Showing posts with label The Barefoot Experiment. Show all posts
Showing posts with label The Barefoot Experiment. Show all posts

Friday, November 6, 2009

The Barefoot Experiment: Week 4 - New York Marathon Report

No running in the VFFs this week as I slowly work my way back into a running schedule after the marathon.  In lieu of writing about the shoes, I’ll give you my race report from Sunday’s New York Marathon experience.

My girlfriend and I got up to NY on Friday and were staying with my aunt and uncle in Brooklyn.  Friday and Saturday we played tourist, visiting friends in the City, while trying to limit our walking. This is much easier said than done – NY is a big city, so if you don’t want to take cabs all the time, inevitably you will walk A LOT. 

For those of you who don’t know, and didn’t watch the Marathon (shame on you, what better things do you have to do the day after Halloween?), the NY Marathon starts in waves so that not all 42,000 entrants are trying to start running at the same time.

I was in the first wave on Sunday, with my start time at 9:40, much later than I expected.  Getting everyone to the start at the Verrazano Narrows Bridge is a major issue.  You get placed on different mass transit depending on where you’re coming from, so I had to catch the Staten Island Ferry at 6 a.m. in Lower Manhattan. 

After managing to set my alarm for 5 p.m. and not 5 a.m., my aunt solidified her place as a great marathon host by waking me up (Thankyouthankyouthankyou!), but I was still about a half-hour late. I managed to make it to the ferry by 6:30, along with thousands of my fellow runners.  The ferry was a massive cattle call so missing my scheduled ferry wasn’t an issue, I just got on the next one and arrived at race start at about 7.

For the next two hours I tried to stay warm (it was chilly) and stretch.  Fortunately I did pack a book (Darkness at Noon - because nothing gets you pumped to run 26.2 miles like an allegory about Stalin’s Moscow Show Trials), and my iPod to help pass the time.  I got in my corral at about 9:30 to await the start of the race.  Instead of the schedueled 9:40 start, the cannon didn’t sound until 9:50. And I didn’t actually cross the start line until 10 because there were so many people!

The first two miles take you over the bridge into Brooklyn.  It was fairly congested over the whole bridge.  I made one passing attempt on the left shoulder – until I looked to my side and saw the drop down to the water. I decided to just deal with the crowds in the road.  After the bridge the next 11 miles go through Brooklyn. The route was packed with crowds the whole way.  It was very impressive.  I’ve done the Marines Corps Marathon before, and on that route you definitely have stretches with little or few crowds. But New York was pretty packed the whole way.  They have about 130 bands/dj’s playing along the way, and in Brooklyn, it seemed like there was a different band every other block.  It was just a great atmosphere!

The Brooklyn-into-Queens stretch (miles 11-15) gives you a great cross section of New York’s neighborhoods and diversity.  By my estimation we ran through Puerto Rican, Dominican, Italian, Korean, Orthodox Jew (who were the only group that didn’t clap, why no love from the Hasidim?), Chinese, and hipster douche bag (wow - is Williamsburg ground zero for that?) neighborhoods.  My legs felt ok and I was running at a decent clip up until the Queensboro Bridge at mile 15.  I had given up the 3:30 dream before the race because of some issues recently. But other than a cough, I wasn’t showing many effects from being sick the past two weeks.

While crossing the bridge into Manhattan, my quads started cramping, and I began to see the dreaded “wall” looming ahead. For the rest of the race, I had to do periodic stretches and my pace slowed as the cramping persisted.

Making the turn off the bridge into Manhattan, I was faced with a wall of screaming spectators - pretty inspiring.  On the whole course spectators are shoulder-to-shoulder, but in Manhattan they are shoulder-to-shoulder and go several rows deep! After a brief sojourn in the Bronx, we quickly turned back into Manhattan for the home stretch. 

My favorite two moments of the race occurred when we crossed back into Manhattan in Harlem:

  1. There was a dj who had a wall of sound set up. Everybody within a few blocks could hear him and he was pumping the Prince when I went by. 
  2. Two cops right out of central casting for NYC policemen were using a unique motivational ploy to any runner with their name on their shirt, “Come on Paul, I know you can run faster than that,” “Mary, is that really all you have?”

Anyway, I didn’t have much of a kick, but I finished in just under 4:00, about 16 minutes off my marathon PR (personal record).  Perhaps next spring I’ll take another shot at 3:30…

My overall thoughts on NY? I highly recommend the race.  Start to finish it’s just a wonderful experience.  My only complaints about the race are how early you have to get to the start, and the logistics at the finish.  After finishing you walk for another mile or so in Central Park to retrieve your gear.  After running a marathon, walking that mile, when you’re really sore and cold, just seems cruel.

As with every race I’ve done, I quickly forget the bad parts and only remember the good things (it’s like every old girlfriend, only the exact opposite), and I’ll definitely try and run it again. 

