Thursday, April 29, 2010

Sunny and warm with a chance of black clouds

Sometimes the bear gets you. Here it is, two days before my debut as a relay team captain. Our leg of the 13Relay begins at high noon on Saturday. 26 hours of fun and camraderie during what is looking like a gorgeous weekend, weather wise.

But here I am, virtually crippled. It can even be extremely painful just to walk. So now my weekend forecast is sunny, warm, and constant pain.

That bear got me good this time.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

James Joyce Ramble

Sunday was the 27th annual running of the James Joyce Ramble 10K and my first.  I was excited to be able to get some literature in me while enjoying a run.  But I faced a dilemma that day, what shoes to wear.  You see I had recently purchased a pair of Vibram Bikilas and they were just itching to get out and go fast.  The problem was that I wasn't sure if I was ready for a 10K in them; up to then the longest I had gone was 4 miles.  The longest I had run since the New Bedford Half back in March was also only 4 miles.  Add in the not-so-perfect fit of the shoes and I had a tough decision to make.

Ultimately I went for it.  I figured that I could use the race as a good way to get back into speed work and to test out how the Bikilas function in the real world.  Maybe I would hold a 7-minute pace or something around there to make sure that my feet and calves didn't get too banged up, after all I have the relay this weekend.  Even though I explained this all to Jen she just laughed at me and told me I was dreaming, I could never hold my pace back.  And she was right.  Again.

The gong goes off, we all race forward, and the first mile marker ticks off 6:17 as I pass it.  Another brilliantly thought out plan laid to waste.  But the shoes felt good.  So did I.  No signs of any pain and I was hitting my form without having to think about it too much.  That was a good sign.

Halfway through the calves finally began to ache, I expected this and monitored them closely.  Strangely enough they never really got bad, they just stayed achey.  I took that as a good sign.  Finally at mile 5 the bottom of my right foot began to get sore, probably because at this point I was getting tired and my form was less than perfect and I was slapping my feet more than I should have been.  The pace had been kept at a pretty steady 6:30 so I was happy with myself up to now.  Another mile and I crossed the finish feeling tired but very impressed with my 40:25 time.  It wasn't until later that day that I found out that it was a new PR by about 80 seconds!  I hadn't even been trying to beat it.

The Bikilas worked out great.  They seem to be a good blend of minimalist and protection.  The pods on the soles and the light padding really helped when running through debris like small rocks and when I stepped on some even though I felt it there was no jarring pain or need to recoil from it.  The lack of support still forced me to concentrate on keeping a good form but because of the extra thickness in the sole they were a bit more forgiving when I made missteps than something like the KSO would have been.  But it is the weight of the shoes that is its best attribute.  I haven't put them on a scale and no manufacturers stats are available but I would be really surprised if they weighed more than 6 ounces a piece.

The only downside to them was how they fit me.  Because they are a bit loose middle to back they do slide around a bit on the downhills and around sharp corners.  But without the big heel in running shoes to have to deal with, on the downhills I found that I was able to fly down them and keep almost the same form as if running on flat ground.  I am still working on a good form for downhills but clearly the shoes worked out rather well and helped me get that PR.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Barefootin' it

I have been almost entirely running barefoot or with my Vibrams for a bit now.  My form has gotten better and I don't have to think about it as much.  It's not automatic yet and I find myself having to make corrections throughout the runs but it is getting there.

Vibram held its first barefoot clinic at City Sports this past Saturday as they unveiled their new shoe, the Bikila.  I partied in town the night before then rolled myself out of bed for the early morning clinic.  As luck would have it I got to run in the group led by Dr. Daniel Lieberman of the Harvard Human Evolutionary Biology Department, a veritable expert in how the foot works.  We headed out into the cold, wet morning and did a few laps around the Public Gardens.  I believe I was the only one in the group who actually ran barefoot, everyone else had on Vibrams, and I was particularly happy when Dr. Lieberman called my form perfect.  It's the little things in life.

After the run we went back to City Sports where I had the opportunity to talk to Dr. Lieberman directly and learn all about the correct form, how the foot works, and what caused the pain on the top of my foot (it's a tendon, I had been landing way too far forward on my foot and spearing it into the ground).  Then there was a Q&A with him, Chris McDougall, author of  "Born To Run", Corrado Giambalvo, Vibram tester just ran a 3:32 Boston Marathon in the new Bikilas.

It was really great to be there hearing them talk about a subject they are all really passionate about.  What was so interesting was that they all had vastly different experiences and approaches to how to get started, where to run, etc. and yet there was never a "wrong" answer or way to do something.  The overwhelming attitude was to just have fun, don't listen to anyone else, do what you want to do and what feels good.  The entire experience was very positive and made me more committed to exploring my options as a barefoot runner.

