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Archive for the ‘Vibram Five Fingers’ Category

Leprechaun-5K

I had no expectations of myself coming into this race – none.  Sunday’s run would be my third of the year.  No, not my third race; my third run.  For a few months I’ve been nursing an aggravated hip that comes and goes.  In addition, I have been working hard on growing my fledgling personal training business.  The only real exercise I had done in the past two weeks has been 4 minute tabata burpees between dropping off Katie and Brooke off at school during the school week.

That.  Is.  It.

So, like I said, I had no expectations of how I was going to do or feel after 3.1 miles this past Sunday.

That being the case, I decided that I shouldn’t position myself at the very front of the pack at the start of the race, opting instead to start several yards behind the front-runners.  After a wonderful rendition of the Star Spangled Banner by the race director’s daughter, the starting horn blared and we were off.

A small pack of about twenty to twenty five runners immediately separated themselves from the masses.  I had to make a snap decision to either follow and run hard or stay back and enjoy the scenery.  I focused on my hip for two or three steps, trying to anticipate whether it could handle a hard effort.

No real pain – check!

I decided to chase the group.

I had left my phone in the car and my GPS watch is on the fritz, so I had no idea just how fast I was going, and with a downhill start I really was not in a position to judge pace.  Over the first half mile, the jack rabbits began to shake out – I was now sitting somewhere around 16th or 17th.

We began a short uphill climb.  This is where I made my first move – I tend to push the hills a bit; I find it’s a great way to reel people in.  I caught up to a group of 3 or 4 runner and passed them on the inside.  As we hit the mile marker I took a quick glance at my watch before setting my sights on a few runners ahead of me.

7:25.

Okay, not a bad pace for someone who has been struggling with their running for the last few months.  My hip was fine, but my glutes and quads were already burning, as were my lungs.  I tried to ignore the pain and pressed on.

As I began to pick off runners one by one, I looked way down the road.   I could barely see the leaders.  I counted back.

1…2…3…

4, 5, 6…

7…8…9th!

I was running 9th with about 1.8 miles to go.

That’s when I heard the footsteps.  They were slowly getting louder and louder.

Thump, thump! Thump, thump!

Without turning I yelled, “which side are passing me on?”

I couldn’t make out what he said.

Thump, thump! Thump, thump!

His footsteps got louder.  I couldn’t tell how far behind he was, but it felt like he was right on my tail and gaining.  I slid to the left, encouraging him to pass me by.

“It’s all you, man!” I said.

Thump, thump! Thump, thump!

If he said something, I didn’t hear it.  Surprisingly, he didn’t pass me.

The two of us passed the guy running in 8th.

His footsteps continued to push me as I, I hope, pulled him.

Thump, thump! Thump, thump!

My legs and lungs were burning.  I glanced down at my watch.

14:30.

14:30?  I had thought we were going faster but the mile 2 marker was nowhere in sight.  Was it possible the I had slowed down that significantly?  Were we that far from 2 miles that it wasn’t in sight?  Nearly a minute later I spotted a sign that looked like a marker.  I looked at my watch.

15:15, 15:16, 15:17…

What in the world???

As we got closer, I noticed that the mile marker said 2.2 miles – 15:35…we had averaged 6:54 for that 1.2 miles.

Okay…now I get it!

I was encouraged by the fact that we only had 0.9 miles to go.  Though I wouldn’t admit it beforehand, I was hoping to break 24:00 that day.  I was sure I had that in hand, but knowing I had less than a mile to go, I decided to push it for all I had.

Thump, thump! Thump, thump!

“Footsteps” was still behind me.  I was sure he was going to pass me at any time now as we approached the finish.  He had been shadowing me for a bulk of the race, biding his time.  I was not looking forward to the finish.  I remembered from the previous year that the Leprechaun 5K ends with the last third to half mile uphill and as much as I enjoy catching people on hills, I hate finishing races on hills.

“Footsteps” began to fade…I yelled back encouragement, trying to egg him on, but his footstep continued to fade.  As I hit the 3 mile marker, I let myself enjoy the fact that I was going to comfortably finish in 8th.  The woman in 7th simply had too big of a lead on me and there was no way I was going to catch her, but “Footsteps” had been vanquished.

“Thumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthump!!!”

These footsteps sounded different.

Faster.

Lighter.

…Younger.

In a flash my joy evaporated as a kid went flying by on my left.

No. Way!  I tried to hit the next gear – I wasn’t going to give up my spot without a fight to this kid.

I dropped the hammer and pushed…

…and kept going at the speed I had been cruising along in.  The kid flew past me like I was standing still.

Sigh.

I crossed the finish line in 22:02, covering the last 0.9 miles in 7:10 pace for an overall pace of about 7:06 – good enough for a 9th place finish.

I stumbled up to the kid.

“Were you the footsteps behind me,” I asked confused.  He looked confused as well.  I turned to see “Footsteps” finishing.  I turned back to the kid.  Obviously he had started further back and finished strong.

“How old are you, kid?  16? 17?” I asked.

“I’m 13,” he said with a grin.  I shook my head.  Crap!  Taken out like I was standing still by a boy the age of my daughter.  I knew that this day would eventually come – I just didn’t expect it to happen at 13.

13!!!

I gave him a pat on the back and went to chat with “Footsteps”.  We thanked each other for pushing/pulling the other along.

In the end, despite being taken down by a 13 year old, I was pretty happy with my performance.  It was nowhere near my best in a 5K, but it was pretty darn satisfying to finish in the top 10 out of 200+ runners.  It did make me realize though that I have a long way to go to get back into marathon shape.

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Me flabbergasted that I just got passed by a 13 year old…

 

Hope you all had a fantastic weekend!

Happy St. Paddy’s Day!

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About a month ago I went to my 20th year college reunion (yes, I’m that old).  To kick the festivities off, a few fraternity brothers and I decided to take to the links for 18 holes of golf.  I suck at golf.  I mean, really, really suck.  I’m so bad that I tell people that I essentially get to play twice as much golf as your regular hacker for the price of admission.

Yeah, I’m bad.  I’ve got this wicked slice that essentially means I lose at least one ball off the tee on every hole.  It’s so bad that I  play to my weakness on short par-3’s.  While everyone else is pulling out 7- or 9-irons for the short shot to the green, I pull out my driver, place the ball on a tee, line up the shot…and then turn 45° to 60° to the right (I’m left handed).

Last month initially my friends looked at me like I was crazy, but when the ball flew off the tee, began to turn to the left about 50 yards out and then land mere feet from the cup, they were dumbstruck (of course, I ended up 2 putting it missing my opportunity for my first ever birdie, but that’s my golf game).

Short par-3’s – essentially my only opportunity to keep up with anybody.

But then on the last hole we were presented with a situation where we needed to hit the ball off of the tee over a deep ravine to the fairway a good 100+ yards away.  The guys I was playing with could all easily make the distance, but with my awful slice off of the tee, I was pretty convinced I had no shot – the distance was too far for me to play to my weakness.  Even if I line up at a 45° angle, the ball was not going to cover the straight distance.  So I tried to relax.  I loosened my grip and just the club swing itself.  To my (and everybody else’s) surprise, my ball went straight and long, past everyone else’s save one (and it was close).

At that moment I realized that I had played to my weaknesses too long and that if I wanted to improve as a golfer, I would have to simply get back to basics and start all over again.

***

This past week I ran twice for a grand total 6 miles.

6 miles? Isn’t that a little short for you Luau? I mean even for like one run?

Yes, it is, but I feel like these two short runs may have been the most meaningful 6 miles I’ve run in a very long time.  Those two runs were done in my bare feet, on the sidewalks and roads of my neighborhood.  Because of the hard surface and complete nakedness of my feet, I was forced to run very carefully, more specifically, more correctly.  To say that the experience was totally painless would be a blatant lie – pebbles, hot asphalt, twigs; they all hurt when you step on them just so.  But what didn’t hurt were the arches of my feet, the joints in my knees and hips, my back or my neck.  The reason?  Because I was running with proper form – I had no choice.

