Saturday, 30 June 2012

Feeling confident

Yesterday I went for a 5 mile run in my trainers (I can't go that far yet in bare feet or FiveFingers). We averaged around 10 min miles, so a fairly leisurely pace. At the end I took off my trainers and did the last 0.3 miles in bare feet. I was able to almost maintain the same pace.

Today I've been for just over 2 miles in my Classics. Again, for the last 0.3 miles I took them off and ran barefoot. Overall, I managed an average pace of 10.06 min/miles. This is considerably faster than I was doing only a few weeks ago. I'm discovering that whilst I like my Classics (and there's no way I could go as far completely barefoot yet), I feel much more comfortable when my feet are bare. They don't feel restricted in any way (even my FiveFingers are a little restricting), and I feel more confident that I can avoid injury when my feet are bare. It's like they are communicating with me as I run, and this feedback is definitely more muffled even when I've just got FiveFingers on.

On another note, I have had a little Top Of Foot Pain this week on my right foot (hence the five day break from running). This is still apparent, albeit it very minimal. Interestingly, I notice that when I get back, there is almost always a bit of redness on my second and third toe joints (highlighted on the pic - excuse the terrible nail varnish, I really must take it off!).

I think this is a throw back from my stress fracture. It's not on my left foot. I guess there must still be a bit of weakness there, so I do need to be careful.

Sunday, 17 June 2012

It's been a busy weekend for my feet...

It started on Friday, when I went for my longest ever run in Vibram FiveFinger Classics - 3.85 miles.  I'd only intended to do just over three, but we took the slightly longer route instead.  Feet felt great - no rubbing or sore spots, and more importantly, they felt strong.  All good stuff.

On Friday evening I went to a friend's 40th birthday party.  At the dinner table, I enjoyed a conversation with a neighbour who had been approached by someone who was 'concerned about Clare'.  Turns out she has seen me running barefoot and is very concerned about me stepping on something sharp.  I then had a brief discussion with my dinner companions (also fellow runners) about the virtues of barefoot running, which was nice because I'm still a little bit self conscious about doing it, if I'm honest.

Well, just in case you didn't believe me!
Later in the evening (with an excellent set by Mr Gareth Gates himself - not that I'm name dropping, you understand!), I danced for a bit in my very high heels, and then abandoned decorum and kicked them off, as did many of the other revellers.  I particularly enjoyed a bit of jumping around to the Killers (harder work on the calves than barefoot running, I can assure you), and I smiled smugly to myself when a friend complained of blisters.  Been there, done that, my soles are made of stronger stuff ;)

Saturday was a day of chilling.

Today, I did a couple of miles in my Classics, followed by 0.3 miles barefoot as usual, and then took my son to a gymnastics competition.  Unusually, I was sitting at the front, just 5 feet or so (if you'll pardon the pun) from the tumble run.  From this excellent position I was able to study the form of tumblers and vaulters aged 7 and 8.  I noticed some interesting things.  Firstly, that when walking or jogging around, the children instinctively raise their toes before the balls of their feet contact the ground (something I mentioned in my last blog post when I fell over).  Secondly, when the tumblers did their routines, which included cartwheels, handsprings, forward rolls, tuck and star jumps, it was really noticeable that they constantly wiggled their toes, using them all the time to minutely adjust their balance.  I even took a video (which if I get time I'll try and post) where it is easy to see just how much toe movement goes on in the simplest of activities (not that I'd call a cartwheel simple - I can't do them for toffee!).

I used to find my feet horrible - awkward shaped toes, peely skin, yucky nails.  Now I feel rather proud of my feet and all they can do.  Clever little things :D

Friday, 15 June 2012

Pavements and Body Parts

I was given a reminder today of the fact that moving body parts don't like stationary pavements.  About a quarter of a mile into my longest run in FiveFingers to date, I fell over.  It was a slow motion moment, where the big toe of my right foot didn't pick up enough, stubbed into the ground with the rubber sticking firmly to the tarmac, and the momentum of my body flung me forward in a sort of awkward 'fall to press up' move.  Sadly, it was my knee that continued it's forward motion, leaving me with a nice scrape (which will look lovely with my 'on the knee' evening dress that I'll be wearing tonight!).

As I recovered and ran on, bravely, as if I'd meant to do a quick press up en route, I pondered some barefoot running theory that I've learned over the past months.  Firstly, that included watching a video explaining about how your foot should meet the ground and perfectly equal your forward motion, so that the impact and the contact is as gentle as possible.  Secondly, I recall reading (Ken Bob, I'm sure) about how it helps to flex the toes upwards as your foot falls to the ground, thus spreading the toes and balls of the feet before your body weight forces them to spread.  This can help avoid friction.  This would have certainly helped avoid stubbing my toe, too.

No real damage done, thankfully (just my pride!).  It's the first time I've ever fallen over, shod or otherwise.  It would surely have hurt an awful lot more had I not had my FiveFingers on, but the question is this - would I have fallen at all if I hadn't been wearing them as there would have been no rubber toe to stub.

