was going to change the fact that I was running too far, too soon for someone trying to "slowly" (ha!) build up mileage during a rehabilitation phase. So I have slowed back to a more realistic rehab pace. I'm thinking three miles here, three miles there. Some in the VFFs. Some in my new flats. The Pumas, it turned out, were a little too narrow for my feet, and I'd started getting blisters on the tops of my toes. So I bought a pair of Asics (Piranha SP2).
So let's hit the reset button and try this again…
Wednesday, August 5, 2009
Having faced a hip/butt injury a couple of years ago, and done the frustrating roller coaster ride of reducing my mileage, feeling better, and then increasing my mileage only to re-aggravate the injury, I decided to do things differently this time. This time I was going to stop running (*gasp*) to let the injury heal. I just finished a marathon, and needed some mental and physical down time anyway, so what better time to take some rest? I signed up for a two month intro membership at 8 Limbs Yoga just up the street, lined up several of the various PF-related foot and calf stretches and strengthening exercises that I'd collected, and decided to focus on cycling for my summer exercise rather than running.
Reconsidering Proper Running Technique: Pose Method
This down time also inspired me to look into a running technique that I'd first come across a few years prior, when my butt injury didn't seem like it would ever go away. The version I'd explored was the Pose Method, which essentially promotes forefoot running (versus heel striking). The proponents essentially argue that running forefoot is a more natural way of running, and that running more naturally can prevent running injuries. Modern running shoes, they say, essentially force us to run on our heels (heel strike) even though anyone who takes off their shoes and tries to run barefoot will almost invariably land in more of a forefoot stance. Heel striking (where your foot lands out in front of you) puts all sorts of impact and stress on a part of your body not at all built to handle that impact, while forefoot striking (where your foot lands directly beneath your body) has you landing on a part of your body that is designed precisely to absorb shock. Just try jumping up and down and notice where you land. You'll be on your forefoot, not your heel.
The forefoot running proponents (Pose Method, Chi Running, Evolution Running -they all seem to me to be different "brands" of what is more generally referred to as forefoot running) propose getting back into flat racing shoes reminiscent of the 1970's flat Nikes we all knew and loved, as a means of adopting the proper technique more easily. The Pose Method suggests that running barefoot can also be incorporated into training to help learn proper running technique.
I found this technique fascinating back when I first read about it, but wasn't ready then to make a wholesale change in my running. Plus, there didn't seem to be a lot of information about it available, which made me wonder about its credibility. Around that time, my butt finally began to heal (thanks in large part to the massage services of Sarah Ellis, LMP - whose contact information I will gladly pass along to anyone in the Seattle area who would like it. She's fantastic!). So while I tried to pay some attention to landing slightly more forward rather than less, I didn't actually adopt the Pose Method back then (2005-ish).
But in 2009, feeling angry at the prospect of being injured again for a long period (there are plenty of PF horror stories out there), I decided that being forever injured was just not an option and that there had to be a better way to do this. So I went poking around the Pose website again, and decided this would be a great time to make the shift to what I was convinced would be a healthier (more natural) running technique, to hopefully rehab my bum foot, and maybe start running in a way that would not have me perpetually facing one injury or another.
Making the Switch to Forefoot Running (May 30, 2009)
I wrote a message to several of my running buddies letting them know I was going to try something new, primarily so I could have some other runners to talk with about this transition, runners who would ask questions and share their opinions about it all. I wasn't trying to convince anyone else that they should do this – buy just wanted to bring my friends into the loop on what I was up to.
I sent them a great, short video clip – from the New Jersey Sports Medicine Performance Center that shows a nice side by side comparison of one runner’s before and after videos. It shows a runner's original running stride versus their stride after two weeks of instruction in forefoot running. I thought it would be a good way to show them that I wasn't trying something crazy -- it looks quite normal when you see it on tape.
I also went out and bought my first flats: Puma Salohs without any heal cushioning at all. As soon as I put them on I could feel how the lack of heel cushioning affected my gait. They immediately made it feel more intuitive to run forefoot. Sure enough, when my body could feel that there was no cushion under my heels, I didn't even come close to wanting to run on them. It was a very weird realization. So I started doing short drills and foot stretching/strengthening exercises to get previously unused or underused foot/ankle/calf muscles ready to work. I had heard about some even more minimalist shoes, the Vibram Five Fingers which allow you to feel even the shape of twigs and rocks beneath your feet, but at the time, I certainly had no intention of going quite that far.
