Run, Piggies, Run!

12 Jan

A few months ago, I read this article on boston.com about barefoot running, and I thought, “huh.  I could try that.”  I’m the type of person who needs to change things up a bit in my running, whether its different routes, different training plans, different shoes, etc.  Of course, changing it up the past few months would have been actually running once in a while, but that’s a whole other problem.

So, I did a little research, and discovered that barefoot running can be good for you, and is becoming more and more popular.  It allows your body to run more naturally, and not fall subject to injuries that shoes can cause.  If you’ve ever went for a long run in the wrong shoes, you’ll know what pain and injuries they can cause.  There are some people that believe that since we were born without shoes, we weren’t meant to run with shoes.  Sounds romantic, but a little illogical.  We were born without clothes as well, and I won’t be running anywhere naked.

So, why run barefoot?  The geeky answer, from Wired:

What’s so great about going shoeless? It allows the foot to flex and absorb shock, says Tony Post, president of Vibram USA, which makes FiveFingers. With thick heels, people lengthen their strides, landing heel-first and letting the shoe absorb the impact of each footfall. You can’t do that barefoot (try it sometime), so your body naturally falls into a shorter stride, landing first on the outside middle or ball of your foot. As you advance your foot rolls inward; the arch flattens and helps absorb the impact; it then springs back up as you lift your foot and push off the ground

(Vibram, by the way, makes these hideous looking, yet supposedly awesome, shoes)

I gave it a try on the treadmill.  I liked it.  It felt different, good.  It didn’t hurt the next day.  I tried it again.  What Post says is true.  It hurts like heck to land on your heels while barefoot, and it doesn’t take much to correct that habit.  Shoes don’t allow you to correct the heel strike – they force it.  If you’ve ever had plantar fasciitis, you’ll know what I mean.  I had it once, woke up after a 4 mile run and couldn’t stand on my foot.  I thought I broke my heel in the middle of the night.  There are tons of articles and blogs about barefoot running, and I’ve barely scratched the surface.  90% of what I’ve read is good, and pro barefoot running.  Even the major shoe makers are jumping on the barefoot wagon.

So far, I think I’ve logged in 5-6 barefoot miles.  I think I overdid it today, because my feet hurt.  Actually, burned is a better word.  I swear they let out a happy sigh when they touched the cold tile floor.  And they were nas-ty.  Black soles, gross.  If I didn’t hate feet so much, I would have taken a picture for you.  But you don’t need to see that.

I’ve been warned that I’ll lose a running buddy if I wear the Vibrams, and I think I’m a wee bit too self conscious to have people looking at my feet.  I’ve been checking out some alternatives like Nike Free and the New Balance 100s.  I have a buddy who works at New Balance and she sent me a great article comparing the three shoes, and I lost it, but promise to bug her for it and repost it for your reading pleasure.  I plan on trying out whichever shoes I can next week, since my feet won’t be able to take much more complete barefoot running.

Most importantly, I’ve  been reading Born to Run by Christopher McDougall.  I’ll probably blog about the book separately when I’m finished, but I have to say, its fascinating.  And its reminding me of what it means to run, what it means to be able to run.  I ran a race on Thanksgiving, and as I climbed the last hill, I started thinking about how lucky I was to be able to run at all, especially without injury.  I’m not often that reflective, but I realized my health and the small amount of running talent I may have was truly something to be thankful for.  It was an awesome feeling, and one I need to remember when I’m slogging through miles on the treadmill.

A little blip about Born to Run  from amazon.com.  In my opinion, this book should be required reading for every runner:

Question: Born to Run explores the life and running habits of the Tarahumara Indians of Mexico’s Copper Canyon, arguably the greatest distance runners in the world. What are some of the secrets you learned from them?

Christopher McDougall: The key secret hit me like a thunderbolt. It was so simple, yet such a jolt. It was this: everything I’d been taught about running was wrong. We treat running in the modern world the same way we treat childbirth—it’s going to hurt, and requires special exercises and equipment, and the best you can hope for is to get it over with quickly with minimal damage.

Then I meet the Tarahumara, and they’re having a blast. They remember what it’s like to love running, and it lets them blaze through the canyons like dolphins rocketing through waves. For them, running isn’t work. It isn’t a punishment for eating. It’s fine art, like it was for our ancestors. Way before we were scratching pictures on caves or beating rhythms on hollow trees, we were perfecting the art of combining our breath and mind and muscles into fluid self-propulsion over wild terrain. And when our ancestors finally did make their first cave paintings, what were the first designs? A downward slash, lightning bolts through the bottom and middle—behold, the Running Man.

The Tarahumara have a saying: “Children run before they can walk.” Watch any four-year-old—they do everything at full speed, and it’s all about fun. That’s the most important thing I picked up from my time in the Copper Canyons, the understanding that running can be fast and fun and spontaneous, and when it is, you feel like you can go forever. But all of that begins with your feet. Strange as it sounds, the Tarahumara taught me to change my relationship with the ground. Instead of hammering down on my heels, the way I’d been taught all my life, I learned to run lightly and gently on the balls of my feet. The day I mastered it was the last day I was ever injured.

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2 Responses to “Run, Piggies, Run!”

  1. jennypa January 12, 2010 at 10:56 pm #

    I loved Born to Run. I’ve done some barefoot (well, stocking footed) running on the treadmill, but haven’t been brave enough to do it outside. Plus, there’s the whole “I’d freeze my toes off” thing right now.

  2. Mare January 13, 2010 at 6:45 am #

    This is intriguing….I just may investigate it.

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