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Posts Tagged ‘Vibrams’

Yes, this was my birthday cake for my 40th birthday.

Yes, this was my birthday cake for my 40th birthday.

In the past week I have been bombarded with either email links or Facebook tags regarding the recent settlement between Vibram USA and a Class Action Law Suit led by a woman who said the company deceived customers by claiming, without scientific evidence, that its FiveFingers shoe could strengthen foot muscles and decrease injuries.  Vibrams USA will be paying out $3.75 million to anyone who bought a pair of FiveFinger shoes after March 29th, 2009.

“Aren’t these your shoes?”

“What do you think?”

“Are you going to keep running in them?”

Theses questions, and many more, have been asked of me along with the tags and emails of that story.

I will admit, I bought into the increased foot muscle strength and the decreases injuries mantra hook, line and sinker, and I am very disappointed in both Vibrams USA (for not having the scientific data to back their claims up) and myself (for not doing a little more research).

That being said, let me make it clear, I will NOT be asking Vibram USA for my $94 that I can rightfully claim.

Why?

Because Vibrams Fivefinger Shoes were very much an integral part of getting me INTO running AND taking my running to the next level.  Without my KSOs, Bikilas, Treks and Seeyas, I don’t know if I would have achieved 8 marathons in less than two years.  Did I wear them for every marathon? No.  But they were an important part of my weekly training, and I believe they DID help keep my feet injury free.

Where’s my proof?  I have none except my own experience.  During a stretch a couple of years ago, after finding BQ success mixing my runs between VFFs and the original Saucony Kinvara, I purchased the 3rd iteration of the Kinvara.  During about a 6 month stretch, I ran almost exclusively in them, despite never truly liking them.  I’m not sure why I had moved away from the VFFs other than maybe VFFs were becoming popular as an alternative and I foolishly didn’t want to be “mainsteam alternative”.

Foolish, I know.

I eventually stopped using the Kinvaras because both of my feet were hit with plantar fasciitis…anybody who has experienced it will tell you just how painful it is.  When I mentioned my pain on Facebook, a friend said I needed to put my VFFs (Vibram Five Fingers) on, go out for a run and burn that PF out of my foot.  This went contrary to everything I had read on the Interwebs about PF.

Roll frozen water bottles under them.

Get orthodics!

Support, support, support!

Being the occasional contrarian (see above) that I am, I decided to heed my buddy’s advice, but instead of putting on my VFF’s, I went completely barefoot.  3 miles later, not only were the calluses on my heels now pedicured for free, but my PF was gone…yes, gone.  After having suffered for nearly 10 days heeding the common wisdom, barefoot running had cured me of my PF.

Is that scientific proof?  Absolutely not, and I want people to be perfectly clear that this was something that worked for me and for my feet.  I am not you and my feet are not yours.

***

Do I think Vibrams USA made a mistake in claiming what they did in the manner in which they claimed it?

Yup.

Do I think Vibrams USA is completely at fault for what this woman and many other may or may not have suffered through due to their use of VFFs?

No.  Friggin’. Way.

Even I, a mildly experienced runner at the time of my first purchase of the VFFs had absolutely no clue as to what I was doing.  I went out and ran 3 miles in them the first day I got them and proceeded to be literally hobbled for the next week because I nearly snapped my Achilles’ Tendon.  There are so many people in this country who, looking for a quick fix, will buy a product without thinking whether it is good for them and then go straight to using them without following instructions.  That was me the first time I put them on…and I even had a friend who had adamantly told me to run no more than a 1/4 mile in them the first time.

Did I listen?  No.

Typical of my fellow citizens, I went all out and nearly injured myself in a serious manner.

After that first run, my VFFs went into the closet, presumably never to come out again.

But then came the book Born to Run and I thought, maybe I didn’t do things right the first time (which I hadn’t).

This time I did a little research on transitioning into them. I read blog posts of runners who enjoyed some success in them and figured out how to make the slow transition myself.

