Earlier this morning, somewhere out near Mount Kato, I hit the 200 mile mark since the start of my barefoot adventure. Actually, it's turned into something more than just barefoot running. A few random running thoughts below the fold.
First of all, let me say a few nice things about the shoes in the picture above. Those are the Merrell Trail Gloves. If you want to run "barefoot" or with a minimalist style, pass up on the Vibram Five Fingers and pick up a pair of these bad boys.
I have now logged a total of 153.4 barefoot miles. I cannot say enough good things about barefoot running and the overall experience of running unshod (especially out on a remote trail with my dog--it's a frickin' primal experience). I also cannot tell you how impossible it will be to run barefoot in Minnesota winters and I have been frantically searching for a shoe that will allow me to run as close to barefoot as possible through snow, on ice and on freezing ground (as well as on rough trails through the prairie).
The first shoe I tried was the Vibram Five Fingers, or "floves" as Mrs. n-Pop likes to call them. They are pool shoes. They are hard to get on, you look ridiculous in them and they really do a bang-up job of keeping your toes separated from one another...which can be a bad thing if you are trail running or if you happen to scrape your pinky toe against something. I have come close to breaking my pinky toe about 5 or 6 times with the Five Fingers. This is during a grand total of just over 10 miles. They are not trail shoes. They do not have great traction. They do not allow you to feel like you are barefoot running.
The second shoe I tried was a more traditional shoe, the Saucony Kinvara II. Were I back in my running heyday, I think this would have been my perfect shoe. I cannot say enough good things about it, especially as a traditional running shoe. It is a neutral trainer that you can log a huge amount of miles in and it has a very low drop, good feel and it breaks in very nicely. That being said, once you start logging a lot of barefoot miles, the shape of your foot changes and the Kinvara's toe box was simply too narrow to continue running with.
Speaking of feet, I started my barefoot running experiment with size 10.5 narrow feet (43-44) and I now have size 12.5 (46-47) clodhoppers. I simply cannot wear any of the shoes I had before I started this little hobby. Dress shoes are too tight and angled downward. Running shoes are too narrow and cushioned. My feet feel cramped and are sore within 2 hours of wearing even a size 12.5 traditional dress shoe. My #1 piece of advice for those of you looking to start living a more barefoot lifestyle: prepare yourself to spend some money on everyday shoes. Not many companies offer a zero drop, wide toebox, flat bottom pair of kicks and you will pay a hefty penny for something that fits your interests. I have to wait until my birthday in October to get a pair of minimalist dress shoes. In the mean time, I simply try to go barefoot as much as possible. I really cannot overstate just how big of a lifestyle change going barefoot is. Look at a big muscled dude the next time you go to the gym. Look at how much different his upper body is than yours and what it would mean for your lifestyle if you changed into something like that. Now imagine that the same sort of transformation can happen with your feet. If you decide to do this, you will need a new foot wardrobe. I had no idea that this would be the case when I started barefoot running. My feet are jacked.
Getting back to the shoes, the 3rd pair of minimalist shoes I tried was the pair you see up top: the Merrell Trail Glove. I was wearing these shoes when I hit 200 miles. I have logged about 20 miles in them so far and they are exactly the type of shoe I was looking for and I highly recommend them to anyone thinking about putting barefoot training in their running tool box.
First, the shoes have a huge toebox. Once you start running barefoot, you will quickly realize that your toes need to splay in order to run well. This is the first shoe I have ever worn where you can feel your toes spread out with room to spare when you strike the ground. Second, they're light as hell. I have become very sensitive to the weight of shoes since I started logging a lot of barefoot miles. I can't imagine how cumbersome a snow boot would feel right now. These shoes are really light (6.2 oz). Third, the uppers are made in a way that doesn't mess with your sizing while still keeping a snug enough fit to not allow for slipping. You can lace these things up really loose and still have them stay on without chaffing. I really wish I would have found this shoe at the start of my search for a winter/trail shoe. It would have saved me quite a bit of money. (Read another review of the shoe here.)
- I went in to a running clinic to have my training program and gait analyzed and I came away from the experience more convinced than ever that I am on the right path to wellness. My stride "floats like a butterfly", my cadence is steady between 182-184 bpm, I have a good knee bend, my shoulders are relaxed and I am able to run for 2 hours on my long run with my heart rate never going above 143.
- The 1 thing I have been advised to do is to add some anaerobic training into my regimin. Apparently, you can train your heart to become too efficient and this can be a bad thing if you need to suddenly exert a lot of energy, lift a lot of weight, etc. As feral mentioned in the comments of the first running post, variety is key and I have started adding in some tempo and hill runs.
- Just for kicks and giggles I decided to head down to the local high school track to see how fast I could run a mile in bare feet. 6:13 with a max heart rate of 173 and a weight of 217. When I finished I was gassed and I had a big ol blister on my right foot. There is a huge difference between running barefoot for heart rate and running barefoot for speed. My feet (and body...I was hurting afterward) is in no way, shape or form ready for any more 6:13 miles right now. I have got my training pace down to between 9:54-10:32. My weekend long runs are, for now, geared for time and heart rate. This weekend I will run for 2:15 with my HR below 143. We'll see how the pace goes.
- I cannot say enough good things about kettlebell training. When I was injured I took up weight lifting to stay (kind of) in shape. I started my running experiment being as strong as I have ever been in my life. Running is taking a chunk out of this strength but between kettlebells and crossfit circuits, I have maintained more strength than I ever had during my running prime. 3 days a week I do 50 kettlebell swings, 50 pushups, 25 pullups, 75 kettlebell curls, 100 kettlebell overhead triceps extensions, 50 kettlebell around the worlds, a 2 minute wall sit and max pushups and pullups as fast as I can.
- I only bike once a week but am seriously considering adding 1 or 2 more days of biking to my running. Here is the training program I have been kicking around with the running clinic: Monday: 30-45 minute slow recovery bike ride. Tuesday- 3-5 mile tempo run with kettlebell training. Wednesday: rest. Thursday: 6-8 mile run with kettlebell training. Friday: Hill or tempo run/every other week, rest. Saturday:long bike ride (I'm at 1:30 right now) with every other week kettlebell training. Sunday: long heart rate run (2:15 with HR below 143 right now). I also run the dogs 1-2 miles every night. I also am perfectly fine with missing things on the "schedule" if more important things pop up...which leads me to this:
- Now, more than ever, I really don't get the "movement" aspect of the barefoot movement. This is not a cure-all or even, I think, a gimmick. It is a way to force your body to take things slowly on a path to well being. That is the biggest thing I've learned. I have been injured quite a bit since my days of logging 80+ miles a week. I have always tried to rush things during my many rehabs from dislocated knees and broken feet. Barefoot running has slowed things down for me. It has allowed my mind to get over the hurdle of understanding that I will never be as fast as I once was...I will never jump as high as I once did. This isn't a movement. It is an intensely personal thing that should be different for everyone who tries it. I'm in this damn thing for the long haul and I can afford to go slowly.