Friday, June 1, 2012

Running with Fingers

Jim here. So…I started running about a year and a half ago and I feel pretty good. I have lost weight and feel strong. About a year ago I read the book “Born to Run” by Christopher McDougall. In his book McDougall talks about the benefits of barefoot running and the philosophy of running in general. If you enjoy running this book will change your life. It did mine.

After finishing his book I bought a pair of Vibram Five Fingers (those weird foot “gloves” that have us all doing a double take when we see them on someone’s feet) and was determined to throw off my thick-soled running shoes and to start running (nearly) barefoot. These shoes were not originally designed for running but were quickly co-opted by the barefoot running community. My initial results with them were not good. I strapped them on and ran a nice easy two miles. I could feel my calves growing very tight but the running was easy, so I continued. The next day my calves were so sore that I could barely walk, and after four days I was still clutching the handrail on my way to the basement. I had never been that sore in my life. I tossed the Vibrams into the closet and cursed the shoes to anybody who would listen.

Once the soreness subsided I continued to run in my regular shoes and found my groove again. I realized that, as with many runners, I was a “heel striker”; that is, I would land on the heels of my feet and roll forward. Barefoot running (or close to barefoot) means running up on the balls of your feet, which is the natural way to run. Watch a child run barefoot through the grass sometime and you will see what I mean. You simply cannot heel-strike while running barefoot; your body won’t let you.

My old running shoes vs. my new Vibrams
The transition from regular running shoes (those with a thick heel) to Vibram Five Fingers requires patience. I started this transition by consciously running on the balls of my feet while still in my regular running shoes. I did this for several months before again strapping on my Vibrams. Things went much better this time. After three five-mile runs along my regular paved road route I had no more soreness and felt good. I have since switched to trail running and am up over 30 miles per week.

There is a healthy philosophy to barefoot running. It isn’t about speed, or time splits (and the stress the emotional and physical stress that comes along with these). It is about slowing down and enjoying the act of running. I now measure my runs in terms of hours in motion rather than minutes per mile.

The lesson I have learned is to simply slow down and allow myself to get into the act of running. There is a lot to see and feel. Trail running in Vibram Five Fingers forces you to slow down and focus on the steady conveyor belt of tiny obstacles through which you need to find your way. Pain is a good motivator, and you will naturally slow down and focus on the trail in order to avoid landing on those sharp little rocks that will send little bolts of lightning through your feet. One’s mind shifts from the sometimes negative train of thought to the emotion-neutral trail directly in front of you. I am happy that I discovered these shoes, and fortunate to have easy access to miles and miles of beautiful trails to explore.

Time for my run…

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