A few years back when I first started this running thing, I made the early adoption to the Vibram Five Finger trend.  I was so gung-ho about it that my wife got me this as my birthday cake:

Yes, that is a Vibram Five Finger KSO Cake

I would end up running several marathons in some version the VFF product line including Boston 2010.  Eventually however, I moved away from the VFF’s.  I migrated to Saucony’s minimalist shoe, the Kinvara, and immediately took 11 minutes off of my marathon PR and qualified for Boston 2011.  The Saucony, though minimal in spirit and design, still afforded me some decent protection when my form would break down in the later miles.  They allowed me to to extend my stride forward when I was tiring without causing pain to my heel.

I happily ran in them for almost 2 years, even coming close to re-qualifying for Boston under the new standards this past May.

But something has been off.  Something has been wrong.

I love my Kinvara’s but they have allowed me to play back toward my weakness, which is the heel-strike many of us have grown up into with the over-sized bricks we grew up with as children of the 80’s and 90’s.

I recently watched this (courtesy of my good friend Pete over at runblogger.com)

And then I saw this (also courtesy of Pete over at runblogger.com)

One thing became clear to me, it was time to go back to basics.  Much like I was able to improve my golf stroke by going back to basics, I plan on improving my running and running form by going back to basics and starting all over again.  The 6 miles of barefoot running I did last week brought me back to the basics of running.  Stripping away all of the technology (and as much as I love my Kinvara, they are still a thick soled shoe) at least two or three times a weeks and going naked I believe is going to make me a better runner in the long run.

I will not be as fast immediately.  I will still probably do my longer runs in either my Saucony’s or my VFF’s, but this stripping down, this completely natural running I believe is the key to making me better, stronger, and eventually, faster.

I feel like someone who has just discovered running for the very first time…again.

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On Sunday I ran for the first time since the Green Mountain Relay – almost 2 weeks to the hour.  Part of my lack of running has been a purposeful rest; part has been forced on me with the onset of mild plantar fasciitis.  The run was supposed to be the first group run for locals running Boston 13.1 with Team Up with Autism Speaks.  I had been delinquent in getting a schedule out, so this last minute group ended up being a group of one.  I contemplated going home when nobody showed up, but I knew that I needed to get some miles in.

The run was awful – 6.2 miles of tired legs and weak lungs mixed with a serving of  “why am I doing this?”  It didn’t help that at the end my feet were not happy.

How the Hell am I going to lead these group runs over the next ten weeks if I can hardly walk?

I’ve been fighting this PF now for about two, maybe three weeks.  Looking back, there were twinges well before Sugarloaf, but it really kicked in a couple of weeks ago – the intense pain getting out of bed in the morning, the discomfort walking.  I was forced to stop wearing my flip-flops.  That just about killed me – I can’t stand wearing normal shoes when I’m bopping around town; my feet tend to overheat.  About a week ago I took to going barefoot around the house.  When I would take the dogs out for their walks, I wouldn’t bother putting on shoes.  At first it was a little tough on the soles of my feet, but eventually, I got used to it.  Although the pain in the morning and after sitting idle for extended periods of time didn’t go away, moving about became less painful.

Then came Sunday’s run.  I did not have a good time.  There was nothing redeeming about that run except that I ran.  That was it.  I started to think that maybe I would just run on Sundays with the group, painting a grin on my face if I needed to.  That didn’t sound like fun at all.

***

Over the last week, several of my running friends have offered remedies for my plantar fasciitis.  Some suggested tennis balls.  Some suggested frozen water bottles.  Others suggested going to a chiropractor.  Some suggest orthodics, special shoes and socks, even taping up my feet.

I tried the frozen water bottles.  They felt good while I was rolling my feet on them, but I’m not sure how much they really helped.

One suggestion that kept nagging at though came from my buddy JB.  You may remember JB from the Vermont 50, the Super Sunday 5-miler, the Quincy Half and Sugarloaf.  He is a VFF (Vibram Five Finger) runner (he ran the Vermont 50 in Vibrams – Rock STAR!!!).  He suggested that I pull out my old VFF’s and go run until I burned the Plantar Fasciitis from my feet.

Hmmmmm…. I thought, that could be interesting.

