Monday, October 25, 2010

They're Just Shoes...

They're just shoes: minimalist shoes, barefoot shoes, toe shoes, gorilla feet, whatever, they're still just shoes. For something so simple they've taken me on a wild journey over the last 14 months. It was a journey that truly started about 2 months prior to my first sticking toes in them. They transformed me as a runner, an athlete, an athletic trainer, a biomechanist and just as a person in general.

The journey started with a simple discussion on twitter where I was talking about the benefits of orthotics and another person argued that they were actually bad for you. His argument claimed the muscles of the feet, if
 allowed to strengthen naturally would better do the job. We went back and forth, citing sources and examples, neither giving in. But the wheels in mind had started to turn.

I started nosing around on the internet and then read the book “Born to Run” that had been recommended to me by same person who had put me on this path. The more I read, the more I researched, the more I believed. Soon, I was ready to give “barefoot” running a try myself.

I started with a couple short runs barefoot around the grass athletic fields at the school I work for. I loved it! I loved the feel of the grass on my feet, the freedom of my toes, and even loved the acorns I stepped on, despite the pain from the last. I was hooked and couldn’t wait to get my first pair of Vibrams and hit the road with them.

By the end of August, 2009, I had purchased a couple pairs of Vibrams, one pair of Sprints and one pair of
 KSO’s. I started with a couple cautious, short runs, which caused some soreness in my Achilles and feet, but felt good enough I pushed for more.

This turned out to be a wrong choice and I found myself suffering back to back foot injuries from pushing too hard, too fast. My feet swelled and I could barely walk. Things had gone terribly wrong, but I was still convinced this was the right path.

I temporarily gave up running in Vibrams and gave my feet a chance to fully heal. I was wearing the Vibrams daily, just wasn’t running in them. After about three weeks of running healthily in running shoes I started back into the Vibrams. This time I was going to be very slow about it and build gradually. No more than two runs a week and no more than three miles. I was determined to stick to this plan until ALL discomfort running in them fully dissipated.

Somewhere in the following weeks I found the correct form, my feet and lower legs the strength they needed and things took off. The distances started growing and I was running in nothing but my Vibrams. I was soon up to 8 miles, 10 miles, 13 miles, 15miles... My legs and feet felt great.

I started racing in them. First a 25k, then a slight step back to a half marathon, then a full. Tri season hit and I wore them for a sprint, an olympic, a half iron and finally for Ironman.

There was no looking back, I was hooked and I hadn't felt this good in years. My running form had transformed. It wasn't fully ingrained in me but it was getting there. When fatigued or running on soft surfaces I found that if I didn't pay attention I would revert to a heel strike, but this was happening less and less.

Everything I thought I'd learned over the years about correct running mechanics had proven wrong or at least not fully developed. My approach to working with my athletes has changed. This has opened up new avenues for injury rehab and prevention. I'm not counselling my athletes out of shoes, but I'm adjusting their mechanics to correct for problems they are having. I'm having greater success with treating and rehabilitating shin splints, ankle instability, lower leg muscle tightness and more. My running is improving again and I feel rejuevenated and I look at running and runners in a different light. My custom orthotics and heavy motion control running shoes are gone. I no longer fit in any of my old shoes and I even had to move a size up in the Vibrams when I purchased new ones last week, the muscles in my feet have developed that much.

They may be just shoes, but they have made all the difference...

Thursday, October 21, 2010

A Rookie Mistake

Saturday, May 15th was a beautiful day. The sun was shining, sky was blue, air was warm and full of the scent of freshly cut grass and wild flowers and I had time for a ride. I wasn't going to be able to get in as long a ride as I would have liked, but a short ride is better than no ride. So, I pumped up my tires, changed my clothes, hopped on my bike and off I went.

I took off on a challenging 40 mile loop that I done many times. The challenge was not in the distance but in the number and size of the hills. On this route there was almost no such thing as flat. A number of the hills were some of the toughest I'd ever ridden. It is great training for Ironman Lake Placid because there is nothing on that course that can match a couple of the hills.

