Friday, March 19, 2010

Celebrate Life Half Marathon 2010

Over the several days that followed the Boston Buildup 25k my feet had soreness along the top of the metatarsals and in the toe joints. This pain disappeared midway through the week but would pop back up again every few days as I worked on trying to improve my downhill running nothing serious, but enough to be annoying.
After 2 weeks of running after the race, bringing me to 7 weeks of running in nothing but Vibram Five Fingers, I decided to try another race, the Celebrate Life Half Marathon. I’d run the race for the first time the year before and really enjoyed it. I had hoped to make it my first VFF race but buoyed by my success in running in them I’d jumped the gun and run a different race. But, I’d been working on my downhill weakness and was ready to see if I’d made any improvement and I knew the CLHM course would give me the test I needed.
The temperatures in the week leading up to the CLHM had been fantastic, upper 40s to low 50s and I was looking forward to a fun race. Unfortunately the rain gods figured this out and brought in a huge storm the night before which abused the whole area, ripping apart trees, power, phone and cable lines, tearing up roofs, flooding roads and just bringing general chaos to the area. Race morning came and the remnants of the storm were still lingering in the area threatening to attack again. The air temp was in the low 40s which was plenty comfortable but the threat of cold rain made the prospect of racing less than fun.
On the way to the race I again stopped at Duncan Donuts to get my grease fix on with a bacon, egg and cheese on an English muffin and large coffee to supplement my Nature Valley granola bars and Powerade Ion. Not what I would like for a prerace meal, but it seemed to do me rather well 2 weeks earlier at the BB25k, so what the heck. Harden my arteries to start the morning and get my heart working early in the race trying to pump blood through my clogged arteries. Life didn’t get much better…
When I got to the Rock Hill Lodge I quickly found a parking space along side the road and went in to get my race packet. Unlike the previous race where hardly anyone blinked an eye at my VFFs, I was drawing quite a few stares and curious looks. Evidently this group wasn’t quite as familiar with them as the last. On my way pack to my truck after getting my packet I had several people that came up to me to ask me about them. One had heard of them, the other 2 would slightly incredulous that they were not only shoes, but that I was going to run in them.
Once I finally reached my truck I quickly donned my race gear and headed to the start. I got no further questions on the way but could feel the eyes following my every step. I didn’t care for all of the attention when I first started wearing the VFFs back at the end of August, but I’d gotten to the point where I found it quite entertaining to see people’s reactions. I had one training run a few weeks before where the same truck looped around and drove past me slowly not once, not twice, but three times with the last one the passenger was hanging out the window trying to get a better look. So everyone here was no surprise to me.
I’m guessing it is so they can try and have everyone in at the same time for the post-race celebration (which is catered by Outback Steakhouse and includes steak, chicken, salad and beer) but this is one of the only races I know that has 3 different start times with all of the racers going the same distance. They let the walkers start at 8:30, the slow runners who request an early start (and therefore disqualify themselves from awards) at 9 and the rest of us at 10. This meant that midway through the race when the field started to thin out that there would still be plenty of people to pass, chat with, motivate, etc. I’d found it strange but rather fun the previous year.
I had one more brief conversation about my VFFs, they played the National Anthem and off we went. Since the course is continual rolling hills it was almost immediately that we started our first uphill, and downhill, and uphill, and downhill, and, well you get the idea. None of the hills were all that long, and they weren’t very steep, but they kept coming at you like a prom date after that elusive final (vertical) dance of the night.
I was passing and being passed and jockeying back and forth. I still wasn’t as fast on the downhills as I was in running shoes, but I was holding my ground on them much better than the previous week. That flats, short though they were, and the uphills I was still running strong. I had an occasional conversation and question about my VFFs with runners as I passed them or got passed. The rain was holding off and we were only running through an occasional light mist.
About 4 miles into the race I encountered what would be my only physical challenge of the day. I don’t know if it was from my wonderfully nutritious breakfast or from over indulging at a friend’s birthday party the night before, but my lower digestive tract was starting to protest mightily, threatening a flood of their own. It wasn’t impossible to run through, but it made things about as much fun as listening to a GWB speech and slowed me slightly. I ended up running the next 6 miles with the old glutes flexing like they were in a Schwarzenegger movie.
