Thursday, August 16, 2012

The Barefoot Contestant- Change Afoot Part 3

It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.
--Charles Darwin

Yes dear readers, if you are still with me and wondering when I was going to get around to describing my experience actually wearing the Vibrams, you are in luck. 

Catch up here for those that missed Part 1 or Part 2.

Thanks to some great training tips from Coach Carl, things eased up a bit on the pain.  After several months and some major life events (new job, moving etc…) I had started working out at Carport Crossfit, in Irondale, and was trying to decide what to wear on my feet.  I knew most regular running shoes weren’t optimal for the type of training they did.  Crossfit style workouts call for a shoe that gives an accurate feel or close grip on the ground for balance as well as lateral stability.   Hoisting heavy barbells, slinging kettle bells, tossing wall balls and pushing sleds around will put the traction of any shoe to the test.  

Additionally, I also needed the ability to run the shorter, more intense distances that were often a part of the workouts.  Most were a mile or less. Ever so slowly, akin to the designated last finisher at a marathon, it occurred to me that the running distances that usually comprised their workouts were exactly what a newly minted, Vibram wearing soul such as myself should be running.   


Decision made.

At the gym the next morning the WOD (Workout Of the Day) required that we run a full mile, to be followed by a round of one legged squats and thanks to an induced state of delirium, I can no longer recall what followed.  As our 5:30am group took off along the railroad tracks, I suddenly found myself at the front of the pack.   My steps were initially tentative since I wasn’t sure what to expect. After a few hundred meters I did a full body “check-in”.  My feet were comfortable and my legs were moving smoothly.  Nothing hurt.  I couldn’t remember the last time I had actually run “only” a mile.  I had no idea what my time would be. 

I could hear the footfalls of people behind me. 

The chase was on!

I could feel that there was some gravel beneath my feet, but it didn’t stab or feel “sharp” through the Vibram sole.  I paid close attention to the road surface and avoided large chunks of broken asphalt or rocks.   I tried to focus on my form and pour on a little of what passed for Master’s division speed.  The noise behind me faded, and my mind drifted back to assessing how the shoes were doing.  They were certainly different.  My calves weren’t screaming at me like they had previously, and I envisioned that every step taken was restoring strength to muscles that too much civilization had weakened.  Distracted by my thoughts I once again realized that I was hearing the footsteps approaching.  I kicked it into another gear I didn’t even know I had.  As the footsteps faded, I once again focused on my legs and feet.  The pain I kept anticipating never materialized.

I finished that mile in 7:11.  Not an Olympic qualifier by far, but pretty darn good for someone whose normal race pace is anywhere from 8:15-9:00 depending on the distance. 

After that performance I decided to give the Vibrams another full-fledged trial.  Perhaps I’d been hasty in my initial assessment.  Wearing them to my Crossfit workouts was part of the plan.  The running distances were optimal for acclimating myself to the shoes.  Additionally, I thought my adjustment would be further enhanced by wearing the shoes as many hours a day as I could reasonably fit in. I bought an additional, colorful new pair of Vibrams: Women's Komodo Sport, and began wearing them to work as often as possible. This allowed me to spend many more hours per day in them, presumably helping my calf muscles and tendons adjust more gradually.   

In order to be fair to the process expounded by McDougal, I resolved to be more patient with the acclimation period.

After two weeks of Crossfit workouts and all day wear, I figured I’d accumulated enough “time in Vibram” to try running more than a mile. 
I gradually worked up through routes of 3 to 4 miles in my hilly, Crestwood neighborhood.   For some reason, completing the Wednesday night 5 miler in Homewood, loomed large.  Perhaps because it took me “away from home” it seemed more challenging.  I’d be out there in the world, practically barefoot and I’d have to run my way back to relative safety.

It all worked out pretty well, and I had just a little nagging soreness in my left calf.  I hoped that with further adjustment it would resolve itself. 

I challenged myself with my regular, 10k neighborhood route.  A couple of slow morning runs followed by a PR had me completely rethinking my attitude towards the Vibrams. 
It was time to bump the mileage up another notch.  Conveniently, another running group here in town had a 7 miler leaving from Pepper Place on Saturday mornings.  More success followed but the soreness from my calf migrated south to my Achilles tendon and has been lingering there ever since.  
It’s tolerable but not optimal.

It should be mentioned here that I do not wear flip flops.  I do not wear them because I truly loathe (putting it mildly) crap anywhere between my toes.  Wearing shoes that isolated each toe was quite a personal stretch for me, but the journey down the path of minimalist conformity required that I tolerate it.  After a period of time, I would stop noticing the material jabbing my toes, but once the shoes were off, it took quite a while before the deep lines and creases smoothed themselves out.  I dismissed “prune toe syndrome” as “part of the acclimation process” and mentally steeled my feet against all onslaughts.

As I wore them more frequently, I also began to notice that, while they seemed to be well-suited for smooth surface, road running, they were less than perfect in other situations.  Small pebbles, gravel and even small bits of broken glass were not an issue.  The Vibram sole was good protection against those, and I felt less likely to twist my ankle if I did step on something.  Larger rocks and big shards of glass were something else entirely.  I was also uncomfortable with the idea of using them as trail shoes.  Smacking toes on rocks and roots is a common occurrence in trail running.  Add in to the equation the possibility that an obstruction could get jammed BETWEEN my toes, smashing AND parting them simultaneously was too much to bear, so I reverted to my trusty, Adidas Adizero’s, for the Xterra half, at Oak Mtn.

I did indeed smack into a few obstacles which caused me to trip and fall a few times.  My toes were bruised, but the solid front of my “real” shoes protected me from severe injury.  Zealots in the barefoot movement would probably have made the argument that, had I been running more “naturally”, more “in touch” with where the end of my foot was, I might not have hit the obstacles at all.  It is quite possible they may be right, in theory, but I prefer that the rocks be less “in touch” with me.   I’ve had too many broken bones over the years, and I am not willing to sacrifice the sanctity of my feet on this point. 

Additionally, I find that the Vibrams don’t seem to “breathe” or drain water very well.  After a long run, the Vibrams always seem to be sodden with sweat when I remove them from my feet. Since they serve as both sock and shoe, this makes sense. As a reformed triathlete I can tell you exactly where I stand on the socks and/or shoes debate. My personal preference: shoes-no socks.  Given my preference,it stands  to reason why I'm still playing pedestrian gymnastics with the  "shoe that is a sock".  Rainy days and puddles turn them into squishy, noisy messes in close contact with my skin.  After one rain-soaked, puddle-hopping adventure, I couldn’t wait to get the soggy things off of my feet.  When I removed them, I fully expected to see that trench foot had set in.  If it is a rainy day at Talladega, I will rip these things off my feet at the finish line faster than you can say Dale Earnhardt!

Despite pointing out a few imperfections, I can honestly report that my progress has been mostly positive. I fully expect to be able to gradually nudge up my long distance runs to pull off a reasonable half marathon training schedule. 
In the name of science, come rain or shine, I will see you all out at the Talladega Half Marathon

Promotional Considerations:
Under the category of "shameless promotion" I'd like to give a shout out to everyone at Carport Crossfit, especially the 5:30 a.m. crew.
Thanks for putting up with me while simultaneously getting all of me, not just my feet, back in shape.  
Also, Bill, next time we run a mile, "It's On"!


Shutterthug said...

Great blog. Anxious to see where it goes.

Shutterthug said...

Great story, can't wait to see where it goes.