Tuesday, March 23, 2010

8 tips on starting to run in Vibram Five Fingers

I had another good run in the Vibram Five Fingers tonight.  5.21 miles on city streets in about 42 minutes.  This works out to 8:03 per mile.  Yeah, that sounds slow, but I am still getting used to the VFFs and I tried out a new strategy.  When my calves start to burn and get tight, I walk and or stretch.  I used to do this when training for 50K races, so I figured it would work for adapting to running in minimalist shoes, as well.  I also ran a course that had some grass near the sidewalk, so I could run on the grass when it was available.  This way, I was able to last more than my previous best with VFFs on city streets: 2.75 miles, in fact, I was able to double that.

So here is my up to date, somewhat tested advice on starting out with Vibram Five Fingers:

  1. Start conservatively, then work your way up. Everyone is different. If you are carrying around extra weight, or are new to running, I would advise being way more cautious than I have been. In the past I have tried out forefoot and midfoot strides when overweight, and i got injured. (which is why I didn't stick with it. Also, I was using the wrong shoes with a thick heel and way too much arch support.)
  2. Do the Run/Walk. Rather than doing what some advise, and doing 1/4 mile every day or every other day, I would advise doing the run/walk. Run in the VFFs until your calves burn (or arches start giving you trouble), then walk for a while and stretch. When you feel better, try running again. If your calves still feel like hamburger, STOP. Take a day off.
  3. Stretch. Some advise that stretching is useless, and "every runner who does yoga gets injured". That may be good advice for some, but it DEFINITELY is not good for me. I started to have hamstring pain, excruciating even, and it only went away if I stretched fully before the run. For me, this was an old injury I got when using the kickboard in the pool. But it only arises when I don't stretch.
  4. Running on grass is easiest, followed by trails, and then asphalt and finally concrete. I would not advise doing much of your earliest VFF mileage on roads/sidewalks. Find a grassy field with a road or sidewalk next to it, so you can try both. Gradually work your way up, running less on the grass, and more on the hard surface. Your form will be best on the hardest surface, but it can take a lot out of you, without taxing your aerobic system. Your legs are trashed, but you didn't get much fitness from the run. Running part on the grass and trails lets you still get in a workout, and lets you heel strike a bit without hurting yourself.
  5. Don't split time between VFFs and conventional heeled running shoes. You are trying to teach yourself a new way of running. If you try to do both, you won't lock in the muscle memory(or whatever the technical term is), and you will likely injure yourself, as your ankle has to deal with the arch, and a raised heel. Once you get injured, you will likely give up on the VFF's, and feel you just wasted $85 to $125. This was me on my first attempt. Luckily, I decided to give them a second chance.
  6. Consider getting minimalist shoes for more than just running. I found that I was having pain when switching to wearing various shoes for work, and my old sandals, etc... I found that if I removed the inserts from my work shoes, that mostly eliminated the pain. I think if I got minimalist shoes for work, it would work even better. But since I don't have them, this is just theory at this point.
  7. ICE is your friend! Most people who have run long distances know this one, but any time you have muscle soreness after a run, ice will help tremendously. Some people take ice baths, I would do this if I had an ice machine, but I just spray cold water on my legs in the shower, and it is almost as good.
  8. Recovery drinks work for soreness also. This is another one that most long distance runners know about. You can google it or ask your friendly local running store for their advice, but I use PowerBar Recovery Carb/Protein Sports Drink Mix. Best results are when consumed directly after exercise. Not 30 min later when you get home from the park. Right then.

This is my current state of knowledge, and it will change and be updated as I learn more about the Vibram Five Fingers.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Removing insole is key to wearing non-minimal shoes without pain

This is just a quick update that I felt I needed to share. Since I have embraced the minimal shoe movement, I have been having ankle and arch pain when wearing regular shoes at work. After following the forums at http://birthdayshoes.com and Minimalist Runner (http://groups.google.com/group/huaraches), I tried removing the inserts or insoles that come with the shoes. This is the exact opposite of orthotics. It allows my arches to do what they need to do, instead of what the shoe maker wants them to do. It also gives me more room in the shoes for my feet to spread out. No pain so far. I still need to get some minimalist work shoes, but this workaround may be acceptable for now. I'm writing this from my iPhone, so I'm not sure how the links will turn out. I'll fix them later.

Hour loop now 56 minute loop with the VFFs

Today, I ran at Patapsco again with the Vibram Five Fingers.  I am definitely getting better at running with them.  My feet are getting toughened up so stepping on sharp rocks doesn’t hurt (as much).  I ran my normal hour loop in 56 minutes today.  I am still way out of shape, as i had to walk up all the major hills, but I was able to totally bomb down the hills at speeds that I could never match in conventional shoes.

