Monday, November 10, 2008

Newspaper Update

This ran in the Record-Journal Friday:

It's kind of like streaking, only with your feet. This was my off-the-cuff explanation to a friend when he found me jogging barefoot on a rare stretch of goose feces-free grass at Hubbard Park the other day.

I wasn't exaggerating too much. You feel every part of the earth that you traverse, and your feet conform to the terrain instead of staying static, locked in a solid running shoe. Stabilizing muscles that haven't been used much in years groan and strain to pick up the slack.

It's a completely different tactile experience than running shod. It's enjoyable, and is kind of freeing, but it also teaches a good lesson - how not to run.

After hurting a bone in both feet training for the Hartford Marathon in September, I had two months to ponder what I'd done wrong.

Just about anyone that knows about running would tell me to get some orthotics to correct my pronating feet and hope for the best, but given the rate at which runners injure themselves, that's not a path in which I have much faith.

And it just doesn't sit with me well that mankind ran unshod for millennia, apparently without suffering too much from it, yet my feet are defective and need correction.

So my response is to run el natural, or as close to it as I can get, and see if those expensive running shoes designed to stabilize my feet were contributing to my problem.

I've done a bit of research and found that spending more time barefoot decreases your chance of developing arthritis in the knees, and those who run barefoot at least some of the time have a decreased chance of developing the muscle strain plantar fasciitis, the bane of many runners, and of spraining their ankles.

Olympian Greeks, and the African runners who still go barefoot today, build up tough skin on their feet, but my pasty western hide doesn't especially like being rubbed against concrete, I've found.

So I've started using Vibram Five Fingers, a sort of glove for your foot. There's just enough plastic on the bottom to protect the sole from the shards of glass and rough concrete found on the streets of Meriden, but not enough to mask the clear signals the body sends that you're running wrong - such as when your heel painfully slams into the ground.

"You look like an idiot with gloves on your feet," my friend told me, as I demonstrated what I was up to.

"Yep, pretty much," is the only answer I had for him.

So what's the proper way to run, according to my noshoe method?

I'm still working on it, but it appears to be significantly different than the way I see many people running . I keep my torso erect, my feet come down flatfooted, and I take smaller, more numerous steps. Instead of reaching with my leg and pulling the rest of my body forward, my feet don't travel beyond what would be the perimeter of my shadow under a midday sun.

The end result is really pretty fun. I feel lighter, and my body isn't being jarred with every step. It's more of an animalistic lope than what I've traditionally expected from a run.

So now those unused muscles are a bit sore, especially my calves, but they don't hurt in a bad way, as did my bone injury.

After the - admittedly brief - two- and three-miles test runs I've been doing almost barefoot over the past few days, I'm noticing less strain in my shoulder blades, knees and back when I get done. It just feels better.

It's not all great, though. You also lose the safety net of a shoe. Lost in thought, my heel came down hard Tuesday on the jagged edge of one of the numerous broken slate sidewalk pieces around the city, and the center of my heel is still sore.

It's going to take me some time to build back up with a new method to the 20-mile runs that I was doing before I got injured. Hopefully, if I keep training over the winter, I can get ready for a spring marathon.

I'll have to see if my body has trouble with the abuse of long distance running with no padding.

I'm not sure what I'll do when winter comes and I can't wear the Five Fingers anymore, but I'll just have to play it by ear.

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