It’s been four months since I went for a run.
Well, it had been until yesterday. Inspired by the fascinating book Born To Run by Christopher McDougall and the story of the Tarahumara (tah-rah-oo-MA-rah) people of northern Mexico, I picked up a pair of Vibram FiveFingers KSOs and began training furiously last November.
I’d set a goal of eclipsing my personal record of 5:15 in the mile on New Year’s Eve.
I’ve been an athlete all my life and enjoy exercise. I relish the feeling of pushing myself to the limits physically and mentally. I’ve had more than a handful of moments where I asked myself if I was going to die so, just as I always had, I went out and did what felt natural. My body would tell me when to stop.
The thing is, there’s a lot of learning that goes with running barefoot.
From the get-go, my body was completely in shock. I found out very quickly how undeveloped the stabilizing muscles in my feet and lower legs were. I shuffled around like an old man for a couple of weeks as they became acclimated to being used and eventually found a groove. My mileage pushed up and I began to feel like I was getting back into the kind of cardiovascular shape I’d been in before.
Then I injured my foot.
Yes, I’m a man.
No, I did not read the directions.
When making the changeover from Nikes to nothing, beginning on forgiving surfaces (i.e. not concrete) is highly recommended. In all my genius, I had been pounding pavement for six weeks and the little niggle in my left foot became a full-blown “hurting mother.” (Medical term.) I opted to lay off it for a while instead of pressing on to a stress fracture.
After fifteen or twenty days of healing, I was out of the habit and indulging in the holiday smorgasbord.
This brings us to yesterday. I decided to get back on the wagon when one of my best friends told me he’d dropped some weight. (No, we’re not competing for bikini season.) The long layoff had to end, as exercise may be the magic bullet to reduce the frustration of my day-to-day life.
I decided to try ChiRunning, having picked up the book at my local bookstore and read through it a few weeks ago. I will admit to some trepidation at the thought of changing my running style, focusing on moving my feet faster and landing differently.
I was mistaken.
The technique is built around “forms,” simple concentrations that aggregate to create an efficient and effortless stride for mile after mile. I chose to focus on cadence, the pick-them-up-and-put-them-down pace which is the constant in ChiRunning, a staggering 85-90 cycles (170-180 steps) per minute.
It was easier than I anticipated.
Using a simple beeping metronome MP3 I prepared using Audacity, I quickly got in sync with the proper rhythm and went for a few minutes. I took a breather for a couple, then began again, really absorbing the movement and programming it into my brain. I even switched over to my regular tunes for awhile and tested myself to see if I could maintain the “one-two-one-two” tempo.
It felt great.
Despite the fact my core must be strengthened, my legs seemed to melt away. I felt little in the way of knee or ankle pain I’ve had before. My muscles seemed more responsive and snappy with each step, like fatigue was a distant memory. I’m looking forward to putting some miles on this body again.
First time I’ve said that in way too long.