Now that I’ve started my great barefoot running experiment, as mentioned Yesterday, I thought I’d assess the initial risk with running barefoot.  It’s an interesting dichotomy – running barefoot is seen as both a source of injury and a means of preventing it.  This depends on who you talk to, and there are certainly biases on either side of the issue.

Of course, in the past year or so, with the release of Born to Run, and the Harvard Study on barefoot running: barefoot running has developed into a fast-growing movement.  So we’ve had a large number of people quickly adopting it.  More recently, this has resulted in an uptick in barefoot running related injuries, according to Matt Fitzgerald’s article in Competitor Magazine.  As the article points out, it’s hard to say whether barefoot running causes more injuries or if it causes a proportionate number of injuries, but there’s just more people running barefoot now.

I do think starting to run barefoot poses some unique challenges that elevate injury risk.  Muscles, tendons, and bones that have been greatly underused for most of your life are inevitably weak and vulnerable to overuse.  Overprotected skin is soft and vulnerable to puncture.  Using a different running form can also cause adjustment problems elsewhere in the body.  The recent barefoot running movement, and the rash of injuries that have come with it, have afforded me the opportunity to step back and take a look at the challenges and injuries that others have incurred on their attempts to transition to barefoot running.  The Huraches/minimalist/barefoot running Google group has been an excellent resource.  Here’s a list of possible barefoot-running related injuries that I’m going to bear in mind as I make the transition:

  • Skin puncture – This is an obvious one, and something the scares most people away.  By shedding the huge layer of protection, the skin of my feet will be vulnerable to puncture by sharp objects.  To prevent this, I plan to start my running on grass in rather desolate areas where I’m less likely to encounter man-made sharp objects – glass from bottles, shards of metal, etc.  I’ll also be keeping a keen eye out for objects as I’m starting.  My skin will tough up over time, and be more puncture resistant.  Ultimately, I will be transitioning to minimalist shoes, which will make this a non-issue.
  • Ball of the foot (BOF) pain – running barefoot puts more direct pressure on the ball of the foot.  This may result in some initial discomfort in the region, in particular if I step on a small rock directly in the middle of the BOF.  This is definitely something to watch out for, as it’s rather difficult to run with good form if the BOF is hurting.
  • Calf/Achilles’s tendon pain, inflammation – barefoot running also utilizes these groups more.  I think this tends to be more of an over-use kind of issue, so taking it slowly and gradually should help me steer clear of this.
  • Plantar Fasciitis (PF) – Similar to calf and Achilles’s pain, I think this is more of an over-use issue for barefooters.  It’s interesting because barefoot running is typically recommended as treatment/rehab for PF because it will strengthen the tendons long term.
  • Top of the foot (TOF) pain – this seems to be a big one.  Obviously, you’re not directly contacting the ground with the top of the foot, so top of the foot pain is usually indicative of something more internal – perhaps a stress fracture.  If I feel this kind of pain, I’ll definitely hold back, maybe even take some time off.
  • Toe fracture – This is what I’m most afraid of for trail running.  You’re moving along pretty well on a rocky trail, and then you slam your bare foot into a rock, fracturing one or many of your toes.  I’m going to hold off on trail running for a while because of this one.  I’ve heard of some trail runners being able to run through mountains barefoot, but I’ve also heard of people really messing up their toes.  I might just stick to using shoes on the trail, though I’ll be looking for minimalist trail shoes that offer adequate protection (I find right now there are few choices).

I hope to mitigate these problems by taking a very gradual approach, and listening to my body.  I won’t increase distance, speed, or change surfaces until I’ve given it a couple of days rest to see how my body responds.  So far, after running barefoot for 20 minutes Yesterday, which was actually more than I intended to run, I’ve had some mild soreness Today in the expected regions – calf/Achilles’s, hips, feet muscles.  Seems like I have it just right, but will probably ease off a bit this week.  I’m hoping that I can get past the initial hurdles unscathed and reap the long-term benefits of injury prevention and efficiency.

After a month of struggling to train in the heat and humidity after the Frederick Marathon, I got sick the week leading up to the North Face Challenge trail marathon and had to pull out.  I had been training pretty hard since January, so some rest was long overdo.  I took last week off from running, essentially resting for two weeks when you count the period that I was tapering and ill.  But now I have a new commitment: my barefoot running experiment.  I’ve been wanting to do this for a while, writing about barefoot running here two years ago.  My desire to compete, and my reluctance to devote time/mileage/injury risk toward barefoot running made me continue to postpone it.  I felt if I wanted to try barefoot/minimalist running, I had to do it during a season with favorable weather, and no immediate racing obligations.  I’m more than well aware that you need to start from scratch with barefoot running, and now I essentially have that opportunity.

