Saturday, October 29, 2011

Riffin' on the Rinty of Sue Orlean

If you are familiar with the Arlo Guthrie rendition of the song, then the title is absolutely the best part of this post. You can stop reading now. Go on, shoo.

For the rest of you...

Tonight I got to meet Susan Orlean, a 2D Facebook friend and now an honest-to-gosh 3D acquaintance. Susan (may I call you Susan?) first came to my attention because of the mind-bending movie Adaptation. If you haven't seen it, just see it. Don't read about it, don't read the blurb on the DVD case, just see it.

Adaptation is a movie about adapting a book into a movie. After seeing it, the obvious question is: who the hell writes a book like this? It turns out the answer to that is Susan Orlean. Sort of. The movie is based on her book The Orchid Thief. I read it. It's not the movie. I don't mean the movie takes poetic license like in, say, To Kill a Mockingbird or Breakfast at Tiffany's, I mean it runs the book through the shredder, throws the confetti out the window, then runs outside, grabs a single handful of paper off the lawn and glues it back together like a ransom note. The book is wonderful. The movie is bizarre.

However, if for nothing but providing the inspiration for that movie, Susan Orlean will always hold a special place in my heart.

But after I'd seen the movie and read the book, Susan sort of drifted out of my mind. Life is busy and that's the way things go.

A chicken
A different chicken
A couple of years ago when I first started making entries in this blog I was going to write a story about chickens. Suburban chicken farming was quite the rage, and I have several friends who still keep chickens. I even went so far as to take pictures of them. The chickens mainly, though I do have a picture or two of the neighbors as well.

I was almost ready to write a couple of thousand words when this article by Susan was published in The New Yorker. I mean it was published between the day I took the pictures and the day I sat down to write my post. Now, if you take the time to read her article and compare it to any of my posts it is quickly - and to me, painfully - obvious that she is a writer and I am a programmer who likes to write. I'm not in her league at all. I would always have compared my post to her article and found mine wanting, so I never wrote my post, though I do have a trove of chicken pictures.

I had forgotten about the chickens until tonight. Susan is currently on tour promoting her new book on Rin Tin Tin. Here in Seattle, at least, this included a talk by Susan, an autograph session, and sandwiched in between a showing of a recently recovered 1925 Rin Tin Tin film, Clash of the Wolves down at the newly reopened SIFF Uptown theater. The silent film has had a soundtrack added, though, sadly it was a bland piano accompaniment (I had hoped for a honky-tonk rendition, or maybe a pipe organ). Nominally a dramatic film, it had intentional moments of humor (buffonish sidekick falling into a barrel of flour), along with certain once-dramatic scenes that are now humorous because they recall Farrelly brothers movie scenes (an obviously stuffed dog hurled across the room). I don't think I've ever watched a feature-length silent movie before. It is an accidental time capsule of a long-gone age. I rather enjoyed it.

During her talk before the film she read a couple of excerpts from her Rin Tin Tin book. And that's when I remembered the chicken story. You see, I've watched people draw things. I can't draw a straight line, or a curved one, for that matter. I certainly can't take a bunch of lines and turn them into a recognizable picture of anything. Don't even talk to me about color. Because of my complete lack of competence I stand in absolute awe of those who can draw or paint or sculpt. And when I listened to Susan read her excerpts I was in similar awe. Her descriptions are lucid, personal, and genuine. Words flow through her keyboard to the page the way an image flows through a painter's brush to the canvas. A joy to listen to.

After the movie I lined up with most of the audience and got to meet Susan and get my copy of her book signed. I kinda met her - could have talked with her - before the talk, actually. I was walking through the lobby into the theater, my mind elsewhere because it took an hour and forty-five minutes to drive into Seattle and park, about twice as long as I had anticipated, and I was relieved that I wasn't late. Susan was walking the other direction across the lobby and even said hi to me - which threw me so much that all I could do was smile in return. A shame, really, because a longer conversation would have been nice.

