Okay, I have learned a few things the hard way, so you don’t have to!
First off, though I am continuing on this path, I would not recommend it. That is, it is not really smart to try to learn to run barefoot while you are training for a marathon. This is not smart. The two goals require nearly diametrically opposed approaches. But I’m a Pisces, so I persist.
I got what I thought was a blister on the bottom of my foot – right at the top of the arch on my right foot. I have been getting quite a few blisters from running and even walking barefoot because much of the ground here is quite soft sand. This means that you need to push off to move forward (or certainly so I thought) which causes friction, which causes blisters. However, this blister did not behave as the others did and when they had healed, this one still hurt and started to hurt more and more. I had to travel to Windhoek for a couple of days for work and when I got there, the foot was now quite swollen and red and it occurred to me that it was infected. And it was getting worse. I went to the doctor there, but she was booked, so I thought I would just wait until I returned home. But the next day I could barely walk, so I went to the doctor again and begged her assistant to fit me in.
Oh yea, it was infected. So badly that it had now evolved into blood poisoning. She prescribed a strong full spectrum antibiotic, an anti-inflammatory pain killer and probiotics (which is standard procedure here in Namibia – thank you! Since I have enough problems with my gut as it is). 5 days later, things had improved slightly, so she prescribed a different, stronger antibiotic. 10 days of no running with a marathon less than 2 months away. Not the ideal situation.
So, this past Sunday’s long run was the test. I needed to run 16 miles (and then 18 this coming Sunday and 20 the week after) if there was any chance I’d be in shape for the Vic Falls Marathon (28 August). Otherwise, I’d have to drop back and run the half-marathon.
I had done all my other runs in the week and a bit of yoga, though no other workouts, so I thought it was possible. I let myself lay about a bit and drink coffee. Normally this is after the run, but it is still quite cold in the early morning here and I wanted to wait for it to warm up. I had this crazy idea that taking some straight coconut oil might give me fuel that wasn’t just sugar, so I ate a tablespoon of that. This was a bad idea and yet something else that you can learn from me to NOT do.
It was a nice day – sunny, clear sky and few cars on the road. I took the road south and then turned off toward Kalimbeza which is a road I’ve not been down before. It is not paved and there must be a campground or several down it because I’ve never actually seen so many shiny new cars with South African plates. They sped down the road and kicked up a ton of dust which was considerably less than pleasant.
But most of the run was about my body. My stomach, or rather my gut, started to feel painful within 3 miles or so. Gas, pressure, like that. I ran off into the woods, but was disappointed. By mile 9 I was again in agony (it would come and go in waves) and I ran off into the woods again. That provided some relief, but not total. I had another disappointing appointment in the bush around mile 12.
Learning – no, straight coconut oil is NOT a good pre-run food.
The other interesting news from my body was about my back. Since my 10-day layoff, I’d only run either barefoot or in Vibram Fivefingers or Luna Sandals. For the 16-miler, I wore my Brooks Green Silence which are billed as racing flats (pretty minimal shoes), but are substantially more shoe than any others I own.
Within 400 meters of leaving my house, I could feel that this place in my right sacrum was annoyed. That kept me hyper-aware of my form throughout the run. I really concentrated a lot on trying to run in the shoes the same way that I ran barefoot or in the Lunas (which are the closest to barefoot of my other shoes). Because in the entire previous week, I had had no back pain whatsoever. By the end of the run, I was a little sore but the next day I seemed pretty much fine again. But this was a revelation. I had this thought that I really should only run in “zero drop” shoes (shoes with no difference between the heel and the toe – the Brooks have about a 4-6mm difference I think) and this really confirmed it. And it motivated me to keep learning to run barefoot with the idea of actually being able to do that full time for all my runs. I simply have no back pain when I do. None.
Despite the “visit from the gingerbread man” as the guys on the Marathon Talk podcast would say, the run was a victory. I hadn’t lost all my fitness. I could still run long and I think I have enough time to build up more to run a decent marathon. So, onwards and upwards!