Monday, October 12, 2009

Mission Accomplished

This article ran in today's Record-Journal in an edited form.

By mile 23, my once snappy stride had degenerated into a pathetically slow shuffle-run, which probably made it appear to onlookers like I'd ambitiously decided to bunny skip my way through Saturday’s Hartford Marathon.

Around mile 16, the supportive muscles in my feet, ankles and calves began muttering mutinous ideas, and at the mile 21 marker they openly rebelled, called me a masochist and closed up shop. I forced myself to keep running, though run was an overly positive interpretation of my body's movement at that time.

Taking a deep breath, I looked down at the toe-sock-like contraptions I was wearing on my feet. After I seriously messed up my right foot training for last year's marathon with the traditional heel-strike, corrective shoe mentality that just about everyone subscribes to, I started to look for something different last fall.

My answer was less shoe and more skin, and I found the Vibram Five Fingers, the closest thing to barefoot running I’m aware of that’s not actually barefoot running. They allow the foot to operate normally, and thus prevent the knee and foot problems I suffered from last year, while offering some minimal protection against sharp rocks and glass.

I looked up at the shoe-clad runners around me, most lost in their own internal monologues with pain, a few chatting away. Compared with me, they looked like they were running on platform shoes.

"Calf coddlers," I mentally joked with myself.

Starting in late spring, I'd been putting my all into getting my shoe-atrophied calves and feet into marathon shape, but simply ran out of time. Just like a cast will support a broken arm but atrophy your arm muscles, most shoes do the same thing. To build up my muscles in six months I skirted the edge between maximum training and injury, and my muscles were severely and painfully overworked.

Luckily I’m quick to recover and had my friend Ed Bellows of Innovative Muscle Therapy in Wallingford kindly get rid of my muscular knots as they appeared.

I needed another three or four months to safely myself ready myself for Saturday's marathon, but I didn't get it.

But In the midst of my pain, I was content. Before 2008 I'd never run farther than six miles, and six years before that I'd been so overweight the idea of running anywhere was a joke. Even if I crawled over the finish line, I'd be among the 1 percent of humanity that finishes a marathon. Bunny skipping across it would be a joy.

So many people supposedly in the know told me there's no way I could be athletic after more than 2 and a half years eating only raw fruits and vegetables, and that running a marathon almost barefoot with my flat, overpronating feet was going to end in disaster.

I'd like to show them the slight arch that's developed in my previously pancake-flat soles over the last six months, how muscular my calves have become, and the energy I had through the race.

The course took us from Bushnell Park over founders bridge into East Hartford, and then along the Connecticut river through some beautiful country landscapes in South Windsor. We eventually looped around and headed back to the park for a total of 26.2 miles.

I refuse to have anything to do with the bizarre running gels most runners use to fuel themselves, which I don’t consider a food, so my parents were kind enough to serve as my pit crew and brought water bottles full of a mixture of watermelon and celery at miles 9 and 17 to keep me going. The mixture worked well and my energy, was high throughout the race.

I was regularly forced into the role of minimalist shoe evangelist, because just about every runner wanted to know what I had on my feet. It seems like every runner has a story about being injured, or how they’ve been advised that their feet are defective and need supportive shoes, and many were happy to hear that I’d overcome the problem.

Around mile 18 my muscles were aching and I had to concentrate pretty hard to keep my 9 minute 45 second per mile pace. At about this time a rather shapely woman passed me with the words “gazelle” written on the butt of her pants.

Yeah, I thought as I looked at her, half dazed. Run like a gazelle.

About a half hour passed before I realized I’d been staring at this woman’s butt for some time, telling myself to run like a gazelle. But it kept me on pace, and I could certainly think of worse ways to run a few miles.

But she proved more of a gazelle than me and eventually left me in the dust. No more shapely rear ends emerged to inspire me, and my pace slowly crept downward.

Eventually I made it back to Bushnell park and saw the massive brownstone Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Arch above the trees.