I don't have a lot of experiences at book signings. Really haven't been to one since my John Irving/Hulk Hogan experience a couple of years ago. So, not having too many authors to compare her to, I will compare her to those two men in this way: she speaks as well as John Irving and is as personable as Hulk Hogan. She is genuinely interested in the people she talks to (even vaguely recognized me from Facebook, which surprised me). She likes animals, has a nice sense of humor, and she runs (though not barefoot, at least not yet).

You know how sometimes you just like somebody? That's the way I felt when I met her. I'm not sure I can pay her any higher compliment than that. It was a very nice way to end my week.

Friday, October 21, 2011

A Bit of the Old Run-Walk

Well, I did run the Portland Marathon barefoot. All went well at the beginning. Did not go well at the end. I had been doing my long (19+ mile) training runs at right about 10 minutes per mile. I finished the marathon in 4:26:49, a 10:11/mile pace, so it was a little slower than my training runs, but not a complete disaster.

Unless you look at the last 4.4 miles. The last 4.4 miles took me 58:40. That translates to 13:20/mile pace, and trust me, it felt slower than that. That was a complete disaster. (Other depressing stat: after the 20 mile mark I passed 34 runners...but 512 passed me.)

The reason I know my pace for the last 4.4 miles is that there were several timing mats along the course. Some of them were for common distances (10K, 1/2 marathon), some were at odd distances, just to make sure people weren't cutting the course. My splits were:

Distance   Total Time Interval Pace Total Pace
10 km         55:32       8:57         8:57
8.6 mi      1:17:38       9:12         9:02 
Half        1:57:17       8:49         8:57
17.5 mi     2:41:42      10:06         9:15
20 mi       3:11:16      11:50         9:34
21.8 mi     3:28:09       9:23         9:33
Full        4:26:49      13:20        10:11

I ran with the 3:55 (~9 min/mile) pace group for the first 15 miles, but couldn't hold the pace after that. The highest point on the course is midway across the St. John's bridge at 17 miles. The approach to the bridge is the only steep climb of the course, and I was still doing okay at that point, but after I crossed the bridge - BAM! - I was toast.

I had seen this kind of pattern in my training runs, too. I was hoping that on race day the adrenaline and the fellow runners and the cheering throngs (including the folks of Occupy Portland) would pull me let me extend my 9 minute miles beyond the 16 mile point, but it was not to be.

I don't usually time my runs. For the longer (19+) runs I'd just check the clock in my car before and after for a rough idea of how long it took, but for shorter ones I did wear a watch a few times. I didn't write the times down, but I do know my best times this year for a few distances:

5K: 21:56 (7:05/mile at the Fall City Days 5K)
11 miles: 1:28 (~ 8 minutes/mile)
13.1 miles: 1:50:28 (8:26/mile at the Labor Day Half)
16 miles: 2:25 (~9 minutes/mile)
22 miles: 3:37 (just under 10 minutes/mile)
25 miles: 4:10-ish (~10 minutes/mile)

Looking at these times, my Portland results are depressingly in line with them. My problem is how to maintain pace beyond that 16 mile mark. There is no shortcut, of course, I have to take it out beyond 16 miles and push the pace. I know that. It's obvious. Obvious, but easier said than done.

Going longer is probably not going to help me. First off, how much farther can I really go on a weekly run? I'm already doing a 20+ miler most weeks. I need to raise the intensity at the end of my long runs somehow.

Today, 12 days post-marathon, was my first long run. I've run most of the days since the marathon, including three 11 milers, the last one two days ago. (NOTE: yeah, I thought about backing off my mileage to recover after the marathon, but then I realized that it was no faster and not much farther than my weekly training runs, so I'm just treating it like a normal week.)

But I needed to do something different.

If you read my previous post, you know that I met Jeff Galloway at the Portland Marathon expo. He is a big proponent of doing a run-walk mix for distance runs rather than trying to push all the way through without stopping, so I thought I'd give it a try. I figured that, though my run will be a little slower over all, I will have some higher intensity miles at the end. It's basically just a long interval workout.

