I just posted a short discourse on running and smiling on my author page. Let me know what you think.
I’m running 60K this fall. You can vote on how I will achieve that.
I posted about National Running Day on my writing blog. Find out what typical male thing I am thinking of doing to get some extra mileage in.
A good friend of mine asked me about my running and why I changed to minimalist. Big mistake. She had to sit through my bottom to top lecture. I will take her at her word that she thought it was a great summary. The real test will be if she converts this spring when she starts running again.
The more I research, the more I am convinced that we are natural distance runners. I am also convinced that our bodies are built to work hard. We benefit from constant motion and being productive. So here is my view on why our bodies are so well adapted to distance running. A lot of what I am saying has been investigated and codified by Dan Leiberman at Harvard. I won’t go into gory detail, but I’ll hit the hotspots so you know what I’m talking about. I will talk about each of these in terms of the evolutionary benefit they provide us as runners.
1) The Covering – Our skin has pores and not much hair. No other mammals have the extensive pore structure that we have. The benefit is that our bodies can cool down while we exert. Quadrupeds and other bipeds don’t have pores. They pant to cool down. That means they can’t exert themselves for a long time before they overheat.
2) The Tootsies – We have short toes. You can’t run with long toes. Period. Monkeys have long toes.
3) Sensitive Feet - There is a huge amount of nerve endings in our feet. The densest in our whole body. That is why a smart man gives his wife or significant other a foot massage. It relaxes the whole body. It also provides a high degree of proprioception, or sensitivity. When we walk or run barefoot all those nerve endings tell us just how to adjust our bodies so that we have the most natural gate. Shoes cover all that up. We ran for millions of years before shoes on all kinds of terrain and in all kinds of weather. Just saying.
4) Arch Friends – The arch of the foot is a masterpiece of evolutionary engineering. It is also a massive spring to absorb shock. Funny thing is that it only does that when we run with a natural foot strike. Meaning fore or mid foot, not on the heel. Other primates have flat feet. And they don’t run distances.
5) God of the Leg – Our Achillies tendon is another shock absorber. No other primate has one in their leg. Ours allows for a large amount of shock to be dissipated if you keep your knees bent and use a natural stride.
6) Nice Ass – Don’t get me wrong. Our leg muscles all play in running. Go run some hills and tell me how your Quads feel. What is most interesting along the legs is that glutes. They are purely running muscles. I now know why it is easy to find some nice buns to follow in every race I have run. Comparing to primates again, have you ever seen a chimp or gorilla with a big booty? Nope. They don’t run distance. We do. We get the booty award.
7) Breathe Baby – More than anything we are the only biped or quadruped who can breath in a ratio different than our stride. All other running animals stretch and compress (think of a big cat running). That motion allows them to breath in and out. They have no muscles around their lungs to promote a big inhale and exhale during exertion. We have a powerful diaphragm that allows us to breath and take multiple steps. That happens when you run. Most people take two or three steps with each inhale and exhale. The real benefit is that it allows oxygen replenishment and respiration over a long period of time and at many different gates.
8) Open the Gate – We have a continuously variable gate control. That means we can adjust our rate of step to just about any rate from a dead stop to our personal fastest rate. Other mammals are stuck with four gates. When a horse moves from a trot to a gallop, they have just those speeds. Yeah the gallop has a little play in it, but they have about four speeds and that is it. If you are a running animal, being able to finely adjust your gate to the terrain or the prey you are tracking gives you a huge advantage in efficiency over long distance.
9) Knuckle Draggers – Well, we aren’t knuckle draggers. Other primates are. That is because we have a tendon in the back of our neck that goes up through the base of the skull. It keep our head erect and shoulders back while we run. Only running animals have the tendon. If you look at a chimp run, they lean forward and use their hands to keep from falling over as they skuttle for the short distances that they can run. We run erect (go ahead, make the jokes!).
10) Art and Science – There is a large body of research that says we think better when we are in motion. It is a basic survival trait for humans who first ventured out of the trees and on to the hard packed and rocky surface of the savannah. We had to be very aware so that we could find food or not be food. There is more to it than that.
We were barefoot and weaponless. There were many predators out there, so why did we dominate? We were bipedal for at least two million years before we invented tools and weapons. How did we feed our big brains which take 20-30% of our energy? We needed meat and fat from big game. We scavenged a lot, but we also learned how to hunt in a very unique way.
We evolved to be persistence hunters. That means we ran our prey to death. We sweat through pores and run at a variety of gates with ease over long distance. We hunted the big game at the hottest part of the day and made them keep running. They couldn’t cool down because they can’t pant and run at the same time, so after a few hours they overheated and were either easy to club to death or just fell over. Persistence hunting is very effective. In the 60′s there were still hunters in Africa who practiced persistence hunting. Four out of five hunts resulted in game being caught at the end of the run. That is much more effective than spears or arrows. What is it about persistence hunting that makes us what we are today?
