Friday, June 29, 2012

Barefoot Running: The Movie

Three things:
   1) That looks beautiful.
   2) Where did they get a helicopter?  (Can you rent those?  What was their budget for this thing?)  
   3) Go preorder this now.  

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Quote of the Day

"How one runs probably is more important than what is on one’s feet, but what is on one’s feet may affect how one runs." 

Quote of the Day

"Coming from a farming background, I saw nothing out of the ordinary in running barefoot, although it seemed to startle the rest of the athletics world. I have always enjoyed going barefoot and when I was growing up I seldom wore shoes, even when I went into town."

"I found them uncomfortable and after that I decided to continue running barefoot because I found it more comfortable. I felt more in touch with what was happening--I could actually feel the track."

     ~ Zola Budd 

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Why Are Nipples Less Shocking Than Toes?

First, a word of clarification: I'm talking about my nipples. Some people's nipples are more shocking than others.
This was the most recent blogger-appropriate picture I could find
Over my running career I've run in a variety of states of dress and undress.  I've run in a shirt and shoes, I've run in a shirt and no shoes, I've run in shoes and no shirt, and I've run with no shirt or shoes. Now, it's perhaps not surprising that someone might raise an eyebrow at any one or all of those combinations, but what really surprises me is how much more of a reaction I get barefoot than shirtless.
There is a correlation between barefoot running and heart attacks; it's just other people's hearts that have the problem
And it's not just a difference in the level of reaction, either; there's a difference in the type of reaction. If you go about your day without a shirt on you'll get a reaction--specifically, a get-out-of-here-you-smelly-bum sort of reaction. However, if you go around without shoes on people assume you need helpAre you okay? Did you lose your shoes? Were your shoes stolen? Were you in some sort of shoe-related accident? Were you chased by an ax murderer through wet cement? Barefootedness is something for which people desperately need an explanation. 

Once I was running barefoot along the road and some people stopped their car and asked if I needed help. I thanked them and said no, I was fine. But they couldn't let it go.  "But... but you're barefoot..."  Had I been a more experienced barefoot runner I would have had a ready retort ("Oh my goodness, you're right!  Where did my shoes go?!"), but instead we both stared at each other quizzically for a brief moment until they drove on.  
"Roll up the window honey, and don't point at the crazy man"
Another time our apartment manager saw me running barefoot near our apartment and concluded that I had either gotten locked out or had been kicked out by my wife. Guy running around barefoot? There must be an explanation. 

I can't help wondering if this also explains the way people react to footwear. When I wear minimalist shoes like my Merrill Trail Gloves, no one really notices. When I wear Vibram FiveFingers (where people can tell that I have toes) I start getting weird looks. (I once was standing in a race corral wearing my VFFs when a small boy walked up to me, looked me in the eye, and pointed at my feet.  He didn't say anything but it was pretty clear he was thinking "Dude, what is wrong with you?"). When I'm in huaraches (where people can see my toes), I start getting much weirder looks. When I run barefoot--well, at that point people usually feel they need to intervene.

So what do you folks think? Are your experiences the same? Or do I just need to start waxing my toes?
I thought it looked more masculine this way

Monday, June 25, 2012

Who Designed This Cover?

I recently found out about a book which came out last year called The Complete Idiot's Guide to Barefoot Running. While I haven't read the book, I was immediately struck by the cover:
Specifically, I was struck by the picture of a man running barefoot who is about to land squarely on his heel with his leg fully extended. If you are like me, your reaction to a picture of this kind is roughly akin to the average guy watching a video of a man being tased in the groin--it's physically uncomfortable to look at. Now, I should make it perfectly clear that I haven't read this book and for all I know it is an excellent guide to the subject that is worth reading. My point is merely this: assuming that the authors give good information in the book about running with proper form, why on earth did they decide to put a picture of someone doing the exact opposite on the cover? Surely it must be confusing to read descriptions which are contradicted by an image which confronts the reader every time one picks up the book.

