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Posts Tagged ‘VFF’

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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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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Yesterday I picked up a pair of the new Vibram Bikila. They weren’t supposed to be in the stores until this morning, but when I called to find out what time they thought they would be coming in, I was told they had just received a small shipment. They had received one pair in my size. I asked the salesperson to hold on to them and that I’d be there in 10 minutes.

I was there in 5.

The moment I slipped them onto my feet, I knew this was going to be my new favorite shoe. I have run in Vibram Sprints, KSO’s and Treks. All were great for running in, but these Bikilas fit nice and snug. They feel fast. I jogged lightly from one end of the store to the other, “testing” them out. I really didn’t need to…I just wanted to show them off. Now that they were on my feet, I didn’t care if someone else with my foot size showed up. I mentioned to the salesperson that I was happy that I had called because I knew had I waited until this morning, I would have been told that they had just sold the one pair they had in my size. These shoes are selling like hotcakes. On Thursday, CitySports put about 150 pair up online. They were gone in 20 minutes.

I brought them home and showed them to my family. They were unimpressed, and quite honestly, I guess I could understand. I never was into the Air Jordan craze. I never understood the hysteria. Now I do. I’ve been itching for a pair of Bikila since I first heard about them. The fact that I could play with but not purchase them at the Boston Marathon Expo killed me.

Anyway, after dinner I went for my first run in them.

Over the course of my 3 mile run, I took them over a variety of terrain, including road, sidewalk, grass and brush. The Bikila performed perfectly in all conditions. The only place I might hesitate taking them is on truly off road terrain, but quite honestly, I wouldn’t be surprised it they handled that decently as well. During my run I was able to feel the ground beneath as well as I could in my Sprints, but still get some traction like I do in my Treks. One of the reasons why I had switched to Treks in my long runs had been the fact that after 5 – 6 miles in my Sprints I would often feel the bottoms of my feet heating up a bit. That doesn’t happen in my Treks (at least not in runs 26.2 miles or shorter) and based on the feel of the Bikila, I don’t anticipate that happening with them either.

As I mentioned earlier, these Vibrams feel fast when you put them on. These truly feel like a second skin to me, unlike my previous Vibrams that in comparison, feel like loose fitting gloves. The tread on the Bikila is like a cross between the KSO’s/Sprints and the Treks. Thick enough to feel like you’ve got some traction and protection, but light enough to feel the road completely. As I went out for my run, I told myself to go slow. My legs are still recovering from my 2 Marathons in 2 Weeks Adventure and I had originally planned on waiting until Monday to start running again. Of course, with the Bikila in hand, I wasn’t about to NOT run. So I went out with the intention of running a slow 3 miler.

These shoes don’t want to go slowly. Your feet just want to go in them and mine did. After starting off with an 8+ minute mile, I covered the last 2 miles in 15 minutes, without any realization that I was running that fast. Had you asked me to guess my pacing, I would have told you I ran 8 minute miles the whole way. For those of you who are not runners, but have made it this far in my review, a 30 second difference per mile is NOT insignificant. It is huge.

When I arrived home, I didn’t do my usual routine of ripping off my shoes immediately after the run. I had to leave them on. HAD to. That’s because not only do they feel fast, and not only do they have the perfect balance of tread on the soles, they are comfortable. I mean cozy! The feet feel great in them. If I wasn’t moderately self-conscious, I would wear then 24/7 – from dropping off the kids at school, to going to the grocery store, taking the kids to their various activities – I would wear them everywhere – and then I’d run in them. Unfortunately, I am a little shy when it comes to wearing them for anything but running, but that’s a Luau problem, not a Bikila problem.

I feel bad for my other Vibrams. I haven’t worn the Sprints since last fall, and the KSO have only been pulled out a couple times over the last few month. I thought I had found my perfect Vibram in my Treks. They are a great running shoe, especially during the cold winter months up here in the Northeast, but they too are about to be relegated to being a back-up player. The Bikila’s have taken the best from each of the previous models and improved upon them. These shoes were obviously made with the runner in me in mind. The Bikila are truly the runner’s Vibram Five Finger shoe. I am sure you will feel the same.

