Monday, March 29, 2010

I screwed up

I got carried away and ran three days straight in my KSOs.  It just felt fun.  After the second day I started to feel some pain in the top of my left foot.  The third day I ignored it and went out again; that was a mistake.  Here I am three days later with a throbbing pain in the top of my left foot.  I keep telling myself that it is just an overuse injury, my feet weren't ready and I strained something.  A few more days and it will clear up nicely and I can get back on the roads.  Because it can't be anything serious, it just can't be.  I don't have the time or patience for a serious injury.  Therefore it has to be just a sprain or bruise or something.  So far though, it shows no sign of clearing.

This is just so frustrating because it is completely my own dumb fault.  It's one thing to slip on some ice or twist your ankle in a pothole but to just not pay attention to my own warning signs, that's just stupid.  So it looks like I have some unplanned forced downtime coming.  At least it will be raining for the next few days so that I don't feel too bad about it.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

First Run in the KSOs

Previously I had mentioned that the size 42 Vibram KSOs didn't work out too great because they were a bit big.  So I got a pair of size 41.  There is one small difference:


Bam!  They've been camouflaged for increased urban stealth!

Putting them on I noticed right away that they were definitely a lot more snug, especially in the right foot.  The left feels great but the right feels a bit tight and possibly a bit short.  My toes are brushing against the top of the toe pockets and when I flex they are right up against them.  This concerned me but a few other owners I talked to said to give them time and they should loosen up.

Today I took them on their first run; a 2.25 mile jaunt around town.  Oh the joy! Oh the freedom! Oh the pain!  I have to keep myself in check or else I'm going to blow out a calf muscle.  The issues with the length of the shoes didn't seem to come in to play at all; I didn't notice any pain or discomfort in my toes.  I did start to feel some cramping in the pad of my right foot because the shoe is a bit tight, but I am hopeful that it is something that will work itself out as the shoe stretches.

Overall I was happy with their performance on the first run.  It certainly is going to take some time to get used to and I need to build up what I thought were some pretty strong calves so that I can cut free and really get out running.  These things are so light that it really does feel like there is nothing on my feet.  What a feeling.

Monday, March 22, 2010

New Bedford Half-Marathon

First thing, I will get this out of the way; I hate the NB Half.  Not just because it has a killer hill right at mile 12 or that it exposes me to way too many parts of the city that I would prefer to keep a mystery or that it seems that they can't get the thing organized properly even though it has been run for 33 years.  No, I hate it for all the right reasons.  The finisher's refreshments consist of clam chowder and fish cakes.  The 10 Porta-potties for 2600 people.  The fact that I still suffer a little PTSD from seeing the blood run down my ankle into my shoe last year from the timing chip that was strapped to my leg.  The permanent scar said chip left.  Being in "beautiful" downtown New Bedford.

Ok, enough of that; here's how the race went.  After arriving early and getting our numbers, we headed back to the car where Michael and I took bets on whether anyone would park in the garage spot right next to us.  While many cars drove by, none parked.  I still don't know why.  I then spent the next twenty minutes in line for the Porta-potty while getting increasingly nervous about the impending start time.  Luckily they pushed the start out 15 minutes so the 300 people in line behind me had time to go.  I got down to the start and ended up in the corral with Maria.  We tried to talk while waiting but the amazingly loud speaker next to us overpowered much of our conversation.

Finally the race began and I was pleased to see that there was an actual timing mat that would record our start times instead of the system last year which only recorded the end time.  I got in to a groove early and settled down to a sub-7 pace.  I figured I would give a 1:30:00 a try and see if I could hold the pace.  A ninety minute half has always been a big goal in my mind so I was interested to see if I could do it.  My performance at the Foxboro 10-miler had been a positive one and with the weather looking really good I decided that this race would be just as good as any to give it a try.  Never mind that I had run a 5K the day before and done absolutely no training for this.

Just after mile one I came up on Dave Reavill and found out that Maureen was up ahead somewhere.  Soon enough I came upon her just before the first of the big hills.  With that I was not to see another GNRCer for the rest of the run.  I passed the time by keeping pace and chatting with other runners.  By mile eight I was starting to get tired.  I knew that I was running about the same pace as Foxboro but this was three miles longer so I hoped that I could keep it up.  Thankfully the wind off the water was light or that really could have derailed my plans.

Mile ten and I began to feel a bit better.  At one point I looked at my watch and noticed I was surprisingly doing a 6:11 pace so I reigned my eagerness back in and slowed down.  I was confident I would be able to do a 1:30 at this point as long as I could get up that last long hill.  More and more I realized that I was looking at my watch, checking my pace.  Clearly I was getting tired and was less confidant that I was keeping up.  Fortunately I was and it remained steady.