About 6 ½ miles into the run I started catching the first of the walkers. This is when things began to get more entertaining. Since they were moving a little slower and I guess had more time to look and more oxygen to talk I started to hear a lot more chatter about my fancy dancy footwear. There were occasional shouted questions of “are those Vibrams”, and “how do you like them”, as well as comments amongst themselves that I overheard wondering what they were, or explanations to friends about them. I never got full conversations, it was all snippets due to the disparity in our paces, but they kept me entertained and my attention of my ailing tail pipe.
Finally around the 10 mile mark I saw the oasis in the form of a plastic portable shi# box that I’d been desperately searching for. They are disgusting things that I absolutely abhor, but as an endurance athlete they are a necessary evil that is part of the sport. I took care of business quickly and made the final 3 mile dash for the finish.
I was still feeling strong as I made the final ¾ mile downhill descent to the finish. My overall pace wasn’t quite what I’d hoped for, but considering my physical condition through most of the race and still learning how to run in VFFs I was happy with what I was doing. I crossed the finish strong hitting almost an 8 minute pace for the day.
Afterwards I quickly went back to my truck, changed shirts and put on a fleece to try and stave off the post race chills. I then wandered back to the finish area grabbed a bottle of water and went inside to get my post race meal, which was not a thing to miss at the CLHM. It was catered by Outback Steak House and they served steak, chicken, ceasar salad, rolls, bananas, coffee, hot chocolate AND BEER. It is quite a feast.
Of course while standing in line and while eating there were more conversations and questions about my VFFs, all of which I gladly welcomed. I finished my food, beer and chats and slipped out before the awards. An 8 min/mile pace is way too slow to be making the podium so I opted to beat the traffic getting out of there.
It wasn't a great day for me, but I was coming along. I could tell from the way my feet felt that I'd redeveloped my blisters on the front part of my left foot, but my running was improving. I was getting better on the downhills and while still no speed demon I was beginning to hold my own on them again. The final .75 miles of the race was all downhill and I managed to pass about 12 people and only got passed by 1. I definitely still felt a little fire in the top of my feet when running down the hills but it was less intense and my stride was slowly starting to lengthen back out.
My VFFs were taking me for a fun ride and I was no longer paying a high price for my passage. I was starting to feel reborn as a runner and loving every second of it. I'm not sure where this will end up, but I was aching to find out and to continue to push my luck.
For those interested, I highly recommend the race. They do a great job and you can't beat the post race feast!

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Boston Buildup 25k 2010

I awoke Sunday February 28th got dressed and hopped in my truck for the drive to Norwalk, CT for the Boston Buildup 25k (15.5mi). I made a quick stop at Duncan Donuts to grab coffee and a ham, egg and cheese on a English muffin to supplement my Nature Valley granola bars and Powerade Ion breakfast. Not my usual nutritious prerace meal, but this was sort of a last second decision to run the race and I was ill prepared food wise. The heavy winter storm we’d just come out of had made going for groceries difficult.
Armed with my grease meal I made the 30 minute drive to the race start. I left an area with an average of 18-24 inches of snow and arrived to find the land around the race start only covered with about an inch of snow. It’s funny how such a short distance can make such a huge difference in weather.
It was a cool, crisp morning. The sky was clear of clouds and the sun was shining brightly. The air temperature was in the low 40’s and with the sun brightening the day it looked to be about a perfect morning for a race.
I quickly found registration, signed up, got my number and headed back to my truck to get ready for the race. I had on shorts, put on a tech long sleeve t-shirt, slathered my forefeet with body glide to help lessen the problems with my blisters, put on and my my wool Injinji socks and my blue camo Sprint VFFs (Vibram Five Fingers). I’d forgot my number belt so resorted to pinning my number on the old fashioned way. I grabbed my Garmin 305, put on my heart rate monitor, secured my key and headed over to the race start.
It was a relatively small race, but looked to have some pretty good runners. The race was put on by a local running club and was relatively low key. Part of the purpose was to help club members prepare for the Boston marathon. Even though it was sort of a club event, it was opened up to others. Aid stations were farther apart than typical for most races, there were no t-shirts, prizes were virtually non-existent, and entry fee was very low, but it seemed to be well organized.