Persistence hunting required developing a skill for speculative tracking. The ability to envision what the animal would do when there were no signs on the trail. That speculative tracking helped develop our imagination. Tracking was a learned skill and hunters taught other hunters the techniques for following different kinds of prey. It was the first use of the scientific method, albeit elementary. From that sharing of knowledge came the ability to understand how the beast would react while being chased. Speculative tracking is the ability to put your mind into the head of the beast and to feel where it had gone. In a sense, we learned to think strategically. It is all because we were able to run long distances. It is in our genetic code and in every element of our physical being.
Among all the creative activities we developed because we learned to be speculative, the most wonderful is love. So when I say I love running, I really mean it. Without running there would be no love.
Get out there. Screw the weather. Screw the excuses. One foot in front of the other. Run 5 feet or 50 miles. Get in contact with what you really are – a running hunter. The most awesome predator that has ever lived on this planet.
Run Free. Dig Deep.
Today, I am RUNNER! Yes, I have been posting this series of columns on running for about a year, but until this weekend, I was working to regain my status using a minimalist style. I am there.
Just a year ago I read Born to Run by Chirstopher McDougall and decided to give minimalist running a try. Those of you who have followed and read know that making that change after 40 years running in technical shoes is not a simple adjustment. Compounding that was my own impatience at a few points along the way.
It has been a step function of progress with quick growth followed by plateaus of stabilization. I have discovered many things about style and technique as well as myself over this past year. More than that I have made some great virtual friends who share the running passion and who have offered encouragement and incentive. Many of them don’t even know it, but that is how those things work.
So, why today? Why this point in time to declare that I am a runner?
It is the day after the day after. You all know what I mean. The real pain of a long run isn’t felt until the day after the day after. This Saturday, October 13, I ran the ING Hartford Marathon.
It was the longest run I’ve made in minimalist style by almost a factor of two. The timing of the race didn’t allow me to use a typical prep schedule. I gave my physical conditioning in minimalist precedence over the mileage and concentrated on staying healthy. To compensate the lack of mileage I did more hill and interval work more frequently.
The morning of the race was cold – about 38F at the start. I dress for the “second mile”, so I had my shorts, a compression top and a long sleeve jersey and my minimalist shoes. Because of an ill timed blister I couldn’t wear my Luna Sandals, so I opted for a pair of NB Minimus shoes that I have been using on trail runs. Use shoes that you have run in even if they aren’t the perfect match for the course. It took a bit more than the second mile to warm up, but the day was sunny and not much wind to speak of.
It is a beautiful course. Starting in downtown in a large park we set off along a series of pathways along the Hartford River. Rolling hills provided views of the river, oarsmen, trees turning color in the early fall, and the tall buildings of Hartford. It would have been a perfect venue for a stroll, but me and the 17,000 other runners weren’t in a stroll kind of mood.
Breaking out of the city we spent the majority of the race running through the surrounding residential area of Hartford. Streets lined with tall trees and a relatively flat grade. It was a wonderful place to be as the air warmed up. I felt good as I approached the turnaround at mile 15 or so. But, having done a couple of marathons before, I knew the real challenge was at mile 20 and beyond.
I loved watching the elite runners heading past us before I hit the turnaround. It was in their eyes. None of them were looking around, just down the road at their goal. The focus and natural movement was awe inspiring. I will never be fast, but I want to be that smooth.
At mile twenty I felt the depression start to set in. I had been drinking at must about every water station and munching a Cliff bar and some raisins as I ran to help payback the 2860 calories my app said I burnt. I started to doubt myself. My feet were feeling the pain. I was in uncharted territory. Those puppies had only been subjected to 15 miles at the most during my regeneration as a runner. Concentrating on form was taking all the mental energy I had. Well, not really. A lot of my mind was focused on living inside the pain. Not my legs but my feet. Remember, minimalist shoes offer no cushion and I hadn’t had time to build up the stamina.
When I hit mile 22 I had to stop while I opened up a ziplock baggie with raisins in it. My fingers were so cold and stiff they couldn’t grip the plastic while I ran. Even standing I spent 20 seconds or so trying to get the damn thing open. I started to worry that I’d freeze up. Finally, a clump in my mouth and a second in my hand I zipped it up, tucked it in my waistband and started up again, another cup of water to help.
And it felt okay.
Mile 24 and I knew I was home. I was letting the aches and pains of my body flow through me, remembering the words of Scott Jurek – “Dig Deep”. He inscribed those words into my copy of Eat & Run. I also knew that mile 25 held the last climb of the race. A curving path up an entry ramp then over an overpass. It gains about 75 feet in a half mile or so. The perfect thing to do after 25 miles! I hit the climb with a smile on my face. I felt enough reserve to be able to power up the beast and enter the downtown area with less than a mile left powered by the cheers of the crowd.
At the end there is a sharp left turn to reveal the arch tower that is a monument of Hartford. The race finishes under the beauty and power of those arches. Legs enriched by the sight of the end find strength and move to the finish.
Water, food and some beer from Harpoon brewery made the end of the race comfortable, although I was stiff as hell. Then a long drive back home. a warm shower, and spending some time with the family.
That evening I paid attention to the aches and pains. Hydrating continued as well as munching on fruits. Dinner was pizza and beer, which is always on my training table.