Looking around the store during the clinic I was amazed at how many people had shown up, there had to be a hundred or more.  But eventually that amazement began to change; after all, here it was the weekend before the Boston Marathon and Boston was flooded with thousands and thousands of runners from all around the world, not to mention all the runners who live here, and here we were, a tiny fraction of that number gathered together in a small store to discuss the sport with some of the most versed in the field.  I keep hearing that barefoot running has become mainstream with some accusing it as a simple fad to sell Vibrams or books; but looking around that day I realized that it was the idea of barefoot running that had made the mainstream consciousness.  The art of it was still left to the small minority of us fringe runners that are actually practicing it.

And that makes it all the more cool.

Friday, April 16, 2010

The Bikilas have landed

After months of speculation and rumor, word came down today that the City Sports on Boylston St was the first place on the planet to start selling the Vibram Bikila, the first Vibram designed specifically for running.  I squirmed around in my cube for the next hour and then ran out to see if it was true.  It was.

I decided not to go with the funky blue and yellow ones and instead got their last pair of size 42.  The size 41 were way too tight so I went with the bigger size.  Unfortunately the right one is slightly loose in the mid section but feels ok in the forefoot.  The left one feels good so far.

First impression is that the virtually seam-free liner is comfortable and should lead to significantly less blisters than other Vibram models.  As for ground feel, I do not get the same sensation of being virtually barefoot as I do with the KSOs.  The extra material between my foot and the ground is a noticeable change.  The KSOs feel very similar to being barefoot while the Bikilas have so far felt more like a very light shoe.

You can see the difference in the thickness of the soles

So far I have only been able to do some short jogs on the way back from the store so I will have to wait to comment on how they feel during runs.

It's kinda nice knowing that I am one of the very first person in the world to have a pair of these.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Monticello and the Return

"Determine never to be idle. No person will have occasion to complain of the want of time who never loses any. It is wonderful how much may be done if we are always doing." Thomas Jefferson

Friday we made the great trek down to Virginia for a family function.  By that time I had officially not run for two weeks and I was getting real tired of it.  My foot continued to heal and was feeling much better.  The pain was still there but it was markedly improved.  After making some inquiries I learned of a trail that went wound its way through the woods right up to Monticello.  A perfect place to get back out and running.

I hit the trail early Saturday morning and quickly realized that it was all uphill; unexpected but manageable.  The entire length ran through the woods with only the occasional glimpses of the nearby road.  The soft gravel trail was broken up by wooden walkways and was relaxing to run along.  Eventually it came out to the Monticello visitor center which was to be my, unexpected, turnaround point.  The kind lady at the entrance to the next trail informed me that if I wanted to go the remaining .3 miles to the house I would have to buy a ticket.  Difficult to do since all I had was a t-shirt and shorts on.  So back down the mountain I ran.  I was so happy to be running again I even did the last mile barefoot.  Gravel does tend to hurt the feet after awhile though.

The only view I have ever had of Monticello

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Back up the mountain

For the second year in a row GNRC has been selected to participate in the annual Mount Washington Road Race!  We're heading back to the Promised Land!  Or at least the summit, I'm not sure I would call New Hampshire the "Promised Land".  Apparently I did not learn my lesson the first time so I am heading right back out there to rekindle that feeling that can only be described as "it hurts so bad!".  Good times on the mountain, good times.  The eagle-eyed amongst you will note that my profile picture is from last year's race.  I am almost smiling in that photo because I could finally see the summit and realized that the hill did, in fact, have to end.  Contrary to what I had been thinking for the previous five miles.

I'd been hoping to bust out the VFFs for the race but we will have to see.  It has been eleven days since I last ran in the hopes of fixing my foot problem for good.  There is still the occasional pain but it is markedly better due to my strict regiment of not running on it and loafing around.  God, I gotta get out and run soon or I'm going to go crazy.  The 80 degree weather isn't helping my morale any either.  But I think I shall start back up soon.  I have noticed that wearing tight shoes flares up the pain so I think it was a combination of too much too soon, and VFFs that are a bit snug.

So I have modified my plan, more barefoot and only use the VFFs for kicking around in (and at work!).  I was only able to go about a mile and a half on pavement with barefeet so it was a great way to limit my distance.  It would just get too painful on my soles for me to do any damage to my feet and legs. seems to agree with this idea.  So back to basics and time to focus on quality.  Slow and steady wins the race; I found that one out on Mount Washington last year.