I was a little nervous, I’d run many ½ marathons before but this was my first race running in VFFs. I’ve been running for almost 30 years and over 1000 races of varying distances and all of them had one thing in common that I was putting at risk with this race. Every race I’ve ever started I finished. Zero DNFs. I’d only run this far once in VFFs and that was only 7 days ago and at a very easy pace. Here I was trying to repeat the distance with severely blistered feet from my run a couple days before and I was going to be pushing the pace pretty hard. I could have just run it as a training run, but I’d learned from years of experience that no matter how much I may want to and plan to take it easy in a race, once the race starts the plan goes straight out the window and off I go full out. So I was sure this would be no different and I wasn’t going to pretend it would be.
Driving in I noticed the area was rather hilly and I was expecting that the course would be as well. Hills were still giving me some difficulty, the uphill seemed to burn the bottom of my feet some and the downhill was very hard on the feet all around. Coupled with this the course was most likely going to be rather wet from the melting snow and in VFFs this pretty much guaranteed my feet would get soaked which would make things with my blistered feet even more difficult.
I joined in with the group at the starting line, reset my Garmin and I was ready. After a few quick words the race started and off we all went. Just like I expected I was immediately pushing the pace and the course quickly proved me right about the hills and the wet roads. The hills weren’t real big or step, but they just kept coming one after the other and my feet were thoroughly soaked before the first mile was finished. My pace through the first mile was about a 7:30 and I was feeling good.
The body glide was helping with my feet on the uphills, I barely felt the blisters and noticed no burning in my feet. The downhills were proving to still be a bit difficult. For the first time in my life I was getting passed on the hills quite regularly. I was doing well on the uphill, but on the down I wasn’t able to lengthen my stride and take full advantage of gravity. I had to hold back some or my feet would start getting painful. I hadn’t been sure how slow I’d been running downhill until now, because I’d been running for last month on my own, but now that I was running with and against others I knew from the number of people passing me that I was even slower than I’d expected. I obviously still either still had something to learn about barefoot/VFF running or needed to develop more foot strength or both. I was frustrating getting passed this easily and I kept trying to open things up a bit more with each successive downhill.
I could feel some top of foot pain developing, nothing severe yet, but I needed to keep very aware of it. The water stations were about every 3 miles, which was further than I’d expected, but so far it wasn’t proving to be a problem. I just focused on drinking more at each one than I normally would. Before I knew it I’d blown through the ½ way point in just about 1 hour on the nose and I was feeling great.
The rest of the race continued pretty much the same way except for one thing. Around the 9 mile mark the body glide I’d applied to my feet had given out and I was really starting to feel the blisters. They didn’t seem to be getting worse, but they were definitely reminding me that they were there. As it would turn out, my feet held up great with only a small increase in the size of the blisters.
In the closing miles I was really pushing myself and the top of foot pain was starting to be of concern. Concern, but not enough to cause me to back off and I kept pushing with each downhill I was still trying to increase stride and speed. I was still getting passed, but by fewer people and they were going by me at a slower rate. Throughout the race I’d repassed just about everyone that had passed me once I got on the brief flats or on the next uphill, but I was sick of having to recatch them and was trying to do what I could to keep as many of them as possible behind me the rest of the way.
I finished in a time of 2:00:34. It was far from my fastest, but it was a solid performance for this time of year and especially for my first race in VFFs, besides it had years since I’d run significantly faster. Overall I felt good. Blisters were aggravated but not excessively so and my feet were sore enough to be concerned but not worried. As far as I was concerned I was now officially a barefoot runner. I’d also learned that even though I was doing well with this ‘new’ style of running that I still had some work to do, primarily with downhill running, especially since the soreness in my feet would last several days and by the end of the day I had developed some slight swelling in them again but nothing that prevented me from not only running, but continuing to run in VFFs.
Overall the experience was good. It was a good race, well organized, a challenging course and strong competition. I was happy with where I was in my training and how well I was running with my VFFs. It was a good start to the upcoming race season.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Barefoot Running: The Seed Sprouts

I returned from the week of training in the Bahamas feeling good. My legs and lungs were back to preinjury levels and my feet felt great. My final run there were in my VFFs and the 5 miles in them felt great. What better time to give barefoot running another try.
So, Wednesday January 6th I put my VFFs on again and headed out for another run. It had been 3 days since my last run in them. My plan this time around was to have a minimum of 2-3 days between runs until I figured this thing out. I didn’t want to get injured again and I figured the time between runs would give my body plenty of time to recover.