Feeling a bit euphoric and giddy, I passed under the arch and crossed the finish line four hours and 44 minutes after I started. It was my first marathon, run just a day after I turned 25, and I managed to place 1672 out of 2287 runners.

After I caught up to my parents and posed for the obligatory snapshots, I gingerly walked around the park and watched the other runners come in, many in obvious pain. Some grabbed the foil-like blankets handed out to runners and wrapped it around their shoulders, looking like awkward, shivering baked potatoes buffeted by the October winds.

I downed a ton of water, and then downed the eight ripe bananas my parents brought with them.

I’m certain that, given enough training and form improvement, I can easily get my time down to three hours and 30 minutes within a couple of years. I’d like to track down one of the few dozen successful long distance barefoot runners in the country and have them look at my form.

But for the time being I’m ready for a rest and some serious eating.

After writing about my barefoot and raw food training experiences in the Record-Journal for several years, I’ve gotten plenty of questions about the specifics of what I’m doing. If anyone is interested, they can read a number of articles I’ve written about the subject at my website:

Monday, September 28, 2009

Hartford Marathon, Here I Come

I just ran 22 miles today, the longest I've ever run, and in five
fingers. Hartford Marathon, here I come.

It's nice, because so many people supposedly in the know have told me
that there's no way I can run a marathon almost barefoot with my flat,
overpronating feet. I'd like to show them the slight arch that's
developed in my previously pancake-flat soles over the last six
months, and my training log. :)

The run was an exhilarating experience, and on a beautiful fall day.

I started off running late this sprint with a just-healed foot and and
leg muscles that had been coddled - and atrophied -by years of shoe

I've pretty much been racing against time, and skirting the edge of
injury, to build up my calf and foot muscles enough to support a
marathon run.

I manged 22 miles today, but although I had tons of energy left, my
calf muscles were pretty much shot by mile 17 or 18, and I slowed way

I ran the first 18 miles at a 9:30/mile average pace, but by mile 22
my run average had dropped to 10:48

I would have really loved an extra two months to get my muscles
prepared, but I just ran out of time. The marathon is on Oct 10, and
I'm going to do my best. Worst case scenario is that my muscles crap
out and me sometime after mile 22 and I have to alternate between
power walking and shuffle running my way though the last miles.

I have no idea what's going to happen, though. Towards the end of my
run my calf muscles, although still shot, started to loosen up. Some
kind of bizarre second wind. At the same time I started feeling
strangely euphoric, despite the fact that my body wasn't too happy.

It's all good. It's my first Marathon, and after the severe foot
injury that knocked me out of running it last year and kept me limping
all winter, I'm ready to finish it this year any way I can. I'm just
so happy that I've found a way to run that more or less eliminates the
chance that I'm going get the injuries that are constantly sidelining
far more experienced runners (Hopefully).

Besides the sore muscles, I'm feeling fantastic.

Monday, August 31, 2009

20 Miles Barefoot

I headed out late Sunday morning for a nice 20-mile run in my Five Fingers. This is the longest distance I've gone barefoot, and it went well.

My calf muscles are bit sore, and the bottoms of my feet are tender, but otherwise I'm doing good.

I'm looking forward to attending Dr. Doug Graham's Health and Fitness Week. I'm hoping there will be someone familiar with barefoot running who can take a look at my form. I feel that my right leg isn't moving as well as the left.

But it appears that I'm on track for the Hartford Marathon Oct. 11.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Seventeen Miles Barefoot - Check.

This past Saturday I ran a nice 17-mile circuit from Hubbard Park to downtown Southington, back to the park, down to red bridge and back to the park once again. It came out to just under 17 miles.

I did it all almost barefoot in five fingers, of course, and I'm continuously astounded at my body's ability to adapt to this new type of running.

But the thing is that it feels so right. No strain. No effort. Just gliding along.

Some muscles in my feet, shins and ankles were pretty tired afterwards, but there's not a single injury to speak of. After running such a distance in my running shoes last year I was hobbling around.

As my muscles adapt, longer distances keep becoming possible, and I begin to see that the horizon of possibility for this type of thing is far greater than I imaged.

