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.

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