I went to the park and ran a few short distances barefoot, just drills to play with the forefoot technique and strengthen my feet. I also started running short distances in my flats, starting with just 1/2 mile. My calves burned the next day, but a few days later I went out again and ran 3/4 of a mile. Then a few days later, a mile, and eventually, two. But all of this yoga, stretching, strengthening, uber-short runs in the flats, walking around a lot barefoot to get all my foot muscles engaged -- I was doing all of this over the course of three months (while cycling to get my "real" exercise).
Late July 2009 - Born to Run
And wow, am I glad I did. This is one of my favorite books of all time, and could very possibly be a paradigm changer for the running community. It's certainly a paradigm changer for me. The book tells the story of the Tarahumara Indians of Northeastern Mexico, and their ability to run ultra long distances - without injury and in very thin sandals (huaraches) unlike anything the modern running shoe industry offers. Beneath the overarching story of these people, and one man's effort to organize a race between some of the fastest ultra marathoners and the fastest Tarahumara runners, there were snippets of information about the technical aspects of running that I found captivating. Like the description of how different animals are built differently to maximize oxygen intake and thus to run more efficiently. And the related theory of persistence hunting, which contrary to common myths about how running is so "hard" on our bodies, suggests that we actually evolved precisely for the purpose of running long distances (and thus eventually outlasting, even if not outpacing, the sprinting animals that we were trying to chase down for dinner). And then it got into running shoes, and how the shoe industry has been building bigger and heavier shoes that do nothing at all to help us run better, but may instead be contributing to injuries (or at the very least weakening our feet by keeping them overprotected and immobile). Anyway, you can read all about the substance of the book elsewhere, but my primary takeaway is one paradigm-shifting lesson: Running is not bad for the body. In fact, we were designed precisely to be able to run, and to run long.
Paradigm Shift, the Earth Moves
I'm built to do this? I'm not bucking some innate resistance to running long distances and perpetually subjecting my body to potentially serious harm just so I can keep the weight off and stay fit? I'd bought into all of it at some point.
"Of course, I'm injured. I'm a runner."
"New shoes at 6 months or 400 miles, whichever comes first, no question."
"Running a half marathon is one thing, but a marathon -- well, that's just a little extreme and asking for trouble. We weren't built for that."
"Running is just so hard on the body."
The book's argument in this regard was right in line with what I'd already read from the Pose Running folks -- that being a runner need not (in fact, should not) involve perpetual injury, and I was glad to see the message repeated. When I first read about Pose, there was so little information out there. Now I found myself reading a book that had been getting a lot of (well deserved!) buzz in running circles. And now suddenly lots of people were talking about running technique, and forefoot running, and barefoot running. All of the ideas I'd been exploring were now becoming part of the mainstream conversation, and I was beside myself with relief! Not only because I had felt like I had been walking a fine line between bold and crazy by trying a new non-mainstream technique, or because people were finally talking about this big thing that I very much wanted to be talking about, but because of one of the bottom line lessons of the book:
As a runner, I do not need to accept being injured. Running is good for me. I was built to do this.
Yippee! If running really is good for me, then everything changes. If running is good for me, then if something hurts, I simply need to change how I run -- I don't need to change the fact that I run. I can stop worrying about trying to hit that perfect combo of shoes, yoga, training practices, and nutrition so that I *might* avoid getting injured. I don't need to buy into the notion that plantar fasciitis is the incurable monster that is going to bug me for the rest of my running life. If running is good for me, then I can get back to running, and know that running (properly) can potentially actually help me heal.
Born to Run talks quite a bit about barefoot running and the Vibram Five Fingers (VFFs) that I once thought were out of the question for me. But after reading the book, and having been going down a road heading that direction for the past three months already, I ordered a pair of the VFF Flows, figuring I'd use them as a tool to improve my forefoot running technique.
Tuesday, May 5, 2009
I just finished my first marathon! Everyone's asking "How'd it go?!" so here's the answer in a couple of versions. (I wrote this as 'my' marathon story, but since it was fundamentally a team effort, I found it impossible to consistently write about it from an "I" rather than a "we" perspective.)