I've really been emphasizing proper form (to prevent another injury) and enjoyment over pace, but I looked at the clock today and the 17-miles was done in about 3 hours and 10 minutes. Not blazing fast, but not shabby either.

As my muscles adapt I'll likely be able to do better.

The route is maped out below:

Monday, July 13, 2009

15 Miles Almost Barefoot

I had a great run to Southington and back for a total of 15 miles Saturday. The sun was shining, everyone was roused out of their rainy torpor, and it was just plain fun.

I did it in my five fingers, which makes for a new almost-barefoot record for me. Perhaps two miles was actually barefoot, but my skin can only take so much of that before I have to put the fiver fingers back on.

I parked at Hubbard Park and ran to downtown Southington before looping back for a water bottle refill and another few miles to make 15.

Last year I was relying on a banana and celery mixture which I would pour into a waterbottle and sip along my route for calories to keep me going.

Yesterday I experimented with blended watermelon, and I found I liked it better than the banana mixture. Even water-down bananas are thick, and sometimes would lead to cramps over time. The watermelon doesn't seem to do this.

I also spent the second half of my run just following my breath and allowing myself to relax. After awhile it turned into a kind of meditation in motion. Very nice.

The map of my run is below:

Monday, June 29, 2009

Ten Miles In the Sun

I had a great run Saturday in the first sunshine I'd seen in weeks:

The sun was out, the several bodies of water I passed looked beautiful, and there was a pretty nice laid back feel to the whole thing.

Running 10.5 almost barefoot is the most I've managed so far, and it kind of raises my hopes. If I can manage 10.5 without a renewal of my foot injuries, why shouldn't I be able to do 15, or 26.2 for that matter? I still need to take it easy, but it's certainly an encouraging sign.

This morning I jogged over the Platt High School Track and did some wind sprints, running as fast as fast as I could up and down the racing lanes.

I have some pretty spectacular distance endurance, but this type of training reminds me of how specific training can be. When full out sprinting, my legs were pretty shot and I was completely out of breath after a few minutes. It's nice to get that surge of adrenaline from going all out, though.

It makes me wish I was in better shape during high school so I could have participated in the track program. I'm a huge fan of Hellenistic culture and history, and the Greek ideal of well-rounded gymnasium training really appeals to me in both and aesthetic and athletic sense.

I wouldn't mind learning how to throw a discuss and a javelin or maybe even taking up wrestling.

That, and do back flips. If I can figure out how to do an unassisted back flip, I'll die a contented man.

We'll see.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

A Little Bit Of Sunshine Never Hurt Anybuddy

A nice ride up East Peak on my bike to get the heart pumping.

A little basking in the sunshine up on the rocks.

Not too shabby for a before-work ride.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Back At It

This should run in the Record-Journal sometime later this week.

I figure finishing 19th out of 356 runners isn’t too shabby for a gimpy-footed, unshod amateur who hasn’t really run in eight months.

It’s been a frustrating winter of trying to teach myself how to run barefoot, and I decided to test out my new stride in the Bishop’s 5K for Kids in West Hartford on Saturday.

I’d badly mangled my feet training for a marathon last year, and reinjured my right one by running too hard too soon afterward.

By late September I’d trained up to 20-mile runs, but a combination of a changed stride and corrective shoes did me in, and what I think was probably the cartilage in my foot would start to throb painfully after just a few miles.

Then I really messed up my right foot by trying to run anyway, and I spend much of November, December and January, walking in quite a bit of pain.

By February I was spending a few minutes a day- all my foot could take- working on my form, learning to run barefoot over short distances. I found that barefoot running forced me to run in a way that wouldn’t let me injure myself- the pain of an awkward stride is the best feedback you can get.

Not being able to just head out and run was frustrating, but I found that by throwing away my pronation-control shoes and maintaining good form, I could escape most of the aches I’d long associated with running.

I found some old videos of Zola Budd, Abebe Bikila and Michael Tulloh – Olympic and professional runners who have famously refrained from using running shoes. I found that they weren’t letting their pronation stop them, and I’ve made an attempt to mimic their form.