Back next week with multiple runs in the VFFs.  Oh I should mention I didn’t see anyone running the marathon in them.



Friday, October 30, 2009

The Barefoot Experiment: Week 3

This entry will be a bit short as I race to pack and get ready to head up to NY tomorrow morning for the marathon.  My illness last week turned out to be a sinus infection and not the flu, so that was good news.  It still knocked me out for about 5 days - I didn’t leave my place much.  Even though I was already in tapering mode, when my training schedule suddenly ground to a stop for several days, I started to worry if I was ready for the race, and if I’d be healthy enough to race.

By Tuesday I started to feel better and went for a run after spinning.  I ended up going for five miles. The run made me feel confident I could get through the marathon on Sunday, but it has forced me to scale back my goal finish time. (For a list of the broadcast times for the NY Marathon, go here.)

On Wednesday evening I went out for a run in the VFFs.  The route was just over 6 miles through Columbia Heights, Adams Morgan, and Cleveland Park.  There were a couple smaller hills on the run, and one long hill up Porter Street from Rock Creek up to 34th Street.  The shoes feel more ‘normal’ each time I run in them, and some of that awkwardness around my right pinkie toe is gone.  But I wouldn’t wear them for anything other than running, flip flops or sneakers are still more comfortable and easier to coordinate with.

With all the rain recently, the route was pretty well covered in wet leaves.  I didn’t slip at all during the run, and found the shoes hold the ground as well as any other running shoe.  On some of the steeper downhills (where my feet land the hardest) I felt some tenderness on the soles of my feet and toes.  It wasn’t painful and I didn’t need to stop or slow down, but it was the first time running in the VFFs where I found myself wishing for a bit more padding under my foot.   

I think I mentioned in an earlier post, I find that on hills you most feel like you’re running completely barefoot.  My unscientific theory is that on an uphill you stay mainly on the balls of your feet, and because there’s so little shoe in the VFFs you don’t feel like you have quite the same center of gravity that you feel in a traditional shoe.  I’m sure all of this goes away the more you run in them, although my mom’s physical therapist is skeptical. He says you can’t change how you run when you’ve run one way for your whole life….We shall see I suppose.

So anyway, back to my run on Wednesday, I ended up finishing up at 8:09 pace, which I was pretty happy with, especially considering the hills. On the flats in the last couple of miles, I definitely felt like I was moving. I don’t feel like my speed is any slower running in the VFFs than in my old running shoes.

Next week I will be recovering from the marathon. Oh, I should mention I’m not running the marathon in the VFFs. After Wednesday’s run I actually feel like I probably could, but I’m not quite ready to risk it.  I’m looking at the Cherry Blossom 10 Miler next April as a good chance to race in them.  I’ll also be able to recount my stories of running the NY Marathon while wearing a Phillies cap (Go Phils!!!).  My mom suggested I put my name on my shirt for the race, as lots of folks do at marathons.  I told her I would pass as it would just give the Yankees fans a chance to personalize their insults to me as I ran by.

So wish me luck! I’ll let you know how it goes!


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…

Friday, October 16, 2009

The Barefoot Experiment: Week 1

So, um, hi…I’m Matt and I’m going to be guest blogging some of the Friday running columns for Mollie.  Through a co-worker, Mollie learned that I was likewise inspired by Born to Run, and decided to act on said inspiration and buy a pair of the Vibram Five Fingers (from now on: VFF - I’ve been in DC too long, so everything gets an acronym) to give them a shot.  I’m slowly working them into my running routine and will be writing about my experiences.  For those who haven’t read the book and/or don’t know the shoes, it’s basically an aqua slipper with a little hard rubber padding on the sole.  It’s designed to simulate being barefoot and they mold pretty tight to your foot. 

One of the premises of Born to Run is that humans are physically designed for long distance running (thank you evolution!). Via our recent dependence on the running shoe industry, we’ve lost our natural running form and are thus subject ourselves to avoidable injuries. This could all be remedied by reverting to our natural (shoeless) running state.  Several different folks in the book talk about the merits of barefoot running, including track coaches who put their teams through regular barefoot workouts.  Unfortunately, my concrete/asphalt existence in DC doesn’t lend itself to full-fledged barefoot running.  I figured the VFFs were about as safely as I could replicate the barefoot running experience without destroying the soles of my feet. 

In my running life I’ve been pretty fortunate about avoiding injuries.  I’ve had bursitis in my hip, and tendinitis which comes back every so often in my right knee. I can usually work through injuries quickly - so they haven’t really kept me from running. So I'm not into the VFF for injury-prevention purposes. What interests me about the VFF is that they might help me to develop better running technique…which hopefully will lead to improvements in my times.  I’ve seen so many runners pass me at races who look so light on their feet, bouncing along like deer.  I’m more of a plodder. 

Anyway, I ran out to City Sports and picked up a pair of VFFs and here we are.

