Thursday, October 22, 2009

The Barefoot Experiment: Week 2

Back for a second go-round writing about my experiences using the Vibram Five Fingers (VFF). For those who missed last week, I’ll be using these shoes once a week on shorter runs while I train for the New York City Marathon. I’m hoping to incorporate them into my regular running routine once the race is over. This week’s run was the second time I’ve run in them.

The feedback from last week’s entry was positive (granted, said feedback was mostly from friends and family who are too nice to tell me if it was awful). I was told it was a bit long so I’ll work on shortening the entries going forward. My genius plan to turn this into a layered historical narrative a la One Hundred Years of Solitude will have to wait for another forum…the magical realism stays though, critics be damned!

My running schedule this week has been screwed up by a cold/flu. I came down with it Sunday, so didn’t get my twelve-miler in (Saturday’s soccer game in the cold and rain surely didn’t help). Monday wasn’t any better so I didn’t run then either.

When I told my coach that I was sick and hadn’t done my long run, he very passive-aggressively mentioned that he was just getting over being sick but hadn’t missed a workout. Damn him. Feeling appropriately shamed, I dragged myself to the gym on Tuesday and decided to run as long as I felt I was up for. I generally hate running more than a few miles on a treadmill, but figured that with the illness I was better off indoors. I started at an 8 minute/mile pace but was dragging pretty badly. After two miles I dropped to about an 8:30 pace and made my way through 8 miles. I need to get better asap, because running the marathon like this would be awful, not to mention slow.

On Wednesday evening I set out for my run in the VFFs. I still feel lousy, but was determined to go further than the three-mile run I did in them last week. My other goal was to test out the VFFs on some climbs and downhills, as last week’s route was pretty flat. I didn’t have a precise route in mind, but decided I’d run as long as this week’s episode of “The Bugle” podcast lasted (which turned out to be roughly 35 minutes).

(Some people need upbeat music to motivate them. I find I can run to anything I like, so usually just put the iPod on shuffle. But recently have started running to audiobooks. I’m slowly working my way through “The Modern Library’s 100 Greatest English Language Novels of the 20th Century.” I’ve found that running and biking to Joyce can be easier than reading Ulysses.)

The right shoe didn’t feel quite as awkward as last week (but the pinkie toe still feels odd). Though it feels awkward when I’m just standing around or walking in the VFFs, running feels pretty normal. Once again, I quickly fell into a comfortable pace right away. I tried to be cognizant of my foot strike position to see if the VFFs really had me striking more on the ball of my foot. On the flat road I really didn’t notice a huge difference in how I was landing, but on the climbs I felt like I was using the balls of my feet more than I do in a standard running shoe. I can’t imagine that the change is that immediate, (this being just run #2), but the idea is that I’ll gradually notice changes in how my feet land, and I’ll be landing softer.

The terrain for this run was mainly pavement, asphalt, and some hard-packed dirt. The shoe felt natural on all the surfaces, but I find that I’m constantly reminded of the fact that I’m a wearing a weird barefoot shoe because of the different feel when I land each step. This isn’t a good or bad thing. It’s just a different feeling, but maybe I won’t notice that as much the more I run in them. On one of the uphills I wasn’t paying attention and landed on a decent sized rock. It didn’t hurt, but definitely felt uncomfortable and kept me alert the rest of the run.

I didn’t have any issues on the hills or descents and see no reason why I won’t add more runs in the shoes after the marathon. The run ended up being about 4.5 miles at an 8 minute/mile pace. I’m still waiting for the first time I accidentally stub a toe, or kick a sign, which will undoubtedly hurt like hell, but for now, I’m really liking the shoes. Hopefully next week brings good health and some good tapering runs as my marathon countdown begins…