I was hearing conflicting suggestions about how to treat PF – more support! less support! more support! less support! more support! less support!

After Sunday’s run (in Kinvara 3’s – which I do like, though not as much as the originals), I was willing to try anything.

BUT, being the kind of person who rarely half does something, I decided that if I were gonna go the less support route, it was going to be all the way.

So I put this old pair of shoes on:

The oldest pair of footwear I own.

My plan was to limit myself to two miles.  Initially, running barefoot or barefoot style can be tough on the lower calves.  I made the mistake of running three or four miles the first time I put on a pair of VFF’s and I couldn’t walk for a week.  I was nervous as to how my soles would hold up.  Would it hurt running on the sidewalk and street?  Would I be able to avoid pebbles and glass?  Would I rip up my feet?

I knew I needed to take it slowly, but amazingly, my first mile was faster than any of the miles I ran on Sunday, coming in at a comfortable 8:09.  Having reached the turnaround point of my run, I did a quick self-check – lungs? good. legs? good. feet? just fine!!!

I decided to could go another half mile before I turned around.  When I reached that half mile, I was tempted to go even further, but I knew I ran the very real risk of overdoing it.  I knew that I may have already overdone it.  So I turned around and headed for home.  As I hit two miles, I looked at my Garmin – 8:04.  Not bad at all!!!

I decided to pick up the pace just a little – to see if I could manage a sub-8:00 mile barefoot.  To my surprise, at one point, I was running close to 7:40 pace.  When I reached home, the final mile came in at 7:55.  3 miles in 24:08 – not bad for my first barefoot run ever.  Afterward, the calves felt a little tight, as did my hips.  Hopefully the stretching I did will help speed recovery so I’m not in too much pain in the morning.

As I sit here and write this, I really want to get back out and try this barefoot thing again.  Yeah, I’ve got a little bit of a hot spot on the ball of my foot, but I’m pretty sure it’s just a matter of building up the soles a little.  I’m going to force myself to take the day off tomorrow but I am determined to give this barefoot thing another go on Thursday.  Who knows, maybe by Sunday I’ll be ready to take the Team Up with Autism Speaks group on their 75 minute run without my shoes.

This could be a whole new chapter in my evolution as a runner…

I’ll keep you posted.

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Last week I awoke one day to a message on Facebook from my friend Sue.  She had sent me a link to this —>

, saying she thought of me when she first saw it.  Little did I know that Jess had posted that same video on her blog just the day before.  I urge you to watch it, but I warn you, have some tissues ready.  After initially seeing it, and wiping away many tears, I sent a “thank you” to Sue.

The next day I got a note from my friend Logan.  He was speaking on a podcast called Geeks in Running Shoes previewing a presentation he was going to give to a group from Google on the nexus of running and social media.  During the podcast he spoke of reading this blog and how it completely changed the way he sees autism – or more to point, that he now SEES autism and is less inclined to judge a family and their “misbehaving” child.

Later I received a response from Sue.  She told me that she and her family had done the Autism Walk in her hometown due in large part to the regular posts both Jess and I put up on our respective blogs.

Each of those things, the video by Lou, the presentation by Logan and Sue’s initial thought of me and response would have individually made me feel pretty inspired, but it was the rapid fire impact of those three that hit me like a Mack Truck of Good Feelings.

Suddenly my brain was in high gear, jumping from one project to another that has fallen by the wayside over the last year or two – the books I want to write (one about running, the other completely unrelated), the motivational tools I want to produce – I became even more motivated in fund raising for Autism Speaks and the spreading of the message of awareness.

But the biggest impact was on my desire to run.  It is no secret that I have been struggling to find my mojo since May.  My runs have been uninspired at best.  This past weekend I ran on both Saturday and Sunday for the first time in a long while.  I went back to basics on Saturday, pulling out my old Vibram Treks and did a nice little 5-miler into town and back.  My calves were almost immediately in pain when I got home, but I LOVED it!  On Sunday, I put on the more traditional shoes and went out  just to “run for fun”.  Shortly into my run I came across an entrance to a trail, shrugged my shoulders and went for my first trail run.

