Last week was a good running week, which felt pretty sweet because the Friday before my lower back spasmed and I hadn’t run in a week. Also, I ran my World Wide Festival of Races half-marathon on the 9th and it wasn’t great. Well, it was okay, but. . . What happened was I knew I wasn’t prepared to run that far in bare feet. So I chose to wear my Luna Catamount sandals. I also chose a route that was 50% tar road (the first ¼ and the last ¼) and 50% “dirt” road (which here means sand and gravel covered rock). Though I’d run 2 hours many times before—that’s my usual Sunday run—my feet hurt at the end of this run much more than they have before. It was also hot and very windy. The temperature wasn’t too bad when I started out, but it got hotter as I went along and when I turned around at the halfway point, I was heading directly into a strong headwind.
My experience of the race itself was that I didn’t really like it. I have been running very slowly recently, trying to build up my aerobic base and teach myself to run easy. And I have gotten used to that. I have gotten used to running and finishing with plenty of energy, feeling like I could go again. So to do a run where I felt depleted even halfway in was not much fun. When I turned at the halfway point, I realized that I didn’t actually have any motivation to run fast and my splits reflect that. (This is also a big disadvantage to running a race on your own—you don’t have the motivation or competition coming from others).
In the end, my time was 2:06:40, nearly 15 minutes slower than my last half-marathon, but actually not really a bad time. In my mind, I was disappointed, but when I think of all the factors—first time not wearing “real” shoes, the heat, the wind, the terrain—it was pretty reasonable. Yet, somehow I’m left feeling that it didn’t go very well.
This past week, I was back to running slow, by feel (well, heartrate), and I was able to do all but my long run totally barefoot. So my weekly barefoot mileage was 20mi (!), which is not only double what I’ve done before, but feels like a breakthrough. I ran Friday, Saturday and Sunday in a row and by Sunday, my feet were feeling tender, so I only ran the first 3 miles bare (though this may have been exacerbated by the heat of the tar road), but Saturday felt like a perfect run.
I went out at 8am and there was a nice breeze coming off the river. The day before, I had read something on Ken Bob Saxton’s (the grandfather of barefoot running) Yahoo group about running form. He’s always talked about “leading with the hips” which is an instructions I’ve sort of ignored because years of poor posture mean that my hips are thrust too forward anyway. This has caused all sorts of problems and I am currently trying to learn to not thrust my pelvis forward. But in this message, Ken Bob also said something about having your feet “go out the back” (or that is how it stuck in my mind). Somewhere early on this run on Saturday, I had a powerful body insight that seems to have greatly improved several small issues that I knew were form-related. For weeks, I’ve been concentrating on my feet which hasn’t been terribly successful. A couple of weeks ago, I started to think more about lifting my torso—standing up straight—and this did help and I had a sense that the key for me was in my hips, but it seemed my feet were still scraping the ground.
The insight I had on Saturday was so subtle, yet so powerful. I first realized that, for me, I need to tip the TOP of my pelvis forward (this is how I think of it). And then there is a slight adjustment of tipping the top just little further which has my foot land about an inch further back—when I think of it going out the back, behind me—and then it is not landing in front of me. I could almost feel less of a stretch on my hamstring. And I could definitely feel, over the course of the run, that I was not having problems with the tip of my 3rd toe scraping or the outsides of the balls of my feet getting sore or my big toes blistering. Yeah!
This was such a subtle adjustment, and yet I could feel it so clearly. The run felt so effortless—I stayed perfectly within my heartrate goal and just zoomed along. Then I would start to feel some soreness or scraping, I would focus on my pelvis and when my foot went out the back, I realized it had been reaching ever so slightly in front of me.
The other great experience on Saturday was running with some local boys. About a mile into my run, there were 3 boys on the road and the tallest/oldest one started to run with me. Oftentimes, if I run by a group, even of grown men, there’s some guy who has to goof around and pretend like he’s running or something stupid. But this boy wasn’t doing that, he actually came up alongside me and was running with me. His friends tucked in behind us. I didn’t have any idea how far they were planning to come, but it was nice to run along with them at my nice easy pace and they seemed happy to be trotting along. I would guess they were 10-12 years old and they, like me, were barefoot. One was Simaata and another Prince (“Prince! Does that mean you are going to be a King someday?,” I asked him. He smiled a bit bashfully, “Yes!”). Unfortunately, I didn’t get to ask the third boy his name. I wish I could have filmed this part because their form was, naturally, flawless. (They reminded me of the two boys who ran with me in Kindu, DRC with total ease and perfect form.) After about a mile, we came to another set of houses and a group of kids, so the boys left me to go off and play with them. Thanks guys, that was really nice.
Another Smiley Run!
The one thing I want to share about Sunday’s run is that I ran in my new Bedrock sandals. These huarache-type sandals are like my original Luna’s except that the straps they use are nylon webbing (like the straps on Chacos, for example). This is wonderful and solved all the issues I’ve had with rubbing and blisters caused by the sandals. There’s no bump under the toes. It did take me walking around in them all week to realize how tight I needed to tie them so the heel didn’t fall off. When I first slipped them on 3 miles into my run, they seemed very tight, but after 5 miles, they had actually loosened up, so starting out tight was the right way to go. They performed beautifully. The only issue I had was that my feet got sore by about 9 or 10 miles. I realized that I’ve only run this long in the Luna Catamounts which provide more protection (the sole is thicker and a bit more rugged—made for trails—and has a leather top). The Bedrock sole is quite thin and didn’t provide much extra protection or cushioning. It is very interesting to me to see how sensitive my feet are—how much of a difference I can feel between millimeters of rubber. The Bedrock’s, along with my SoftStar Moc3 shoes, provide the closest thing to bare foot, when I need a little protection or warmth (but as I learned Sunday, not a LOT of protection). The Catamounts provide considerably more protection (though my feet got sore after two fast and rocky hours in those during the WWFoR half-marathon, having been fine previously for 2 slow hours on the road). And something like my VFF Bikila LS now feel like a cushioned shoe to me. When the rains really come (soon, I think), I’ll have to take my Merrell Lithe Gloves out for a spin and see what I think. I haven’t worn anything even remotely like a “real shoe” for a long time—not for running or walking or cycling or anything. I’m afraid I’ll hate it. . .