My new favorite running shoe – The Vibram Bikila!

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I need YOUR contributions to a project that I’m working on. Interested?

All you need to do is send me a paragraph or two telling me why you run and/ or why you think others should run. E-mail it to me at “runluaurun at gmail dot com” (written out so the bots don’t start sending me spam).

If you can, please include a picture of your favorite running shoes and tell me what kind of shoes they are. Also, please let me know how you would like to be referenced (real name, nickname, pseudonym, etc) just in case this project actually ever sees the light of day.

The more responses I get, the sooner I can put it all together, so please don’t be shy about forwarding this to your running friends and spreading the word.

Thanks!

Luau

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This past Sunday I ran the Providence Marathon. This was the marathon I had been training for all winter in hopes of qualifying for Boston 2011. Instead, plans changed, I ran Boston 2010 two weeks ago and was forced to change my approach to this marathon. Running 2 marathons in 2 weeks, especially when you haven’t specifically trained for it, is just a tad nuts. Many of you let me know that two weeks ago when I announced that I would indeed run Providence. I did manage to give Sunday’s run some purpose with my $22 for your favorite charity post (and the 22 of you that participated truly helped me through the last few miles), but in retrospect, I don’t think it made it any less crazy.

As crazy as it was though, I came into Providence with a plan – start slooooooowly.

Which I did.

Kinda.

The thought of running Providence as a Boston qualifier did in fact cross my mind in the past week, but if I was going to be honest with myself, I knew that my body was still not fully recovered from my run at Boston. It didn’t help that I was still in the midst of fighting a nagging chest cold.

So the plan on Sunday was to run a steady, strong race. Start slow, pick up speed if I felt like I could, but not push myself to the point of serious injury. I figured a 3:35 – 3:40 was not out of the question.

As I drove down to Providence I heard a weather report on the radio state that the temperature for the marathon was going to start around 60° (Yes!) and climb to over 85° (NO!!!).

85°? Really? 85 frakkin’ degrees?

Any and all thoughts of a possible BQ vanished completely.

Sunday was going to be a test of survival.

I played with some numbers in my head as I pulled into the hotel to park the car and check my bag. 3:32 in Boston, under almost perfect weather conditions meant, what? a 3:40 in Providence? Maybe a 3:50 with the soaring temperatures? I shut the brain down as I went in.

I started looking for people I knew through my online running community and almost immediately ran into twitter friend @IronmanLongRunr. I had actually met him at the Manchester Marathon back in November and I was pleased to see that he was attempting to run his first marathon in Vibrams. We chatted on our way to the start, getting funny looks from people looking at our funny shoes. It was great to have a fellow Vibrams runner along for the ride.

What a different perspective from Boston. I wish I had the foresight to take a picture, but suffice it to say I started near the front on Sunday as opposed to the absolute rear. While waiting for the starting gun, two more dailymile friends tapped me on the shoulder to introduce themselves (Melissa C. and Martin A., both of whom were running the half – I also met Ryan D. after the race). It is such a neat moment to be able to put voices and body language with the faces and names of the people you have been following online.

Although I had placed myself in the 7-8 minute/mile pace area, I was determined to start slow. As the gun went off I could hear myself say out loud, “Go slow”.

IronmanLongRunr laughed. His approach was actually going to be similar. Despite having run nearly 1000 races and several marathons, this was his first in Vibrams.

We hit the first mile marker at about 8:00. Perfect. My goal was to hit 10 miles at about 80 minutes and see how I felt. Unfortunately, not much past the first mile marker I hit my first speed bump. The course took a right turn down a hill and the moment I hit it, my right knee buckled, I mean seriously buckled.

Sharp pain! Sharp pain! Sharp pain!

Frak! No Frakking Way!!!

I didn’t change my pace. Two strides and I was upright. I tried to ignore it. I looked over at IronmanLongRunr and forced a smile. We were pretty much maintaining the same pace so I decided to distract myself with a little conversation. We made small talk while we waited for the course to split and send the half-marathoners in another direction (on a complete side note, I loved that the organizers of this marathon split the course in two different directions early. This way I knew that anyone who was running with or around me was running the entire race and not peeling off at 13.1 – see my Manchester experience to see why this mattered).

