Sunday, March 14, 2010

Running Free

Thursday I ran five miles on grass in the Vibram Five Fingers. I discovered that it is possible to get blisters wearing them. Well, of course, anytime the foot experiences friction a blister can develop. One developed on the out side of the big toe while another on appeared about an inch and a half away from it on the very edge of the ball of the foot. Having some mud in there to abrade and the unfinished nature of the inside of the shoe were probably the culprits. True barefoot runners who wear these as occasional protection in extreme situation probably don't experience blisters because their feet will have built up adequate callous.

Although the blisters have hardened I wanted to give them more time to toughen up so I held off on using the VFF, but my regular Asics Evolutions aren't suited to my new gait so I decided to seek a new pair of running shoes. Heading to the Boulder Running Company I presumed I would be choosing among racing flats or some kind of lightweight trainer. I soon discovered that racing flats are very narrow. My Asics are 2E; I have even had 4E so I am accustomed to space; racing flats would not do. The lightweight trainers, although they have less cushioning and material for stabilization, had too much of a heel, which is the issue with the Asics now.

The clerk suggested the Nike Free; according to him it is what all the barefoot runners are buying. I had read that this wasn't the case; that the Free didn't really match barefoot characteristics. Immediately upon slipping my foot in to one I could see that they are not like barefoot. They are narrow; when you run barefoot, your toes aren't all squeezed together. The Free doesn't come in widths. The clerk suggested a half size up. Hmmm, so to get room for the toes I'd have to put up with sloppy everywhere else? I hesitantly assented, and it was actually still a good fit with more space at the end of my toe; maybe a good thing. I tried them out around the parking lot, running with one old Asics on one foot and the Free on the other. The Free seemed better suited to my new stride. I wasn't sold on them, but I bought them.

Now to give them a real test. I drove to the White Rocks Open Space where there is about a 400 foot net elevation gain to the summit with lots of ups and downs along the way. The first mile and a third is flat and the shoes didn't seem like quite the right tool for the job. I started uphill and I cruised. This run usually finds me just barely not having to walk at points but I ascended easily, even passing bicyclists on the climbs. The downhills were a little easier to handle in the Frees than in the VFF, I think because the Nikes do have a heel, and descending, it is easier to land it first.
Clearly I was and am still unsure of how to run downhill fast with a barefoot stride; it took 32 minutes to go up and 35 minutes to come back down.

In an aside to the focus on the feet, I had pinole with chia seeds for lunch before the run. I sprinkled the two in to boiling water, like you might for making cream of wheat, and drank it. I wondered if it had anything to do with my good energy cruising up the hills. It would make sense, not because corn meal is so magical but because it is in a solution easy for the digestive system to access.

My sister advises me to not draw conclusions from minimal data. I won't, but I can still report observations; I suspect I'll need about a year of running minimally shod to conclusively say that it is appropriate for me. My calves are sore again, or rather still, but I think that stronger calves certainly contributed to it being easier to run uphill. I still have plantar faciitis pain; last night I had to leave my foot submerged in an ice bath for half an hour. I've had the PF for eight months. When it goes away I won't be able to say that it was because of the change and if it gets worse i won't be able to draw any conclusions either. I don't feel any other pains or stresses that you might expect from running 7 miles in Nike Frees the first time out, but we all know that running injuries can take a long time to develop....and a long time to go away.

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