(On a side note, this is exactly why experienced barefoot runners recommend that beginners start on concrete or asphalt, not grass or sand (or sand dunes)--soft surfaces allow you to develop terrible habits like heel-striking, whereas hard surfaces force you to learn to run gently).

At any rate, this contradiction reminds me of the cognitive dissonance generated by one of Skechers' more ridiculous ads touting its "SmartShoe with mid-foot strike" technology:
Apparently some people's mid-foot is located in a different place

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Quote of the Day

When I had no shoes I was comfortable -- I used to run barefoot. When I wore shoes it was difficult. To run in shoes was ok, but at the beginning of my career it was hard. In our countryside, you see those kids they are very comfortable with no shoes. It's better to have no shoes than not the right ones.
   ~ Haile Gebrselassie

Friday, June 22, 2012

The Historic Moment the Blogosphere Missed

Runner’s World has been reviewing shoes for forty years now, and for nearly thirty of those years has been classifying shoes into one of four categories: motion-control, stability, neutral-cushioned, and performance-training. This is a paradigm that for years has been disputed, lamented, mocked, and cursed by those promoting natural running, and quietly but conclusively disproved by the scientific community. As lately as the December 2011 issue, shoes in the Winter Shoe Guide were categorized this way.  However, in their Spring Shoe Guide from the March 2012 issue, Runner's World abruptly abandoned this paradigm. 
In that issue the editor-in-chief writes that “in the late ‘70s … the age of the high-tech, built-up, expensive running shoe was upon us.  More was more.  Now the pendulum is swinging back. Every company has a ‘minimal’ or ‘barefoot’ shoe, and every race has at least one guy booking along in Vibram FiveFingers…. So it’s appropriate that the way we review shoes should change as well, and this issue we introduce the latest significant evolution, which moves away from shoehorning runners into the familiar categories that RW codified in the ‘70s.” In the preface to the shoe guide, the authors explain that “over time that model has grown outdated.” In place of the previous categories, the new guide places all shoes on “a continuum from ‘more shoe’ … to ‘less shoe.’”

To those of us who have been awaiting the coming revolution, this ought to be a significant piece of news. The basis for these categories is the idea that you are born broken, that non-corrective shoes are only for a small, discrete section of the running population and that everyone else needs shoes that prevents their aberrant feet from doing anything untoward. This doesn't just give people low foot-esteem, it encourages them to choose shoes which will weaken and possibly injure their feet and discourages those who already have problems from seeking options that would actually help them, such as improving their form or strengthening their feet (because hey, why work out when you can buy something to fix your problems?). The new approach isn't perfect, but it is much closer to the way barefoot/minimalist runners tend to view footwear.

Now, the party poopers and counterrevolutionaries among you may point out that this change doesn’t take a single shoe off the market since Runner's World doesn't make shoes, shoe companies do. 

Pictured: Shoe companies

True, but the reality is that while shoe companies are the ones who make the shoes, it has largely been Runner's World that has been selling them. Consider this: shoe companies often come up with gimmicks features that are supposed to improve performance, or reduce injury, or adjust to a wearer's menstrual cycle, but usually large groups of people don’t become convinced that they need the feature in order to safely perform the activity.  

Forget safety--I need these because they're awesome

So why do so many people believe they need pronation-controlling posts to run but no one believes they need Reebok Pumps to play basketball? It isn't because the runners were convinced by studies showing the benefits of motion-control shoes, because there aren't any.  It’s because two generations of runners have been told they need them by the only major source of independent shoe reviews.

There is another interesting detail to Runner’s World’s decision, and that is the order of events that brought about this change.  Remember that prior to the 1970’s, essentially all running shoes were what we would now refer to as minimalist shoes.  Shoe companies then began experimenting with added features—additional cushioning, stabilizing posts, etc. Runner’s World created categories for these new shoes and began telling people they needed them in order to avoid injury.  People believed what they had been told and began buying the shoes. So to summarize, the order was (1) shoe companies innovate, (2) Runner's World recommends, (3) runners obey.  