What fun!  The only downside, if there was one, was that I ended up getting lost, ending up at the same bridge over a sea of 4 foot tall grass three times before I finally figured out how to get out of the woods.  My only real worry was the 93° heat, otherwise, in the wise words of my friend Lisa (@runlikeacoyote – you should follow her if you are on twitter), it really wasn’t getting lost, it was just exploring.

Bottom line is this – I am pumped, full of energy and raring to go (though I did come to the conclusion that I am in no way ready to take the plunge on a 50-mile run through the mountains of Vermont – especially if it’s 93frickin’°!!!). Still, I feel good – terribly sore, but good!  My calves really hate me right now, but it’s good.

I’m looking forward to putting words to paper (already 1200 words in), I’m re-thinking my “why we run” project, I am setting up an appointment with a graphics designer, I’m looking forward to this October’s Autism Walk with Autism Speaks, and I have renewed motivation for spreading awareness.

AND running is fun again.

How incredible is it that one can spend months trying to find their mojo only to have it reappear thanks to three apparently unconnected, yet intricately related people.

Thank you Lou for your vision, thank you Logan for opening yourself up to awareness and passing it on, and thank you Sue for your open heart, your kindness and inspiration.

Finally, for all those who have seen Lou’s video, here’s his thank you to you.

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Why do you run?

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After nearly 2 years, I have finally reached a balance when it comes to my funny little running shoes. As many of you know, I have been a proponent of the Vibram Five Finger shoe for almost a year and a half now. Part of my inspiration came from reading Born To Run by Christopher McDougall, part of it came from my good friend Mike (famous for his battle with the Cat in the Hat last April). The thing is, you may have noticed that I haven’t been talking about them quite as much lately. I haven’t been pushing them, proselytizing about them.

I realized recently that I went into this minimalist shoe thing, the VFF’s in particular, all wrong. I did everything one was NOT supposed to do, and I paid for it with pain, injury and worst of all, time away from running. If transitioned to properly, I believe that the Vibrams are one of the best things you can do for yourself, your feet and your running, on many different levels.

Let’s start with why they are good:

  1. They will push you to run with proper form – the thing about running barefoot is that you can’t be a heavy-duty heel striker. Even if that is what you have become, you are forced by the lack of heel protection to change your posture. If you try to continue to run with a heel-strike while barefoot, you’ll only end up hurting yourself…badly.
  2. If used properly, you will avoid injuries to your knees and hips – because you are forced into better posture, your knees and hips don’t take the extreme pounding they would normally take while running with a heel-strike
  3. You will run faster – because you are not hitting the breaks with your heels at every footfall, your momentum doesn’t get interrupted and you are able to maintain a higher speed.
  4. You will run longer – because of the maintained momentum, you expend less energy with each step, each yard, each mile, leaving you more energy to run farther.

Sounds pretty good. Sounds like a miracle shoe. Let’s go out and get a pair and start piling on the miles!

***

***

Yeah, you know what? That’s exactly what I did. I read Born to Run and I talked to my buddy Mike and I was sold, convinced, converted. I was ready to dedicate my feet to Barefoot Ted and Vibrams. So I went out and bought a pair of the VFF Sprints, took them home, hopped on the treadmill and ran 3 miles.

BANG! BANG! BANG!

That was the sound of my feet on my treadmill as I ran my first VFF run. It was so loud! But you know what? It felt great…for about half a mile. Then my shins started to hurt a little. The burning pain grew, but I was determined to keep going.

These were Vibram Five Fingers!

They were barefoot shoes!

Evolution had programmed and designed me to run like this.

The pain would go away, right?

RIGHT?

But no, the pain didn’t go away. In fact, it got worse. By the time I hit 2 miles my shins were throbbing and my calves were starting to bark.

I breathed a sigh of relief when I finally hit 3 miles.

MY GOD THAT WAS PAINFUL!!!

But the pain was nothing compared to what I felt the next morning.

You know that feeling you get the morning after a hard fought marathon? The kind of feeling that forces you to walk down stairs backwards? Yeah, well 3 miles in the Vibrams on the treadmill had pretty much done the same thing to me. For the next three or four days I hobbled, if you could even call it that. Walking was painful.