Mile twelve finally arrived and the hill stretched out in front of me.  This thing is so long that you can't even see the top from the bottom because it curves.  Just when you think you can see the top it keeps going.  I just dove into it and pushed forward without a care on pacing.  Halfway up my legs were getting wobbly.  I expected my calves to be tired but now the top of my ankles were starting to show signs of fatigue.  Yipes.  Still I forged on!  Up, up, up the damn hill until finally I had arrived at the top.  Struggling to get my pace back I turned right and saw the final turn to the finish.  "3-sixty-something" the guy on the corner called out my place in the race as I ran past.  Not a bad performance, just keep it together for the finish.

Last turn and there was the Start sign.  Well, it was the finish sign as well but I don't understand why they have it backwards.  I kicked it down the final straight and crossed the line at 1:30:31, a PR by over three minutes.  If there hadn't been those hills I believe I could have done a sub-90 minute but I was really happy about that time nonetheless.  The only thing I may have done differently was to not wear a t-shirt under my singlet, the weather was just too nice.

After a respite on the curb I met up with Michael as he crossed the finish line.  We grabbed some water and headed off to the car to make a speedy exit from New Bedford.  Naturally I made the walk from the finish to the car barefoot because of the blisters I had on both feet.  Might as well keep that New Bedford tradition going.

St. Pat's 5k

Saturday I ran the St. Pat's 5k in downtown Providence.  The weather could not have been any better, sunny and 70.  While not great for running it was perfect for being outside and getting a sunburn.  The race starts right next to the State House and goes all the way down Smith St, turns around, and comes right back.  The turnout was about 3000 people so it was pretty packed.  Come race time I made my way to the front and got ready to go.

Off went the asthmatic air-horn and I tried to settle in to my pace.  Since I had a half-marathon to do the next day I planned on running strong, but not trying to chase any records, maybe a 6:15-6:20 pace.  Just before mile 1 I made a mental note that the Mexican place was selling tacos for $2 and then I noted that my mile split was a straight 6:00.  A bit fast, time to cool it down.  I felt a bit toasted but hung in there for an uneventful 2.1 more miles.

On the return trip I passed by Jen and gave her an encouraging high-five as she ran by me in the opposite direction on her way to challenge her own 5K PR.  Soon enough the finish line was in sight so I gave it a little kick and crossed the mat at 19:32.  Right where I had hoped to be.  After watching the rest of the gang cross the finish line we made our way over to the sponsor pub for some refreshing Guinness and to watch the parade.  Every race should end with beer and parades.  Or at least just the beer.

Too much racing and partying.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The VFFs are in!

After weeks of hunting I was finally able to find a pair of the Vibram Five Fingers.  At this point Vibram's site is the only place you can get them.  Here they are!

Black VFF KSO in size 42.

First thoughts: there is no cushioning on these things.  I knew that when I bought them but I really didn't grasp that there is NO cushioning on these things.  It really is like going barefoot but without the fear of stepping on something sharp.

The fit; well, here is where it gets complicated.  They fit ok.  My toes seem to go right up to where they should, just before the end of the pockets, but the heel is loose.  Walking around there is some movement 
which I am not too happy about.  Running in them barefoot has proven to be problematic because of the movement, the seams inside rub too much.  I threw on a pair of the Injini socks and they seem to help stop the shoes from moving but they make my right foot a bit cramped.  And besides, socks make it feel less like barefoot.  But with the socks it seems like I could do some running in them.

One strange issue of which I am apparently not the only one to have happen to.  The right shoe seems to have a strange flex point at the front-inside of the arch.  It doesn't happen with the left one at all which is just weird.  This flex causes some rubbing and has led to a blister.  Other people have mentioned the same thing.

I got to take them out today for a 20 minute run.  It was mostly a test of with socks, without socks, etc so it wasn't a true run.  Still, my calves were aching.  I thought I had been doing good with landing on my forefoot but less than a mile in my calves were burning.  Obviously I had changed my stride with the VFFs.  I think I was running as if barefoot but faster and with less fear since I had protection on my soles: this may account for it.  I'll see what the next run brings.  Hopefully they will stop feeling "weird" and I can get back to concentrating on the run and not the new things on my feet.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

My feet are killing

I have been doing some tests the last few runs.  On Sunday I ran 13 miles, just because it was so nice out.  I chose to wear a conservative pair of trainers, my New Balance 769s, because that's what I always wear.  The run progressed nicely, I had been afraid that it wouldn't since I hadn't eaten in two days (a-whole-nother story) and I kept up a nice pace.  By mile ten I was getting a bit tired though and began to pay attention to how I was running.  I noticed that I was stomping my feet down much more than I had in the beginning and so I started thinking about why.  The obvious answer was that I tired..  You get tired and it gets harder to run with good form.  Nothing too shocking about that.

Or was that really the answer?  I decided on a plan.  I continued to run while concentrating on good form for the next few miles but I still noticed that I was slapping down my feet.  When I pulled into my street with a half mile left I stopped, took off my shoes, and began to run the final length home.  Suddenly the heavy feet were gone.  Even though I had been dragging the last couple of miles now I was bounding down the road.  My feet felt light as they flitted along the street with barely any signs of fatigue from the previous 12.5 miles.  They carried me home without any loss of pace and felt as fresh that last half mile as the first half mile.