The Short Version
It was a challenge, for sure. It really is "all that." It was hard, and fun, and painful in ways that I didn't expect, particularly given my remarkably injury-free training period. But Emily and I finished it --sans medical intervention!-- and in a respectable time. We met two of our goals of (1) finishing, and (2) finishing in under 4.5 hours. I had a great first half (finishing the half marathon distance in 2:01) but a more difficult second half that left me running through a degree of pain I hadn't ever had to run through before. Emily and I finished together in 4:28:16, and by the end of the day, we were already strategizing about our next marathon. I am incredibly proud of us, and am so grateful for all the words of support and encouragement that we received leading up to the race. And of course, I'm ever so grateful to Wayne for several months of post-long-run breakfasts and his willingness to take on the role of ground support for us this past weekend. Thank you all for helping us get to our goal!
The Nitty Gritty
It was a challenge, for sure. It was hard. (Shocking, I know.) It was fun. ("It was fun?!" my left leg chimes in, incredulously. "Yes," I remind my left leg, "while you were screaming, other parts of me were having fun.") It was harder than I expected, but in a different way than I expected. See, Emily and I have had a blessedly injury-free training period. For four months, we managed to ward off injuries that had plagued us both off and on over the past several years. For those who don't know or don't remember, I essentially broke my butt a while back -- an overuse injury likely due to too much running -- before finally switching to a running + cycling regimen that ultimately helped me (and what Wayne dubbed "my broken butt") to heal. I had been butt-injury free for a good long chunk of time before we began training. In fact, I ran the Seattle Half Marathon in 2007 and 2008, staying butt-injury free and setting personal records both times-- before even thinking about the possibility of marathon training.
So our training went remarkably well. Even the 16-, 18- and 20-milers. They were long, and exhausting, and hard -- but I finished them whole and healthy -- with mostly only the expected muscle fatigue and general tiredness at the end. But with stretching and icing, and all that good training stuff, by the next day, the whole body felt good. I did start getting some nagging heel pain at the end of the 20-miler, but did my best to figure out the cause, do the necessary stretching, and nip that in the bud.
So marathon weekend finally arrives. The forecast called for likely rain on marathon morning, and we could hear the pouring down rain outside our hotel room window Saturday night. We were thus pleasantly surprised to arrive at the start line Sunday morning under completely clear blue skies. Relief! We had trained in the rain (our 18-miler was a miserable 3 hours in pouring, cold rain, and my shoe-saturated 13-miler in so-flat-the-water-has-nowh
A Strong First Half
We started well, knowing the dangers of starting off too quickly, and carefully kept ourselves in our intended pace range. I don't have much of a story for the first half, since it all went pretty much as expected, though I learned later that Emily's story started at about mile 3 -- more on that later. My sore heel, which fortunately doesn't hurt as much while I run as after I run, was sore at first, but stopped being an issue once I got warmed up. At about mile 7, though, it started talking to me again. It certainly wasn't painful enough that I couldn't run on it, but enough that I knew I would have to mentally manage it for the next 19 miles. I didn't mention it to Em at this point because I didn't want to give any negative energy a voice in our race. As it turns out, apparently neither did she.
Wayne was waiting for us at about mile 10, cheering us on with a sign that said "Go Stace and Emily, Go!" From here we made our way into Stanley Park, where we saw our first runner calling someone for medical help, minutes before we were passed by an ambulance that was likely carrying her. Bummer. In the park, we hit the 13.1 mile mark having kept a relatively consistent pace -- mostly between 9:10-9:30 min/mile -- which was pretty much on target. Maybe a little fast, but not too far off. Our running pace during our training runs (without walking breaks) has generally ranged 9:15-9:45 min/mile, so we were thinking a 9:30/mi. average would be a good ambitious goal (behind primary goal #1: Finish the marathon and goal #2: finish in under 4.5 hours). By my watch, we finished the half-marathon in 2:01. We didn't expect to keep up that pace for the second half, but were pleased to have had such a strong first half!
We walked through the water stop located right after the half way point, as I needed to give that heel a break, and because I wanted to take advantage of the extra water because of the heat. Not only was it not raining, it was actually sunny and definitely warmer than it's been during any of our training runs. We were carrying our own water bottles and fuel-foods (which turned out to be a great decision for us), but took advantage of the less busy water stations to get a little extra water.
