Thursday, June 30, 2011

Barefoot Jaymee

Barefoot Jaymee standing on Dean Street at age 3.
I remember running around barefoot a lot as a kid.  In fact, my mother confirms that she had trouble getting shoes on me.  When it was raining outside, I told her I didn't want to wear my shoes because they would just get wet.  When my Dad and Grandpa Joe were out fertilizing the front lawn with chicken shit, I insisted on helping them in my bare feet despite their claims that the fertilizer would make my feet grow to be freakishly big.  I didn't start really loving shoes, for fashion's sake, until I hit my teens.  Even then, I was obsessed with barefoot-esque little flats, though I did adore my Famolare Get Theres.

Since I started running in 2004, I have gone through hundreds of pairs of shoes of various makes and models.  I switch them up all the time.  Dr. Lau asked me once why I did this, and I told him that I just hadn't found a pair that I loved enough to be loyal to.  I have always run in neutral, cushioned shoes and haven't had any trouble that can be clearly blamed on footwear.  When I started getting serious about running fast, I tried various racing flats for the marathon, and eventually landed on Nike Lunaracers.  These were the closest I had come to a shoe I could love. I have raced all distances in them exclusively since they first came out.

I have been fascinated by all of the research, hype, devotion and skepticism that barefoot and minimalist running has generated over the past couple of years.  I read Born to Run and actually quite liked it.  I love seeing the "crazies" on the bike trail padding along in their Vibram Five Fingers (VFF) and the stares from properly shod runners that follow them.  I admit that I bought a pair of the VFFs when I was first bitten by the barefoot bug.  I loved wearing them out in the field, walking through grasslands and squishy soil.  Feeling the various textures of the earth beneath your feet is a wonderful sensation.  Unfortunately, I wasn't sold on the VFF.  My toes never got used to being spread out, and I got tired of people asking if I had the rest of the ape suit to go along with the feet.  I've never worn them for running.

I started seriously considering going "minimalist" more recently as more science has emerged about the benefits of less shoe.  Dr. Ball was the one who spurred me to act on this desire to lighten my shoe by agreeing that the science was pretty clear about the benefits. Ironically, he was one of the first to caution me on making this move after reading my last blog post, telling me I needed to be smart for the next 6 months.  He's right.

I fully recognize the risks of injury associated with making this transition, but I believe those risks are low for me.  First, I am used to going barefoot.  As noted above, I go barefoot and always have whenever possible.  This means my feet are probably relatively strong compared to someone who rarely walks about without shoes.  Second, I have always run in neutral shoes without orthotics or additional support.  I have a nice high arch and easy going feet that seem to get along with whatever shoe I put them in.  Third, I race marathons in a very light shoe and have always walked away feeling great--no issues with my feet or lower legs after even the toughest conditions.

So, I am a good candidate.  Now, why would I take any risk at all?  Well, I think there's a risk associated with staying in the cushiony shoes I have been wearing.  Recent studies comparing impacts to the body of shod versus barefoot running indicate that the body receives less impact without a shoe for a runner accustomed to running barefoot.  This is because the body naturally adjusts to soften the load when there's not a big piece of squishy foam and hard plastic that keeps it from being able to do so.  I'll trust that you'll read all about this from some other source (like this one) and stop there with my explanation.

Shoe changes require a transition period because our bodies become accustomed to the shoes we wear regularly.  My body won't magically adjust my gait to absorb the impacts right off--it needs time to strengthen tendons, ligaments and muscles that I've not used in a long time and adjust my biomechanics accordingly.  Note, I don't plan to run barefoot exclusively, though I will do some barefoot running for recovery and therapeutic purposes (See Camille's blog post about her experience with the therapeutic benefits of barefoot running). And, by barefoot, I mean I will wear some protection on my feet since I don't trust people to not throw glass, nails and tacks in the grass where I'll run.  

