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.