Tuesday, June 15, 2010

further chronicles in barefoot running

Five days ago, I headed out on yet another barefoot adventure on the trails of my "backyard" in Chuncheon. I call it my backyard because I live in a dingy but lovable little apartment complex that was built around the time I was born and has been scheduled for demolition this year but has been pushed back until an unknown date in the future. The system of trails starts across the street from the complex and I could jog about 6 or 7 miles without covering the same ground. Thinking of this as my back yard ameliorates the relative value of the apartments where my wife and I dwell. It doesn't increase the value in money terms, but definitely the spiritual value increases. Quick access to the woods makes for a lovely home.
Running back there always gets me curious stares from the locals. Going on walks in the mountains is a favorite pastime for many Koreans... if you're over 50. I don't know what it is, but to find young 20 and 30 somethings hitting the trails is unbelievably uncommon. I guess a big part of that can be attributed to the long work hours of the average workforce-aged folks. And the students? Well, if they're not studying, they must be playing soccer or going to the nore bang to belt out the latest ballads. Most of them don't take to the woods for exercise and time away from it all. So, on the trail, I'm likely to encounter people on average who are twice my age, many of whom get a kick out of seeing the big foreigner lumbering down the path. Now that I've taken off the shoes for some of these runs, my status as spectacle has probably been promoted to something people will talk about with their families at the dinner table and get a good laugh. I'm the crazy waegookin running barefoot over the rocky trail.
Well, the run was fantastic, again. There was a bit of rain in the morning, and the trail was still a bit damp. It was cool on my feet and kind to my soles and I had a spring to my step. I felt like I could run forever, so I pushed the 3 miles to 5 miles, did some steep hills, and was loving the damp forest and the cushiony pine needles beneath my feet. I came home feeling even better about going barefoot.
Two days later, I hit the trail once more sin zapatos. This day, the trail was totally different. It was hard, rocky, and dry, and my feet felt more sensitive than on any of my previous expeditions. I stubbed my toe, and I admit that at the end of three miles I was happy to be done. I started to notice that my achilles tendon on my right back foot was sore and the arch on my left foot felt a bit bruised, and even now, tow days later, both are feeling the residuals of my perhaps over-ambitious, overzealous leaps into barefoot running. But really, what do I expect? I just spent three days of the last week running barefoot over the earth for 11 miles, and add 15 miles onto that in between running in my shoes. My feet are deservedly beat up a little bit, and I'll take the mild aches and pains as a kind reminder to go slowly and with a bit more caution, not abandoning my excitement and zeal completely but tempering it with a modest dash of common sense. It's a bit hard, admittedly. I just finished the book, Born to Run by Christopher McDougall and it has resonated with me deeply. The idea of running not simply as a hobby or an exercise, but as part of what we were physiologically and spiritually created for sounds just about right to me. And the idea of doing it without expensive shoes appeals to the rebel taking permanent residence in my heart. It's almost an expression of "sticking it to the man." haha. Which is ridiculous, because I just spent over $90 with shipping and handling fees on a pair of Vibram Five Fingers. I stuck it to the man and am getting stuck with a pair of barefoot "shoes" that cost almost the same amount of money. Go figure.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