I would go on to train exclusively and run 3 marathons in VFFs running a 3:54 (Manchester City), a 3:32 (Boston) and a 3:30 (Providence) all in the course of about 6 months.

***

So what’s my point?  If you take nothing else from this post or from the Class Action Lawsuit that Vibams USA settled, let it be this – Barefoot and barefoot style running works…for some.  Barefoot and barefoot style running doesn’t work…for some.  There are a thousands of people who rediscovered running due to the FiveFinger Shoe because they were forced into better running form.

That health benefit, to the individual themselves and to our society as a whole, is priceless.

I will not be asking for my $94.

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

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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So after two weeks, two things have become clear.  I still suck at housework and getting up at 4:45AM still sucks.

However, I do have to admit that getting up this morning was just a tad easier than it has been the past two weeks.  Now it may have something to do with the fact that I picked up a new pair of VFF Treks yesterday and was extremely eager to take them out for a spin.

I also think that I am slowly adjusting to the early wake up call.  I actually turned off the television last night at 10:45 anticipating the morning run.

The run?  It was fabulous.  The weather app on my phone said it felt like 27°.  I put on my shorts, slipped into the new Treks and I was off.  My toes stayed toasty warm for the whole run, which does not happen with my regular VFF KSO’s.  7.7 miles in the pre-dawn darkness in just under an hour and I loved every minute of it.  I understand now why Pigtailsflying runs when she runs.

As for the cleaning?  Well, 2 weeks in I still suck at it, but Operation De-Clutter is moving ahead – slooooooowly, but ahead.  Maybe, just maybe, I’ll have this house in order by Spring.

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I thought I was going to a friend’s charity’s wine tasting event.  Instead I walked into a surprise birthday party for me!  One of the many highlights was this amazingly awesome cake:

I  love the details of the heel pull and the VIBRAM label on the sole.  My wife had the cake “imported” from Connecticut.  It was made by our dear friends at Sweet Lisa’s. You may have seen them once or twice on the Food Network!  They are awesome and can make anything…ANYTHING! Oh, and it was delicious!!!

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Oh no!  Not the dreadmill…

– My friend Mollie when asked last Spring if I should run outside in the rain or on the treadmill

It’s been about a year now that I have been running regularly.  During that time I’ve had an on again off again affair with the treadmill.  The treadmill is what got me into running.

Last November when my wife proclaimed that she had signed up for a half marathon…on the Cape…in the middle of February…I decided that I was not going to let her run it alone.  Up until that point in my adult life I had run in fits and starts – a month here, a few weeks there – but never more than a couple of months at a time.  I was in relatively good shape.  At six feet tall and weighing in at 205, I was doing okay for myself.  I exercised sporadically but ate well.  The idea of 13.1 miles, never mind in the dead of winter, was daunting to say the least, but if my wife was going to do then I was going along for the ride.

So I started running.

I looked at the treadmill we had bought when we first moved into our house but decided to run outside.  A good friend from down the street had told me about a 3 mile loop in our neighborhood so I decided to give that a try.  I reached the halfway point in just under 15 minutes, gasping for air.  The realization that I had to do that all over again was awful.  Once I got home, I very quickly decided that until I got my legs under me, I was sticking to the treadmill where no one could see me.  It didn’t hurt that the weather was starting to turn and the fall television season was kicking into gear.  So I ran – 2 miles here, 3 miles there.  For about two weeks this was my training – 2 or 3 miles, 3 days a week.

Then something happened.  I woke up on a Wednesday morning with a mild headache (too much poker and tequila the night before) and contemplated skipping my run.  I thought of my poor wife running that half marathon* alone and dragged myself down to the treadmill.

3 miles in and I was actually feeling kind of good. 

Huh – maybe I’ll do one more mile.

After which I felt even better.

Let’s see if I can do five.

Wow!  I was feeling great. 

Alright, just one more.