I also found some interesting research that shows running barefoot is 4 percent more efficient, and that it lowers injury rates drastically. Considering that 65% of runners get injured every single year, I think I may be onto something with this.
Besides, running barefoot through a grassy field is just plain more fun than having your feet trapped in thick shoes.

I only started putting in more distance about four weeks ago, and the 5k was my first post-injury race.

I've actually only run one other race in my life. Competition against anyone but me has never really been appealing to me, and I only entered the marathon because I figured I might as well do something with all the extra energy I have on a raw food diet. Running a marathon seemed like an interesting choice.

Soon after the race- which started not far from downtown West Hartford- began, some runners who hadn’t spent the winter letting their lungs atrophy blew by me, and I happily settled into what I thought was the middle of the pack.

The three-mile course took us by the edge of the downtown and through a number of residential streets. The sun was out, and I was grateful to be running again in the cool morning air.

Turns out many of those runners who sprinted by me either got lost or misdirected, wandering off the route and disqualifying themselves. I just kept plugging away, concentrating on keeping a good stride, which, coincidentally, is easier to do the faster you go. A number of runners tired and fell away behind me, and I crossed the finish line in 19th place.

I’m still a mess, frankly. My right foot probably won’t die on my again if I increase distance in steady increments, but it still has twinges of pain periodically, and it probably won’t heal completely for some time.

Taking a look at some photos the Record-Journal photographer John Henninger took of me for this article, it’s obvious that I don’t go pitter patter down the street. I still lumber along like I’m 220 pounds, which I used to be before slimming down to 165 a number of years ago.

While I’ve managed to put a ski-jumper-like lean into my run and therefore enlisted gravity as my running aid, my chest and rear end still sticks out too much, somewhat ruining the effect. I’ve been able to able to get my right foot- which once splayed off to the right- more or less straight, but only when I concentrate on it.

Still, I’ve certainly turned a corner. I’m not sure if I’ll be running a marathon this year becuase running bare-foot, or almost barefoot, requires the use of muscles in your calf and ankle that go unused when running in shoes. I’m going to have to gradually build them up.

Before too long, though, I’ll be crossing a marathon finish line somewhere.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Well-Earned Hubris

It wasn't without a little smugness that I passed a uniformed group of four team riders pedaling up the mountain to Castle Craig last weekend.

I was not smug becuase I had been vigilant in my training- it was the second time I'd been on my bike since things started getting cold at the beginning of November.

It wasn't because of some natural level of physical fitness- I used to be really overweight and out of shape.

It was simply becuase I out eat those riders every day, and consequently I have a ridiculous advantage.

What did you have for breakfast this morning guys? I thought to myself as I passed them on the steep incline.

For me the answer was 20 tangerines. For them? Steak and eggs maybe? Oatmeal? Captain Crunch and milk?

The differences you feel within a few weeks of going on a low-fat diet centered around fruit is amazing.

Your energy levels skyrocket, it's easier to breath, and you don't get as tired.

Fat impedes the uptake and transport of oxygen, if nothing else. And every cell in the body runs off simple sugars.

Your body has to labor to convert oatmeal to simple sugars for use, but it's all ready to go for me.

The fact is that I didn't deserve to pass those riders. My training regime has been pathetic. I've been injured and resting all winter. That team probably races - which is something I've never even tried on a bike.

So when is the rest of the world going to wake up get off their addictions?

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

A taste of spring training.

This will appear in the paper this week.

Splashing through the muddy snow melt with the sun shining on my face Sunday, I allowed myself to indulge in the fantasy that spring had finally arrived.

A foot injury ended my marathon training attempt last fall, and running on it too soon reinjured it a month lat-er. By late November I was nursing a slight limp and muttering quite a bit under my breath, and decided I was going to spend my winter resting.

And so I have. I’ve slept in instead of hitting the road every morning, and my only exercise has been periodic trips to the Meriden YMCA to do a few exercises that don’t require me to crash down on my feet.