trying barefoot

Well, I've gotten out there and tried the barefoot thing- twice. The first time, I did three miles around the track at Kangwon University. It felt good, light, and cool to run barefooted. The polyurethane track was a bit abrasive and left the soles of my feet a little bit tender. To be expected, of course, it was my first time running barefoot sense barefooting it on the beach every morning for a month in Sonora for a couple of miles 8 years ago.
I figured the track would be the safest, rock free environment to get started. But yesterday I took the test to the trails behind the apartment here in Chuncheon. Last summer, when I arrived, and first started to take runs around the area in search of good routes, I was stoked to find a nice, long and winding series of trails just a couple hundred meters from our doorstep, perfect for getting out and running through the woods. Surprisingly, or maybe not, running on the trail was way more kind to the soles of my feet. And the feeling.... I was a deer. I felt light, my feet felt cool, and the feeling of dirt underneath was impressive. I could sense lurking in each step the muscle memory of early man, stalking, hunting, and chasing down it's food. But I wasn't doing this for food. I was doing it for fun! and fun it was.
There was the occasional shooting pain of a rock or a hard stump that I didn't manage to miss, but even those were just intensifiers of the experience. As I was running this thought popped into my head: Comfort is the enemy of the spirit. Comfort is the enemy of the spirit.
My two pairs of Saucony's cost me two hundred plus dollars and why? Because they are built to provide comfort to the runner. It is based on the idea that our feet need to be protected, especially when running. But why is this so? I know that running is hard, but it is supposed to be a little bit uncomfortable. When we are challenging our bodies and our minds with something as formidable as distance running, then there obviously will be some well deserved pain to throw in. But what if we by pass that pain with technology? Is it possible that we may be in deeper danger of inviting some other, perhaps more pernicious form of deeper injury?
I read a book by Christian thinker Philip Yancey a while ago entitled "Where is God When it Hurts?" I was struck by it's discussion about Dr. Paul Brand and leprosy, and I found out some things about leprosy that I had no idea of before. Part of what leprosy does is deaden nerves that would allow us to feel pain. Therefore, if you twist your ankle, your normal gait would continue, adding more and more stress to the injured area, until it gets worse and worse, and eventually, in a worse case scenario, becomes gangrenous and falls off. The disease isn't the rotting of tissue, but the constant trauma that happens to the tissue because of the inability to feel the pain that we need to let us know to do something about it. The premise of the chapter was that pain is a gift, and that going through pain, rather than avoiding it at all costs, is redemptive. It is also refinement for the future.
Now, applying that to my barefoot experiment, I can see a connection. My feet, being cushioned up in the Brook's Beasts and the other uber-support running shoes that I purchase twice a year have supported my feet, yes, but perhaps they have, like an over-protective mother, made them soft and fragile. And not only my feet, but my stride. My stride is unnatural because my feet haven't been able to feel anything. And that is the whole argument for bare-footing in a nutshell.
Going barefoot corrects the stride so that we can run the way God built us to run.
Of course, it's all premature for me to say any of this with any certainty until I get out and cover some miles. But I am excited about the idea of losing the shoes and getting back to the "bare minimum."

Monday, June 7, 2010

thinking barefoot

About ten months ago, after having just bought two new pairs of Saucony running shoes, a new co-worker of mine mentioned this article that he read in Wired Magazine about barefoot running and the myth of running shoes. I inwardly scoffed, thinking that it was kind of outrageous and that running shoes, especially those made by almost purely running shoe companies like Brooks and Saucony, made a time tested product that could be trusted. After having spent over $200, one might see the reason for my defensive inner thoughts. Anyways, I haven't read the article. I'll see if I can track it down later.
But I do mark this event as the beginning of something that is continuing until now. Call it what you will, but I think God is telling me to "lose the shoes". There's a few reasons for this. First, what my co-worker told me, which I politely dismissed. Second, I saw this special on heal-striking and the injuries caused by that on a friend's facebook page. Third, I met a guy at an off-road half marathon here a couple of weeks ago who was wearing Vibram Five Fingers, I was intrigued, not only at the idea, but actually seeing this kid run and being admittedly envious at how free he looked in his stride and gait.
Fourth, I began my own research, and the interwebs are chock full of "liberation" stories, and a good portion of the stories contain something about injuries like tendonitis and lower back pain stuff eventually disappearing. I decided to give barefooting a try, so I went truly barefoot and did an easy paced three miles around the track. Felt great. My soles were a little tender but not so bad that it bothered me too much.
I must say that I'm intrigued by everything, and have gotten excited about really giving this a try.
And then Jina brought me a book last weekend that she ordered from the library: Born to Run by Christopher McDougall.
I've barely been able to put it down. It has related with me in several ways. First, there is the story about the Tarahumara runners in the bottom of Copper Canyon. It took me back to my first trip to Mexico and my descent into the Canyon in a 1980's Suburban with a friend, a driver named Salvador (which, probably just a coincidence, is the name of the driver of Christopher McDougall down into the canyon one year later), and a family full of Tarahumara Indians who lived in the bottom of the canyon. Secondly, there's a story about the Leadville 100, which I never knew existed, but I did spend some formative years in Leadville and I remember meeting that crazy ultramarathoner at the peak of Smelter Mountain. Thirdly, I had seen the book a lot on my search, and I had made a mental note to pick up a copy. And then Jina, out of nowhere, brings it home, having heard nothing at all about it.
And so, here I am. I don't think I'm one that reads too much into things on a regular basis, and then there are times when there is that unmistakeable guidance from the realm of the divine. i have a marathon coming up in October, and I don't think I'll be doing that one barefoot, but I do have a sneaky suspicion that I'll be dipping into this exciting new prospect soon enough.