Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Running Barefoot

I went for a run yesterday.  My first in almost 3 weeks.  I had to...my body was aching for it and my mind could not focus without it.  In my last post I talked about being more gentle with my body so I was suppose to lay off the roads and trails for a while and hit the yoga mat with some new found enthusiasm.  Needless to say that lasted a whole...week.  Something was missing from my life but I didn't really realize it was running per se until I picked up a book.

That book was Born to Run and my love of, and desire for, running came back in full force.  You know what had me?  The second chapter when Christopher Mc Dougall went in search of the answer to the question "Why does my foot hurt?"  I have been asking that same damn question over and over again for months (along with why does my hip, lower back, knee hurt as well).  I almost bought into the idea I have been told over and over again by doctors, friends, and trainers since I was 22 that my body just isn't built for running.  Almost that is until I opened up this book and soaked up the story that Chris (yea we are on a first name basis now) unfolds in Born to Run.

Chris and I have a few things in common - we are both 6'3" and weigh around the same (240lbs - yea I said it).  While Chris is a middle-aged white male who writes for various men's magazines and sports journals and I am a late-20s mixed race female who is writing a dissertation, I felt a bond with Chris while reading his story.  We are connected by our body type: our height and weight somehow makes our bodies "wrong" to other people, in various ways, when it comes to running.  Like Chris I was also recommended to take up swimming or biking (both sports that I only recently learned how to do and do not do very well).  Years of playing high school and college volleyball left me sick to death of team sports and a herniated disc made me have an aversion to any kind of jumping.  All that aside I just like the feeling of throwing on some shoes, getting outside and having my body move at a faster than walking pace for a long duration of time.  My first half marathon in Prague this year left me not only sore but happy - a genuine happiness that didn't fade, even when my hip flared up at mile 10.   I was just happy to be there and be able to move with other people around me.  In my training I found myself a little giddy after an hour of running as my body was just moving in this fluid (well maybe not fluid but let's just go with that) motion for long periods of time (or what seems like a long time for me).

So long story short the book got me thinking about the benefits of barefoot running.  If Chris could go from being a tall big guy with a bad case of planter fasciities to running a gruelling 50 mile race with some of the best ultramarathon runners in the US and Mexico's Tarahumara people, and finish that race in one piece, by learning barefoot running then why not try it (or give a go as the Brits say).

Give it a go I did - kind of on accident.  Yesterday I went to the gym and took off for an outdoor run to the nearby open grasslands.  I started off in shoes cause I was still a little skeptical (plus the concrete and broken glass didn't leave me to thrilled about starting in bare feet).  But after only 5 minutes of running in those neutral cushioned shoes my right Achilles felt like it was going to tear and my right hip was getting that first tingling of discomfort.  So I broke into a walk for 4 minutes and started again with a light run.  This time the pain was instant and I was pissed.  I stepped off the walking path onto the grass, took off my shoes and socks,  placed a shoe in each hand and...took off.  I just ran.  Slow at first but as the minutes passed my confidence grew until I was running at a pace I hadn't run at in 4 years.  And you know what, it felt good.  I scared myself at one point cause it felt so good and I was going so fast that I just stopped and looked around. I was't out of breathe and my legs didn't feel like cinder blocks.   Damn - it actually worked.  It worked so well that I didn't realized I ran in the wrong direction and had to stop to figure out where the hell I was.

I put my shoes back on so I could take the marked gravel road and trotted on back the gym parking lot and arrived just as Mike was leaving.  I gave him a huge smile and said "I just went barefoot running!"  He said "Oh, how did it go?"  My reply "Amazing!" I felt like a kid again and for the first time in months I actually ENJOYED going out for a run.  But with the cold months coming I am looking into a more minimal shoe or the five finger shoes.

What I do know is it looks like I just brought my running, and sexy, back.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010


While I was in yoga class today attempting to "relax" into a side bending, squatting, stretching pose (don't ask me the name cause I don't have a clue) I had a revelation.  I don't think it was the big  "Enlightenment" but rather a small "enlightenment" that made me realize I need to be much gentler with myself.   Let me explain.

Over the years I have engaged in numerous sporting events.  Basketball and softball throughout high school and volleyball all through college.  I attempted rugby at one point and considered playing football (American) during these times as well.  The list of injuries I accumulated is a never-ending one: concussion (I mean who slides into a brick wall instead of home plate?), sprained ankles, dislocated fingers, busted nose, strained shoulder, and one broke back and dead leg.  But I always thought, well I seem to heal fast so what the hell - just keep going.

Then somewhere in the back of my mind I realized that maybe team sports were not the way to go.  College volleyball wore me out, mentally and physically, and the thought of having to be on one more team with one more bitchy coach left a bad taste in my mouth. So I turned to running.

Running.  A sport of individuality that can be done in a group but you compete on your own. No fancy equipment really needed, just some decent shoes and breathable clothes, open space and on you go. But, that back injury and dead leg thing from my college days stayed with me throughout my running.  Once that was somewhat under control I then developed...fuckin sciatica!  So now I can put that to the list of injuries along with a tight IT band on my left side and a pinch nerve in my right shoulder (who in the hell pinches a shoulder nerve in running?  I do) and tense neck muscles.  Essentially I am verging (or am I already there) on being a HOT...ASS...MESS.

Today in yoga as my body protested with every upward dog, downward dog, side bend, back bend, kneeing and sitting posture it hit me that I need to be more gentle with myself.   Gentle is a word I don't use when describing my relationship with myself.  I go hard or go home - not use to any other way of understanding how to do things.  I powered through my education, never stopping on the quest to a PhD and I am making my deadline of finishing before 30.  I powered through grief of loosing my dad and of trying to loose all the weight it took me years to put on.  Now I am fully aware that my body just can't power through another damn run or gym session when it is obviously telling me to slow (or sit) the fuck down and chill out.  I think it is time to listen this time around.

So I am re-evaluating my physical activity goals and giving myself a bit more flexibility in my time frame for all those competitions I want to do.  I am keeping up this yoga thing cause "everyone" tells me it is good for my body and mind.  Even though I wanted to throw up and sit down at the same time while in class today I have to agree.  Come on, where else would I learn that I not only have tight hamstrings, tight hips, tight groin muscles but ALSO tight ankles (to the degree where me and child's pose are not even associates yet) and then LEARN how to "breathe" into the tightness to loosen it up?  

I could easily say F it and go back to what I know - pounding the roads and hitting the weights hard but...I really don't want to.  And that is a good thing I think.  Self-realization is a bitch, but when you actually start listening to your body the things it tells you are amazing.  So simple, yet so true.  That simplicity is what I forget sometimes.  Of course it makes more sense for me to take a few months and focus on my flexibility and hit the pool and bike to take the stress off my joints and nerves.  Of course it makes more sense for me NOT to train for my first marathon and run it while I am are also writing and scheduled to defend my dissertation so I can graduate after 12 years of higher education.  Of course it makes sense to practice activities that calm my mind so I can handle the current and impending stress.  But as my dad use to say...not all sense is common and not all people have sense.