I was about midway through the ride when BAM! I blew my rear tire. This caught me as a shock because despite all of the riding I do it had been years since I'd flatted. I'm always very good at making sure I replace tires and tubes regularly before they get too many miles on them. I don't know whether that is part of why it had been so long or whether it was blind luck that I'd rode thousands of miles since my last flat.
Anyway, here I was 20 miles out on my ride, just having started my turn back and I had a flat. No big deal. I popped my rear wheel off, opened my bike bag, pulled out my multi-tool and slid off the nothing… My tire levers, which were supposed to be on the side of the tool, weren't there. I dug back into my bag, pulled everything out and still nothing. I searched the ground around me hoping I had dropped them and didn't see them. I frantically researched through everything, and still nothing.

Now I started to get concerned. How was I going to fix a flat without tire levers? And, where were mine? I sat there in the grass pondering what to do and turning my wheel hoping it would give an idea.

About midway through the first turn of the wheel I realized getting tire off was my smaller problem, I had a huge hole in my tire. It looked like the tire had literally disintegrated on me. As I looked further I found a second smaller hole. Even if I got tire off and repaired or replaced the tube it wouldn't matter. I would only be able to go a very short distance before the tire would blow again.

I started to realize I may have to do what I'd never done before, call to be picked up. After literally thousands of miles running and cycling I've always made it back in on my own. Distances may have been shortened and creativity pressed, but always I did it. But now it was starting to look like the streak was at an end. What was I to do? I started thinking about who might be around and able to help me.

While sitting there an idea came to me, it might render tube unrepairable, but I might be able to pry tire off with my keys. I also had a patch kit and could try and use patches to repair tire enough to get me home. I wasn't sure idea would work due to size of hole and the fact that the rest of the tire looked like it could disintegrate at any second, but it was worth a try.

Prying the tire off with keys wasn't that bad. I got it off almost as quickly as with tire levers. I quickly took tire fully off of wheel, stripped the tube out of it (which I stuck in jersey pocket so I wouldn't forget it) and set about patching the tire. I put 1 patch over the smaller cut and 4 over the big hole and another patch inside the hole. For a little extra protection incase patches didn't work, I folded up a $1 bill and stuck it on inside of tire covering hole.
Patching done, I put tire back on wheel, put in a new tube and finished mounting tire. I slowly and cautiously inflated tube with my CO2 checking carefully for leaks and signs of a problem. Once tire was fully inflated I put wheel back on bike, packed my tools and cautiously got back on my bike.

I rode slowly and tentatively at first and with each mile got a little more confident that my patch job would hold. As my confidence grew my pace quickened. I knew that even if patch held another part of tire could give way and leave me stranded, but I decided to make the most of whatever ride I may have left. As it turned out patch job and tire held the rest of the way home, almost 20 miles. In fact the patch was the strongest part of tire by the time I finished. In the remaining miles most of the remaining rubber bubbled up and was ready to go.

Over the course of the remaining miles I was slowly able to figure out what had happened. The previous season I had bought new wheels for the bike. The tires on the old wheels were due to be replaced, but since I took them off of the bike and put on the new ones I saw no reason to spend the money on them. Then, at the end of the season, I put the old wheels back on, to save wear and tear on the new ones if I did any riding over the winter. I never took the bike out all winter and over the 5 months I was off of the bike I forgot about changing the wheels back. When I started riding again, I assumed that it was on the fairly new tires and not the old shot ones. The fact that I had got any rides in without flatting to that point was actually pretty incredible.

As for the missing tire tools, the previous week I had used them to change the tubes on my girl friends bike. I wasn’t positive until I got home, but I realized that I must have left them on my coffee table after I was done, a simply, but almost costly mistake.

As far as mistakes go, the two I had made were rather simple, but both were something that I have enough experience with that should never have happened. I know to make sure that I do proper and regular maintenance on my bike and to check it before every ride. I know to replace worn part before they become a problem. I also know that I should always put my tools back when I’m done and that I should have everything I need with me when I go out on a ride, especially when I’m going solo. Despite this, I still found myself out in the middle of nowhere, and in danger of not being able to get back in. Fortunately, experience and a little ingenuity got me home, but it was a nice reminder to never just take things for granted and to make sure everything is set before heading out on a ride.