I picked a 4:1 ratio of running to walking. I opted to make it 20 minutes of running followed by 5 minutes of walking.  I pulled those numbers out of a hat and reserve to change them in the future.

So this morning I woke up and it was raining. Bleah. Not cold (low to mid 50's), but 4 hours in the rain did not sound inviting. Still, I forced myself to drive down to the trail, forced myself to get out of the car and over to the 5.5 mile post, and forced myself to take those first few steps south towards Marymoor Park.

Knowing that I would get to rest 20 minutes in I set out at a pretty brisk pace (for me). I hit the first mile about 7:25 and 2 miles at about 15 minutes. Not the way I normally start out on my long runs, but rest was coming!

The first rest seemed odd. My brain was still stuck on the idea of a long run, and my legs still felt quite fresh. But walk I did, then set out again. I hit the 5.5 mile turnaround at Marymoor in just under 45 minutes, only a minute slower than my best 11 mile pace in spite of walking for 5 minutes. Interesting. Time to walk again as I turned back towards Bothell.

I got back to my start point (now the 11 mile mark) at 1:33:24,  about a 9 minute mile pace, only 5 1/2 minutes off my fastest 11 miler this year - and I had walked for 15 minutes of it.

I kept heading north. Blew by the 13 mile mark at 1:53 and dug deep but couldn't quite get to the 14 mile mark before it was time to walk again; I passed it walking at about 2:03. The next 20 minute run took me to within about 50 meters of the 16.5 mile (turnaround) mark. Hit it under 2:26.

I want to pause here for a minute. I'm doing intervals. Everyone knows that interval training is slower than running a steady pace, right? Except at the marathon I hit 17.5 at 2:41. Even if I stood stock still for 4 minutes at the turnaround I would still have 11 minutes to get to 17.5 miles in my marathon time, and at this point my running miles are still sub-9 minutes. Huh?

And look at my best 16 mile training run: 2:25. When I hit the turnaround I'm almost half a mile ahead of my best 16 mile training run! With no rest, no taper, no special diet. Running in rain that makes my shorts wrap themselves around my legs and chafe. Not ideal weather or diet or rest, yet I am beating my best time by half a mile. And I've walked 26 minutes of the workout.

I'm definitely slowing down on my way back, but I'm not dying, not by any means. I hit 20 miles at 3:03 (yeah, 8 minutes faster than the marathon), and stop to take my first drink of water - not the brightest way to run, but I didn't need it before then - and still get well beyond 21 miles before it's time for the last walk at 3:15.

I hit 3:20 with a little more than half a mile to go, push myself and finish 22 miles in 3:24:37. That would be about 5 minutes ahead of where I was in the marathon, and more than 12 minutes faster than my fastest 22 mile training run. And I walked 40 minutes of it.

And here's the kicker: I feel fine. After the marathon all I could do was lay in bed the whole afternoon. I was so stiff I could barely walk downstairs that evening to get food. I won't say I'm not sore (I am - hell, I just went 22 hard miles!), but I could run again. Right now. Three hours after that workout. The first half mile would be tough, but after warming up I could go on to do an easy five miles, no problem.

So my interest is piqued. I ran faster and recovered more quickly than doing a long, slow 22 miler. The farther out I went, the better this method worked for me today.

This could be an outlier, though. Today could have just been a good day for me. I might have done well, maybe even better had I run straight through at a slower pace. It will take a few weeks to see if this really does work for me.

If it does, it might be enough to get me under 4 hours for a marathon, something I haven't done for more than 25 years. That would be really cool, and certainly enough reason to give this run-walk stuff a try for a while.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

The Old Guard

I am in Portland for my first barefoot marathon - and first marathon of any kind in nearly a decade. I'm not concerned about finishing. I put in over 300 miles in the six weeks before this one, with one long (19+ mile) run each week, with a long of 25 miles. The distance doesn't intimidate me.

