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.

1 comment:

  1. Moderation seems like a good choice!