Sunday found me with soar ankles and feet. That I kind of expected, but I also had a little tenderness in my knees. I didn’t worry about it, but didn’t push it either.
Then I noticed that I could walk up and down stairs without any tightness in my thighs. In previous marathons the thighs had taken a toll and I had to walk down stairs backwards as a result. I kept in motion the whole day. Fish for dinner after a smoothie for lunch and an afternoon of working in the yard and garage.
Now, here I am on Monday morning and I feel normal. I have no real pain in my legs or feet. I am amazed. I had almost dreaded getting up this morning because the day after the day after is always a deeper lingering pain. None. Nada. I walked down the stairs to my home office and a cup of coffee and I am normal.
It is the minimal style. It is body friendly. I know that now. And that is after running 26 miles in 3:56:30 – my second best ever – without the mileage I really should have logged. It tells me that this was the right choice to make and I am no longer wondering if there is a gottcha at the end of the minimalist conversion. Well, there is. The gottcha is the you want to run longer than 26.2!
I have completed a full marathon, running in minimalist form for the duration. I didn’t just survive, I ran. I finished in a time I never expected. Yes, the transition is complete.
Today I am a Runner! Run Free. Dig Deep
I’ve been trying out some new running tools and want to give you an update. I’ll start with shoes/sandals and go into some other areas in future posts.
I’m not getting paid for any promotions here and these have all been purchased with money from my own pocket. That doesn’t mean I wouldn’t be happy to get some product to test, but I just wanted you to know. Because of that, I have not made an exhaustive sampling of products, but am telling you about what is or isn’t working for me.
I’ve been wearing Luna Sandals for over 9 months now. They are my go-to running footwear.
The photo flash washes out the deep color, but you can see how the suede conforms to your foot after a while. I have also worn them as regular sandals through the summer. Once you get the tension on the straps set right they become second nature on your feet. I was never much of a sandal wearer because the always seemed so bulky and uncomfortable. These are great.
I use the ATS strap version. My older pair has the elasticized straps, which are nice, but ATS seem to stay in place a bit better. Over time I’ve trimmed them down to be a bit more custom to my foot. I wear an 8D in regular shoes and these are size 8, so they fit to size for men’s shoes.
I have several hundred miles logged on these (probably 400 or more) and the soles and straps don’t show any major wear. Yes, they are wearing, but I can easily see another 500+ miles in them. That is a lot longer than I ever got with regular running shoes. Since minimalist design doesn’t have cushioning to worry about, you can run the shoes until they literally wear out.
I would suggest anyone wanting to go minimal get a pair of sandals (there are a number of good options out there). They take a little getting used to, but tie back to man’s first effort at foot covering, so our feet actually feel normal in them. I love not having my toes rub against a shoe box. The downside is that you will build up a callous where the strap goes between your toes. In running, there is always a price to pay.
You will also find that every little pebble or sharp edge is transferred to your foot bottom. That is important because it is that sensitivity that immediately makes you run lighter. Listen to your body and adjust your knee bend and cadence and stride and you will feel an immediate change in how the foot fall feels. THAT is the key difference between sandals and running shoes. The amount of dampening in sandals is almost nothing. That encourages good form.
I have started to run some more trails. Around here they are strewn with sharp edged rocks and boulders or all shapes and sizes. I attribute it to this area having been at the tail end of ice age glaciers. We have a lot of stones and rocks! My sandals tend to shift a little too much on these ankle twisting routes, so I looked around for some minimalist, trail specific shoes.
The New Balance Minimus10′s came to the top of the list when I ran in them at Road Runner Sports. They are light, have a toe box that was comfortable for me and a slight heel lift (4mm). For some reason I wanted a bit of a heel in my trail shoes.
After logging my first trail in them as part of a 9 mile run, I was quite happy. I still felt the rocks and stones, but they were a bit dampened compared to sandals. It is a slight difference, but there is a difference. You want to have the feel. I also noticed that after any run I did in these, my achilles tendons felt pretty normal. That is the last physical adjustment my feet and legs are making. The 4mm lift seems to make it easier. They also help grip the rocks and wet areas nicely.
One note. I do find that I run about 15-25 seconds faster per mile in these compared to sandals. I’ve concentrated on my form to make sure I’m still on. It must be the dampening. I’ll see how that plays out over time as I start to do more speed work in sandals.
One of my first minimal shoes were from Stem Footwear. They have since changed their name to Leming Footwear, but the shoes are the same. These are not running shoes, per se, but I have logged running miles in them. They are very comfortable walking and general footwear shoes. They look good, wear nicely and just feel easy. The soles are very responsive and flexible, so they will naturally help you strengthen your feet.
The Lemings are made of natural fibers with a flexible sole. You can throw them in the wash (air dry, do not put in the dryer) and it refreshes them. The insides are nice enough to wear without socks although I wear socks for longer runs. For trail runs they don’t give much buffer. They are on par with the sandals for road feel. Maybe when my feet have adapted more to that experience I’ll be able to use these. They are also zero lift, so absolute minimal.