Or it didn't.

At the expo I met three American distance legends: Bill Rodgers, Jeff Galloway, and Frank Shorter. They each signed my number. Kinda cool.

All three spoke before an audience giving out anecdotes of their running experiences and giving advice about running in general.

And got the chance to ask each of them about barefoot running.

Bill Rodgers was the first. I got to talk to him down on the expo floor where he was signing books and posters. I almost walked past him. There was one woman and her son talking to him but no one else was there (I think I just hit a lull because there was a big line there a few minutes later).

Rodgers listened, said he knew people who run barefoot, but was genuinely surprised when I said I was running barefoot tomorrow. He even gave me his business card and asked me to look him up if I ran Boston. Pretty cool.

I then went up to the room where they were going to give the talk. Galloway was already up there talking to people about his run-walk philosophy, nutrition, and such. His individual talk ended and I spoke with him briefly before the joint talk with Shorter and Rodgers.

I asked him what he thought of barefoot running, and Galloway said, "I think it's a great thing...for podiatrists and chiropractors." The line generated a laugh later when a similar question came out of the audience. He went on to say that he's heard from thousands of runners who have gotten injured doing minimalist running, some who did it for a long time, but then had a catastrophic breakdown that caused them to miss months of training. Clearly, Galloway is not a fan.

I also got to briefly speak with Shorter after the joint talk. When I mentioned that tomorrow would be my first barefoot marathon, he responded with a non-English verbalization closer to a grunt than anything else. He was somewhat less enthused than Galloway.

So now I'm nervous. Though I really shouldn't be. I've trained on pavement, and the cool damp weather predicted for tomorrow morning suits me well.

And I've also been thinking about the other things they said during the talk. Galloway talked about how he was constantly injured when he was running competitively, rarely putting together more than 3 week without getting hurt. Could his shoes have had something to do with that?

Galloway also preaches the run-walk method for working up to long distance running, allowing your body time to adjust to the distance. Listening to your body and being cautious with your distance is also a tenet of barefooting. Is Galloway really that different from Barefoot Ted in that respect?

And Frank Shorter. Goodness. Two things he said make me think barefooting is nearly what he did anyway. First, the question came up, what kind of shoes did he wear in his first marathon. Turns out he used a pair of track spikes that had the plate removed and sole put on. Sounds pretty minimalist to me.

And then there is this: Frank Shorter has lousy feet. Because of his lousy feet he had to run lightly, generating very little friction as he touched the ground. Honestly, I wanted to jump up and down and say: but that's exactly what experienced barefoot runners do! I didn't. He had pretty much dismissed minimalist running out of hand during the talk and I didn't want to be confrontational, but it sure sounds like he used a barefoot philosophy when he ran, not because he chose to, but because it was the only way he could run.

If only I could have a disability like Frank Shorter.

It's interesting to me. These are the guys who really brought distance running into the American mainstream. They were the different guys of their era. They were the ones who changed and we followed. Is their way the best way? Or have they just stopped experimenting? Are minimalists leaving them behind the way they left their predecessors?

Doesn't matter much, I suppose. Tomorrow I will run my first barefoot marathon. We'll see how it goes.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Making Progress

Well, it's been a pretty good running week. Last week due to travel I missed as many days running (5), as I had in April and May combined. I guess the rest must have done some good because I dropped my 800M time on Wednesday to 2:37, put in an 18 miler Thursday, and after an easy 4 miler yesterday ran a sub-22 5K today.

To put some perspective on those workouts: two years ago I ran a 2:29 800M; on January 1 of this year I ran a 24:42 5K; and I don't think I have ever run an 18 mile training run, certainly not for more than 25 years (though I have run a couple of marathons in that stretch).

So, is barefoot running making me faster?

Knocking almost a minute a mile off my 5K time from January is a good sign. It's not an awesome improvement, but definitely heading in the right direction. I have run as fast as 19:01 in the last ten years, so 21:56 is not even a best-of-decade time for me.

