Thursday, July 15, 2010

Minimalism and running



Running cannot be discussed without the topics of barefoot running, minimalism, and "the book," Born to Run by Chris McDougal. Im a bit proud to say that I discovered the merits of barefoot and minimalist running just barely before the big explosion. It was a strange means to a positive end, but actually started with an injury, just as with many barefoot runners.

I had just finished my first triathlon(see previous blog post). My first forray into endurance sports was a success, so I decided to keep pushing my limits. I also had a bit of a "split personality" of sorts. My teen recklessness needed an outlet, and I had found that in the sport of motocross.

I had gone up to the Kalkaska area of Michigan to ride some of my favorite trails with would-be brother-in-law Robb Bennett and my father Mike. These are some of my most cherished memories with both of these guys. My dad, who claims to be a poor athlete, had more endurance than I did at the time on a motorcyle even after getting into triathlon shape. We unloaded the bikes for a ride on a trail that we appropriately named "the black diamond."

Long story short, I was hit head on my a utility ATV. Im sure you've all seen them: Jeep-sized four-wheelers with steel brushguards, winches, and skid plates firmly attatched to them, weighing in excess of 600lbs. I was doing at least 30mph, and the ATV must have been going nearly 15. We met at the top of a sharply peaked hill, and never even saw each other until impact. I didn't know, but I had shattered my patella(knee cap) of my right leg.

6 weeks later, I was able to flex my knee. My physical therapist, though very supportive and optimistic, told me not to plan on running for a while. 2 weeks later I was hobbling to class with a cane, but determined. I set out for a 6 mile run. Im not sure why I set out to do 6; my previous longest run was 8.

How does this relate to minimalism? I'm getting there. I found that while running, my right(injured) leg hurt much less when I took shorter steps with it. Prone to knee injury before my catatrophic knee "rearrangement," I was worried that my limping gait would cause me more injuries. Then something began to happen. Rather than my stride returning to the normal excessive length in my injured leg, the uninjured leg began to take the after the injred one. My stride length had decreased, but my stride frequency had increased(this is one of the main components od barefoot/minimalist running, but I had no idea). The only problem was that my new, awkward gait was worsened by my shoes. My Asics Numbus 10s had large, cushioned heel. It was what I was told I needed as "oversupinator" with high arches. My logic as a fabricator and gearhead(I dabble in welding and metal fabrication) told me that "if its not working, hack it up until it oes." So there I was, in my garage, with a hacksaw. I "made" my own running shoes work. I was a little embarassed at first because "normal" runners can just run in shoes as they are. I was making adjustments for my handicap. I only found out a couple months ago that one of my favorite ultrarunners, Anton Krupicka, did this before becoming a "made man" with New Balance. I also found it funny that we've both been pictured running with button-down shirts on!

Since then, I've slowly transitioned to minimalist and barefoot running, occasionally reverting back to shoes. I wore cross-country flats for a while, then I decided to join the barefoot runners and train exclusively barefoot. I wanted to do this becasue I read testimonials about it being more efficient. As an athsmatic, I want to squeeze every ounce of efficiency out of my weak pulmonary system. It was certainly a huge time investment, but I feel that the payoff has been well worth it. I cut my weekly mileage from about 35 miles per week to about 5. It slowly crept back up, then I introduced Vibram Fivefingers into the mix and it took off. Since this winter, I have brought my mileage up to around 100 miles per week, all in minimal shoes, with my longest continuous run being 68 miles. Im hoping to get up to around 120 miles for a peak before my upcoming 50 mile ultra.

Im sorry these preliminary posts are so long. I feel like once I get my history established, I can be more direct and get to the point.

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