It was a cold day but my Injinji and my VFF KSOs kept my feet plenty warm. I ran a short 3.2 miles and hit the showers. There was some soreness in the top of my feet and at the base of my toes, but it was minor and of little concern. I was headed to Boston that weekend for an athletic training symposia and I knew that I’d have one more day of running. I’d run the next day in regular running shoes before taking the next 4 days off which would give plenty of healing time for them.
The next day I went for a short run in my shoes and felt ok. My feet were achy and a little sore, but didn’t feel like they were getting any worse. Actually, they felt slightly better as I ran. Didn’t make sense that my feet felt better with running, but that was consistent with what happened when I was injured back in the fall.
The following Tuesday I went out for my third VFF run of the year and my first run since the previous Thursday. I wasn’t making much progress, but I wasn’t getting injured either. I had some tenderness from the last run that lasted a couple of days, but my feet had been feeling great since. I knew it would again be several days before I was able to run and so I decided to increase the distance a touch and make things a little more challenging. Most of my runs had been on relatively flat courses, but I decided to run a fairly hilly route this time and see what happened. Back in the fall I seemed to have my greatest difficulty with my feet when running hills, both up and down them. I wasn’t worried about the distance, but the hills could prove to be a test.
Because of the cold I was again wearing Injinji socks under my KSOs. The route I’d chosen was 4.4 miles, completely on the roads and it took me up and down several pretty good sized hills. There was some soreness at base of my toes on the uphills and pain in the top of my feet on the down. Neither was that bad, but it showed I definitely needed to figure out how to run them correctly. After my run there was only minor aches and soreness in my feet. It lasted the rest of the day and through the next but again felt better after I’d gone for a run in my running shoes.
I’m not sure if it was the support from the shoes, the cushioning, compression or what, but my feet felt better after running in them. The interesting part is that even when I was wearing shoes, I knew that I wasn’t running with a heel strike anymore. I was running with a fore/midfoot strike, so it wasn’t likely that the foot strike was causing my problem. I was confident that it was still something wrong I was doing with the push/lift off portion of the stride and this is where I decided I needed to focus on my next run.
I wasn’t able to get out on a run the next couple of day and I was going to be out of town again and unable to run that weekend. I took the following Monday off as well before getting back out for another run. Clad in my KSOs and Injinjis I set out for another run. I was really trying to make a point of lifting my feet instead of pushing off. It felt unnatural but my feet felt slightly better. Unfortunately every time I stopped focusing on my running I went back to pushing off. But I made it through another 3.3 miles in my VFFs with minimal soreness.
I ran the next 2 days in my running shoes before trying my VFFs again. In them I was also focusing on lifting instead of pushing but instead of feeling like I was on track to figuring barefoot running out I felt awkward and silly. But, my feet were feeling good and I wanted to get a second VFF run in for the week. I managed another 3.2 miles on a relatively flat course. It was a far from perfect run but it was a pretty good one. My feet still felt it, but it was the best that they’d ever felt after a run. The soreness was there, but a lower level and I knew it was going to be hard to refrain from running in my VFFs again the next day.
But, as much as I wanted to I learned my lesson and took the next 3 days off. My feet felt great the entire weekend and the following Tuesday I put my VFFs on for another run. The plan was to run around 3.4 miles at an easy pace, but things quickly changed. About 1 ½ miles into the run I realized there was absolutely no pain or discomfort in my feet whatsoever. I also noticed that my form had changed and it felt almost natural and easy. My feet were lightly gliding over the pavement; I was no longer pushing off. Something had finally clicked. I started picking up the pace, testing my new form.
Before I knew it I was 3 miles out and realized I better not push my luck too far and turned back for home. According to my Garmin 305 I totaled 6.1 miles on the run, yet I had no pain, soreness, aches or any other problems in my feet. They felt great! It was too soon to say for sure, but I think I finally figured this “barefoot” running thing out.
Excited from my success I decided to try running in my VFFs again the next for 3.2 miles, and again the next day for 3.4 miles, and the next for another 6 miles for a total of 18.7 miles in 4 days.
My feet felt great through the entire 4 day stretch. I did develop a little soreness as the week progressed, but it was different from before. In the past it felt like I was doing something wrong and possibly causing injury, but now it just felt like the muscle soreness you get after a good hard workout. It faded as the day progressed and left me feeling fantastic the next day. I did find that I couldn’t just take off and run and totally forget to pay attention to what I was doing, if I did I found I reverted to my old running form and I would start to get soreness back in my feet again. As soon as this would happen I would refocus on what I was doing, adjust my running technique and the pain would disappear.