So I guess the big question is why?  Well, here are my reasons, and the goals I’m hoping barefoot running can help me achieve:

  • Strengthen my feet.  This one is pretty obvious.  While the rest of the benefits of barefoot running may be debatable, it’s hard to argue against it improving strength in my feet.  Barefoot advocates say that wearing shoes your whole life is much like wearing a cast, and by shedding your shoes you allow your feet to strengthen.  Without shoes, muscles and tendons are forced to bear weight in a manner that they wouldn’t otherwise.  I’m looking forward to stronger muscles and tendons in my feet, which I think can lead to more power and fewer injuries.
  • Strengthen my lower legs.  This is also hardly contentious either – running barefoot stresses the calf and Achilles tendons greatly, and over time that means strength.
  • Improve my running efficiency.  As I’ve mentioned before in my discussion of barefoot running, it allows you to use your natural “lower leg spring”, which comes with stronger lower legs and feet.  Tendons are amazingly efficient at storing and releasing kinetic energy, and by developing my plantar fascia, Achilles tendons, and other tendons in my lower leg, and the running form needed to utilize them, I can generate more forward movement without as much of an oxygen debt.
  • Decrease running injury risk.  Now, this is the most debatable position, and really, it depends on the individual a great deal.  I can only know if barefoot running will decrease my own injury risk if I do it myself.  I know that early on the risk is heightened a great deal, so I’ll need to be careful.  I’ll need to run slowly and keep my distance low.  More on that below.

So next is the how:

I’m going to start very easy.  This will be a challenge.  I’m still in reasonably good shape, so it’ll be hard to pull back when I’m feeling well.  It’s like putting a spare tire/donut on a sports car.  The engine is strong, but that if you go too fast, the tire won’t able able to handle it and the results would be disastrous.  I’m going to slowly build up to a half hour every other day.  I think running every other day is important because it takes about 48 hours for broken down muscle tissue to repair.  Needless to say, I’m going to keep the pace very easy.  I’m going to do my runs for time, and not measure distance, that way I won’t even know how slow I’m going.  I’ll run on grass just to start.  I’ll let my form come naturally to me, and not really try to force anything.

After a month of running easy on grass I’ll start to run on other surfaces – dirt, pavement, maybe some modest trails.  I’ll also start trying out some minimalist shoes, and figure out what works best for me.  I’ll start focusing on form more, going for a short, frequent stride, a slight lean forward, and a mid foot strike.  I’ll start to measure pace and distance.

By the fall, I hope to have figured out some good shoes to run in, that allow me to keep running with good form.  If I’m running well, and my training runs are where they need to be, I’ll sign up for some races.  Right now, I don’t want to commit to anything because I don’t want to push myself too early.

I’ll blog about the experiment here regularly, and will also be tweeting all my runs:  I already did a run early Today, 20 mins on grass.  It probably was already too much, will need to ease up on my runs the rest of the week.

The banner said “Start”, but it may as well have said “Abandon Hope All Ye Who Enter”.  After having mild temperatures all week, suddenly we had summer-like temperatures and the humidity characteristic of the Mid-Atlantic.  It was only 6:30AM when the race started, but it was already in the mid seventies.  I had warmed up very lightly, but was already sweating profusely.  Packing in closely with other bodies generating one hundred degrees of heat made it feel like an oven.

I was in perfect position, right behind the 3:10 pacer when the race started.  With the half marathoners starting with us, the crowd was rather thick, and I found my position was not so perfect after all.  It wasn’t even the first mile, but I could still feel that heat.  I needed to get out, find some open space away from the pace group.  I knew I’d loose the effect of drafting, and the comfort and steadiness of a pacer, but these were trade offs I was willing to make in favor of getting some separation from other mobile heat-generators.  I found my opening, ahead of the group.  I’d stay here for a while, and let the pace group catch up to me, hopefully when it had thinned out a bit.

My first mile was a 6:51.  Of course this was unsustainable, it was just part of the maneuver I made to get away from the group.  I needed to slow down.  7:03.  Fine.  7:11.  Perfect.  7:00.  OK.  7:09.  I was starting to put some time “in the bank”.  The first half of the course was rather flat but the second half was hillier.  It was also going to get hotter.  Having some cushion for a second half slow-down was not a bad idea.  This was the way to do it – a few seconds at a time.  7:13.  6:55 – perhaps a downhill mile?  I drank at every aid station along the way.  I’ve mastered the art of drinking while on the run, so even though I drank every 2 miles, it hardly slowed me down.  The key is to pinch the top of the cup shut, leaving only a small opening at the bottom.  That way as it’s splashing, it stays in the cup.  The small opening makes it like drinking out of a water bottle.

7:14.  7:02.  I was steady.  7:22 for mile 10, after a slight uphill.  If this hill was insignificant, then the hills in the second half must have really been something.  I focused on keeping my form light and easy.  If it doesn’t come easy, it can’t be sustained.  7:06.  7:04.  Another slight hill getting back into the Fairgrounds for the halfway mark -7:32.  I had built myself a cushion, but it was a measly 1 minutes, 13 seconds.

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The Frederick Marathon is Tomorrow and I feel confident in my fitness.  There were a number of goals I set out for myself before starting my training, which I thought would indicate that I was fit enough for a 3:10 (7:15 min/mile) marathon:

  • Be able to run a half marathon in 1:30:00 or faster
  • Be able to run a 26 mile training run at an 8:15 pace
  • Be able to run 16 miles at 7:15 pace
  • Be able to run 10 1 mile repeats at a 6:15 pace

In the past couple of months, I’ve met all but the last of these goals.  I’ve had a number of amazing runs for myself.  Without further ado, here’s a summary of races and key workouts:

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I have returned.

February 21, 2010

Well, it’s been over a year since I’ve blogged about running.  Looking back, I think the reason why I stopped blogging was because I injured my tail bone, was in a great deal of constant pain, and didn’t want to drag people down by constantly writing about it.  In short, it was a persistent, painful injury that originated from too much downhill training leading up to the Tucson Marathon in ’08.  I started to recover from it at the beginning of  ’09, training for the Frederick Marathon, but it came back with a vengeance at the start of Spring.   I withdrew from the race, and focused on recovery.  I did a lot of cross training on an elliptical since it didn’t aggravate the injury.  I saw a doctor about it, who gave me a shot of cortisone.  This made me feel good for a couple of weeks but then the effects wore off, so I could see all it really did was mask the pain.  I then went back to my chiropractor, who performed a series of adjustments.  I felt better after the first session, and eventually made a full recovery.  It’s yet another personal experience where chiropractic adjustments have proven to be a far better treatment method for injury over conventional medicine/drug therapy.  My general recommendation for injuries, based on personal experience, is to give a good chiropractor a try first.  You may be surprised what a good adjustment can do.  It’s also generally a great deal cheaper.   I may revisit this topic at a later time, but first, I’d like to recap some key races from  ’09, since it ended up being a great year.

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So close, yet so far away

December 24, 2008

A couple weeks ago (dec 13th) I did the Tucson Marathon.  In typical fashion, I’ve only gotten to blogging about it two weeks later. 

It was the culmination of all my training this year: an attempt at a Boston Qualifier on a fast, downhill course.  Coming off of my run at the Harrisburg marathon only a month earlier, I had some confidence going in – there I had run the BQ pace (7:15/mile, a 3:10 marathon)  through 13 miles, and wasn’t far from it through 16 miles (3:11 pace), before falling to a 3:14 pace at 20 mile, and hitting the wall there, dropping to finish at a 3:27.  It was a confidence builder, however, since it was the first time I held that pace for that long, and it was on a flat course.  Tucson is a notoriously downhill, fast, Boston Qualifier course, so I thought that the fitness gains I had made leading up to the race, combined with a more favorable course would be just enough to get me my BQ.  

I had one injury concern leading up to the race.  To prepare my body for the downhill course, I did some downhill repeats in the weeks leading up to it.  I knew it was a bit of a risk, but I thought to get a BQ, it was a risk I had to take.  It did not pay off, rather, I hurt my lower back, glutes & hamstring.   Thankfully, the hamstring trouble ending up going away pretty quickly, but the lower back & glute pain persisted.  I had some chiropractic adjustments, and curtailed some of my mileage, but it continued to be an on-off problem.   I went easy on a particularly important weekend – two weeks after Harrisburg, two weeks before Tucson, right in that sweet spot between recovering from one race and tapering for the next.  I did manage to get a good 8 mile long-tempo run in a week before the race, which went well.  I came in at a 57 mins, a 7:06 pace.  The miles came easy, and I finished strong, with my last mile in a 6:16.  Leading up to the race I went easy, but even a little 3 mile run on a treadmill was enough to aggravate it.  The injury on a whole was rather minor, not a lot of pain, rather, just some discomfort, but it can be hard to know how something will hold up after 26.2 miles, especially on a downhill course.  

The Race

The day began with my first and only complaint about the organization of the race – the burden of getting to the start.  The traffic getting to the shuttles that would take us to the start was just horrible, but not entirely unexpected.  Once we got there, we found the correct shuttle, and waited on the bus for forty minutes.  We ended up getting to the race start just 20 minutes before the start.  I typically like to have an hour, so I can use the rest room (takes a long time w/ those lines!) and warm up.  Of course, this wasn’t ideal, but I did have enough time to run around a little bit while shedding my warm up clothes, putting them in my drop bag, putting that on a drop bag bus, and to give some dry desert plants some much needed moisture 🙂


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Gigantic Recap

December 1, 2008

Have I really not updated since September 10th?  I kind of wish I updated more consistently, to keep you all along on my journey toward a Boston qualifier, but unfortunately I have not.  Better too busy running to blog then the other way around, right?  

Anyway, just thought I do a big recap of some of the key runs I’ve had in the past couple of months, as I start to get ready for my final marathon of the season.  

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