To start, I needed new equipment.  I chose the Nike Free Run 2+ as my transitional shoe.  I chose the Merrell Pace Glove, which I call my Vibram one fingers, as my barefoot shoe.  I started wearing both of these on my daily dog walks and out and about back in May.  I did notice that my feet needed some "breaking in" with the one fingers, but they felt awesome almost immediately walking around.
Nike Free Run 2+ = Love

Merrell Pace Glove aka Vibram One Fingers

I then devised a running plan for the Nike Frees to slowly transition out of my Mizuno Waveriders.  I wore the Frees for the first time on a recovery run two weeks ago.  I planned to run only a couple of miles and get a feel for them.  I promised myself, if I felt anything weird, I would turn around and get my Mizunos.  I ran for an hour in the Frees and was in heaven.  They were so amazingly comfortable, and I felt so light on my feet.  I had finally fallen in love with a pair of shoes.  I wanted to wear them every day from then on out, but I knew that was foolish.  The next day, my legs and feet actually felt more recovered than I expected, without any soreness in my feet or calf muscles.  I really expected to feel something in my calf muscles because of the difference in heel to toe drop between my Mizunos and the Frees.  Nothing.  I wore them for 15 miles that first week (20% of my mileage), about 26 miles last week (30%) and will wear them for about 30 miles this week (38%).  Now, when I wear the Mizunos, my feet and legs feel so clumsy and clunky.  I look forward to my runs in the Frees (am I a Nike ad or what?)  By the end of July, I should be doing most of my running in the Frees.

As a next step, I will try out an even lighter and more barefoot version of the Free--the Free 3.0.  I designed my own at, deciding that the added expense of making them cute was worth it since I don't plan to replace the shoes as often as I did my cushioned trainers.  They are actually the Free Run 2+ uppers with the 3.0 footbed--the best of both worlds.  They have a little Effin' J embroidered on the tongue so they won't get confused with someone else's Nike Free Run 2+s with a 3.0 footbed.  I have a feeling I'll like them and will slowly transition into those or might alternate between the Free Run 2+ and the Free 3.0.

I will start doing some barefoot running in my one fingers in about two weeks.  I'll do these on my recovery days, starting with 10 minutes running in a grass field.  I plan to work up to doing this 2 days per week for 30 minutes max each day if I feel like it helps me with recovery and injury prevention.  If not, then I'll just keep wearing my one fingers on my dog walks, getting some strength training benefit for my little peeties.

So, there you have it folks.  I'll keep you updated on my progress.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Honey badger don't care

For those of you who are Facebook friends with me, you may have seen a video I shared about the honey badger.  If not, I've added the link below.  This video has been making the rounds for a while, but somehow, I never saw it before the other day.  Honey badger has made quite an impression on me and has become one of my heroes.  I actually found myself chanting, "Honey badger don't care," during my track workout this week when things started to get tough.  Thinking of that little badass honey badger out there getting bitten by cobras, taking a short "nap" and getting back to the business of eating the cobra makes me feel like a loser if I complain about pain while running.
This week, I had a full week of training and travel for work.  I was at our semi-annual scientist geek fest in Bodega Bay, CA Monday through Thursday, where we spent the entire time sequestered in little cubby holes writing our brains out about the latest conservation science issues we are working on.  It sounds all nice and relaxing, but it is very hard work.  I always leave these events exhausted.  My daily run is truly a highlight while I'm there, giving me a chance to get out into the fresh marine air and spend some time not thinking about writing.  I ran 9-10 miles each day on Tuesday and Wednesday in Bodega along the harbor shore and then up onto Bodega Head where there are some newly constructed trails that circle the head.  My legs got in lots of good hill work those days.

Thursday night, when I got home, I did my track workout.  It was much warmer this week than last for a very similar, but slightly harder workout.  I ran 12.25 miles total with 2 x (1600/1200/1600) with 4 minutes jog rest between reps and 7 minutes jog between the two sets.  The workout called for 8k pace, but I decided to try to hold the same pace as last week's 10k-paced workout which was 5:55-6:00.  My guess is that I would not be able to hold 6:00 pace in even an 8k right now in warm conditions.  In fact, The Good Book (Squires and Lehane) says this about this particular workout: "This workout is aggressive, but don't hammer yourself excessively."  Well, honey badger probably would have hammered excessively, but I decided not to.  Nonetheless, I averaged 5:58 pace for the reps.