Just as I finished the sixth mile I realized I had 5 minutes to pick up the kids from school.  Who knows how far I would have run that day.  Point is, something clicked.

I was hooked.

I very rapidly – too rapidly – went from 8 – 10 mile weeks to 20 then 30 then 40 mile weeks.  That 10% rule?  Yeah, completely ignored it.  I would eventually pay for my speedy rise in miles months later, but in the meantime I had found something that I loved.  I couldn’t wait to drop off the kids and then go home and pound out 6, 8, 10, 12 miles on the treadmill.  I would put my favorite shows on the TV and just zone out (it actually helped that at the time my wife was into shows like the bachelor and such because I’d end up having to record my favorites and watch them later).  On the DVR my favorite dramas would last about 44 minutes which turned out to be the perfect amount of time for me to log in 6 miles.  Double feature of Chuck and Lost?  Perfect for a 12 mile day.  I loved the combo of the treadmill and the DVR.  It didn’t hurt that in 3 months I lost 25 pounds.

But then Spring returned and the television season ended.  I finally discovered what running outside was all about.

Wow!

Having built up the leg strength and stamina didn’t hurt either.  How peaceful and meditative it was to be able to glide 6 – 10 miles outdoors.  Soon thereafter I discovered the Vibram Five Finger Unshoe (as my wife calls them) and that was it: the treadmill and I were officially broken up and I wasn’t ever going back.  The one place that I have found difficulty running in my Vibrams is on the treadmill.  It just doesn’t work for me.  So that was it – no more treadmill.

I ran all summer outside in my Vibrams.  I became a Vibrams/Born to Run apostle.

But then the swine flu decided to pay a visit to my house last week.  Just in time for Thanksgiving.

Oh, joy.

My wife was down for the count.  Kids were home from school.  I managed to get out of the house for one short run, but I was afraid to leave the house for a much needed longer run.

So I peeked downstairs and looked at our old treadmill.  I checked the DVR and whaddaya know, 2 new episodes of Numb3rs.

What to do, what to do.

I had recently done a short 5 mile barefoot run on the treadmill, but the mechanics of it just didn’t work for me.  I went to my closet, opened the door and stared at my old running shoes.

Ugh.  Really?  Am I going to put those clunkers on?

I did.

I felt somewhat ashamed putting on regular running shoes, but I had no choice.  If I was going to stay well I had to run, and I had to stay close to take care of the sick family.

In 7 days I put in 63 miles.  Yes, on the treadmill, in regular running shoes.   I know….the horror!!! It was a perfect storm of sick family members and early bedtimes for the wife.  If I was going to sit and watch TV while everyone slept, I might as well do it on the treadmill.  63 miles in 7 days and no pain.  I’m pretty sure that running barefoot style has finally fixed my form.

So are the treadmill and I back together?  Heaven’s no! But at least now I know I can fall back on her if the world conspires to keep me off the road…and maybe the regular running shoe isn’t quite as evil as I thought it was.

*We never did run the half marathon on the Cape this year, but with a couple of half’s and a full under my belt, I’m seriously contemplating doing the full.  Stay tuned.

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The Vibram Five Finger KSO (Keep Stuff Out)

“You gonna run this whole race in those?” -A concerned fellow runner at the starting line of the Chilly Half Marathon

I do not run in conventional running shoes. My shoe of choice is the Vibram Five Finger, currently the KSO (stands for Keep Stuff Out). I have been running in the Vibrams (sometimes called VFF’s) exclusively now for almost five months. My old Asics and New Balance running shoes have been relegated to the back of the closet, pulled out only when I have to do yard work, which my wife will attest is not that often. Why do I choose to run in these funny little excuses of shoes? These “foot gloves”?

