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October 6, 2009

The Barefoot Files: Training Update #5

I’ve passed a tipping point of sorts.

Ten weeks into my barefoot running development, I’m now logging more miles in either 1) bare feet, or 2) minimalist shoes like Vibram FiveFingers or Feelmax Osmas than I am in regular footwear. My biggest challenge right now is making those barefoot runs longer, easier, and (sigh) faster. In that regard, I’m making some gradual progress – as this week’s update will show.

Before we proceed, I’ve made a couple of changes to consolidate these reports. First, I’m no longer reporting mileage done in VFFs or Feelmax shoes with my barefoot updates. I’ve already gone on extensively about both these products; just know that I love both of them, I’m continuing to use them regularly – VFFs on trails, Feelmax on roads - and they’ve rapidly become my preferred style of running footwear.

Still loving the VFFs - and the funky dirt lines ... but they're not barefoot anymore.

Also, instead of linking to past updates, I’ve created a new right-hand sidebar where I’ll store highlights of this barefoot crusade, plus regular training updates. Speaking of which …


Week 10: 4 barefoot runs

* 10 min (after shod run)
* 32 min
* 20 min (after shod run)
* 35 min

Kind of an unremarkable week as far as time and mileage go, but on one early morning during this week, an inevitable consideration became very clear: it’s starting to get cold outside.

I headed out the door into 40-degree weather for one of these runs, and my toes felt pretty frosty the whole way - as if I needed another factor to make barefoot running more challenging than it already is. So I posted a question about low temperatures to the Runner’s World forum, and got a couple of interesting responses …

1) The consensus seems to be that running into the mid-30s is perfectly acceptable as long as it’s not raining or snowing, but that temps in the mid-40s with precipitation are much more difficult to handle. So now I’m going around saying, “Sure, it’s cold … but it’s a dry cold,” like that’s going to convince me to be tougher somehow.

2) The other response of note was someone who posted a link to the website of a barefoot winter runner who developed frostbite in some toes, with some others stripped of their skin down to the bone. Not quite the encouragement I was looking for. (And no, I’m not linking to it … trust me, I’m doing you a favor.)

Regardless, I think I might be able to tough out another degree or two, but I have a feeling I’ll be spending a lot more time in my minimalist shoes, or finding a different time of day to run as the weather turns colder.

After an easy 3-miler in the neighborhood

The 32 and 35 minute runs are also noteworthy in that they were done on a 3-mile loop from my house that takes me through the heart of Carmel Valley Village, a half-mile strip of businesses and pedestrian paths that are the primary gathering places for most locals. In other words, my chances of being spotted by someone I know are pretty high.

More specifically, my wife is starting to field the periodic, incredulous “Did I see your husband running barefoot this morning?” questions while shopping at the grocery store or during pickup time at our elementary school. It’s no understatement to say she’s not exactly wild about this whole little experiment of mine: she worries about me turning into a hippie, she has to wash our bedsheets about three times as often because I’m not reliably attentive to washing my dirty feet at night, and now she regularly has people asking if her spouse is insane. Nowadays, I suspect she probably has to think it over for a second before giving her answer.


Week 11: 4 barefoot runs

* 26 minutes (after shod run)
* 45 minutes
* 60 minutes
* 35 minutes

Staying on the “change of seasons” theme: it’s also starting to get dark outside. As if I needed another factor to make barefoot running more challenging than it already is.

Without being able to see the little rocks and surface irregularities on the road, I felt like Luke Skywalker wearing the lightsaber training helmet for the first time: I knew I had to relax and trust my feelings, but every few seconds I suffered some quick, sharp jab that had me wincing in pain. And just like a young Padawan, I very slowly learned to anticipate difficult spots in the road, and took the occasional stings with minimal lapses of composure. Just call me the Barefoot Jedi.

The only photo I could find was from a toy catalog ... but you get the idea.

The other significant milestone from this week was my first 60-minute, entirely barefoot run. Of course, it’s only a positive milestone in regards to the duration; distance-wise, it was probably less than 5 miles, which isn’t necessarily reason to throw a parade. But I have to say that the more time I spend barefoot, the more time I want to spend barefoot. That’s probably why the one-hour run didn’t leave me tired as much as content and eager to do more.

This isn’t quite a point of no return – as I mentioned several weeks ago, my intention isn’t to become a 100% barefoot runner, but to incorporate it on a regular basis with my regular training – but I think I’m hitting my stride quite nicely when it comes to running barefoot on the streets. The cold might test me, the darkness might challenge me, and my wife might institutionalize me, but for the time being, I feel like I’m right where I want to be.

Cool and content after a barefoot hour

It also raises the question of where the logical end point for this series of updates lies, which I’ll ponder for a while between now and the next one.

10 comments:

Hank 10/7/09, 5:14 AM  

I have found that because of running barefoot, I have relearned how to run. I now land on the forefoot instead of my heel even with my shoes on. I'm a little faster but I am definitely a stronger runner in that I'm more comfortable with the distances.

