Sunday, September 13, 2009

Barefoot on the beach

I'm in Zanzibar for a week of R&R and having a great time. I spent the first half of my time in Stone Town -- a town of narrow, narrow "streets" (too narrow for any kind of car), tall buildings and (mostly) Muslims observing Ramadan. It is also completely paved and flat, which was a distinct change from the conditions I'm used to running under in Bukavu. I ran north one day, south the next, each around 10K, and the third morning I did a fast 5k loop around town (which required adding on a bit because the perimeter of old Stone Town is only about 2 miles). So many sights and sounds! Women in everything from Western dress to bhurkas; lots of people riding bicycles; dalla dallas (open sided busses); gazillions of mosques, a couple of churches and several Hindu temples; beautiful architecture everywhere; the ocean and palm trees and boats. . .

After 5 days in Stone Town, I hopped a dalla dalla and went to Matemwe where I found powdery soft white sand beaches, palm trees swaying in the sea breeze, bungalows with grass thatched roofs, and resorts from the ultra-economical to the ultra-luxurious. The beach sand was so awesome I was clear that I had to run barefoot. Anything else seemed a desecration. When I got to my room, I took of my sandals and haven't put anything on my feet since. Now *this* is a vacation! Here's a photo of the beach I ran in, so you can eat your heart out. :-)

When I arrived, it was afternoon and low, low tide. There was about a 1/2 km shallow area before you saw the waves from the ocean. So, I was a bit surprised when I awoke the next morning and there was barely enough beach to run on! But there was just enough. I ran two miles south down the beach, turned and went back, for a total of 4 miles my first time out. South from where I am staying is predominantly a string of other resorts, so there are few boats on the beach to block the way and not very many locals hanging out. Running in bare feet was wonderful. Absolutely wonderful. I felt no aches and pains afterwards, except. . . aach! I got a blister on the bottom of my right big toe. It wasn't too big, so I sterilized a pin and popped it and figured it would just roughen up.

Let me tell you about this sand. . . Wow. It is white, white, white which means it is cool, even at the hottest time of the day. There is some yellowed sand around the bungalows where I am staying and that can get pretty hot, but not the white sand. In some places it is literally like powder, but on most of the beach it is pretty hard-packed. There are places where it looks firm but is quite soft, so as I ran I had to "pick my line", but it was really easy to run on. There was one section that was canted toward the ocean, but since I had to come back the same way, I figured it would even out. And it is clean -- no glass or metal or rocks to worry about. There are pieces of coral, but even when I stepped on a few of these, they just sink into the sand, so it didn't hurt.

The second day, I first went north for a bit (there are cliffs that start after about 3/4 of a mile, so I could only go that far) and then went back south, covering about 5 miles for the whole run. It, too, was a good run although there was some occasional stabs of pain from the blistered toe, but it didn't seem that bad. However, I did discover that there is one hazard I had to watch out for -- shit. As in human. All the locals apparently do their business right down on the beach (yes, the beach that they will later come out to work on and play on). Sheesh. At least in the Solomon Islands they would go into the water. And they're not even as sanitary as cats. Just like dogs, they go out, leave their business and walk away. I was beginning to see why the higher end resorts protected the beach in front of them. So for the whole first 1.5 miles or so (as far north as I could go and back), I had to keep one eye on the beach to dodge piles of poo and the other eye up to dodge boat masts (which stick out from the front of the boats about 2 feet and are thin enough that you cannot see them until you nearly run into them). It was much nicer once I passed that area.

When I got back to my room, however, the blister on my toe had doubled in size and was now red. Hmm, not good. I went snorkeling and hoped the salt water would do it some good, but it hurts. This morning I did yoga (which actually hurt the toe more than running did, but maybe just because I was more aware of it!). Tomorrow I want to run longer -- 8-10 miles if I can -- so I may put on shoes and go run through the local villages and onto the paved road.

I wanted to start to try barefoot running and it was a great, great experience. I used to run a bit on the beach when I was a teenager and never felt any ill effects from it. But in Bukavu, it seems like it would be quite difficult. The roads are mostly dirt, but there are lots and lots and lots and lots of rocks. However, when I get back, I think I may just go out and try it with my Vibram Five Fingers. I've walked around in them there with no trouble at all. Now that I know I don't have to start with 1/4 mi run, I'm up for trying it out there.

And for my next pair(s) of shoes, I'm quite interested in finding neutral, low profile, not very cushioned shoes. I ran in stability shoes for ages because I thought I over-pronated and I knew I didn't like heavily cushioned shoes. But after developing pain in my feet in the Solomon Islands, I went to a podiatrist who informed me, basically, that my shoes were causing the problem. I also went to a running store that had a treadmill and a video camera that did gait analysis and it was really clear that I run just fine in totally neutral shoes. In fact, the more neutral, the less I pronate. So now I have Brooks Trance, which are "slightly" stability ('cause I just bought them new two days before I went to the chiropractor) and Nike Lunar Trainers. But I wear my orthotics with both of them, particularly the Lunar
Trainers, because they give me arch support and a firmer ride. When I ran in the Lunar Trainers out of the box, they were so soft (and wide in toe box) that my foot swam around I got blisters on the insides of my big toes. The orthotics helped with that and then I switched to a pair of green Superfeet that I had and they work even better. The Superfeet have a plastic heel cup and a plastic arch, so the ride is very firm.

What I really want is a pair of neutral shoes that aren't so soft. I don't like all the cushioning. That's why I've always liked Brooks (Adrenalines, Axioms and now the Trance), but neutral shoes are heavily cushioned. Hmm, I just remembered that I have a pair of Nike Frees back in the US that I never ran in. I just wore them to walk around. Now I think they might be quite good for running. They are much less cushioned than the Lunar Trainers. Wish I had thought of that a month ago when I had a friend send me a bunch of stuff. Harrumph.

Ah well. At any rate, I'm not due for new shoes for another 6 months probably, so I'm keeping my eye out. Maybe I should try racing flats? Except I don't think they give any/much arch support. . . If anyone has any recommendations, let me know.

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