Back in March when I was still running in regular running shoes, I was just finishing up a treadmill run when I decided to end with an uphill climb. I pushed the elevation up to about 5 or 6 degrees and within about 5 seconds I felt a pop and a sharp pain behind my right knee. I immediately lowered the incline back to zero and tried to continue running. I lasted about 5 or 6 steps and was forced to stop. It was my first real running injury. I had read that every runner eventually suffers a setback, but I had convinced myself that it wasn’t going to happen to me. I tried to shake it off and run the next day, but I couldn’t get more than 100 feet. I thought about running through the pain, but I knew that this wasn’t one of those injuries. I had run through some foot and ankle pain early on in my rediscovery of running, but I knew that pain was merely my body acclimating itself to the idea of running. This was different. Something had popped. I took about 10 days off but was back at it in relatively short order. I didn’t want to take too much time off because I was training to run the Run To Remember Half Marathon on Memorial Day Weekend. Still, every time I’d hit close to 35-40 miles in a week, my knee would ache to the point of causing me to limp noticeably. Something wasn’t right.

I went to the doctor who asked my why I was running. I thought that was kind of a funny question coming from a doctor, but I went on to list the various health benefits of running, both physical and mental. I also mentioned that I was training for a half marathon. She looked at me with a funny look and then said, “you know, we’re not made to run like that.” I nodded and said nothing. “Your gonna run this thing anyway aren’t you?” Again, I nodded and said nothing. She decided to send me to a specialist to figure out what was wrong with the knee and get me back on track. One specialist, an MRI and a lot of poking and prodding later, I was told to switch to rowing. When I said I had signed up for road races not rowing races he told me to stretch three times a day every day and if anything happened while I was running the race to stop.

I paid how much for that advice?

I cut down on my miles in the weeks leading up to the race to avoid the soreness and the race came and went. I was pretty happy with my time (1:40:47).

It was around this time that I set my eyes on the marathon. I started to think that maybe, just maybe, I could qualify for the Boston Marathon. My time in the half was nowhere near good enough, but quite honestly I hadn’t followed any kind of training program. If I stuck to a schedule I was pretty sure that I could get it done. I poked around online looking for various programs. Every one I looked at made me groan. They all gradually built to at least 35-40 miles a week. It was also around this time that my good friend Mike told me about some funny shoes he was wearing every once in a while when he went running. He told me their name. The Vibram Five Finger shoe. Sounded almost dirty. I looked at them online thinking he was crazy.

A couple of weeks later he suggested that I read a new book that had recently come out called Born To Run by Christopher McDougall. I used to be a reader. But with the arrival of kids and the variety of things that kept me busy, I had stopped reading books for what seemed like ages. But this book was about running, my new found passion.  We were going away on a short vacation soon and I would need something to read by the pool. I started reading it a few days before we left and couldn’t put it down. By the time I plopped myself down by the pool I was nearly done with it. The story itself was fascinating, but it was one particular character and a section on the science of why we run that grabbed my attention.

According to McDougall, the science behind why we run is that we evolved that way. Boiled down to its simplest terms, early man did not have the strength, speed or natural weapons to be able to kill its meal. What he developed was endurance. He would essentially run his prey to death. Running in a pack, he would jog after his target, which would sprint away and rest. He and the rest of the runners would simply keep jogging after it. The cycle would continue over several hours (about the time it takes us to run a marathon) until the prey would collapse from exhaustion. At that point,  he would jog up to the collapsed animal and kill it with ease. This way of tracking and eventually killing an animal is called persistence hunting. The hunts could last 20, 30, 40 miles, but inevitably, man would get his prey (and therefore a well deserved dinner). There were no running shoes back in the day. These early humans ran on the shoes nature had given them…their feet. Which brings me to Barefoot Ted.

Barefoot Ted was one of the more entertaining characters in Born To Run. The short story is that after years of running in pain and spending more and more money on more and more expensive shoes (I think his last pair had springs on the bottom), he finally got so fed up that in the middle of a run, he took his shoes off in disgust and ran home barefoot. Halfway through his run home he realized something. He was no longer running with pain. He has essentially run barefoot ever since. Occasionally when the terrain gets rough, he will slip on a pair of Vibram Five Fingers.

When I read that, I thought, “maybe Mike’s on to something.” As soon as I got back from our short vacation I went out and bought a pair of the VFF Sprints. That night I hopped on the treadmill and ran three miles in them.

It was one of the most painful things I had ever done. My shins hurt. My calves hurt. My ankles hurt. All that hurt was nothing compared to the next day when I could hardly walk. I called my buddy Mike and he laughed.

“Of course you hurt! You’re using muscles, ligaments and tendons that you haven’t used since you were a kid running around barefoot! You’re not supposed to run more than a mile the first time. It’s like learning to run again.” Gee, thanks. Nobody gave me a copy of the manual. I put the VFF’s away for a couple of weeks. I kept running in my regular shoes and the knee pain persisted. Finally I tried the Vibrams again. This time I ran easy. I did about 3 or 4 miles, but I did them slowly. They felt great. Over the next couple of weeks I built up to about 6 miles per run. I realized that my knee pain was essentially gone. Now, I won’t lie to you and say my knee was completely better. Every once in a while, if I stood just so, it would hurt. But for the most part, the pain was gone. I decided to follow in the steps of our ancestors, Barefoot Ted and my buddy Mike and go barefoot style completely.

When my marathon training reached its peak, my knee was fine. It would bother me a little now and again, but never to the extent that it had before. I am convinced it is because of the shoes.

Now there was a downside to switching to the VFF’s and not giving the transition its proper due. From everything I have read since one should take several months to transition permanently to the Vibrams.

I took two weeks.

I did not give the tendons in my feet ample time to strengthen. On the morning after what was supposed to be my second to last long run (a 19 miler), I woke up with a pain on the top of my right foot. I was afraid I had suffered a stress fracture. My doctor was convinced of the same and said I needed to take 6 – 8 weeks off. No running.

“But I have a marathon in 4 weeks!”

“Uh, no, you don’t. You need to take 6 – 8 weeks off”

“I’ll give you 2.”

“You’re going to run this marathon no matter what I say aren’t you?”

I nodded. I had spent the bulk of the summer training. I didn’t want to do all that training for nothing. She called me an idiot and told me to lay off for the two weeks and then get back into it slowly. I met her halfway by finding another marathon that took place two weeks later (Manchester). I took four weeks off and then eased back into the final two weeks.

Even after the grueling run at Manchester, the pain in my right foot has not returned. I am now convinced that it was tendinitis caused by my overly rapid transition into the VFF’s. From what I understand, wearing the Vibrams allows a certain amount of toeing off that you wouldn’t be able to do barefoot. This has been known to cause some tendon pain on the top of the foot in those who don’t take the time to transition properly (like me). All that said, almost 3 weeks later, I am running pain free and I am convinced that I am going to stay that way. I don’t foresee myself ever going back to regular running shoes.

If you are thinking about switching to the Vibrams, I would strongly suggest that you do it slowly. Maybe even find a transition shoe like the new Nike Free’s or the Biom running shoes to act as a bridge. Your feet will thank you. If you still think people are crazy to be running in these shoes, I would ask you to consider this. For millions of years we have run either barefoot or with thin sandals on our feet. Even up until the 1970’s we were essentially running in shoes that offered very little support or cushion.

Our feet were strong and sensitive – able to relay information quickly to the brain and allow us to adjust our footfalls rapidly. The modern running shoe has essentially taken them out of the equation by wrapping them up in a protective cocoon. Our feet have given up their job to all the cushioning and support supplied by the cozy blanket wrapped around them. They have fallen asleep…they’ve become soft.

You want to run like you did when you were a kid? Like you didn’t care about anything other than the wind in your hair and the laughter in the air? Wake your feet up. Vibrams are the vehicle to get you back to the joy of running…just do it slowly. No one, not even your feet like to be jarred awake!

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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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