Between weather, work and several other factors I ended up taking the next 3 days off completely from running, no running in VFFs or shoes.
Monday came and I went out in my VFFs again for 4.4 miles, again Tuesday for 8 miles, Wednesday for 3.25 miles and Thursday for 6 miles. And every one of the runs felt great with each one my feet and legs feeling better than the one before. I wasn’t able to run again that Friday and Saturday, but Sunday came and I decided it was time to try and push the distance a bit. I already had my longest ever VFF run on Tuesday, but it wasn’t enough for me, I wanted more and more I got. I went for 11 miles and felt fantastic while doing it. This brought my weekly total to 32.65 miles all in VFFs and almost 2 weeks since I’d run in shoes.
The following week I ran 30.7 miles over 6 days and the following Monday I pushed my longest VFF run to 13.5 miles and I would end up running a total of 49.9 miles in 7 runs that week culminating with a new personal VFF distance best run of 15.5 miles on Sunday.
The following week I kept the streak going running, but due to severe weather and extremely heavy snowfall the days and mileage were somewhat limited. I ran 2.7 miles on Monday, 6 miles on Wednesday, and then did the stupid. I ran 5 miles on Thursday, but due to the weather ran on a treadmill. This is where the stupid comes in. I decided since I was running on the treadmill that I didn’t need the same protection that I did on the roads and decided to run truly barefoot. Fortunately, the injury I did was literally only skin deep. I severely blistered the bottom of my feet. I felt it happening but I’d decided to run 5 miles before I set foot on the treadmill and decided to stick with the plan despite my feet. I wasn’t causing serious injury, but it didn’t feel very good anyway.
We lost power the next day, so no treadmill, and the snow was coming down thick and heavy, so I was forced to sit it out. Not that this was a bad thing, the bottom of my feet could use the healing time. The roads were cleared well enough the next day that I was able to get in another 5 miles. It wasn’t a big week distance wise, but it was bringing me to the close of a month of being shoe free and strictly running in VFFs.
Despite the blisters and all of the miles I’d done over the previous my feet still felt fantastic. I still had to focus on my form somewhat while running, but I was confident that I’d gotten this thing figured out. My new running technique felt natural, it was now a matter of training my body and fully breaking the bad habits that I’d developed over the last 20+ years of running.
I knew I had one last thing I needed to do before I could call myself a barefoot/VFF runner and that was to run a race. So, despite the blisters I signed up to run a 25k road race that Sunday, but that’s a subject for the next post.

Adding this link well after publishing this post (also just put on a previous post), but wish I'd have read this back in August when I started this whole adventure:

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Training in a Bahamian paradise

After struggling through November with a foot injury the beginning of December was spent rebuilding a base and returning to pre-injury status. By the end of the month I’d pretty returned to normal and I was ready to start getting a little more serious. I was scheduled to chaperone our school’s swim team on a trip to the Bahamas at the end of the month. We’d arrive in Nassau on Monday evening, December 28th and return Sunday afternoon, January 3rd. My only major duties were driving the kids to and from practice and just being a general adult presence the rest of the time. This would provide a great opportunity for me to get some good training in.
We arrived too late to get a workout in on Monday, so I was well rested to start my training on Tuesday morning. A couple of days before we left for the Bahamas I found out one of my twitter friends (@sarahstanley - was in the Bahamas and we arranged to meet up that morning for an early run in Paradise.
I met her at her hotel and we went out for a nice 7 mile run. I’d never met her in person and was a little worried that we wouldn’t have much to say to each other. My doubts were quickly laid to rest when I met Sarah. She is very friendly, outgoing and has no problems keeping a conversation going, something I often struggle with. I had a great time running with and wished that I could have run longer or gotten another run in with her, but that was the only run we were able to do. I had to get back to take the kids to practice and she left the next morning.
While the kids were doing their morning swim workout I decided to get my own swim workout in. I’d pretty much decided before the trip that I would do a swim workout in the morning while the kids were swimming and a run workout in the afternoon when they were swimming their second workout. So in the pool I went.