The pain was not going away. It wasn’t getting worse, but it definitely was NOT going away. I gritted my teeth as we approached the first real hill at mile 5. Going up was fine. In fact, I incorporated a little of my falling uphill move with very nice results. But every step coming down sent a sharp pain through my knee. I tried to adjust my stride, but didn’t want to do anything too dramatic and cause something else to give. Fortunately, the marathon course overall was the flattest I’ve run so far. About two miles later we hit another hill with the same results. Going uphill I gained some ground on some runners, going down I whimpered with every other step.

As we approached a turn around at about mile 9, I got a peek at some of the leaders. I saw my buddy Brad (the runner who patted me on the back at Eastern States). He would tell me after the race he crashed and burned and had to walk the last few miles…he finished with a 3:27…right, a 3:27 walking the last few miles. Anyway, after I made the turn around I spotted one of the runners who had encouraged me to run Providence, my dailymile/Twitter friend, and fellow blogger, Robyn. At that point, IronmanLongRunr dropped back, I shortened my stride and picked up my pace.

At that point I latched on to two runners who I would find out are both Ironman competitors as well. John was pacing Steve for a 3:30 race. I followed them for several miles, chatting about my shoes and their training. They tried to convince me that doing triathlons actually hurt less than doing marathons – that the recovery time was much shorter for triathlons.

Yeah, right.

Turns out that I wasn’t the only crazy one in the group. John had run Boston just two weeks before as well. At around 16 or 17 I picked up my pace for no good reason and left them behind. I was happy to see that my fear of the 16th mile seemed to now be completely obliterated.

I picked up a young woman named Steph. Steph was running her 4th or 5th marathon in hopes of running a sub 3:30. At this point we were on pace for about that so we chatted for a while. Turns out she had qualified for Boston this year, but had been unable to run it. She was hoping to run a qualifying time again. I told her I’d hang with her as long as I could to push her along, but I knew that there was really no way I was going to keep up. About 2 miles later she dropped back. I probably should have followed her lead.

The pain in my right knee continued to bother me. There was just no way around it. IronmanLongRunr had said to me early on around mile 3 or 4 when I mentioned it, that the body and the marathon were strange things and that pain that was bothering me at mile 3 or 4 could suddenly disappear by mile 10 or 15. I had kept that thought in mind the entire time but to no avail. Although the pain wasn’t getting worse, it was still not getting any better.

Although the pain never caused me to think about quitting (aside from that first mile or two), it was definitely starting to get to me at this point. The mental fatigue of fighting the pain was wearing me down. I looked at my arms and shoulders and saw all those who were riding with me and picked up my pace.

As we hit the 20 mile marker, I said to myself, “Just a 10K at this point. You can do a 10 K.” And despite the constant knee pain, the rest of me felt pretty good. The next two miles went along quite pleasantly for having just run 20 miles.

But then the sun and heat came out in full force.

At 22 it was almost like someone had decided to turn the thermostat WAY up. I was convinced that my pace was slowing.

With maybe 3 to go, John and Steven passed me by like I wasn’t moving. I was still catching people myself, but they were in a groove. John paused and asked if I wanted to come along. I shook my head. The combination of heat and pain was too much for me to try and pour it on for the final 5K. Shortly thereafter Steph pulled up next to me. She had picked up another young woman and they were cruising along. She too paused momentarily to see if I wanted to latch on and again I shook my head. They were just going a little too fast for me at that point – 2 marathons in 2 weeks was finally, truly taking its toll. I felt like I had enough fuel to hold steady, but any sudden acceleration would have taken me down to empty.

It was around this time that my phone died on me again. It may have had something to do with trying to pour water on my head and missing completely and hitting my left arm instead. My phone was soaked and the automatic tracking stopped. I tried to guess my distance based in time and perceived pace, but everytime I thought 2 minutes must have gone by, I’d look at my watch to discover that only 60 seconds had passed.

Somehow I missed the marker for 24 and was convinced I had also missed the marker for 25. Imagine my dismay when 4 minutes later I came across mile marker 25.