A good run though, and by far my farthest in Classics to date - 3.85 miles.

Sunday, 10 June 2012

Why do I run barefoot?

A recent entry on the Runners Forum asked those who have posted on the thread on barefoot and minimalist running to say what motivated them to start. I found myself pondering this question in the middle of the night.  Rather than clog up the forum with a long and probably rather boring essay on my thinkings, I thought I'd write it here.

I've been running for about six years.  For the first two years, I suffered terribly with shin splits.  In hindsight I think this was due to bad form - big heel striker and far too much overstriding (I thought this was how you were supposed to run).  At that time, I read a lot about barefoot running, because I was looking for anything that might help with my problems.

Gradually, my form improved - painfully slowly, and I built up strength in my shins and calf muscles which also helped.  For the last couple of years I've had no shin splint problems.  Along the way I've picked up various minor injuries - thigh strain, dodgy knee, sore ankle - and I've been for physio and rested, then picked up again.  Trainers have been good to me on the whole.

But always in the back of my mind I've had a fascination with the idea of barefoot running.  I really can't explain why.  I wanted a pair of Vibram FiveFingers, but couldn't justify the expense.  I hoped I might get some for my 40th, but I didn't.  Last summer I read Born to Run, and by October, I'd persuaded myself that several years of Googling Vibram FiveFingers needed to end:  I needed to have a pair of my own.  I got them for my 41st birthday.

I built up really carefully, starting out with a quarter of a mile, then half a mile, and so on, until over a four week period I'd built up to just over 3 miles.  Then one wintry day at the end of November, I set out for a 3.5 mile run, but my feet were freezing.  I expected the top of foot pain I experienced to disappear after my feet had warmed up, but a mile in it just kept getting worse, and after half a mile of walking and gentle jogging, I knew I had done some damage.  Turns out I'd got a stress fracture in the second metatarsal of my right foot.  Ouch :(

I duly rested, and watched my other half go out running every other day.  As I couldn't run, I read about running instead, and in particular I did more research on barefoot running.  I couldn't understand how I'd got a stress fracture when I'd been so careful.  I read Ken Bob Saxton's Step by Step guide to barefoot running, which was one of the first books I downloaded to my Christmas Kindle. I conversed with a fellow forum runner who had had an almost identical experience on switching to FiveFingers.  It began to make sense.  Whilst I had built up my distance slowly, the FiveFingers were tricking me into thinking I could run further than my feet were ready for.  The only way to truly build up distance would be to run completely barefoot.

Late in January, when I decided it was time to try a very short run for the first time in almost six weeks, I wore my trainers.  I felt that I needed the support, and I was incredibly nervous about injuring myself again.  You'd think that my experience with VFFs would have put me off barefoot or minimalist running for life, but it only served to make me more determined.  Perhaps determined is too stubborn a sounding word - it was more about being curious.  After a couple of weeks in trainers, I ran a short distance in my FiveFingers and it was ok.  Shortly after that, I took my first, very self conscious steps outdoors in bare feet.  That's where this blog really begins.

I now run barefoot at the end of every shod run I do, and I also bought a pair of FiveFinger Classics which are thinner than the TrekSports to enable me to increase my distance on rougher surfaces.  Do I think barefoot running is the holy grail to avoiding injuries?  No, definitely not.  It hasn't made me faster, and I cannot run as far as I can (and still do) in trainers.  But I have started to love the freedom I feel when my feet are in direct contact with the ground, I've built up my confidence in being seen barefoot in public, and my feet feel stronger.  In short, I think it's added a bit of spice to my running, and brought me a fresh challenge.  It is for those reasons that I will continue to run barefoot for the foreseeable future.

Saturday, 2 June 2012

"I've found a new bit of my foot"

This is what I said to my daugher a few nights ago.  She looked at me as if I was behaving slightly more oddly than usual.

What I mean is that since I've been running barefoot, I've noticed a new bit of my foot developing and toughening up.

I already have tougher skin around the balls of my feet, the outer edge and the heel - it's not calloused, just a bit thicker and stronger than other areas (see the grey lines on the pic). Since I've been barefoot running, I've noticed that a new area is beginning to toughen up - the area inside the dark circles.  It's as though being barefoot now allows this area to contact the ground, because my feet can spread out much more than when they're inside shoes.

After a longer run in FiveFingers (around the 2 mile mark), and then a short stretch of barefoot (0.3 miles), I began to notice last week that I'd developed a sore spot in this area, not quite a blister, but nearly.  So I've been very sensible, exercised restraint, and that area is now thickening up - not just the skin, but in fleshiness too, as if my feet are learning to develop in areas that they've never needed to before.

It's interesting looking at my feet and seeing how they are changing.  It's subtle, but definitely happening.

Today I ran a mile and a half, the last 0.6 miles in bare feet.  The skin is now happy and not at all sore.  Progess :)