I did 3000 meters while in the pool. My workout consisted of a 200m warm-up, and then intervals. I took a 20second rest between reps and a 30second rest between sets. The workout consisted of: 6x200m, 6x100m, 6x50m, and 8x25m and then a 500m warm down.
After our morning workout we went back to hotel, got a quick breakfast and then hit the beach where everyone did their own thing until time to head to the afternoon practice.
That afternoon, even though I wasn’t going to try running in them until January, I decided to give my VFF’s another try. I put on my Sprints and went out for an easy 2 mile run in them. I was a bit nervous about running in them, but I was feeling good and decided it was worth another try. At the end of 2 miles, I switched into my regular running shoes and went out for another 4 miles. I was trying to do a better job of gradually building the miles in the VFF’s and didn’t want to push any further. My feet and legs felt great, but a little tired and so I called an end to the days run.
I still had some time before the kids finished their workout so I jumped into the pool for another swim. A much shorter workout this time, but got another 1200m in. Started with a 100m warm-up and then 5x200m. Each 200m consisted of 150m at pace, 25m all out sprint and 25m recovery. There was no rest between the 200’s and I finished with a 100m warm-down.
Afterwards we went to dinner which was an adventure on it own and then back to the hotel for a little free time before bed. Most of the dinners we had while we were down there were one adventure after another. I won’t go into detail, but will leave it at not many places are set up to handle big groups and our head swim coach insisted on us sitting together which was a little more than tough for the most of the places we went to handle.
The next morning we got up and headed back to the pool. I got a great 3200m workout and felt fantastic. The swim consisted of a 200m warm-up and then another interval workout. Again I took a 20sec rest between reps and a 30sec rest between sets and 60sec rest after the set of 400’s. The workout was: 2x25m, 2x50m, 2x100m, 2x200m, 2x400m, 2x200m, 2x100m, 2x50m, 2x25m, 2x50m, and 2x100m followed by 200m warm-down. Afterwards we again rushed to breakfast and then hit the beach. It was a tough life, but I wasn’t complaining.
That afternoon I went out for another run. I was a little tight from neglecting to stretch after any of my workouts so far, but otherwise I felt pretty good. There was no soreness in my feet from my VFF run the day before and it was a beautiful day. I really wanted to run in the VFF’s again, but was going to stick to my plan of gradually building into them this time. Besides, this would allow me to put in more miles which meant that I would be able to the road that ran along the water and I’d have a gorgeous backdrop for my run. I managed to get in a nice 9 ¼ mile run along the winding coastal road. The sun was glistening off the water and a cool breeze carried the scent of the sea water and the many flowers blooming along the road. When I got back to the pool I had enough time to get an easy 300m warm-down swim in.
The next day we got up and headed back to the pool. I was still feeling pretty good and upped the distance slightly. The mornings swim would tally up another 3700m. Once again I started with a 200m warm-up and then broke into another set of intervals with the same rest as I’d been doing. The workout consisted of: 8x200m, 8x100m, 8x50m, and 8x25m followed by a 200m warm-down. The kids still had a little left in their workout so I swam an easy 300m to fill the time.
That afternoon it was back out on the roads for another run. I was looking forward to running along the water again. The road was lined with many colorful flowers and had the stunningly blue water in the background. I managed to get in another 8 miles. I would have gotten more, but we were moving to a different part of the island the next morning and would be swimming at a different pool so I decided to take some pictures since it would be my last chance for this part of the island. The run felt great and I managed to get some great pictures.
That evening we again went to dinner as a group, but afterwards, since it was New Years Eve, we went over to Paradise Island and let the kids wander Atlantis and see the fireworks display at midnight. Afterward it was back to the hotel. There was going to be no morning swim, instead we were going to pack up and head to the next hotel.
Early the next morning I got up and wandered over to downtown Nassau to watch some of the tail end of a Junkanoo. Junkanoo is sort of a New Years celebration that starts around 1am and goes until noon. Different groups spend the whole year designing costumes and practicing their dancing for it and then spend the entire night and morning parading around the town competing against each other.
After we got moved over and checked into the new hotel we had free time until the afternoon swim workout. I headed to the beach for an open water swim. I swam out about 150 feet from shore and then turned and swam parallel to it. The water was perfect for a swim, cool enough to keep from over heating, but warm enough to be in for a long swim. The waves were almost non-existent with only a gentle rise and fall in them. I swam for what I guessed to be about ¾ of a mile before turning around and heading back. I confirmed the distance the next day by walking the shore from my start to turn around point and back with my Garmin 305 watch. The distance was about 1.3 miles. What a fantastic way to start the new year!