I’ve used running socks for a long time. I like socks that are just at ankle height, but that is personal preference. Since I transitioned to minimal, I’ve wanted less wrapping on my feet and have found that regular socks are too constricting in the toes. I used to crave the containment, but no longer.
When I do wear socks for distance running I wear ToeSox. It took me a little while to get good at putting them on. It is easier than putting on FiveFingers! The great thing is they can be worn with shoes or sandals. Admittedly, walking around in them while wearing sandals does look a little like you should be retired in Florida. They do a great job of adding warmth on cool days and for added protection on more wet venues. I like the lightweight ones. They make a series with a non-slip sole that are great for when I do TRX, P90x or yoga strength training.
Isn’t this a much better photo than my feet in a pair? There are several manufacturers of these type of socks. I have only tried ToeSox and liked them from the start, so haven’t felt the need to experiment.
So there you have it. I’ll get into hydration options and phone apps I can’t live without in the next couple of posts.
The bottom line is that anything you use should enhance your running experience. These are what have made it fun for me. Always listen to your feet and legs, not what is in the popular press. It really is all about the form, not the footwear.
Until then, Dig Deep, Run Free, Have Fun!
Running in natural, barefoot style is a technique. One that we start out with, but lose because of the shoes we wear. I’ll reiterate what I have said in several posts – it is not about the shoes, it is about the form. I’ve never felt so comfortable running as I do with this style. I’m not fast, yet, but I am getting smooth and easy. That alone is well worth the ticket of admission. It’s a ticket that has cost me 10 months of progress at a steady, but slow rate. Kind of cool to see the light at the end of the tunnel knowing that it just means I’ll have more lights to chase.
As part of my transition, I have started to run a lot more trails for training. In the New England area in which I live there are some nice, if not long, trails, so I can get to some offroad work within 2-6 miles. All of them are hilly with a lot of technical climbing and decents. Everything from fallen trees, loose rocks, boulders, streams, roots, and jagged stones line the trails making for an interesting run.
The shot is a little shakey, but I was running when I took it.
Here’s what I have learned about running trails in minimal fashion. It is different and doesn’t feel “normal” if you’ve been running in modern shoes. Like so many other aspects of natural running, I’ve experimented to see where things work best. As a writer, I am a natural observer and I’ve turned that eye toward the technique of running. I listen to the feedback of my body and go with the motion that feels most natural and smooth.
Running on a trail in natural fashion is slightly different than running on the road. It requires simple adjustments to the road style, but those small changes are important.
1) It’s in the hips. There is a natural swing in your hips when you run naturally. Barefoot Ted-Bob says it’s like a model walking down the runway, just not that exaggerated. Running on trails, especially on the downhill section, requires a slight increase in the hip motion. It may be that the motion helps smooth out the uneven terrain’s impact on the upper body. I’ll let physiologists figure it out, all I know is adding that slightly greater sway of my hips not only made it more comfortable, but gave me a greater sense of control over the ground, whether uphill, flat of downhill.
2) A small step for man. I was running along a pretty rocky trail feeling like I was being worked over by the rocks and other obstacles. Then I remembered something Caballo Blanco said about running trails. He told Chris McDougall that if you see a rock and think it will take you two steps to cover it, then take three.
It’s not always rocks or trees you have to run over.
I started to follow that advice. Instead of stretching out and trying to step past the obstacle, I shortened my stride and took a couple of quick steps over it.
It changed the whole experience. It added more control back into my running. Sure, the first time felt a bit odd, but that is because I had become conditioned to hurdling obstacles, not running them. Whether it was a stream or a log or a deer skeleton, I quickstepped it and was able to keep my form consistent and smooth. It’s all about smooth.
The short step approach is now engrained in my road running too. When I hit a rough patch or pothole in the road, I quick step it and keep gliding on by. What a simple concept to keep you in form in all conditions.
3) Going down. The technique for decending is similar except you shorten the stride as well as increasing your cadence. Here’s the theory that seems to make sense. Stand on a flat surface and mentally trace a circle on the ground that is centered on the midpoint of your body (like the point between your ankles) where the diameter is the width of your shoulders, you have outlined the effective sweet spot for you center of gravity. If your center stays inside that circle, you are stable. Move it outside and you can be more easily toppled. That is what wrestling taught me in high school.
Going downhill makes that circle an oval that is still as wide as your shoulders, but more narrow front to back. To stay within that sweet spot you have to shorten your stride. To keep up with gravity, you have to increase your cadence. You now have to match this to technique #2 and you can start to float downhills.
I used to take long, crashing strides downhill and with each one I tore up the ground. pummelled my body and offered the gods of running my ankles as an injury. Using the short step technique I do not feel any threat to my ankles and my motion is continuous and still smooth. It’s all about smooth.
4) Uphill. The motion uphill is still the same as on the road, with the added quick step around obstacles. Climbing has been the biggest revelation for me in minimal form. I don’t jump up hill like I did in raised heel shoes, I scissor uphill. It is the one time that I don’t lift my knees as high as I do on other inclines. By keeping the knees kind of at the same angle, I do a slight kick out of my feet and meet the incline. I don’t jump up and land on the incline. By doing this I stay within the center of gravity oval, which now I am running in the front side of. It also makes the quick step over trail junk much easier to transition in and out of. And guess what? It keeps it smooth.