Heading into mile 14, Emily started to feel dizzy, and I later learned that she had been dealing with a flare-up of hip pain (her old nemesis that hadn't bothered her all during training season) since about mile 3. After some walking and drinking some more water, we continued the run out of the park (Em felt better once we got out of the trees), finally making our way back onto some roads packed with cheering bystanders. I'm always amazed at how the cheering of complete strangers makes it easier to run. I don't know how that works, exactly, but it does. It's a real morale boost that just adds a little spring to your step. At this point, our steps could use a little extra spring, so this was a good thing.
Wayne caught us again at about mile 17, and this time was holding a sign that said "15 km to cocktails! Emily - Run!" I hear we weren't the only runners to appreciate his sign.
As we headed up the Burrard Bridge at about mile 18, I was feeling pretty good. This was "the biggest hill" of the race that everyone had talked about, and it seemed manageable. Plus, at the top of the bridge, I realized we had well under 10 miles to go. On the way up, I turned and told Emily that compared to what we run in Seattle, this didn't seem like much of a hill. Oops. As it turned out, it wasn't much of a hill going up. But a whole new race started for me on the way down.
A Whole New Race
Heading down the other side of the bridge, my left knee started hurting. I've never had any knee problems whatsoever in my running, so this was odd. And then I realized the knee wasn't exactly hurting, so much as it felt like someone had removed all the tension from whatever muscle connects the quad to the knee, leaving me suddenly unable to control my left leg properly. At the bottom of the hill, I took a walk break because things just didn't feel right. To be honest, I panicked a little, as I'd never felt anything quite like it, and wasn't sure if it would go away like the other little nagging issues that can come and go over the course of many hours of running.
The floppy leg feeling eased up, but whatever had happened left my leg -- the knee, quad, and where the hip joins at the pelvis -- sore for the rest of the race (sore enough to distract me from my still sore right heel). So it was going to be 8 miles of running with some soreness. Ok, here we go. At 7 miles left, I reminded myself that 7 miles was less than we had run for previous weekend. Of course, the previous weekend, nothing was hurting. Turns out, that makes a difference. Also, while the very slight uphill portions of the route were really not that big of a deal in terms of "hilliness," the resulting slight downhill portions of the route would turn my leg back to jello. I was very careful on these sections, as I was afraid my leg might just give out from under me. At one point Em asked "Are we going to finish this thing in one piece?" "Yes, we will," I told her. I believed it. I just knew we were going to have to slog it out between then and the end. I stopped looking at my watch and tracking our pace after mile 18. At some point, it became completely irrelevant.
The route on the last 7-8 miles of this run was a bit of a mental mind-game as well. You cross the bridge (at about mile 18), go straight out, and then do a u-turn and come straight back, and back over the bridge (at about mile 25), after which you head downhill and then flat toward the finish. As a result, you see all the people ahead of you who have already made the U-turn, coming back down the other side of the road. This is not unusual, and can be kind of cool from a people-watching perspective, but it also mentally keeps you wondering where the U-turn is and when it's coming. And just when you think it must be coming any minute now, it doesn't. And you do that little dance in your head several times before you finally go around a bend, expecting that this for sure is part of the turnaround, only to find that it's not. Not only is there another mile or so ahead before the U-turn point, but you can now see exactly how far ahead the turn point is because the road leading to that point is uphill. Which frankly, doesn't bother me nearly as much as knowing that I have to come back down that little hill on Jello Leg.
Fortunately, Emily, who still had her own hip screaming at her, had fully gotten her mental mojo back for the second half of the race (after struggling to maintain it in the first half when she was dealing with that unexpected hip pain), so I took a drag off some of her energy as I continued to fight my increasingly painful left leg. At one point, we passed some people with a sign that said "Run with Power." "Yes, yes, yes" I said out loud, "We will." I don’t know how far the "mind over matter" thing can go with physical pain, but so long as I was able to keep putting one foot in front of the other, it certainly wasn't going to do any harm to try to make my mind tell the noncompliant parts of my body to shut the hell up. Also, we were playing leap frog with one of the wheel-chair marathoners, who would fall behind on the inclines, and pass us on the downhills. What motivation. Our legs are meant to be the strongest muscles in our bodies; his arms are not. But he was still doing it. I felt humbled.