So a bit about myself (before I delve into my first run with the VFF).  I’m currently training for the New York City Marathon in a few weeks.  I usually focus more on triathlons, so this will be the first straight marathon I’ve done in years.  I ran the 26.2 miles of Ironman France in June in about 4:30, so I’m hoping to do this race in about 3:30 (since I won’t have done a swim and bike pre-marathon). However, since that race I’ve been spending some quality time with my couch and the wonderfulness known as Marvelous Market Chocolate Chip Cookie…so I’m not exactly in peak race-shape.  

My plan for the rest of this month is run my Monday 3-mile recovery runs in the VFF, and then after the race, start to do some longer runs in them, probably up to about 7 or 8 miles.  At this point, I don’t foresee doing long runs in anything but regular running shoes…but who knows? (I never imagined I’d get sucked into watching Cast Away every time it’s on T.V., but there I am without fail, although the ending gets more and more improbably every time I watch it...I mean Helen Hunt’s husband never comes down stairs during the reunion?  The love of your wife’s life just returned after being presumed dead for 3 years, and you’re not on edge a bit??? Just sleeping through the night like nothing’s happened? Come on.)
 Ok, sorry for the digression…    

Run #1: 3 Miles -  Monday, October 12 

My long run on Sunday was just over 14 miles at race pace, but my legs felt pretty good, so I figured I was in good shape to give the VFFs a fair shot the next morning.  Just getting the shoes on is a bit of a challenge.  Like sliding on a glove, you have to gradually work it on your foot and make sure you get every toe in the right hole. 

I quickly learned the best strategy to accomplish this: you need to work the toes in first, and then slide the rest of the shoe on.  On my left foot, the shoe feels pretty natural.  On my right foot however, my pinky toe feels weird.  This could be because my right pinky toe curls under my fourth toe, which is why it feels weird when the pinky is forced out from under that toe by the shoe’s design. (Sidenote: I just looked up the name for this toe - shouldn’t it be the ring toe or something? But apparently it’s just the “fourth toe.” That’s not very creative.)

I figured I’d get used to it, or just have Owen Meany saw it off.*  Is the pinkie toe really that useful anyway?  I think I’ve heard that future generations are going to be pinkie-less anyway…can I jump ahead on the evolutionary chart?  Born to Run mentioned an ultra-marathoner who, in an effort to improve results, had all his toenails removed. So while I joke, I’m sure there are others who would seriously consider the pinky-removal option.

One more thing about the shoes before I talk about my run.  You will look silly, there’s no avoiding that.  If you’re self-conscious, these aren’t the shoes for you.  I’m currently running in a pair of God-awful fluorescent green Newtons, so I’m obviously not that hung up on looking silly while I run. But in the VFFs, you will definitely attract curious stares. 
My route was just an easy three-miler from my place in Columbia Heights through Adams Morgan and back.  I was on sidewalks and streets the whole time, although when I had the chance, I ran on gravel, and some rougher surfaces just to see how the shoes felt.  You can definitely feel obtrusions in the surface more than when you’re wearing a standard running shoe (hello there gravel!), but it was never painful or enough to stop me from running. 

I was surprised to find that once I started running, the shoes didn’t feel as awkward as I anticipated. I fell into a pretty natural cadence and stride right away.  I’ve been running in Newtons for just under a year now (for more info on Newtons – check out this site). Perhaps that experience made the switch to VFFs less of a shock, since both shoes force you to run on the balls of your feet.  I failed to time myself during the run - I never pay attention to time during my recovery runs - but for blogging purposes, I will try and note time in my next entry. I think I was able to run at a faster pace than I expected.


My initial VFF impressions are good.  It was much easier and normal-feeling than I expected, so I’m looking forward to next week’s run.  As my long runs are tapering towards the marathon, I might try and make my recovery runs longer just to see how the shoes feel over longer distances. 

I don’t feel that after one run I’ve immediately reverted to the “natural running state” that the book talks about…so I probably won’t be running down gazelles on 30-mile hunts as my ancestors apparently did - at least not this week.  (Sidenote: If you haven’t read Born to Run, please do so NOW, so that you can understand these references...and also because the book will CHANGE YOUR LIFE.)

Maybe a persistence-hunt should be the litmus test on whether these shoes are any good?  Mollie and her Nat Geo cohorts need to get on this…I’ll train in these shoes for several months and this spring they can fly me to the Serengeti where I will try and run down a gazelle.  It’s got to be more compelling T.V. than Ice Road Truckers.  Just an idea. That’s all for now!

* My guest-blogger is smarter than me - aka I had to google that reference and read the Wikipedia article to find this for you. You're welcome:
"John ends his graduate work and is about to be drafted. Owen, however, saws John's finger off with a granite cutting saw to avoid it. John later learns from Owen's diary that this was both to save his friend and to avoid John having to go to Vietnam, since Owen sees him in the dream and he will die there."