Friday, I was tired.  I did my 8 mile run and felt pooped the whole time.  Luckily, the day called for an 8-mile recovery run and I needed it.  I am closely following the Squires plan in terms of pacing for my non-workout runs.  He has three different paces for these runs:

  • recovery pace = heart rate between 120-140 (>8:15 pace for me)
  • easy pace = < 2 minutes per mile slower than 5k pace (7:50-8:00)
  • relaxed pace = ~2 minutes per mile slower than 5k pace (7:30-7:45)      
The slower pace I ran on Friday paid off in that my body felt great during my run last night.  Another small detail that I'm following "by the book" from Squires' plan is doing strides after my run is over.  In the past, I would do my strides during the last few miles of my run but would typically still run a mile after that on my way home.  Now, I finish my run at home and do my strides in front of my house, which tortures my poor puppy who watches me zoom past the window over and over and doesn't understand why he can't come out and chase me.  This also gives me the opportunity to change into less shoe for the strides.

On that note, my next post will elaborate more on why I'm jumping on the bandwagon and going minimalist with my footwear.  I haven't started this yet, but I have a plan.  Of course I have a plan.  In the mean time, if you haven't read The Science of Sport post about this or Camille Herron's account of her switch to minimalist running, you might want to.

Honey badger don't wear shoes.  Honey badger don't give a shit.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Smarty Pants

For those of you who were concerned about me following my training plan at all costs, my behavior these last two weeks should allay your fears. I have been smarter than I ever would have expected with my training and recovery. While I have pushed my body in my workouts like normal, I have also altered my schedule as needed to allow for added recovery. I actually like this self-coaching gig for that reason. I have set myself some guidelines for key workouts, but the rest of the schedule can be modified based on how I feel, last-minute work and life crises, etc. Admittedly, this is a relatively easy task when I'm only running 50-60 miles per week. However, I like that I am getting into the habitat of critically thinking about what's important in my schedule, and being willing to make a change that might involve reducing my mileage for the day or week.

All of this follows Coach Tom's point from months ago that I don't have to worry about being a slacker. My concern should be about over-doing it. So, I view everything in that light. I have to say that it is a lot easier to justify a change when I wrote the plan. I don't have to second guess whether or not the change will upset some grand training scheme or harm my fitness in any way. I am the only one who really cares (aside from Coach T, of course) whether or not I follow the plan. I feel a strange sense of freedom in that.

Last week I actually took two days off and this week, one day. Last week, it was just because I could. I decided that I have 6 months of killer work coming up, have ramped up my mileage quickly in the last month and could afford to take some down time. This week, I was feeling residual muscle soreness from my long run on Sunday, in which I ran 14 miles @ sub-7:00 pace. I was scheduled to run a hard 12-miler on Tuesday and knew that it wouldn't be smart to run on sore legs. I also got treatment from Dr. Lau that day. So, I ran an easy 8 with strides on Tuesday, rested Wednesday and did the 12 miler last night.

Last night was my first track workout in 3 months and I had fun. It was straight from the Speed with Endurance book:
2 miles warm up + drills + strides + 2 x (1200/1600/1200m @ 10k) w/ 4 min jog rest between reps and 7 minutes rest between sets + 2 mile cool down.

This workout was a change for me in that the rests were pretty long compared to what I am used to with 10k reps. I really liked it. I ended up doing my repeats at 5:55-6:00 pace and, I think, because the rests were so long, it all felt very controlled and relatively easy. I also don't feel horribly beat up today. I am still trying to get used to my "new" legs, and it became clear last night that my turnover needs some work. I think the turnover will improve as I continue to do strides and form drills in my workouts and just keep up the faster running.

My next hard workout won't be until Sunday where I do 15 miles with some hill repeats. The hill repeats were going to be part of a mid-week workout, but I decided to lump them into the long run instead. It's fun being the boss of me.