Now go back and reread the editor's rationale for the change. He gives two reasons: manufacturers are making more minimal shoes, and more runners are running in them. With a little digging we can clarify that timeline. Why are shoe companies creating so many minimalist offerings? Because Vibram has been making a fortune on their FiveFingers. And how did Vibram decide to make a minimalist running shoe? They didn't. The shoes weren't designed for running and the company was surprised when people started running in them--in fact, it was five years between when Vibram started selling FiveFingers and when they finally came out with a model designed for running. 

So to recap, the timeline was (1) people run barefoot; (2) barefoot runners commandeer FiveFingers; (3) Vibram notices, makes bajillion dollars; (4) other manufacturers notice, try to catch up; (5) Runner's World finally notices, changes shoe reviews. This is almost the opposite of what happened in the '70s. Instead of believing everything they hear and buying what they're told to, the latest generation of runners has taken the initiative, made up their own minds what they want and made the market give it to them. And, fortunately, it all happened without the shedding of blood. 
Not pictured: Saucony's CEO
So if runners are leading the revolution why does it matter what Runner's World says? Because minimalist runners are still the minority. There are still a huge number of runners who believe in the motion-control/stability paradigm and who as a result are too afraid to drive to the grocery store without supportive footwear, let along run barefoot. Runner's World isn't exactly telling these people to disregard the past three decades of misinformation, but they are no longer actively reinforcing the myth. In other words, although Runner's World isn't yet ready to become part of the solution, at least they have decided to no longer be part of the problem.  
The dinosaur is a metaphor for arch support

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Where to Find the Best Deals on Running Clothing

Running clothing has improved a lot in the past few decades, improving the lives of many runners at the same time. My efforts to become a distance runner took a few unfortunate detours before I finally broke down and purchased a pair of real running shorts. 
The knickers were a bad choice
Unfortunately, quality gear is amazingly expensive and buying a full running wardrobe at your average running store could easily set you back $500 or more. 

I want that track suit

So what’s a cheap poor runner to do? Start shopping at thrift stores!
Ta da!
Surprisingly enough, you can find a lot of high end technical clothing at thrift stores.  My wife (who discovered this particular slice of tight-fisted paradise) and I have found quite a few technical shirts/tops, shorts, tights, and jackets from brands including New Balance, Asics, Under Armour, Lucy, Yoga, and Athleta.  Everything is dirt cheap, and a lot of it seems close to brand new.  
"What a coincidence--I'm going to start running 20 miles a day tomorrow too!"
We've had the most luck at Savers and Goodwill stores.  Buffalo Exchange is good too but more expensive, while local non-chain thrift stores vary a lot in both selection and prices.  Stores in bigger cities have a much better selection than those in small towns.

Although you'll find that the selection is much better for women than for men, I haven't been in a store yet that didn't have something worth buying for me. A large portion of my current running wardrobe came from thrift stores.  For example, for my run today I wore a race t-shirt (which depending on how you look at it was either free or $150), New Balance shorts from Savers, and my homemade huaraches.

One more item to look for: thrift stores are a great place to find throwaway jackets for races with cold starts.  For our last marathon we bought warm fleece jackets for less than it would have cost us to buy space blankets.  Most race organizers (including those for our race) collect clothing discarded along the side of the course and donate it to homeless shelters.  So instead of paying to be only slightly freezing and then littering, we saved money, stayed toasty, avoided creating more trash, and helped clothe the needy.  How's that for a day's work?
The only downside was we didn't get to look like space burritos

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Quote of the Day

This is from a poem that isn't about running, but this last stanza often floats into my head during long runs, especially in the winter. 

The woods are lovely, dark and deep.
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.
    ~ Robert Frost, Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Runners You Should Know: Zola Budd

You know those dorks people who insist that barefoot running must be stupid because world class athletes all wear shoes? Would you like a ready-made retort? Great. Repeat after me--"Tell that to Zola Budd." A track runner who reached her prime in the mid 1980's, Zola Budd is mainly known for three things: breaking a bunch of world records, competing in the 1984 Olympics, and doing it all barefoot.  