5) Look where you’re going. When you run, you should be looking about 30 feet in front of you. That means you aren’t looking at all the things you want to avoid. Even around a turn, you should scope it out as you approach and then look up and around the corner to see where you are going to go.
Trust me on this. Your mind remembers the things you just saw as you approach them. It will go exactly where you have been looking.
THIS IS IMPORTANT
You will run wherever you are looking. If you see a rock you want to avoid then let your eyes map the path around it as you look up the road. Magically, because your brain is so much sharper than you give it credit for, you will avoid the rock and run exactly where you imagined you should. You look at the branch you want to avoid and you will step right on it.
I learned this in bike racing. You will follow the path your eyes lay out for you. It really is that simple. It takes just a little practice, because you have to learn to trust your own perception, but once you learn it (which take a minute or two) you will be amazed at how the route you choose is always optimal.
6) Thumbs up and Knees up. As I’ve preached all along, you need to continue to run with your thumbs resting atop a loosely closed fist. That assures you good upper body posture. Keep raising your knees, even when you quick step. It sets your feet up for the landing that is most natural for you.
There you have it. I’ve seen people running trails in all kinds of shoes and they can all benefit from this form. Try it. And let me know how it works for you.
Run Free. Run Smooth. Dig Deep.
I’ve been thinking about this next challenge for a while and decided it was time to put it out there and commit. Let me get right to the point.
On June 23, 2013 I will turn 60. That day I will run 60 miles in celebration of life in general. I am calling the event 60 on 60. My planning is still in its infancy, but I have about 11 months to go and I will need most of that to get ready.
Here are the weapons of choice. They may be modified and updated as time goes on, but these are the go to items.
There are a number of reasons, but first is that I want to run an ultramarathon next year. It has been part of my goal ever since I transitioned to minimalist style. I’ve run two marathons and have another planned in October of this year. After reading so much about the human as distance runner, I decided that I wanted to see just how far I can go. It is as much about curiosity as it is about running. Curiosity about the pain and running through it.
The second reason is that I want to give something back. I’ve never been big at running for donations, although I often contribute to those who do so. It is time to change that. I will be doing this on behalf of The Hole in the Wall Gang. This organization was started by Paul Newman and is dedicated to giving kids with debilitating and life threatening diseases some time to just be kids. I can’t think of a better way to celebrate my ability to run than to support helping kids have fun.
Why a Year Away?
I has taken me about 9 months to get to a feel of comfort in minimalist form. Not just the running form, but the muscles relaxed and adapted so that I can run in the double digits in comfort. Remember, I’ve been running since 1967 when I was a freshman in high school. For those first years it was in flats and basketball shoes, then I converted to elevated, heel cushioned, high tech shoes and ran in those for 30+ years. My muscles need time to adapt and I figure it will take about another 9 months to really get there. Once that happens, I’ll be staged to make the big run.
What do you need from us?
See how I cleverly got you volunteered! Sure, I would definitely appreciate any donations to the cause. I am working with the Hole in the Wall organization to set up a website. Since it is a year away, I’ll be reminding people more after the new tax year, but I wanted to put a stake in the ground now.
Donations are only part of it.
I want you to run with me. Make it a virtual run. I’ve started to outline some rules and will formalize them and post them as part of this blog. Here are some of the key rules for right now:
1) Have Fun. This is not a workout or a race. The run on this day can be as fast as you want, but has to be done with a light heart and a smile. I want you all to celebrate the fact that you can run. Remember what it was like to be a kid and just take off and have fun? Do something unusual. Drag your kids along with you and re-discover how to have fun with them. Exercise, but enjoy it.
2) Keep to the Numbers. 6-23 is my birth date. All of your runs should be a distance that is related to 6, 2,or 3. You can run 6 miles, .2 miles, .3 kilometers, 300 feet, or 18 miles (3 times 6). Plot it out. Try something new. Make it as hard or easy as you want, but keep rule #1 in play at all times.
3) Carpe Diem. The weather in New England can be pretty fickle that time of year. I will run the 60 miles in one 24 hour day, but it may not actually be on 6/23 because of weather. I will finalize the day a week or so ahead of the run. I’m looking for lower heat and humidity. This is not part of an organized run, so I have the luxury of being able to adjust as needed. It would be great if you could all hit your run on the same day, but I understand how life can be. You have plus or minus 1 week to be able to meet your commitment. I am going to set up a chart for you to register in and we can track the number of miles that get run that day.
4) Test Yourself. I am realizing that our bodies can take a lot more than we think. There are some trains of thought that think we lose health benefits if we don’t task ourselves. We evolved to work hard. It was all survival. That work included distance running. Use this as a chance to do something you haven’t tried to do. I’m not asking anyone to do go off the deep end. Have a serious look inside and set a goal that might be a stretch for you. Keep it to yourself or broadcast it here, but find your inner runner. BUT, have fun while you do it. I’d rather you back off and enjoy than stretch and hate every step.