During the last decade I have also bumped up against 2:20 for an 800M, so 2:37 isn't particularly thrilling for me either.

So my times aren't great. It's still early in the summer. We'll see where we are come Labor Day, as far as performance goes. As I start pushing myself for faster times this summer, the question then becomes...

Does barefoot running help me avoid injuries?

I have had some blowout injuries the last few years, and that is one of the reasons I really haven't tried to run fast for the last couple years. A hamstring that popped and turned black and blue, iliotibial tightness, innumerable calf strains. My speed is reaching the point where historically I have started encountering injuries. Another 5 seconds per lap in the 800, another 15 seconds per mile in the 5K: those will put me in the risky territory. And will I start getting stress fractures as my long runs approach marathon distance? Only time will tell.

To this point I am very pleased with how I feel. My lower legs, particularly, are more fit than they have ever been. The structure around my knees feels fantastic. My calves are strong and engaged the full length of the runs. And the best part is that I'm not dragging shoes around, because when I run barefoot every stride conditions my feet and calves and makes them stronger, but no matter how many miles you put in, no matter how hard you push, your shoes never get into better condition, never increase their stamina, and never increase their strength.

My times are improving. My weekly mileage is increasing. I have not gotten injured this year. We'll if I can keep those trends going.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Nice Intro To Barefoot Running

Ran across this article by Jason Robillard that I think does a nice job of guiding you through converting to barefoot running. I don't agree with everything he says, but the advice seems pretty sound and consistent with my experience. The only Major thing I would change is I would (and did) use Five Fingers first to allow for the musculature in your feet and lower legs to develop before moving completely to barefoot, but, honestly I understand his reasoning. Either way works, so choose whichever works for you.

The one point he and everyone else makes is: Listen To Your Body. One of the great things about going barefoot is that you get feedback you don't get when you wear shoes. Listen to that feedback. Don't overdo it. Stop if you feel pain. The whole point is to be healthy, after all, there's no difference between not running in shoes and not running barefoot.

Check out for more barefoot running info.

Sunday, May 22, 2011


It is interesting to me how my legs are changing as a result of the barefoot running.

I started in the Vibram Five Fingers almost two years ago, but my running was inconsistent. Over the last couple of months, however I have been running consistently over varying surfaces and distances, and along with that I have seen changes in my leg muscles.

The first changes were in my feet and especially on the outside of my lower legs. These were simply because I needed to compensate for the loss of support the shoes provided. Being on the, uh, older end of things meant that it took longer (months) than it probably would have for a younger person. My legs were quite stiff after those earlier runs, but my feet weren't, they just felt used, like they'd had a good workout.

Since I've committed to barefooting my legs have been strengthening, basically from the bottom up. My ankles are stronger, especially now that I've added hills and longer workouts (15 miles last Thursday) to my routine. Also, I'm starting to regain some speed. Today I ran my normal 4 mile course and found that I've taken more than a minute a mile off my time since February. Interestingly, as I've increased my pace I have also felt an increase in strength around my knees.

The increase in ankle and knee strength are completely new to me. I grew up with a lot of lateral movement playing soccer, but this newfound strength around my joints is different. It feels almost as if my ankles were wrapped in tape or my knees bound in an elastic brace. My body is building up its own support which, in turn, makes me more confident about pushing my pace.

The Club Northwest All-Comers series starts this Wednesday. I haven't been on the track for more than a month, and haven't run a fast 800 meters for two years, so I don't think my time will be very good, but I am very interested in how my body will respond to pushing myself for a (barefoot) 800 meters.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Barefoot Half-Marathon

Yesterday I did my first barefoot half-marathon. I hadn't done a half for several years, so I was a little nervous about it. The weather was cool, upper 40s, about what it has been all spring. Rained all night the night before the race and a heavy shower came through just before the start, but the race itself was pretty much rain-free. I broke two hours, which was my goal, but did not break 1:45, which is the pace I need to hold if I want to qualify for the Boston Marathon.