Zola grew up in a small, hilly town in South Africa called Bloemfontein. Like most promising young African runners, she grew up running barefoot. In 1984, at age 17 and running for her local high school, she broke the 5k world record--barefoot. Later that year, she ran in the Los Angeles Olympics--barefoot.  In 1985, she broke the 5k record again and won the World Cross Country Championship--again, barefoot. In 1986, still a teenager, and still running barefoot, she again won the World Cross Country Championship, this time barefoot on a muddy course. 
Not the 1986 XC Championship, but you get the idea
In a recent interview, Zola was asked what her current feelings on barefoot running were. "I'd still prefer to race barefoot on the track and grass.  On the road there are some great shoes on the market (Newton) which simulates barefoot running.  I still believe if you approach barefoot running conservatively and pick the surfaces on which you run carefully, it enhances your running form and performance." If this sounds almost exactly like something you would hear on a modern barefoot running forum, it's because it is.  

Slightly more terrifyingly, Zola went on to discuss running barefoot against runners wearing track spikes. "I got spiked a lot, especially underneath my feet." 
There are probably still a few turbo-dorks people reading this thinking "OK, sure, barefoot was good enough for the eighties, but she never would have had a chance against today's modern athletes."  Well, guess what?  Zola still holds two junior world records: the mile and 3k.
Read my other posts about Runners You Should Know

Order my children's book about barefoot running: What Should I Put on My Feet to Go Run?

How Barefoot is Barefoot?

The barefoot blogosphere is abuzz again today with the frequently divisive questions of whether barefoot is really the best way to run and whether you can really call yourself a barefoot runner if you spend most of your time in shoes.  Here is my take--but first, a note on terminology.  

It is one of the ironies of the barefoot movement that the "foot coffin" aficionados tend to use the word barefoot with a great deal more precision than we do.  For them, it's a word denoting that one's feet are bare, whereas for us it's an ideal, a manifesto, a rallying cry, and--best of all--a really great honorific to put in front of your name.  
"That's Barefoot jerk to you"
Because of that, we have a confusing tendency to say idiotic things like "barefoot shoes" and "I am running in FiveFingers because I am a barefoot runner."  I am as guilty of this as anyone, but for the sake of clarity I will be using the word barefoot in its strict sense in this post.  

So is barefoot really best or not?  After all, aside from Barefoot Ken Bob, most of the people with barefoot in front of their names seem to spend most of their time in some form of footwear.  That is certainly the case for me.  I started out in FiveFingers and it was months before I first tried running barefoot.  I still don't run barefoot that often, or that far.  My personal record is 8 miles of mixed road and trail, while I have run marathons in minimalist shoes.  So, is that a problem? 
I think it depends on why you choose to be barefoot.  If you are trying to prove something, or be part of a club, or maintain your status as a purist, then choosing whether to put something on your feet may be a difficult decision at times.  However, as I mentioned in my post on running joyfully, for me the main benefit of barefoot or minimalist running is recapturing the joy of running that I had as a child.  Since that is my main goal, the question I am faced with as I head out the door is a simple one--what footwear option will be the most fun today?  On some days, there is nothing more fun than heading out the door wearing nothing but a pair of shorts and feeling like a kid who snuck out of the house half-dressed.  Other days, I know I will have more fun with something on my feet.  Trail runs often (but not always) fall in the latter category.  While there is something special--and deeply reminiscent--about feeling the dirt under your feet (and if you have never tried this you are missing out), there is nothing childlike about hobbling through the woods like a 90-year-old with gout.  
I usually don't run barefoot because for me, minimalist shoes (or at least some minimalist shoes) provide nearly all of the benefits of being barefoot without most of the disadvantages.  However, this is a personal preference and there is no reason for you to feel pressured one way or the other.  