In all seriousness, I was ready to toss the shoes and call them an $80 mistake. I called my buddy Mike to bitch about them, but before I could say anything he asked how far I had run in them.

“3 miles,” I said.

There was a moment of silence on the other side of the line and then some mild laughter. He knew. He knew that I must have been in incredible pain.

“Dude! You shouldn’t have done more than a half a mile the first time in those things! You could really hurt yourself like that!”

“Well, you could’ve told me,” I said. He laughed and we moved on to other topics, but at that point I realized that I needed to give the Vibrams another chance. This time I would take it slowly and build up my mileage a little at a time.

And that’s what I did. Over the course of the next month or so, I built up my mileage until I was able to do 8 mile runs regularly in them.

This is where my next big mistake came. I loved these shoes so much, that I eliminated my other running shoes completely. I loved them and talked about them so much that my wife had this made for my birthday:

 

Yes, that is a Vibram Five Finger KSO Cake

The problem with that is when you wear the same shoe all of the time, you run a higher risk of repetitive motion injuries, and when you’ve spent a lifetime running in regular shoes, certain muscles and tendons have atrophied to the point where they are weak and brittle. I got away with it for a few months. I had developed a pretty decent stride, but my form still had a tendency to break down a little late in longer runs. I was able to fend off injury to my achilles’ tendon through stretching, but in the meantime, I didn’t realize what I was doing to the tendons on the top of my feet. About 5 weeks before I was to run my first marathon, I went out for a run and I got a sharp pain on the top of my right foot. This was not a “let me see if I can run through it” type of a pain. No, this was, “HOLY CRAP I HAVE GOT TO STOP RIGHT NOW!!!” kind of a pain. Being the intelligent person that I am I decided to try another 10 yards and nearly collapsed to the ground on the second stride.

Something was dreadfully wrong.

After much testing and worrying, I was relieved to know I had not broken anything. I had a severe case of tendinitis however and the doctor ordered me to lay off the running for six weeks.

Hmmm…6 week, eh, Doc? I don’t think I can do that.

Why not, Luau?

Well, you see, I’ve got this marathon coming up in 5 weeks.

No, no you don’t have a marathon coming in 5 weeks. You aren’t going to run. Why would you want to run a marathon anyway?

I sighed after that comment, knowing that I wasn’t going to get anywhere with her. She realized that I was going to run one way or the other.

Ok, she said, I think you’re crazy for doing it in the first place, but if you are going to run it, you need to take the next 3-4 weeks off and then take it easy leading up to the marathon. The moment you feel pain in the race, you stop!

The moment I feel pain? I thought The marathon is about ignoring pain!

I nodded my head and said I would.

The truth is though, I did need to take time off. I could barely walk on my foot, much less run on it. Even swimming, which I did during those 4 weeks, was initially painful to do because of the tendinitis. All of this pain, because I jumped headlong, eyes closed into the minimalist shoe movement without taking into consideration that maybe my legs and feet needed some time to adjust.

So what’s my point? When I started wearing Vibrams, they were the fringe of the fringe. Most odd-balls looked at me like I was crazy. Now, almost 2 years later, the Five Finger shoe line has gained a foothold in the running shoe market. More and more people are willing to try them out. This increased use by an uninformed public has led to some injuries that are being reported by an uninformed press. The Boston Globe, among others, recently published an article about the dangers of wearing the Five Finger shoe. They only get the story half right. Yes, the VFF’s can lead to injury if the wearer doesn’t go about transitioning to them the right way. However, with a little patience, something that is lost in this age of immediate gratification, one can avoid injury all together.

If you are considering a move to Vibram Five Fingers or any other extreme minimalist shoe, I would suggest three things:

  1. Take your time – start slowly and with as few miles as you can possibly take. In fact, if you are using VFF’s for the first time, try a quarter or half mile and call it a day. You can finish your run in your traditional shoes, but don’t be fooled by the initial “it feels so good” feeling. It can only lead to trouble.
  2. Consider a transition shoe. Something that has a bit of a minimalist feel that still has some of the support and cushioning of a traditional shoe. Personally, I highly recommend the Saucony Kinvara. It is low to the ground, relatively flat, light as a feather, but still soft underfoot.
  3. Don’t go exclusively with one shoe. Try rotating your shoes. It doesn’t have to be a 50-50 split. You simply want to make sure that you are not putting the same stresses on the same spots every time you run. This will help you avoid repetitive stress injuries like I suffered right before my first marathon.