What I think was going on was in fact that I was getting tired.  With the rising fatigue and the decline in good, strong form I believe that my feet were attempting to compensate and keep everything in balance.  With the heavy trainers with their thick padded soles on I think that my feet were slamming into the ground in an attempt to gain increased sensory feedback.  Feedback it needed to try and keep me in balance but which it wasn't getting because of the shoes.  Once I removed my shoes the feet fell into a naturally light rhythm because it no longer needed to try and pound through the shoes to get a sense of the road.  I have tested this on a few runs now and each time I take off my shoes I find that my feet feel so free and running is so easy.

So why are my feet killing?  Well I may have been overdoing it a tad.  The scratchy pavement and today's 1.25 mile barefoot run have left my soles a bit tender.  Time to take it down a bit and let them recover.  But can you really blame me for getting out there and having fun when the weather has been so great?  I didn't think so.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Adventures in Niketown

I'd heard good things about the Nike Frees (you know who you are) so I finally decided to check them out.  Off I went to City Sports to try a pair on.  First pair was a size 10.  They didn't even get half way on my foot before I knew they were too tight.  I was aware that Nike tends to run a bit narrow so it didn't faze me, I had asked him to bring me a 10.5 just in case.  I pulled on the 10.5 and walked around.  Hmm.  They seemed a bit tight but I wasn't sure.  So I bought them.

Back at the office I slipped them on and began to walk around in them.  Within minutes pain was shooting up my legs, these things were way too tight.  For some reason I have an uncanny ability to convince myself that those doubts I feel while trying on shoes are completely wrong and to think positive.  And then as soon as I get the shoes home I realize that my first instincts were totally correct and I should have listened to myself.  It's a perpetual cycle with me.  So back the shoes went.

But I figured, while I am here I'll try on the elevens.  Not only were they still too tight but they were now too long and a bit loose in the heel.  And yet I still managed to convince myself to buy them.  I will be paying them another visit today to return them and just give up on the whole endeavor.

This is what is so maddeningly frustrating to me, this search for shoes that fit and are comfortable.  They're usually too narrow but even when I can find any in a wider size then I usually have to deal with a loose heel or some other part that is uncomfortable.  At this point I want to just build my own shoe so at least I know the damn things would fit.  I hate the constant compromise with all the shoes I buy; this pair fits ok except for the heel in the right shoe or this pair is good but my toe rubs against the stitching, etc.  I am so envious of all the people that can just try on a pair, they feel good, and off they go.  It's at least a freakin' three week process every time I buy a new pair.

Oh, and when I tried on a pair of the Vibram Five Fingers I learned that I am one of the lucky 10% that also has Morton's Toe.  So I got that goin' for me, which is nice.  But not really.

Monday, March 1, 2010

The Case of the Vanishing Achilles Pain

I have continued with my barefoot treadmill experiments and have stumbled upon a completely unexpected side effect.  I first noticed it after I moved from being very cautious and slowly jogging to getting in to an actual run.  The morning after I did my first real "run" (and by that I mean the treadmill was at least fast enough that walking was impossible at that speed) without shoes I woke up and immediately realized that I had zero aches in my achilles.  I brushed it aside though as a fluke and went about my day.  That night I once again did twenty minutes unshod on the treadmill.  Again, the next morning I had absolutely no discomfort in my achilles.  At all.  Nothing.

All day long I kept walking funny trying to stretch them out and prove that they still hurt.  They always hurt the morning after a run, no exceptions.  But they kept on feeling great!

Since this initial discovery I have been hyper-attentive to it.  Friday I did a long run and sure enough, the next morning my achilles were achy and creaky.  Sunday I did some more barefooting and again this morning I had no aches at all (in my achilles; barefoot running so far has not had the same magic power over my knees which have been slightly cranky).

So it has got me to wondering exactly what is going on and why this is happening.  During the barefoot runs I often feel some discomfort and tightness in my achilles but that doesn't seem to translate into soreness the next day.  In fact it actually seems to help reverse the problem and leaves me feeling better.

I'm just beginning to try and figure out what is going on but I have to believe that it has something to do with the mechanics of it all and how my stride is affected by wearing shoes.  Harvard has done studies that lay out the differences between heel and forefoot striking and the forces incurred with both.  It has lots of pictures and videos so even an idiot such as myself can learn something.  They compare heel striking to dropping a beam on its end; it comes to a sudden stop with the lower leg absorbing most of the force.  Changing to a more forefoot strike and the vertical momentum is converted into rotational momentum and reduces the load on the leg.  This could account for why I feel so much better afterwards, the strain on my achilles is significantly reduced.  I find it much easier to keep off my heels when I'm not wearing shoes because there is no built-up heel to get in my way so this could be a factor.

Or maybe it as something to do with the treadmill and how I run on that.  Or that I have been running much more conservatively.  I'll just have to keep trying new things and increasing the time and speed to see what happens.