A week ago I finally started doing a few laps on the YMCA’s indoor track, but I’m being cautious.

But with the sun out and temperatures in the high 30s Sunday I couldn’t stay inside, and took out my mountain bike for a short trip that turned into a 17.5 miles jaunt into Cheshire.

The combination of my sustained ability to maintain circulation in my extremities and the fun of jumping off snow mounds kept me from turning back, and the miles flew by without me noticing too much.

Our halcyon days came to an abrupt halt Tuesday with plunging temperatures and a several inches of snow, so now I’m back in hibernation mode for another month. The few laps I’ve been doing have been in my Vibram Five Fingers- glove-like coverings for the feet that offer a bit of protection from cuts but no stabilization.

It’s as close to barefoot as I can get without having to worry about cutting my feet open on broken sidewalks and shards of glass. I’ve noticed all kinds of improvements to my running posture and a huge reduction in muscle soreness since using them.

I’d love to get some sort of minimalist shoe or racing flat to run in during cold weather, but I’ve found through a couple months of fruitless searching that as far as footwear companies are concerned, the only people who are interested in such shoes have graceful, arching, and narrow feet.

My feet are essentially corpulent, archless boats, so I’m out of luck. I found an ideal pair of minimally soled Puma shoes and couldn’t even stuff my feet into them.
At least I’ve had good recovery food.

Persimmon season ended a month back, and feasting on those gooey, cinnamon-like balls of pleasure was fun. Recently I’ve been having the produce guys at Shop Rite order me boxes of Manzano Bananas, which taste a bit like apples. A raw food diet isn’t too hard when you have good produce.

When the spring finally does arrive, I plan to take a more relaxed approach to my second marathon attempt. I’d ratcheted up to 20 mile-runs last summer and it will take me some time to get back to that point.

I’m still going to be doing my long weekend runs. Though exhausting, there’s a real joy to those long-distance treks, and I’ve missed them.

But during the week I’m planning on cutting down on my mileage to give me more recovery time. I’ll likely concentrate more on speed over short distances than middle distance runs like I did last year.

If all goes according to plan, I’ll be hale and ready for the Hartford Marathon in October. Second time’s the charm.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Delusions Of Spring

Spring is a month and a half away, but the strong sunshine reflecting off the banks of snow have a way of playing with my perceptions. That, combined with being cramped up for two months has left me rearing to get back on the road.

I wasn't made for winters, and my body is begging me to be let loose. I've been doing a few laps at the YMCA indoor track, but it's just not the same. Right now the roads and sidewalks are covered with sheets of ice, and there's not too much I can do.

Winter has given my body a good chance to recover from my fall injuries, but now it can hurry up and get warm.

Marathon, here I come.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Raw In The Winter And The Apple Banana Video

So it's winter, it's freezing, the my garden stopped producing fresh vegetables over four months ago.

You might surmise that it's pretty hard to be a raw foodist right now, but it's really not that bad. Make friends with your produce man and you can get all kinds of good stuff, like the Apple, or Manzano banana.

I first had these on vacation in Miami, and found out that I could have them imported here.

Here's the video:

Manzano Bananas

Website link:

Thursday, January 8, 2009

The Man Who Planted Trees

As a child I loved "The Man Who Planted Trees," by Jean Giono.

For years I dismissed it as idealism, but increasingly, as I've researched permaculture and other restorative agriculture systems, I see that Giono packed some incredible wisdom in this simple and quick read.

I've written before about the close tie between the decline in the earth and what we're putting in our mouths, and this tale just illustrates this.

I wrote a review of it here.

I hope all of you will take the time to read this amazing tale, and pass it on to a kid in your life.

Then go plant some trees.


The winter gusts have driven me inside to the YMCA right down the street from my apartment. I'm doing a bit of running but trying to take it easy on my right foot after a late November almost barefoot run ended with my foot plunging into a leaf-covered hole and injuring my forefoot.

I'm mostly sticking to biking, body weight exercises, and a really watered down stair climber they have there.