If you’re still here, hopefully it means you are still interested in going minimalist. I highly recommend it. It will make you faster and allow you to run longer. Just don’t go making the same mistakes I made.

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Today’s post is part of a Minimalist Running Blog Carnival. You can link to the round-up at http://www.strengthrunning.com/2011/02/minimalist-blog-carnival/ where you will find several links to other bloggers writing about different aspects of minimalist running. I hope you will click over and check them out.

Why do you run?

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Everything in moderation. My father says that all the time.

In Buddhism, it is called the Middle Way, a mid-point between extremes, that by it’s very nature keeps one safe from the dangers of those extremes.

Some would say (the wife included) that over the past two years, I have taken my running to an extreme. Well, maybe as far as the general population is concerned, but within the running community, I don’t see myself as too far off the reservation. The only thing that I had been pretty extreme on is my choice of footwear.  In June of 2009 I made the switch to the Vibram Five Fingers and I didn’t look back. I embraced it whole-heartedly and became somewhat of a Five Finger preacher, evangelizing the wonders of barefoot-style running.

3 Marathons, 3 Half-Marathons and several other races later, I still thought that they were awesome.

The problem with going to extremes however, is that you very often blind yourself to the benefits of the other extreme or to the possible issues within your own extreme.

Look at both the political climate in our country and the religious climate in the Western Hemisphere. People are entrenched in their own positions, refusing to even acknowledge that there might be something positive coming from the other side. Christians and Muslims continue to go at each other despite sharing some common beliefs, and Democrats and Republican continue to put their own interests ahead of the interests of the people who elected them.

And so it was with my conversion to the Five Finger religion. Now, don’t get me wrong, I am still a huge, HUGE fan of the Vibram Five Fingers. If you haven’t tried the new Bikilas or the Treks yet, I highly recommend them. They are both wonderful for running, and I still use them on a regular basis.  BUT, I have come to a place now where I am willing to look a little more carefully at the finer details of my running.   A little over a year and a half into the Vibrams, I’m still a moderate heel-striker.  My form has improved, but I have not been able to completely transform myself into the mid-foot striker I would like to be.  Don’t get me wrong.  I am not complaining.  In fact, I am very pleased with how my year of running has gone (more on that on Thursday), however, because my my form tends to break down in the latter half of my longer runs, I need to take the long view and protect my legs.

Over the past several months, I have come to appreciate the Larson School of Thought as it pertains to shoes.  Larson (actually my buddy and fellow BQ Pete) believes in rotating one’s shoes.  I think he does it in part because he loves running shoes, but the main reason is because each shoe is slightly different and therefore puts stress on slightly different parts of the body.  When you rotate through 2 – 5 pairs of shoes, you reduce the risk of overuse injuries because the stress points that your body has to deal with are being moved ever so slightly.

I have found that since I introduced the Saucony Kinvaras into my rotation, my aches and pains have reduced dramatically.  That’s not to say I don’t have aches and  – running can be hard on the body – but I find that I am running harder and stronger yet recovering more quickly.   I am convinced that much of that has to do with keeping my legs and feet guessing as to what they are going to be running in on any given day.

Extremes can be good.  They open our eyes to new possibilities, but in the end, the path to longevity lies down the Middle Way.

Are you a multi-shoe runner? or do you stick to your favorite pair?

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Why do you run?

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…when it comes to speed. What is fast for some is slow for others and visa-versa. Still, the one standard you can compare yourself to is, well, yourself. Part of the reason many of us enter footraces is to see just how fast we are. Once we have finished one, we use each subsequent race to measure how our speed has waxed or waned.  Much of our change in speed can be attributed to diet, hydration, training, weather and quality of sleep & recovery.

But what about Mars Blackmon’s eternal question, “Is it the shoes?”