The race was pretty tough on my feet. Being cool and damp (especially damp), it took a while for my feet to warm up, so for the first mile and half or so I felt everything. This was especially tough at the beginning because the streets were quite weathered, the surface pitted and uneven. The roads didn't improve much. They weren't in terrible shape for driving - no potholes to speak of or anything like that - but it would have been tough on a bike and was really hard on my feet. The space between the tires was usually smoother and I ran there when I could, but I really had to watch my foot placement and I never really got a relaxed, comfortable stride going, which made it tougher than I expected.

Still, it was faster than my training runs, and it was my quads tightening up at about nine miles that limited my performance more than my feet.

Afterwards: ouch. Fatigued legs and feet that stayed sensitive all the way to bedtime. The first time my feet have really hurt after a barefoot run.

I got up this morning and did an easy four miles. My feet warmed up in the first half mile, and my legs felt okay after a mile or so, but my shoulders hurt for two and half miles. No idea why my shoulders bothered me; that's a new one. But the last mile and a half it was all systems go with a good, moderately quick stride. I didn't push it, but I felt good, which for me is unusual on the day after a half marathon.

Now I just need to figure out how to shed 40 seconds a mile.

Friday, April 29, 2011

I'm Still Barefooting

It's been more than a year now since that first barefooting experience. In that time I've gotten into shape, slipped out of shape, and gotten going again. Most of my running was in the Vibram Five Finger KSOs, but I did some barefooting as well. After overdoing it and tearing up my feet, I was much more cautious. I never ran two days in a row barefoot, and never more than five miles. It worked okay.

My speed has fallen off a cliff compared to three or four years ago. I wanted to try to run in the Club Northwest All-Comers meets this year, so I started doing some track intervals in my VFFs in November. It was unpleasant. Trying to go fast used all sorts of muscles I hadn't used in many months, and the 30-ish degree weather didn't help. I struggled to do 400m in 90 seconds and regretted it afterwards, muscles strained, unable to recover between intervals.

I took January off.

Last year we had a very mild February. This year it stayed cold, most days staying below 40 degrees. I did some working out and kept waiting for it to warm up a little so I could start barefooting. Didn't happen. At the beginning of March I got tired of waiting, so on a 43 degree morning I took off the shoes and just started running.

I haven't worn shoes in a workout since then, not even my Five Fingers.

It turns out my feet don't get cold. The increased blood flow when I'm running? Maybe. My hands get cold, but not my feet.

My bare feet must look pretty silly when I'm wearing a hat, tights, and a long sleeve shirt, but it works for me. It's only been over 50 degrees three or four times when I've run, but my feet have never been a problem. I'm still doing track workouts, and in addition to my moderate 4-mile runs I have added one long run a week and even some trail running, all without shoes.

The trail running is still a challenge, especially when it gets rocky. The worst is crushed gravel which is just brutal on my feet, and sometimes I have to run on the side of the trail to get away from it. Downhill is worse than uphill because you land with extra force. I'm still learning how to trail run. I'm sure I'll get better.

The most important thing, I think, is that I've given up the idea that I can't run barefoot every day. That was a self-fulfilling prophecy in that I wasn't putting in enough miles to toughen up my feet, so my feet never got tough enough to take the mileage.

I started with shorter runs, nothing over 4 miles for several weeks. My barefoot track workouts were very short, too, so even though I was running five or six times a week, I was only covering maybe 15 miles. Now my feet have toughened up. Last year after my overzealous 11 mile run my feet were torn up and I did no barefooting at all for several weeks while they healed. Yesterday I ran 11 with no problems, and I'll be on the track again tonight.

My feet are strong. The pads on the outside of my feet and balls of my toes continue to toughen. It will take some really bad conditions to make me put on my Vibrams for a run now.