So am I saying that barefoot running is stupid and you should spend the rest of your life in shoes like a normal person?  Not at all.  In fact, I believe very strongly that everyone should run barefoot, at least a little bit.  Especially if you are going to run in minimalist footwear, at some point early in the process you should spend some time running completely barefoot. The reason for this is that having an awareness of what running barefoot feels like will provide you with a baseline for what proper form feels like and what natural movement of the foot feels like.  This baseline provides two real world benefits.  First, if you are running in shoes and your form begins to get sloppy, you will be more likely to notice and fix it.  Second, if you are using shoes that constrict the movement of your feet (which can cause serious problems after a while), the issues will be apparent to you if your feet are used to moving naturally.  This is something I never used to notice but which after a relatively small amount of barefoot running I am very aware of now.  

Minimalist runners who have never run barefoot don't have these advantages.  Runners who started out in Brooks Beasts and whose only experience running "barefoot" is in shoes like Kinvaras or Nike Frees tend, in my opinion, to have much worse form and little awareness of the needs of their feet.  They're missing out on the lessons their feet can teach them.  

Also, they just aren't as cool as us barefoot folk.  

Quote of the Day

"If one could run without getting tired, I don't think one would often want to do anything else."
~C. S. Lewis, The Last Battle 

Monday, June 18, 2012

My Running Arsenal

As others have previously noted (such as here and here), barefoot/minimalist runners, paradoxically, tend to have much larger running shoe collections than other runners.  Cheapskate though I am, I have not been untouched by this phenomenon.  The first eight years or so of my adult life I made due with two pairs of running shoes.  Since switching to minimalist footwear barely more than two and a half years ago, I have acquired another six pairs, and the number would easily be three times greater were money no issue.  Why?  It is for the psychiatric profession to give a definitive answer, but my theory is that it comes down to the fundamental difference in the way runners in the two camps view footwear.  For minimalist runners, shoes are clothing, whereas for most runners shoes are protective gear.  And while a bicyclist or rock climber will probably only own one helmet but will own a light shirt for the summer, something warmer for the winter, and something waterproof for when it rains, minimalist runners also prefer to customize their footwear to the current conditions.  
"Whatever.  Your closet still looks like two women live in your apartment."  
Given that most of the shoes I've bought over the years don't get much use anymore, I thought it might be helpful to briefly list the issues I've had with each.  

New Balance 763
I got up to around 10 miles per week in these but after a 6 mile "long run" I developed a foot/ankle problem that made it hard to walk for a while.  After that I decided I needed more cushioning.

New Balance 992
I got close to 20 miles per week for a little while, then developed a horrific case of what was probably plantars fasciitis along with an added ankle issue.  (I didn't have health insurance at the time, so all I know for certain is that it hurt too much to sleep some nights).  Part of the problem was probably the stack height, since I was doing a lot of the running in sandy washes.  After I had healed, an ill-advised 10 miler sent me back to hobbling for another few months.  This obviously wasn't working.

Da, da da DA!
Vibram FiveFingers KSO
Now we're getting somewhere.  From the first time I heard about FiveFingers I knew I had to have some.  More than any other footwear I have tried, they allow the foot to function naturally during virtually any activity.  So why don't I ever wear these anymore?  Because they don't work well for the one activity I do most--distance running.  The main problem was blisters; these things rubbed my feet raw.  Keep in mind that the KSOs were designed before Vibram realized that crazy people were going to start running in them, so most of the seams are pretty rough.  These would be perfect for Parkour, Cross-Fit, MovNat, etc.

Vibram FiveFingers KSO Trek
Much better. Personally, I think these may be the best shoes Vibram has made. Unlike the KSOs, the Treks are actually pretty comfortable to wear around. These are my go-to run around like a kid and get dirty shoes.
That I don't wear these very often is really more a testament to what a dull person I am rather than to any fault of the shoe. Again, though, I had problems with blisters when I started putting in a lot of miles in them. Perfect for: short trail runs, climbing trees and rocks, MovNat, moving to the woods and living like Tarzan, etc.