The sun decided to turn it up even more for the final mile. There was no place to hide. I felt like I was dragging my feet for the final stretch. The air was thick, my body was tired, and at this point my knee had had just about enough thank you. Every small downward slope shot a sharp pain along the outside of the knee. I looked at my watch. 3:20 and change with just 1.2 to go. I knew I had a shot at a second PR in as many weeks and maybe even a sub-3:30. I dug deep and thought of all of you who had donated $22 to your charities to come along for the ride.

“COME ON!” I yelled to myself, scaring the crap out of a poor half-marathoner I was passing. I pushed along, hoping to run close to an 8 or 9 minute mile.

As I came around a bend, I looked for the finish.

Nothing. Just a few runners ahead of me. Around the next bend I went, looking for the finish.

Nothing.

I looked at my watch. Closing in fast on 3:29.

“How far?” I yelled.

“Around that bend,” someone yelled back. I looked. It was so far away, but this was it. I ran as hard as I thought my knee would let me. As I made the turn a kid in a green shirt started to pass me. I looked up – 50, maybe 75 yards to the finish. Green shirt passed me. The finish line was coming up fast now. I hadn’t seen this kid all race. He had been behind me the entire time. I wasn’t going to let this happen.

A sudden burst of adrenalin and the pain in my knee was gone. I broke into an all out sprint, the crowd cheering the two of us on in our mini-duel. I pulled away and finished a few yards ahead of him and proceeded to collapse into the arms of an awaiting volunteer.

I came to a dead stop. I couldn’t breath for a moment but caught my breath just in time to feel the pain return to my knee.

As I hobbled my way to food and drink area, I found John, Steven and Steph. They all had done well, Steph achieving her goal with a 3:28. She thanked me for pacing her along the way and I did the same.

As I sat there drinking my bottles of Mix1 and trying to eat a banana and some pizza, maybe a half dozen runners came over to thank me for pacing them along at certain points during the race. All of them had finished behind me, but each and everyone of them had kind words about silently following me at some point. I couldn’t help but think of “Ilsa”. I recognized some of them, but there were a few I hadn’t been aware of.

In the end I didn’t run a sub-3:30, but boy did I come close.

3:30:11. A PR by nearly 2 minutes. 114th overall out of nearly 1000 marathoners and 26th out 150 men in their 40’s. Not bad for a race that was the second in two weeks.

A couple of things I learned – never do 2 marathons in 2 weeks. I am mentally spent! I’m glad I did it though. I learned that my body can take the pounding of 26.2 miles better than a chest cold can. As of yesterday? No more chest cold. I also learned that maybe there’s more gas in the tank at the end of a race than we think. Looking back, I wonder if I should have latched on to either John and Steven or Steph. If I had, could I have held on to run the last 5K with them? My sprint at the end tells me just maybe I could have. Only one way to find out, right? Yeah, I think the next marathon isn’t for at least 5 months. Of course, that means if I’m going to follow a 16 week program, training starts in a month. I’m tired just thinking about it. Finally, I learned that, in the words of Dalton (RIP), Pain don’t hurt. As bad as my knee was killing me, I was able to run through it, using it almost as a tool to keep me from going out too fast.

I think a week off is going to be necessary, but then it’s right back to road. Next race – Boston Run to Remember at the end of the month…at least this one is just a half-marathon.

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[tweetmeme source=”luau” only_single=false http://www.URL.com]

When we run races, we all use a variety of methods to keep us focused and moving.  Sometimes it’s a mantra, like the one I used last February at the Super Sunday 5K/10K.  Sometimes it’s keeping someone in mind who has inspired us.  Sometimes it’s the crowd that pushes us on (Women of Wellesley, you are awesome!).  Sometimes, it’s a game we play with many of our fellow competitors – a game my buddy Mike calls Heroes and Villains.  The thing about this game is that generally only you know that you are playing, despite the fact that many of those around us are unwittingly playing as well.  You pick runners around you that you want to run like (the Heroes) and runners that you want to catch or stay ahead of (the Villains) – check out Mike’s recap of his Boston Marathon and his bitter duel with the Cat in the Hat.

I was floored, flattered and thankful when I received this email yesterday:

$22 to Autism Speaks; you can decide what to write for Providence.