A few things I  have noticed:
  • Yes, it still hurts when I step on a thorn or sharp rock, though I have a midfoot strike, so if it's on my heel it doesn't really affect me at all. Still, it can hurt, so I try to avoid them. I also avoid dog, horse, and goose poop. I'm not stupid.
  • I usually run on pavement, but my favorite thing is a compact, rock-free dirt path that is still damp from the rain. Grass is okay, but it hides rocks and uneven ground, so it can be a challenge to run on. But don't fear the pavement; I especially like freshly laid asphalt: it feels great.
  • Everything below your skull is just a giant spring. Don't run stiff. Relax, let your joints bend, and settle into your stride. Your joints, tendons, and muscles are made to trot, but you have to relax and let them do their work.
  • My turnover has increased, and my stride has shortened.
  • My endurance has improved. I attribute this largely to actively using my lower legs. When I ran in shoes I had a tendency to use my lower legs like inanimate pendulums, just throwing my feet out there and letting the shoes absorb the impact. That also meant that I was losing a lot of energy into the padding of the shoes. Now my lower legs are more involved and that energy is returned to my stride, making me more efficient. I'm no speed demon, but when I ran yesterday I had as much bounce in my 11th mile as I did in my first.
  • Running barefoot is more pleasant than walking barefoot. I don't know if it's the increased blood flow or the endorphins or what, but many things that bother my feet walking around before or after a run I barely notice during the run. 
I love barefooting. I don't even like the idea of running in Vibrams anymore. A few words of caution, however, if you're starting out.
  • You are developing two things: the pads on your feet, and the muscles in your legs and feet. Both those things require time and patience.
  • Barefoot every day - as often as you can, anyway. That's how you'll build up the pads in your feet.
  • Treat yourself like you're injured. The longer you've been running in padded shoes the more atrophied your lower legs will be. It took me months of minimalist running to getting my lower legs healthy again. Take your time. Don't rush.
  • Drastically cut your mileage. One barefoot mile is a long way if you've never done it before. Start with one mile as a workout, and don't be embarrassed about stopping.
  • Find a smooth, level place to run. You don't want to do hill work with atrophied legs. Artificial turf soccer fields are great. Natural grass, too, if they're not too rocky. A paved path, something smooth enough for rollerblading works well, too (that's what I started with).
  • Check your ego at the door. You will slow down. If you overdo it you will get transition injuries. Barefooting is a lifestyle change, not a miracle cure.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Double Red Blood Cells

After the last couple of days my feet need some time to heal. A couple of down days isn't going to hurt, plus it gave me the opportunity to donate blood, which I haven't done in a few months.

I went down to the Puget Sound Blood Center in Bellevue and after going through the traditional preliminaries (including the finger prick, the worst part of donating blood), they asked if I would be interested in doing a double red blood cell donation.

Although I've donated blood quite a lot, this is the first time the question has come up. Blood is comprised of four main components: plasma, platelets, white blood cells, and red blood cells. In the past I've donated whole blood, which means they just suck the blood out of your arm, stick it in a bag, and ship it off for transfusions. However, most transfusions do not use whole blood. The components are separated out in a lab through a process call apheresis, and each part is typically used for potentially a different person.

With a double red blood cell donation the apheresis is done at the time of the donation, and the parts not used are returned to the donor rather than being sent off to the lab. Because some of the blood is returned to the donor this is a more complicated procedure involving what I call a "machine". This machine separates the blood into its different components, keeps the component it wants, then shoves the remaining detritus back into your arm.

It's kinda cool.

And it's called "double" red cell donation because they draw twice as many red blood cells - which also means you can only donate every four months instead of every two. Because the machine is required, this type of donation is not possible with the mobile donation centers.

So they hooked me up to the machine and the weird part is that it oscillates between drawing blood and pumping it back into your body. The first couple of cycles of pumping it back in felt really odd, plus my face, especially my lips got kind of tingly, the way your foot does when it's getting sensation back after being asleep; apparently this is due to the anti-coagulant that is added to the mix before it's pumped back into you (calcium helps get rid of the sensation: they gave me Tums).