O'Neill Reactor Reef Boots
These are well-made water booties designed for surfing.  I bought these for the specific purpose of running in snow and for that they work pretty well.  Basically a neoprene sock with a durable and very sticky coating on the bottom, they are warm, extremely flexible, and have better groundfeel than any other footwear I know of.  Also, they cost $20 and mine show almost no wear after about a year of moderate use.  The downsides are (1) they don't breathe at all (they are made out wetsuit material, after all), and (2) they are very narrow.  The second issue began to turn into a real problem this spring (which around here is known as that season with all the snow after that other season with slightly more snow) when I started approaching 40 miles a week.  The narrowness of the boots prevented my feet from expanding naturally and started causing a lot of pain.  I will have to find a replacement for these before winter (which you may know as September) comes around.

Merrill Trail Gloves
A great trail shoe.  The rock plate provides lots of protection and they are made extremely well.  For most trails they are just too much shoe for me, although in especially rocky terrain they might be perfect.  Unfortunately, my main issue with my pair is that I probably should have gone up one more half size, since mine start feeling a bit too snug during long runs.

Classic Luna Huaraches (Homemade)
Luna is Barefoot Ted's company.  According to legend, Ted learned how to make huaraches from the Tarahumara runner Manuel Luna.  I read Born to Run soon after it came out but I had resisted trying huaraches because (1) they seemed a little over the top, and (2) since all huaraches are custom made you can't try them on first, so there is a bit of a leap of faith involved.  I finally decided to spring for the do-it-yourself kit ($25), which consists of a rectangular piece of Vibram rubber and some leather laces.  Even with my mediocre craftsmanship, the result far exceeded my expectations.  Pretty much overnight, huaraches became my favorite long distance running footwear for both road and trail running.  So far I have run two road marathons and several 20 mile trail runs in these sandals.  I should mention that they molded to fit my feet quite nicely but I accidentally flattened them recently by putting boxes on top of them, so you might want to watch out for that.  

Luna Leadville Huaraches (Homemade) 
These are my most recent addition.  Thicker than the classic Lunas, the rubber is spongier with an aggressive tread on the bottom.  I elected for the thick leather leadville laces.  I have only gone for two 8 mile runs in them as of yet, but I have to say that I love them so far.  The thicker laces keep the foot from moving around, and the softer sole is very comfortable.  These are supposed to be specialized trail sandals but I think I am going to use them for road running as well.  I will keep you updated as I use them more.

And that's all my shoes--at least until my wife lets me spring for some Soft Star Runamocs.

Running Joyfully - Inspiration from Barefoot Ted

Many of you may know of "Barefoot Ted" McDonald from Christopher McDougall's book Born to Run.  I have never met him, but based on the videos you can find of him on the internet, he seems like a sharp, thoughtful person.  One offhand comment he makes in this lecture has stuck with me for a while now.
Around 2:25 into the video (which is worth watching to the end), in the course of introducing the story of how he found barefoot running, Ted mentions his "personal journey to find a way to run joyfully."  When I first watched this I was struck that he frames his story this way.  Many barefoot "testimonials" begin with a quest to conquer persistent injuries (including Born to Run, which begins with McDougall asking "why does my foot hurt?") or to run more naturally. While these are real and valuable benefits, Ted puts his finger on barefoot running's best reward of all: a reawakening of that pure joy of being in motion which we all felt as children.  Watching the video, it suddenly dawned on me that this has been my journey as well, and that while I thought my goals were to run healthily, and naturally, and quickly, ultimately those were all just means to a much more satisfying end.  

"Run joyfully" has become a mantra to me.  I use it in times when I have begun to lose perspective in my running, such as when I grow moody at the end of a long run, or when my race goals have caused me to forget why I started running in the first place.   I encourage you to try it as well.

Run joyfully