Yes, there is no end to the looks and questions you get when you're running barefoot, especially when it's someone who knows you. But if you really want looks and comments, try the Huarache running sandals that Barefoot Ted sells.

BTW, I'm finding the sandals very comfortable once I got the knot under the big toe flattened out real good. The kit I bought had the 4mm Vibram soles so they're not comfortable on on trails with lots of loose rock. But they're great just about everywhere else, especially asphalt.

Living in Spokane, WA, I have the same concerns about running barefoot in the cold weather. I detest the treadmill, but if we have a long cold snap I suppose I won't have any choice.

I think a logical end point is not having to buy a pair of shoes every 500 miles. As long as you're landing on the forefoot and your lower leg muscles are strong enough to handle that for the entire distance and you have the technique down so there's no scuffing, twisting, etc., then essentially you need only sole protection.

Tuck 10/7/09, 7:17 AM  

Donald, several years ago when I had a pair of trail running flats and I was training for a winter ascent of Mt. Washington in NH, i ran through the winter. The trail running flats were mesh on top and drained really well, and had a nice aggressive tread. I ran in deep snow and ice quite often on the trails, and also through puddles of snow melt. The route I was doing was a 5-mile loop that took me about an hour.
I dealt with the cold by wearing Patagonia mid-weight capilene hiking socks, which wicked the moisture away from my feet where it could drain out of the sneakers.
I never had any issues with frostbite or unreasonably cold toes, but let me qualify that by saying that I rode a motorcycle year-round for 10 years, after winter camping for a number of years, which built up quite a tolerance for the cold. You can build a tolerance for cold. Read some of the old accounts of the first Indians who attended Harvard for more on this, the Chiefs pulled their sons out because they lost their tolerance for cold, and their eyes were going bad. But, as with barefoot running, it will take time.
As I'm now running in Vibrams exclusively, and I live in CT, my strategy for the winter was to buy the Vibram Trek model, which, so far, is quite a bit warmer than the KSO, and to wear it with socks. Hopefully the tread will keep my from wiping out...
I'll let you know how this works out, hopefully it won't involve any nasty pictures, but I think it should work well.

Notleh,  10/7/09, 11:01 AM  

Donald, I love the fact that one of your labels for this post is "idiot"! lol

I am enjoying these updates and plan on following in your footsteps come next spring.

Gretchen 10/7/09, 4:51 PM  

Notleh beat me to it, but I was going to ask if you plan to tag all your barefoot trainig posts with 'idiot'? ;-) And truthfully, you owe your wife much better than to cause extra laundry loads. You should never be allowed into bed with feet that dirty. Be nice - take a shower! (I do love that last picture of you sitting in the grass, though. Very cute.)

I find that if you run fast, you generate enough heat to ward the cold off your toes. A few weeks back I was running on the grass at the high school when the field was a soggy and slightly frozen mess. (Great use of water, right?)It was actually pretty awesome to crunch a little ice with the toes, and to have the feet immersed in icy cold water while running. Talk about sensation! But it was all about running fast and hard, which kept me and my feet plenty warm. Also, running short. Maybe my feet just didn't have time to get cold.

Hey, did you hear about the new FTC rules for bloggers doing product reviews?

1010wellness 10/7/09, 5:44 PM  

Hey Donald,

My wife's not to crazy about my VFF shoes either. She's threatened to toss them out - thinks they look creapy. I was starting to build up some time in them, but have backed off the running for a while. The barefoot thing you're doing, on the road, blows me away. I'm happy to explore that vicariously thru you!

1010 Chris

21stCenturyMom 10/7/09, 5:54 PM  

I'm pretty sure we invented shoes to keep our feet from being stung by rocks. Seems like such a grand idea. I'd say go run barefoot on the track but Jeff had a not so great experience with that.

Those VFFs are getting mighty popular. I'm a pronator with super built up shoes but I might like to try to VFFs for trail running one of these days.

triguyjt 10/8/09, 6:29 PM  

If your wife institutionalizes you then you will just have a whole new cirlce of friends.... many of whom will likely be barefoot too. cool

Rainmaker 10/8/09, 7:33 PM  

With regards to whether or not your wife would answer if you were insane or not, did the extra seconds have any bearing on the final answer? And was that answer a yes...?

Just wondering...

Keep up the updates, cool stuff to read.

Juls 10/8/09, 9:12 PM  

Love the photos of your dirty feet. The mom in me immediately thinks "wash those feet." Glad your adventure seems to be going well.

Tuck 10/9/09, 9:22 AM  

Hey Donald, just found this blog that I think will help you in your barefoot running endeavor:

"What a great morning. Just finished my longest VFF run. 16 miles in 2 hrs. I've been working toward this distance in VFFs so I could compare it against my prior long runs in regular running shoes. Well, given this result, I can retire my running shoes. This distance/pace is every bit, if not better, than what I did in running shoes. Plus, I have complete command of my body without running shoes. I feel the surface and I can feel every tweak I make in my running form . . . it's a beautiful thing. My running form and efficiency is improving tremedously due to barefoot running and Vibram running."

http://hhollines.blogspot.com/

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