The process took about 25 minutes on the machine for me, about what you'd expect because they're drawing twice as much blood, plus it takes time to fill you up again.

I feel a little strange, more so than after a regular donation. Will definitely not be running today, and probably not tomorrow. My feet will appreciate that.

Giving blood is one of the few things I can think of that is simply an unmitigated good. If you can donate blood I highly encourage you to do so. Is there an easier way to save a life?

Friday, February 5, 2010

Barefoot Running part Deux

I listened to my body, but apparently my body has communications issues.

So after yesterday's barefoot running experience I decided to go whole hog today. I hopped in the car and drove down to the trail, but I left my shoes at home. That was a very strange feeling, like I was forgetting something.

First off I want to say that I ran the full 11 miles barefoot. That's 71 miles for the week. Very psyched about that. And in the process of running 11 miles barefoot I (re)learned a few things:

  1. My foot strike is slightly different barefoot even than when I run in my Five Fingers.
  2. I dislike stepping on worms more than I dislike stepping on rocks.
  3. I really like running through puddles.
The first half mile or so was difficult. That warmup period I was really pounding the pavement and it kind of hurt my feet. As I warmed up and fell into my stride it was much better, except for the slight difference in foot strike. The difference was more noticeable with my left (non-dominant) foot than my right. My theory is that my left foot has always been a little lazy compared to my right, and that it adjusts to my footwear more than my right, so as I have become more minimalistic my left foot has had to make more changes to compensate. But that's only a theory.

What is fact is that my feet strike slightly further back on the ball of my foot when I run barefoot. Not as much of a change on my right foot as my left, and my right foot, although slightly sore, is fine. On my left foot, however, the strike was far enough back that it ripped the callous off my big toe from the back. As I said, my body apparently has communications issues because I didn't notice it until I got home and realized I was tracking blood through the house. Long term I don't think this is a big deal (the callous will build up a little further back next time), but in the short term...well, we'll see how far I feel like running tomorrow. And I may have to do it in shoes. We'll see.

And this is where it's tough transitioning to barefoot running. I ran longer because I am in good enough shape to run longer, but my feet are not conditioned for long barefoot runs. I need to back off the mileage and build it back up slowly. Going too far was a mistake. I did 5 miles yesterday. Today I should have done 6 instead of 11.

Worms. It rained last night. I never really thought about worms. I worried about rocks and glass and metal debris. Never thought about worms. Even though I stepped on rocks I assiduously avoided the worms. Eww.

The puddles, however, were a revelation. I avoided them at the beginning as I had the worms, but later in the run I was forced to run through one - and it felt fantastic. I don't know how else to describe it. My feet were already tingling from the constant massage of the pavement and when they hit the water it was a glorious, joyous, sensual event. The whole second half of the run I was seeking them out. Completely unexpected bonus.

One other thing I didn't expect was the anxiety I felt. I think this was on two levels. First there was the question of what if yesterday was a fluke? What if running barefoot didn't work on a longer run? It was the kind of anxiety I probably felt the first time I let go of the wall at the deep end of the pool. Fear of the unknown. Like I said, leaving the house without any running shoes felt incredibly weird.

The other type of anxiety was "what will other people think?" I was stunned that this was an issue for me, but it was. For at least the first two miles I had to force myself to relax when someone was coming down the trail in the other direction. Running in Five Fingers is eccentric. Running barefoot is a commitment. 

So I spent a lot of energy trying to calm myself down, relaxing, finding my stride. I was all wound up and went way too fast in the beginning, and I paid for it with some slow miles in the middle. Once I got out to three or four miles I relaxed and just ran. It was good (except for tearing the callous off my left foot). 

In the end it was an okay run. I should have run fewer miles so I would have been less likely to tear up my foot. Live and learn. We'll see what my feet feel like tomorrow.