Shortly after the swim we had to load up the vans and head to the pool for swim practice. While the kids were in the pool I went out for a 8 mile run through the neighborhood. Unfortunately, this was a gated community and I was not able to find many areas where I had a view of the ocean. It was still a beautiful run and the houses were incredible to see. I imagined who some of the celebrities, diplomats, business tycoon, etc might live in each. There were explosions of fiery colors everywhere I went, flowers blossoms lining roads, separating houses, beautifying porches and yards. After the run I found out that one of the houses I had seen belonged to Sean Connery, but I was unsure at that point which it had been.
The next morning my longest swim workout of the week, a solid 4400m. I began with my usual 200m warm-up and then proceeded to do 20x200m with each 200m consisting of (like earlier in the week) 150m at pace, 25m all out, and 25m recovery with no rest during or between the 200s and finished with another 200m warm-down. It had been a good week of swimming but arms were about done, they felt like week old jello that was starting to crack down the middle. But, with only one more short swim left before returning to the frigid NY, I was confident I would be able to finish out the week.
That afternoon I got my final long run in the tropics. I again wandered through the gated community this time for 10 ½ miles. I pretty much covered every street in the neighborhood and got a nice look at Connery residence as I ran by. Just like my arms, my legs were finally feeling the miles, but despite the fatigue they felt great.
I awoke Sunday tired from the week but feeling great. It was slightly depressing knowing that we were leaving the fantastic weather that afternoon and heading back the freezer, but at least we had one more workout before we left. I decided to do both a short swim and run wanting to get one more of each in before we left. The swim was going to be a quick simple 1200m: 200m warm-up, 16x50m with 15seconds rest, and a 200m warm-down.
Once I was done with my swim I again put on my VFF Sprints and headed out on a run. It had been 5 days since my last VFF run, my feet felt great, my legs, though tired, were strong and it seemed like a great way to finish off the week. I started off at an easy 9min pace. My feet were feeling great and I wandered around for 5.25 miles before bring my Bahamian training to an end. Over all I managed to swim over 20,000yds and 54 miles. I did 2 runs in my VFFs and got in plenty of sun and fresh sea air. It was a perfect ending to 2009 and a great beginning to 2010. And, after the week of training I had I was confident that my feet and legs were again ready to try and become a barefoot runner.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Barefoot Running: An Exercise in Stupidity

This post is rather late, it should have been done end of November to beginning of December 2009, but I’ve been procrastinating. Anyway, here it is…

The day after the 2009 Manchester City Marathon I woke up feeling pretty good. My legs were a bit stiff and sore, but I was able to walk normally and the legs felt progressively better as the morning progressed. My normal day after marathon routine was to go for a 2-3 mile easy run and stretch and I determined to stick with this routine. However, my feet were feeling really good and I was itching to give barefoot running another go. Unfortunately, this wasn’t one of my smarter decisions.
I headed out on my run wearing my VFF’s (Vibram Five Fingers) and as expected, even though my legs were feeling pretty good walking, they were a bit sore and tight and made normal running far from easy and almost impossible. Add on to that I was barefoot running, which wasn’t normal for me and I was still trying to learn how to do it correctly, which was basically impossible with my legs as sore as they were. I got through the first mile feeling ok. Muscles were loosening up some, but were still giving me some difficulty. My feet were feeling pretty good at that point, but I started getting some mild top of foot pain shortly thereafter. For the most part the legs didn’t get any better and the feet stayed only a mild discomfort until the 3 mile mark. At this point the pain in my left foot suddenly became sharp. I was only .2 miles from finishing my intended run, but quickly came to a stop and walked the remaining distance.
By the time I got back I could barely walk. I downed some ibuprofen and put my feet in a cold whirlpool. After the whirlpool, my right foot felt great, but my left was only slightly better and I struggled to walk the rest of the day. The next day I awoke and my legs were feeling much better but my left foot only felt slightly better. I could walk, but it was painful. With the injuries that I had to my other foot I found that going for a run in my running shoes usually made them feel slightly better afterwards, so I decided to go for another run, but this time with my regular running shoes.