And at the risk of seeming creepy, here’s the story of how I came across your blog & hopefully return the favor you (unwittingly but undoubtedly) did for me on that little jaunt to Boston on 4/19.

A bit of background:

•  An invite & generous sponsorship from my employer secured a charity bib for me to run, so I also began toward the back of the pack (somewhere in the middle of coral 25).

•  For a number of reasons, I’ve been interested in transitioning to barefoot running but decided to hold off until after the marathon. A friend, mid-transition to barefoot himself, asked that I report back on how many barefoot/VFF runners I saw during the race.  My attention was thus double-primed toward anyone in the category (I saw a grand total of three).

•  I run for fun, fitness, mental health, perspective, etc. and while I did have a tiered set of time-related goals, my primary focus was to enjoy my first experience participating in the grand event that is the Boston Marathon.  [Incidentally, goals were (a) beat my fiance’s ex-girlfriend’s time of 4:23 – very mature of me, (b) come as close to 4:00 as possible, and (c) qualify for 2011 – under 3:41] But my approach to the race was pretty much to just go out and run for fun, disregard the clock, and see what happened for me.

Flash forward to Hopkinton.  I always run on the left side of the road, against vehicular traffic, and out of habit I took to the left shoulder from the start.  I also found it easier to weave through the throng from the side than the middle while I sought whatever pace felt right.  About mile 3, I moved inside to allow what turned out to be VFF-wearer #2/RaceMenuSinglet pass ahead.  I had passed the nearly-hobbling VFF #1 (apparently dealing with a pre-existent ankle injury) around mile 1, and this was my first chance to see a minimally-shod stride/running form in action.  I was struck by the runner’s apparent lightness & energetic but graceful stride – a beautiful thing, that forefoot strike, what I took to be joy in running and in the overall experience, and his consistent effort to give a high-five to every child with an extended hand.  With all the anticipatory chatter on the bus about the grueling course, the training, the times, the splits, the will-I-even-make-its, etc., it made me really happy to see someone else seeming to enjoy the gorgeous day, and to love the experience for it’s own sake (and not just the outcome).

Water stops aren’t a part of my normal runs, so I passed through most of the initial aid stations without stopping.  After one of these, I found myself somewhere ahead of VFF #2 but continued on at the pace I had adopted.  After another mile or so I encountered VFF #3/VeganShirt, who looked strong but seemed to have a heavier footfall & greater heel/midfoot strike than VFF #2.  His focus seemed different as well.  I followed him for a while, and after a point VFF #2 came from behind again – stride comparison confirmed.  VFF #2 still looked to be going strongly, happily along his way, enjoying himself and the day, and rewarding the outstretched hand of every child lining the street.  It was great.  And so I figured I’d keep pace a while longer, and thus it continued until around mile 11 or 12.

It was then with some disappointment that I let VFF #2 & VFF #3 go on their way:  morning coffee and nerve-driven (fun is fun, but 26.2 is still a goodly distance) pre-run sipping from three bottles of water had me looking for a pit stop.  Unlike the flocks rushing for the woods outside Hopkinton, propriety kept me running until an actual ‘facility’ was readily available – unfortunately short lines don’t always mean short waits, and I lost a solid 4ish minutes.

But I had somewhat locked in on the pace maintained thus far, and fell back in stride pretty easily.  I had no sense of my time, pace, etc., but tried to run hard while staying true to what felt good/right (in spite of the pain setting in) and continue to enjoy the day.  Because who knows what any future holds?  It could be a once-in-a-lifetime experience I was having, and I wanted to be able to look back and love it from beginning to end.

I continued to keep an eye out for barefoot/VFF runners, but through the rest of the race I neither saw any others nor encountered the three previously sighted.  I was curious how these three had fared…Was VFF #1 even able to finish?  Did VFF #2 maintain his admirable stride & enthusiasm?  How were those heels holding up for VFF #3?  How would I be feeling after ‘x’ miles in different footwear?  How long does the transition to barefoot actually take?  Will I end up preferring it, or will I be back to padded shoes and arch supports?