5) Beer. Yes, beer is good food and in keeping with the celebratory mode I will drink a six pack during the run. It will have good carbs and the alcohol will burn off in a few minutes of running. I’ll probably need the anesthetic effect by mile 40 anyway!
More to Come
I have a number of tasks and todo’s that I am working on. A good friend has offered to help me come up with a logo. I’ll use that to create badges for your web pages if you commit to the fun run.
In the town I live, there are a number of loops I will run. There are 3, 6 and 18 miles versions, and some others that I will have to manage. I’m not going to be anal about the exact mileage of a loop, but they will be close to the 2, 3, 6 format. I may throw in some trails, but most of my routes are on road surfaces. My home will be the anchor so I can eat and refresh between loops.
Web pages, twitter accounts, FB pages. All of that will be coming. It’s just me doing this, which is how I want it, but it will take a while. I do have a day job and I need to keep u with my writing.
Speaking of writing. One of the reasons I am making this announcement now is that I signed up with Booktrope to publish my current book, SYN:FIN, and its follow on novel, that is in first edit. Booktrope focuses on indie authors and has developed a unique business model that will be the future of publication. I am honored and excited about the opportunity to be part of the Booktrope team.
When I thought of doing this run I told myself that if I got the contract with Booktrope, then I would make the announcement. Well, I can’t back out now. That is also one go the other reasons for making the announcement now. There is no backing out.
Going forward this journal will still cover my ongoing transition and discovery. I will also add updates on the 60 on 60.
Thanks, in advance, for your fantastic support and commitment.
Run always! Run free!
On Sunday I gave myself a birthday present. I turned 59 on the 23rd and ran the Fairfield Half Marathon on the 24th. It is a race I’ve run several times in the past, but this was a milestone run for me. It was the first time I’ve run it in minimalist style.
A year ago a 10+ mile run was not a big deal. I was putting those out on a regular basis all through the summer. Then in late fall I started the transition to minimal style and my mileage and milestones all changed drastically. Back in May I hit a plateau where I felt my form was good and I was going to slowly add miles. The form has stayed and miles have been added. It has not been without pain and adjustment. It has been enlightening and exhilarating.
Well, first off, my times aren’t that much different. I went back to the records and in 2002, 10 years ago, I ran Fairfield in 1:52:28. My personal best was somewhere around 1:51, but I can’t remember where I ran that. I know, I’m not much of a record keeper for running. As you can tell, world class does not describe my times.
This year I finished in 1:54:52, 968 out of 3522 and #30 in my age group. And I ran it in my Luna Sandals
BTW, my feet aren’t purple, but I couldn’t find a place where the light was decent for the shot.
NOTE: The right sandal is a little bigger. I was trimming them down for a more custom fit and screwed up the the right one. Luna sold me a separate sandal and I am waiting for the imprint to finalize before I do the last trim. That is what is great about sandals – you can cut them to fit. They guys at Luna are just great to deal with. To be fair, the guys at Invisible Shoes and Bedrock Sandals have always been easy to deal with, too. I think it is part of the mental framework that comes from this style of running.
What About The Race, Already?!
The Fairfield Half course is not flat. There are five of six good climbs and a number of rollers along the way. The last climb hits at about 10 miles and is a sharp uphill for .2 of a mile followed by steady upward grade for a just under a half mile. That doesn’t sound long, but when it is hot and you’ve already run 10 miles, it is taxing. I was looking forward to that last climb because I know it had stopped my on my second run of the course in 2003.
Before the race I did the wait-in-the Port-A-John line routine and then some walking around to kind of loosen up. A man walked passed me and asked if I was going to change into shoes when the race started. I smiled and said I was running in the sandals. The two women with him almost gasped and did the “Really? You’re running in those?” response. That made me smile as I told them they were pretty comfortable.
About 10 minutes before the start I was sitting on the side of the road people watching. )(It is an occupational hazard for a writer who is also a slight introvert.) As I watched, a man who looked to be in his late twenties or early thirties walked by me. He was barefoot. I got off my butt and asked him if he was running barefoot. His name was Adam and he confirmed his barefoot intention. Then he asked if I was wearing Luna’s and we talked a while. It turned out he was almost two years into minimal style and it had saved his knees and lower legs. He told me that it took a long time for his calves and achilles to adjust. That made me feel better about the ongoing muscle adjustment I was experiencing.
The gun went off and we did the shuffle for a minute or so until we got passed the start line. I set off Sportstracker on my iPhone and got ready for the first mile warmup.
You can tell from the picture that it was a very accurate monitor for the run. I kept the audio alerts off and put my iPhone into sleep mode and only used about 10% of the charge during the run. Not bad. I could – will – do a marathon with it.
About 5 miles into the run, a young man pulled up next to me and asked how I liked my sandals. I told him that it took adjustment to the new style, but I loved the feel. He was wearing some minimal shoes and agreed on the adjustment. He asked me what brand and I told him “Luna” and spelled it for him because he thought I said “Muna”. We chatted for a little while and then he moved off to the side to join up with a young woman. As we hit a downhill and I started to pull away (more on that later), I heard him saying “No, Luna. L-U-N-A.” to his friend. I smiled. It’s funny to witness when people are shy about talking to someone. At least she had a boyfriend to help satisfy her curiosity.
After the turnaround, somewhere around mile 8, I was coming off another downhill when I heard a male voice over my shoulder. “True minimalist running!”
“I love it,” was my response. That led to a nice conversation while we ran side by side for a mile. He was wearing a pair of Merrel’s that he really liked. We talked about how long the adjustment took and how nice it felt to have the feel of the road under your feet. And, more important, how much more fun running had become. He said he was disappointed that he couldn’t get any of his friends to take up the style. I agreed since most of my running friends think I’m crazy or that I’m doing something so herculean that they can’t imagine taking on the effort. I guess that making running easier is hard work in their minds!
All along the way people made a comment here or there. I had no problem with that and I tried to be a good representative of minimal running and barefoot style. The great thing was every time I got asked a question or someone commented to me, I found myself smiling.
One of the male things to do on the race course is what I refer to as Tail Watching. Not very clever, but descriptive, so you figure out what it means! Post a comment if you need more details. During the race there was one female GenY’r who seemed to have a pace about the same as mine. I would gain some distance on the ascents and decents and she would catch and pass me on the flats. She had on bright orange shoes and a black kneeband on her left knee and, with my admiration, was running for the Whole in the Wall Gang, a charity started by Paul Newman for kids with terminal and chronic illness.
About a mile from the finish, after I had gained on the last long climb of the day, she pulled up next to me, said “Good run”, then proceeded to pull away to finish ahead of me. Maybe she had been watching my ass? It’s my story and I can believe what I want!
Listen. I am way passed worrying about people beat me in a race, so I don’t get all macho in the last 500 yards and try to run people into the ground. There is always someone ahead or behind me. I did pick up my pace thanks to her wake up call and finished in a time faster than I had expected. I was shooting for 2 hours.
Reflections on the Day
I had a great time. The weather was clear and sunny and the course was just beautiful. It was usually shaded by tall trees and it meandered through some wonderful New England residential areas. People were out in front of their houses cheering us on. Bands were playing great music every few miles. The volunteers at the aid stations were fantastic and the local police represented for all peace officers. It was a well coordinated, well appointed race that was a pleasure to participate in. My only complaint is that is should have started an hour earlier because it was over 85 degrees when I finished.
As I crossed the finish I got a pretty cool medallion, too.
The Downhills Were Awesome!
I have put on close to 400 miles in minimal style over the past 7 months. If you’ve been following this blog, then you have read about the adjustments I’ve made in style. The biggest difference in running in sandals is going downhill. In regular shoes, you just clomp down the hills and let your feet get squished a bit in the toe area. When you wear sandals you have a little part of the strap between you first and second toes and if you land and push forward, you’ll screw yourself up.
What I discovered over the miles is that going downhill means a faster cadence while keeping the stride pretty short and landing on your forefoot or midfoot to keep the impact minimal. It feel very unfamiliar. I was going to say uncomfortable, but that is wrong. Running downhill that way in sandals is comfortable, it just feels strange.
For months I’ve had no one to compare against on the hills. Flats are just time, but hills are different. Quite frankly, I knew I was tearing up the hills and this run proved it. I get into this nice smooth forefoot strike mode and I move up the hill, I don’t run it. Shorter stride, higher cadence and smooth. I gained on just about everyone on every hill I ran in Fairfield. A couple of times some guys tried to keep up with me and I watched them blow up near the top. Just to be clear, I wasn’t sprinting. I was maintaining the rhythm and the hills didn’t kill me. I killed them.
Going downhill was an eye opener. I thought I’d get womped because the style I had developed seemed slow when I was out by myself. The opposite happened. When I got to the first real descent I had to find a clear path otherwise I was going to run over people. The form turned out to be efficient as hell and so smooth I even surprised myself. All of a sudden, it felt very familiar. It was so much fun that I smiled like a kid on every descent.
I walked around and ate watermelon and bananas and drank a lot of water. People asked about my sandals and I continued to represent in as positive a manner as I could considering I was hot and tired (I had gotten up a 4am to be able to drive to the race in time).
When I got home I noticed my calves were very stiff and my right knee was hurting. That was new. It only got more tight as the day went on. I didn’t take any aspirin of Advil because I wanted to keep an eye out in case it was an injury and not just post race shock.
To make the story short, the pain in both areas dissipated the next day. I made sure I ate Omega rich foods and took some Omega oil blend that I had gotten as a sample. That, I believe, helped the recovery. On Tuesday, I was back to normal.
I have now hit the third phase of my transition.
Running the half was the longest distance I have gone since my transition. I’ve hit 10 miles several times but had to back down to let recovery happen. I crossed a bridge this weekend and now realize that I am at the same point in mileage buildup as I would be if I were wearing shoes. I am back to where I was last year, except I feel like I have a lot more headroom in my running.
Does that make sense to you? After talking to the minimalist runners on the course, I think they would understand. My transition isn’t over and an idea occurred to me on my drive home on Sunday that I will share with you in my next post.