Somewhere about ½ mile into the run I started feeling confident that this was only going to be a minor problem that I’d quickly get over. Unfortunately, 1 ½ miles later I was in severe pain again and unable to run any further. I limped the remaining mile home and hit the ibuprofen and cold whirlpool again. A couple hours later my foot was significantly swollen and walking was pure torture.
For the next 5 days I avoided running and minimized my walking as much as possible. My foot continued to be very painful and swollen the whole time. I had to work a football game that Saturday and the three hours of lugging gear, walking sidelines and "running" out onto the field for injuries was pure hell. But I made it through the day and spent the rest of the weekend off of my feet.
By the following Monday I hadn’t made much progress and decided to give running one more try. I was only to hobble along at a very slow pace with a pretty good limp, but I made it through 3 miles and then did my post run ibuprofen and cold whirlpool again. After I got out of the whirlpool I noticed it was much easier to walk. I’m sure part of it was from my foot being numb from the cold, but as the day progressed my foot continued to feel better. Buoyed by the success of my run I decided to give it another try the following day and went out for 4 miles which I was able to do with less of a limp and at a faster pace. I followed it up again with ibuprofen and cold whirlpool and again I felt much better and walking was much easier the rest of the day.
Not really sure why running was helping with the recovery, but not caring too much I decided to try running again the following day. With my injuries to the other foot, I’d never tried running more than two days in a row and was a little concerned that doing so could be a bit too much. Stubbornness won out, and I went for the run anyway, but I did compromise and decided to back down the mileage some. I was only going to try 3.2 miles on this run.
I started out feeling good and running at a better pace then the previous two days. I made it through the 1 mile and thought I was going to have a great run because everything was feeling good. Unfortunately that feeling came crashing down within the next 200 yards. My foot suddenly felt like a white hot metal stake had been driven into it and I almost fell to the ground barely able to stand on it. This was by far the worst it had felt and I turned and slowly limped back.
By the time I got back the foot significantly more swelling than it had the previous week. I again took ibuprofen, this time doubling the dose, and stuck it in a cold whirlpool. I knew that I'd really screwed up this time and due to the type of pain and location, middle of second metatarsal, I was afraid that I'd developed a fracture. I struggled to walk and was seriously considering crutches and a visit to the doctor for x-rays.
As is typical for me I skipped doctor, x-rays and crutches. The next couple of days I struggled so bad to get around campus during the day that a severe limp would have been an improvement. I stayed off of my feet at night. The following week I was still limping around campus but foot was very slowly getting slightly less painful. I waited 7 days from my last run before trying again.
On the Wednesday of the following week I stumbled out onto the road again. Anyone that saw me must have thought I’d been bedridden for the last 40 years and was just trying to run for the first time. To say it was ugly would have raised about 100 rungs on the ladder above where it belonged. But I managed to hobble through 2 miles at about a 15 min/mile pace. I iced, downed my ibuprofen and hoped for the best.
The improvement was very minimal and may have even been my imagination, but I felt like I was walking ‘better’ the rest of the day. I took the following day off and tried again on Friday. It still wasn’t a pretty run but I felt that I’d moved up just short of Frankenstein taking his first steps. Well, his first steps across a bed of nails anyway, but an improvement. I repeated the same 2 miles from the last run and again iced and ibuprofened afterwards. The remainder of the day I walked like a zombie with broken feet, but I was getting better.
I refrained from running again until the following Monday when I repeated my last 2 runs. This time I was actually hobbling along at about a 10 min/mi pace and feeling almost human again. I ended up doing 2 more similar runs, one on Wednesday and another on Saturday, with a nice 30 mile bike ride in between. I was feeling pretty good on my final run of the week, but kept it to only 3 miles and a 9min pace. I was feeling ready to try running ‘normal’ again.
The following week my feet were feeling good and I slowly started a return to my regular running. I built the distance and pace gradually over next couple of weeks. I vowed to wait until January or later before giving barefoot running another try. I still fully believed that forefoot/barefoot running was the correct way to do it, but I was starting to have my doubts that I would ever be able to do it. I had years of running incorrectly which had caused atrophy of bone, muscle, tendon, ligaments, etc from lack of use that I wasn’t sure at my age if I could overcome it all, but I wasn’t done trying.

Adding this link well after publishing this post, but wish I'd have read this back in August when I started this whole adventure: