Barefoot running

May 10, 2008

I’ve long thought that running barefoot could be quite beneficial. I used to regularly do strides on grass, and noticed my feet getting stronger. I’ve been doing some reading on barefoot running lately, and it’s commonly believed by barefoot runners that running barefoot may have the following benefits:

  • Better proprioception – you know where your feet are relative to the ground
  • Landing softer – you learn to land more softly, thus having to absorb less impact
  • Midfoot strike – you have a natural tendency to strike with the midfoot, rather then the heel, which is commonly believed to be more efficient. Almost all elite runners run in this manner.
  • Better efficiency – you’re more able to convert the energy from the shock of landing from one step into forward motion for the next
  • Stronger feet muscles
  • Injury prevention

Of course, the last point is key, and has a lot to do with the others – with better proprioception, by landing softer w/ a midfoot strike, and by having stronger feet muscles, you’ll be much less likely incur maladies such as plantar fasciitis, ankle sprains, and impact-related injuries. This is of course assuming that you have built up to running barefoot gradually.

So, in summary, running shoes are believed to make you run in a far less natural manner. Because running barefoot is more natural, it’s how our bodies were “meant to” work, so it’s more likely to work well. There are, however, obstacles and drawbacks to running barefoot, in particular, sharp objects on the ground. Any runner can tell you getting a cut on your foot is a very bad thing.

With all this in mind, I thought it would be cool to have a minimal shoe – really more like a “foot glove”, a small layer of rubber on the outside, just enough to protect the feet, but not any real structural support like conventional shoes. Later that week I was reading up on the Bull Run Run, a race I did couple years back (my first 50!), and I came across this article for a test run of the Vibram Five Fingers. This is exactly what I was thinking of! I did a little more research, and was just so intrigued by the product that I decided to go out to Winchester (one of three places in Virginia that sells them) to buy a pair.

Now that my race is over, and I’m in my two-week offseason, I’ve been experimenting with this shoes. It’s quite a unique experience. I’ll post more on that later. In the meantime, here’s some links about barefoot running, the debate between barefoot and shod running, and the Vibram Five Fingers:

Other bloggers’ experiences and debate:

Frederick Half

May 4, 2008

So, Today was the big day, Frederick Half (so weird not doing the full marathon…). We got up at 4:30AM to get to the race an hour before the 6:30AM start. Ouch…earliest I’ve risen for a race since the Bull Run Run in ’06. Because of injury, I had much lowered expectations, I was hoping just to break a 1:40. The month before the race I was struggling to scrap together some good runs. The longest I did run was 7 miles. With my reduced fitness, a 7:30 pace felt hard in training runs. I figured I maybe could hold around a 7:40 pace.

With that in mind, I started with the 3:20 Marathon pace group. I’ve never started this close to the start line in a major race. The only pace group in front of us was the 3:10 group, and there weren’t many people in front of that. The pace felt easy. I cruised behind the pace group for most of the race. It felt so easy I was tempted to break away, but race a disciplined race behind them for most of the first 10 miles. It was like I was in some weird twilight zone, running with a bunch of 3:20 marathoners, instead of the 4 hour pack. Bodes well for the Fall marathon season.
I decided I’d break from the pace group and take off at the 10 mile marker, but as we passed through the Wal-Mart parking lot (yeah, that was weird, but I’m not doing the course justice, it was a very nice course) the pace group wanted to hold back a bit, as they were going a little fast. They were pacing for a marathon, so it was probably wise. I had about three and a half miles to go, so I just took off. When I hit the 11 mile mark, I could still hear that chatty group in the distance behind me. I decided I’d try to be out of earshot of them by 12, and succeeded.

I didn’t have a lot of speed for the last 1.1 miles, as my left groin and my right hamstring decided they’d hurt, in lieu of my left hamstring. The pain wasn’t unbearable, but it was just enough to know that if I had pushed it to hard, I might be walking, or even crawling whatever remained of the race. The race finish was on the Frederick Fairgrounds horse track, in front of the stands of spectators. That was pretty cool. I sprinted past everyone that was in sight, and randomly stuck my tongue out as I came across the finish line – should make for some interesting pictures.

The results:

Chip Time: 1:38:20

Overall Place: 93 (out of 1844)

Age Group Place: 5th (out of 34)

Time-wise, I did what I was hoping for, given my injury status and my lowered level of fitness. Coming in 5th in my age group was surprising. I think that says more about the level of competition then anything. When you do the lesser-distance version of a race, it ends up being less competitive. It also makes me think of the Backyard Burn Trail series, where it would be a challenge to place 5th, even if there were only like 12-15 runners in my age group.
Overall, I felt good about the race, all things considered. Resting leading up to the race, rather then trying to squeeze in some more miles, paid off. I also felt that my long-tempo runs did as well, particularly late in the race. The race itself was great: the staging area was great for spectators, the course was well staffed, it never felt crowded, and it was flat & scenic. The highlight was running alongside and chatting with Ronnie Wong. This guy’s crazy. He was doing the full marathon, and it was his 3rd race this week. He usually does about 40 a year, and did more then 80 one year. He has a marathon PR of 2:38. Then he told me about the longest of his life – 1300 miles on a 1.1 mile loop, on pavement. Just nuts. The guy’s 62 years old, and regularly wins his age group & master’s categories. He’s ranked in the Washington Running Report:

So that’s that. Still to come: a Spring season “Lesson’s Learned”, and some experimentation with a rather interesting new pair of shoes…