Posts Tagged 'vibram'

Thread Barefoot

“How do you like them?”

“They’re great,” I reply, as they continue staring toward the floor.

“Doesn’t it hurt your feet to run in them?”

“Nope. I actually have much less pain now.”

I get a lot of quizzical looks.

As I go on to explain the differences switching to Vibram FiveFingers from traditional running shoes has made for my ankles, knees and lower back, most people I talk to keep their eyes locked on my toes.

I talk about the biomechanics of running as well as the structural integrity and strength of the human body. I’ve answered the same questions many times.

In the end, most shrug and say, “That makes sense.”

I bought my first pair of KSOs more than a year ago and will wear them for the rest of my running life.

The raving I do only scratches the surface of how much better it feels. I’ve covered hundreds of miles with minimal soreness (if any) in what had been problem areas, particularly my knees. The thin sole brings a sense of connection to whatever surface I’m on — I feel faster and more fluid.

The sensation has led me to wear my Puma soccer shoes around more often than anything else. Sure, I have some Nikes I throw on from time to time, but the low-profile of my Ligas comes closest to replicating natural movement.

I would even wear them if somebody puked in them.

Why?

There are two basic reasons making the switch has been beneficial:

1. In-born architecture
The feet are a marvel of engineering. Fully one quarter of the bones and about twenty percent of the muscles in the human body are at the end of the legs! Designed to disperse the weight of all the appendages and organs above, the feet handle tons of force with each step.

Modern running shoes have shifted most runners away from the strength of the foot: the arch. Due to heavy padding, most people strike the ground with the heel first, which puts the brakes on with each step and jars the body as far up as the lumbar spine.

Barefoot running emphasizes making contact closer to the ball of the foot, which — after some practice and strengthening — improves running efficiency.

2. Muscle tone
The support built into the average pair of sneakers diminishes the amount of work necessary for the body to maintain balance. Dozens of muscles work in concert to keep us upright, but locking them up in bulky shoes relieves the pressure on those proprioceptive — position-sensing — tissues and leads to weakness of ligaments and tendons. Conditions like plantar fascitis or fallen arches might result.

I can attest to the fact there are few more powerful wake-up calls than the first morning after running without the crutch of molded EVA underfoot. I limped around with sore calves for days.

That’s normal.

Muscles are supposed to ache when challenged in a new way.

With that in mind, I’d like to say barefoot running is for everyone.

The jury’s still out, though.

When something becomes a craze, it’s difficult to know what the long-term effects are. It takes years or decades to measure that effectively.

All I can say is it works for me.

All you can do is give it a try.

Running into God

I recently picked up a new book.

What I Talk About When I Talk About Running is novelist Haruki Marukami’s chronicle of a year spent examining the parallels and intersections of the two major disciplines of his life: running and writing.

As a deeply introspective person, I appreciate a window into a similar person’s mind.

Something about the rhythmic solitude of step after step points a telescope into the deep spaces of a person, promoting serious question-and-answer periods in the midst of rigorous physical demands.

In fact, I quit training for a marathon in the fall of 2005 because the long distances allowed my brain to ponder the unsavory experiences of a nasty breakup–cutting me to the bone again and again with every session on the road.

There’s something to be said, though, for the meditative nature of a run.

After reading ChiRunning by Danny Dreyer and Born To Run by Christopher McDougall, I’ve pushed myself out onto the pavement again. I’m rebuilding the daily habit of strapping on my Vibram FiveFingers KSO’s and–for the time being–working on refining my running style to be as efficient and effortless as possible.

Yesterday, I decided to take it slow.

Tuesday morning, I burst through the woods of a nearby park at a pretty good clip. I had a brief period to squeeze in a run before work and decided to increase my stride length to see if I could maintain the proper foot speed.

To put it plainly, it felt awesome. My legs seemed to be moving without much prompting from my head, sweeping me along faster than I’d anticipated.

However, since I had to get ready for work, I’d forgotten to budget a few minutes to stretch and I paid the price.

My tense calves groaned at me to go easy and cement my cadence further as I closed the front door behind me yesterday evening.

I focused intently on “one-two-one-two” very well for about 1.5 miles, aided by the metronome track I created using Audacity. I loped along unconcerned with speed, using short strides to perfect technique instead of racing the world.

After ten minutes, I shifted over to my “Rock Exercise” playlist.

My custom is to concentrate on keeping rhythm using my own tunes after a “mental warm-up.” I’ll run to music long before I’ll ever stride through a race with only a droning beep in my ears. And, regardless of the exercise, I always look for a thumping beat to energize me.

First up on the MP3 player was “The Little Things” by Danny Elfman, then eventually “Your Time Has Come” by Audioslave and “Elevation” by U2.

Inspiration struck.

I felt a pull to stretch my legs a bit and see how much ground I could cover as Bono blared in my ears.

I resisted at first.

I was intent on holding tempo and–being in the hilliest part of the park–concerned the terrain would upset my gentle “right-left-right-left” canter.

Then I felt an instinctive push to “Let it go.”

Thankfully, I trusted the impulse.

My body kicked into gear and just went. Whatever happened would happen and I was content knowing so. My mind became a jockey riding a thoroughbred body at full gallop.

My soul began to sing.

I hit a chorus and nearly screamed “El-ev-a-tion!” at the top of my lungs, barely holding back so as to avoid disturbing other visitors.

I cut through the park like a flash of lightning through a Spring sky.

Tight corners were negotiated easily. I waved cheerfully to every lifeform I sped past. I simultaneously smiled brightly as my eyes welled with tears.

I felt “one” again.

The first time, in December of 2006, I’d been overcome with emotion at St Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City. I walked through the doors and meandered around until my heart suddenly swelled up.

I had managed to wander into God’s presence.

In an instant, I became fully aware of a long-forgotten truth. Unlike any church before or since, I was fully “in His house,” no longer alone or hurting.

It shook me to the core.

I stepped outside and wept as I typed text messages to close friends and family about “the most beautiful building” I’d ever seen. As undeniable as the sun rising in the East, I reconnected ever briefly with what created me.

I can only describe it as a boundless and timeless ecstasy.

In all its power, it brings forth immediate and disembodied humility. You understand with utter certainty the complete failure of your frail little form in representing your immenseness.

I believe the French call this joie de vivre, the unending and uncontainable happiness of life. It is being–the thundering outflow of the eternal force of love and creation.

It’s an unforgettable spiritual homecoming.

And for a blissful minute or two yesterday afternoon, I was there again, playing like a child as I flew along the sidewalk.

I went out for a run and dissolved into the wind.

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On The Road Again

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.


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