At about mile 24, as we approached the bridge again, I realized that this must be what people talk about when they say you have to "dig down deep" to find a way to finish this thing. I've had injuries and pain before. And that's typically when I've learned I'm supposed to back off, or slow down, or stop and rest and come back stronger another day. Listen to your body. If it hurts, don't keep going, or you could just make it worse. But on race day, that's not necessarily the rule. We were going to finish. We knew we could. Even though we were hurting we knew we would. We still had the energy. We didn't feel like we hit "the wall" that everyone talks about where you just feel exhausted and depleted. But somehow you have to mentally accept that you are going to run for six, four, two more miles (easy!) in serious pain (not easy!!). Emily got a few steps ahead of me and I looked at her and again drew off her mojo. I knew she was going to pull the strength to finish out of somewhere inside her, and by God, so was I.
We headed up the bridge again at mile 25 and got a little boost on the way up. One of the Team in Training runners was just in front of us, and one of the Team in Training coaches came running up from the sidelines to run with him a bit, and help cheer him to the finish. So we freeloaded on his motivational pep talk. "There are huge crowds at the finish line," he said, "and everyone's cheering. You're going to cross the finish line and it's going to be great!" I turned to Emily and mimicked his tone "It's going to be great!" I told her. We chuckled as we had been doing at funny little things all along.
As we hit the top of the bridge, I told Em I was going to take especially small steps on the way down-- again just wanting to make sure that leg didn't go all wonky on me. And while I might have been able to tumble down from the bridge faster than I was running down, I didn't really want to go that route. At the bottom when I hit flat ground again, I decided tried to pick up the pace to catch up with her. The leg didn't like this plan, and told me so. So I just kept steady. After a bit, I tried again, and this time was able to pick up the pace to reach her so that we could run into the chute together.
Sure enough, the crowds were really great, and we saw Wayne there on the sidelines for the third time. People were yelling "You're almost there!" of course, and one woman yelled "Enjoy the end!" "Sure, I would," I said to Em, "If I could just see the darn thing!" Again, we laughed. We knew we had to be "so close" but couldn't actually see the finish line. When it finally came into sight, I remember thinking I just had to focus on that, straight ahead. With everyone cheering, I wanted to look around, or smile back, or something, but decided I was just going to take all the energy they were giving and use it all to just focus on getting to that line.
We had been careful to smile for the cameras along the route so that our pictures would show us "enjoying the moment." I'm not sure if I remembered to smile as we crossed the line or not. And frankly, I don't much care if I did. My heart was proud and my body felt broken, but smile or no, I was unspeakably happy to have made it across the line, with Em, both in one piece -- or at the very least, both of us walking on our own power. I almost cried right then, because it felt so good to have made it, but I knew the sappy tears would quickly turn to pain tears, and I didn't want that to be the end of my race.
After grabbing all the post-race food and drink, we found Wayne, traded our running shoes for the flip-flops he'd brought for us (a tip we'd heard from another marathoner), and started heading back toward the hotel for what I had originally figured would make for a good cool down walk after the race. Of course, that was back when I expected to be able to walk at the end of the race! It was a sloooow go on my sore heel, but eventually we made it back up the street, and stopped for our long-awaited JapaDog lunch (a famous Vancouver street cart that serves hot dogs with Japanese toppings). It did not disappoint! We eventually continued on back to the hotel to shower, rest, and head out to eat some more.
This was not the race I expected it to be. I felt well prepared for it and frankly, I expected it to be an extension of our training runs -- more exhausting for sure, even painful to a point, but essentially injury free. But there are good running days and bad running days, and while it's nice when a race coincides with a good running day, that doesn't always happen. And that's ok. Because whatever else happened, we finished our first marathon!! I'm very proud of that. I'm very proud of having stuck to a training program for four months -- especially because I began to understand about six weeks ago that the training was becoming as mentally taxing as it was physically tiring. And I'm very proud to have been strong enough to run through more challenging physical stress than I'd ever done before. And whatever else happened, by the end of the day Em and I were actually sitting and strategizing where and when we should run our next marathon. In terms of a response to the question "How'd it go?" perhaps that is the most telling answer of all.