Many other thoughts (irrelevant to this account) & miles later, I reached the finish line.  I looked up to check the clock upon crossing, but the time was entirely meaningless since I had no idea when I had crossed the starting line to begin with.

It was only after meeting my family over an hour later (they had been stranded along the route) that I learned my actual time – 3:40:18.  With a mere 41 seconds to spare, I qualified for Boston 2011.  Quasi-disbelief, a surge of pride, and a silent but exuberant thank you to VFF #2 – the runner who inspired me to set a faster pace than I may have otherwise, and whose manner over those few early miles seemed to resonate with my own approach to the day.  I was curious how the rest of his race had gone, and sent well-wishes out into the cosmos.

But curiosity eventually got the better of me.  By the power of Google, and the circumstantial coincidence of there being but one Boston 2010 runner wearing VFF and a Race Menu singlet who happened to mention these things in his blog, I discovered RunLuauRun – your race report & pics confirm you as VFF #2.  I earnestly hope it doesn’t seem inappropriate that (a) I googled a stranger and (b) I’m emailing* the same.  It’s just that you were inspiring during my run and I wanted you to know as much.

I’ve already taxed my legs a good bit this week (not having had a second marathon on my radar just yet), but by way of returning the favor and in show of solidarity with your commendable 2 in 2 weeks effort, I’ll commit to 26.2 miles of [activity on foot] this weekend.  Congrats on a great race in Boston, and all the best in Providence.  Whether it’s this weekend or some other, your BQ is most definitely out there.

Happy running!!

Sincerely,

“Ilsa”

To unwittingly help someone BQ is almost as good as doing it myself.  It is not too often that we get to learn of the good things we have unknowingly done for others.  I am thrilled for “Ilsa” and I hope that next year we get a chance to chat at the Athlete’s Village as we wait for the start of Boston 2011!

We all have people who help us each and every day, but how often do we really take the time to say thank you?  What if today, for just one day, we follow Ilsa’s lead?

I’ll start.

Thank you “Ilsa” for making my day!  I will be thinking of you (along with everyone else who signed up to use the human billboard) as I make my way through Providence on Sunday.

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On the eve of the 114th Boston Marathon, I thought it would be fun to pull this post out from last December.  Hope you find the humor and motivation in it.

I did!

…I finished with a world record shattering time of 1:59:59. The first sub-2 hour marathon in history…AND I did it in my signature Luau VFF’s.

The Exclusive Luau VFF’s

Okay, so no I didn’t. I didn’t even qualify for Boston last year. Shoot, I barely ran a sub 4-hour marathon in my first (and so far only) try. But, somewhere, and I mean that, I did it. I not only won the Boston Marathon, but I won New York, Chicago and London as well.

The coolest part…

-wait for it-

…is so did you!

Of course, it didn’t happen in this universe, but if you are familiar with quantum physics (of which I am – just enough to make a fool of myself) you may also be familiar with the Many Worlds Interpretation (MWI). In a nutshell, MWI states that for every decision we come to in life, both/all choices are in fact made and reality branches off in two or more directions instead of just one.

For the infinite number of choices we could have made since the beginning of time, an infinite number of not-quite-identical worlds have branched off into existence. Infinite worlds – infinite possibilities, all occupying the same space, just not the same reality. This is not fantasy. It is scientific theory that is actually gaining support in the scientific community.

In one of these worlds, all of the right choices have been made to turn me into a world-class marathoner. I am simply the best there was, is, and ever will be. There is also one where YOU are the number one marathoner of all time.

Looking at the glass half empty, I could ask: Why am I not in THAT reality? Why am I stuck here as just an average, every day runner? I point this out not to tease us or make us feel bad. No, I choose to look at the glass as half full. This other me is still me – the other you is still you. We are connected by the fact that we are essentially the same person. So when I am out there pounding the pavement, feeling the legs tire, I can reach across the ether, mentally touching that other reality and channel the world-class me. He’s/I’m out there/right here – occupying the same space, often running the same routes.

The next time you feel yourself lagging, draw on some cross-dimensional strength. I’m sure the Olympic medalist you would be happy to lend a hand.

***I also have a best-selling book, Run Luau Run, available on Amazon and at your local bookstores. Well, somewhere I do.

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