Right now I just want to celebrate regaining my running legs. More than ever I am convinced that your body can take a lot more than you give it. I am also convinced that if you give it the test in a form that matches what the body was built to do, you can maximize the benefit and push further than you ever thought you could go.
Keep Running. Dig Deep. Run Free.
The First Mile
I don’t know about you, but it takes me the first mile to feel right when I run. It might just be me, but I’d be interested in hearing from any of you if you go through a similar process when you first start out. After that first mile I find my rhythm and the smooth movement comes back.
Lately, I’ve had some soreness in my achilles tendons that didn’t go away after he first mile. It actually made me stop on one run last week and walk for a while because I didn’t want to aggravate any more. Reading about it on a few websites I started to do some exercises to help out. What was prescribed on several sites was what I would call a stair step. Stand on the stair as if you were going up. Place the balls of your foot near the edge so the rest of your foot hangs out supported. Raise up, but don’t over extend, then lower so the heel goes below the plane of the stair you’re standing on. Extend it a little, but don’t strain it. Do that about 10-15 times about three times a day. It isn’t like a workout session, so spreading out the sets is a good thing.
That has really helped my legs to feel much better. When I went out this morning for a short four miler, I realized that I had been running a bit tip toe with my right foot. I wasn’t letting the heel touch down and that movement was the cause of my tenderness. I focused on feeling the heel touch lightly with each step and slowed my pace down a little. After about 2 and a half miles it felt pretty good. Now, about 12 hours later, I don’t have any overuse pain in my legs. Which is nice.
Here’s the learning. Even after 7 months of progressive adaptation, I am still adjusting. For someone like me, who has spent 40 years in running shoes and dress shoes, letting all of the muscles in your lower leg and foot adjust takes time. It has been interesting because the points of pain move and shift. It seems that as soon as I strengthen one group of muscles, another gets more strain. The old adage of systems theory applies – you can’t just change one thing.
It’s Not About The Shoe
In wondering if a raised heel shoe would help me out with my achilles, I tried a run with my old Nike Vomero’s. I’m glad I did, for two reasons. First, it didn’t help. I still felt the overuse injury even with the raised heel and the cushioned heel cup. Second, I realized that my style of running has become engrained. Even in traditional running shoes I ran with a minimalist forefoot strike. What I did notice was how much the shoes weighed. I was used to the weight before I changed styles, but going from sandals that weigh just a few ounces to shoes that weigh many ounces was a big adjustment. I wondered how I felt comfortable in those things before.
As a writer (www.jlgentryauthor.com) I observe and the observations lead to questions. The question that popped in my mind was one that had been nestled in the back of my mind since I started this journey. How come I see all of the worldclass distance runners wearing shoes. Is the Ethiopian barefoot runner a myth? Even the ultramarathoners that I’ve seen are shod. So what’s up.
That led me to start exploring YouTube and what videos I could find with worldclass distance and ultramarathoners. I started with the Ethiopians and Kenyans who were raised barefoot, but run in shoes now. And what I saw was amazing. There was a lot of variation in the style, but most were, to my eyes, hitting with a forefoot or a more flat midfoot strike. Every so often I would see a heel striker, but I noticed that their knees were bent to minimize the impact.
I really love running in sandals. I am starting to do more trail running and part of me has been thinking a more regular shoe might be nice to have in the arsenal, just in case. Now that I have tested it, I am feeling fine about switching type of shoe based on need.
Along the way, I went back to Dan Leiberman’s publication on barefoot and shod impact analysis. It is a great article and Leiberman is quick to point out that more research needs to be done. What is evident is that heel striking maximizes the potential impact while forefoot and midfoot strikes reduce the impact significantly. The reduction happens whether the runner is barefoot or wearing shoes. Actually, the least measured impact was a forefoot striking runner wearing shoes. Clearly, the cushion in the shoe helps.
Reading that paper and putting it with my own experience, I think it is safe to say that minimalist running is about the form, not the shoe. It is about rediscovering the natural way to run so that impact is reduced. Sandals and shoes will help cushion some of the impact, and that might be helpful. I still think that I benefitted early in my transition by running barefoot a percentage of the time. The cushioning will deaden or mask the priopreception and the sensation needed for getting the feedback on your form early on. But, once you have the form nailed, you can reintroduce shoes.
This is my opinion. I am a runner. My goal is learning to run differently so I can run longer. Longer in both distance and longevity. Within the barefoot community, I would be viewed as approaching it backwards. That is OK. I am working at adjusting my running after 40 years of doing it wrong. That said, I walk around barefoot quite a bit. Developing that sensation is an important step in learning minimalist. I am a big advocate of developing barefoot capabilities, but I run on trails and shit filled roads in sandals. That is my choice. That may change over time. I will tell you that my feet have developed a thickness around the forefoot and so much greater flexibility. That change has benefited me in many ways. Even walking out on cold sidewalks and pebbly surfaces doesn’t bother me the way it did a year ago.
If you want to be a more natural runner, I suggest you do some more barefooting, whether on a run or around the house. It will help you develop the senses you need to keep your form.
So get out there. Run. Run Free. Dig Deep.