Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Learning Minimalist Running

Since the last time I blogged (about 2 months ago) I was suffering with a nagging injury to my hamstring, back-of-knee and calf.   Once it felt better I’d go out for an easy run and I’d be buried again.   I was very frustrated – I just started running and had goals I wanted to achieve in 2011, and I couldn’t even manage a couple of miles without re-injuring myself. 

I kept searching the internet for reasons for my injury, and my many searches kept pointing me back to minimalist running articles.  I had seen a couple of people at races running in odd-looking 5-finger things, and I wondered what was up with that.  I kept researching.  Finally I asked someone I saw running in them and he recommended I read “Born to Run” by Christopher McDougall.  At Chapter 25 my Ah-Ha! moment arrived.   For many reasons (and partly because I am suspect of master marketers, most established “systems” and conventional wisdom that economically benefits the loudest promoter), I became attracted to the minimalist running camp.

So, armed with new knowledge (and thinking all along I should be blogging about this), I set out to find a “transition” shoe to break in on a New Year’s Day 5K.  By this time I had enough research under my belt to know that you just can’t slip into Vibram 5 Fingers (VFFs) and expect to run pain free.  Most people need a transition shoe.  However, finding a shoe was more difficult than I expected (or perhaps not).  I went with the Nike Free Run+, which was more-or-less my only choice available.  I ran the New Years Day 5K in them, they felt light (and free?) and after not running for 4 weeks or so I still finished at about the same time as a Fall 5K. 

After running gingerly in the Nike Free’s a few times  I became convinced that my running injury was subsiding (coupled with some accupuncture and chiropractic care).  I began running barefoot on the treadmill once a week.  I flashed back to memories of running barefoot as a kid.  Slowly at first, a quarter mile, then a half, then 1 mile.  Each time I emerged with blisters on my feet, but always in the same location – on the ball of my right foot between the great toe and index, and on the other foot on my index toe only.   However, the blisters kept me from running even in a shoe, so I broke down and bought the Vibram 5 Fingers ($100 for the Bikilas).

Once I started to pick up mileage, other pains began to emerge.  When I stopped landing on my heel my calves started taking the abuse, especially my right calf – the location of my nagging injury.  Also, an odd snapping feeling emerged in my right foot, focused at the location of my ball-of-foot blister and extending back towards the heel along the planar fascia.   These things kept me skeptical, but persistent in my quest to get to a better place.   I kept shortening my stride and increasing cadence to compensate for speed loss. 

Finally I was able to run 3 treadmill miles in the VFFs pain free.  It took about 2 full months from my first strides in a minimal shoe to get there.  I consider it a breakthrough moment.  I will be blogging more about shoes, running form, transitioning, and my experiences with minimalist running in general.   There is a lot to share and there isn’t much conventional wisdom yet on minimalist running, so it’s very green field.  We’re all learning from each other, and it’s my intention to bring my experiences into the mix.

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