Can what you wear on your feet make a significant impact on how you perform on the streets?  Nike, along with Blackmon (Spike Lee) and Michael Jordan, tried to sell us on that idea way back in the early 1990’s.  “It’s gotta be the shoes” was everywhere.

Runners today have a myriad of shoes to choose from when they enter a running store.  Every shoe has it’s selling point, whether it’s support or cushioning, firmness or flexibility.  And of course, we all have different feet, so the range of choice is a good thing, right?  But what if you are simply looking to increase your speed.  You feel you are close to whatever goal it is you have set for yourself, but you have fallen just a little bit short.  Is there a shoe for that?

People are constantly asking me, “Can you run fast in those, uh, things?” They point at my Vibram Bikilas or Treks, not sure what to make of them.

Commercial hype and celebrity endorsements aside (Joe Montana – it is so sad to see you pitching those Skechers Shape Ups), let’s do a simple thought experiment.  Let’s pit twin brothers against each other in a long distance race.  Each has had the exact same training, eaten the exact same foods, and received the exact same amount of sleep.  They are wearing the exact same outfits and weigh exactly the same.  They also both incorporate the same running style.  Which one would you bet on to win this race?  You can’t, because any bet you make would be a complete guess.

Now, let’s take one of the twins out of his traditional shoes and put him in a pair that weigh half as much (12oz to 6oz each).  This is now the only difference between the twins.  One is literally carrying 3/4 of a pound less than the other.  Now you may wonder, what difference can 3/4lb make in a footrace?  Well, based on certain calculators out there on the internet, for a 175lb man like me, it can mean 9 seconds in a 10K, 22 seconds in a half-marathon and as much as 45 seconds in a full marathon.  For a 150lb runner, the time difference is even greater.  What’s 9 seconds?  Well, it can mean the difference between placing in your age group  or not (I’ve missed placing in my age group twice 5 seconds or less).  It can also mean the difference between qualifying for Boston or not.  I still have over 9 minutes to make up, but if I ran in traditional shoes and clocked a 3:21:40, I’d be pretty ticked off!

So what am I getting at?  Vibram Fivefingers are my racing shoe.  They literally are half the weight of my old Brooks trainers and I am convinced that they have helped me reached times that I wouldn’t have had otherwise.  Between the  forcing me to run in a more efficient manner and allowing me to carry less weight, my speed has picked up.  At the age 40 and with only a little over a year of consistent running under my belt, I was able to record a sub-40 in just my second 10K.  I was not a runner before November 2008.  Was it solely because of the shoes?  No way!  But I don’t doubt that they had a huge part in my race that day (of course, I still missed the podium by a few seconds).

If you are a dyed-in-the-wool heel striker with no desire to change your stride, then the minimalist shoe is probably not for you.  But if you are naturally a mid- to fore-foot striker, or are like me, a partially reformed heel-striker, and you are looking for ways to cut down your times, the Vibrams, and more specifically the Bikilas or Treks, may be the shoe for you.  I’ve heard people say that as heel-strikers they cannot possibly run in the Vibrams.   I would have to disagree.  I have always been a heel-striker and although I’ve  tried to alter my mechanics, using a cross between chi-running and barefoot techniques, I will still land just ever so slightly on my heel.

Providence Marathon

Boston 13.1

Boston Run To Remember

That said, my heels have been fine.  I am a faster, stronger and more efficient runner than I ever was.

Taken to extremes, you may ask, well why not toss out the shoes altogether? Go barefoot!  That’s another 45 seconds right there!  The problem with that for me is I don’t have natural tread on the bottom of my feet.  Both the Treks and the Bikilas have enough tread so you can run hard and still maintain traction with the ground.  If I tried that barefoot, I think I’d rip the skin right off the bottoms of my feet.

I’ve put well over 1000 miles in VFF’s over the last 12 month, with close to 400 in either Treks or Bikilas, interspersed with some runs in my traditional Brooks.  I know my comfortable pace in my VFF’s is about 20 seconds faster than my Brooks.

Based on my personal experience therefore, I have to agree with Mars. “It’s gotta be the shoes!”

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