OK, maybe I was a wuss previously, but I had good reason to be.  I have had a few really gnarly ankle twists and sprains, so, at some point a few years ago, I decided to be really conservative in my downhill running.  I would actually spend lots of energy slowing myself going downhill so I wouldn’t risk crashing.

When I first started with the VFFS, I did the same, even moreso, since I was really cautious about stepping on a sharp rock.  Now that I am more used to them, and have been working on my technique, I can run much faster downhill.  I feel more stable, since I am lower to the ground, without a thick cushioned heel preventing me from feeling the ground.

I am pretty psyched to run the Mt. Penn Mudfest coming up.  It’s a 15K trail run in Reading, PA, put on by Pretzel City Sports.   If I can just improve my hill running/conditioning in the next few/couple weeks, I think I might actually be able to achieve a performance that I am happy with.

In other news, I have definitely confirmed that the more types of shoes I wear, the more problems I have.  Differing support, arches, heel widths, etc, all screw up my feet and ankles.  I can wear the VFFs, and flip flops.  Anything else hurts my feet.  I need to order some minimalist work shoes ASAP.  And my $3 flip flops are staring to fall apart with lots of use.  Yesterday, I went to the pool, and it was such a beautiful day, and I felt so good, that I ran to the pool with the flip flops.  Then I ran home.  Then, I ran an extra mile around the neighborhood!  I ran about 2 miles in the flip flops.  I learned that you need to spend extra effort to keep the flip flops from falling off when running, which might be a problem when running longer distances.  Also, my cheapo pair of flip flops started to chafe the skin on my feet, causing a raw spot.  I put some tape over the raw spot so I could keep wearing the flip flops.  Getting a good quality pair of flip flops is also a top priority.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

My blog name doesn’t make much sense anymore…

I think the name of my blog no longer works for me.  I initially named it turtleheadattack.com because I was frustrated by the constant GI and digestive issues I was experiencing.  Since I logged what I was eating, and I figured out my “problem foods”, my issues mostly went away.  And recently, I started eating salads and vegetables and fruit, and cutting way back on meat.  This has pretty much eliminated (sorry for the pun) all of my elimination issues.  I know people have been telling me what to do for years, but I never could change until now.

Now when I get hungry, I think of carrots, and fresh greens, and fruit, not meat and fried foods.

The difference is truly amazing.  I credit Born to Run for finally encouraging me to make this change in my lifestyle.

So I could find a new name, perhaps one that follows my new interest in minimalist footwear, natural stride, and good nutrition.  But I kinda like my name, and I really like the banner graphic.  So I will probably keep everything the way it is.

Vibram Five Fingers Update

I’ve now been wearing the Vibram Five Fingers for a couple weeks.  I’ve learned a few things.

They say you are supposed to start with small amount of running, some say as little at 1/4 mile per day!, and slowly build up no more than 10% of your mileage per week.  At that rate, I would be dead and/or fat by the time I got to an amount that was enough to burn the calories I need to burn and enjoy the running experience.

Perhaps this is just for complete beginners, or people who don’t have much of a history of running.  I have been running for 25 years, I have a few mountainous 50K races under my belt, and have been at a somewhat competitive level at times.  So I am following my own training plan, listening to my body, and will work the transition at my own pace.

My first day, I ran on city streets in Baltimore.  I didn’t do much more than a mile, and my feet hurt.  I put the shoes away for a few weeks, as I thought I might have just wasted a bunch of money.

Then, pain from running in my conventional thick heeled shoes made me reconsider.  I decided to run on the trails at Patapsco State Park, which is on my way home from work, in between Baltimore and DC.  I can run much farther (or is it further?)  on trails.

I ran 3 miles one day last week at Patapsco, then 5 miles 2 days later.  I then attempted to run on pavement earlier this week, did about 2.74 miles at a 7:10 pace.  I felt pretty good, but I could tell that my form was lagging at the end, and my feet were taking a beating.  They hurt quite a bit the next day, and I was worried that I screwed myself up again.

The next day, I decided to take a chance, and see what I could do at Patterson Park near my neighborhood.  I ran carefully on the grass, and no pain!

Today, I ran at Patapsco, did my normal 1 hour loop in 1 hour.  This is good, since I’m actually way out of shape, I had to walk all the hills, but I had so much control on the downhills, and improved speed on the flats, that I still pulled out a decent time.  Once I get my cardio capacity back, I should be able to kill it.  My calves seem to be improving, and I’m developing Cro-Magnon foot pads, from stepping on so many rocks.  Perhaps after I get good at trail running in VFFs, I will be able to run decent amounts on roads.

I have noticed one issue so far with the info in Born to Run.  Some people suggest that stretching is not needed; stretching and yoga will just get you injured.  That may work for some people, but not for me.  When I tried not stretching, or minimal stretching, I got excruciating pain in my upper gluteous region.  So bad, I had to stop, and try again on grass.  I was able to tough through the pain, and eventually it didn’t hurt anymore.  Today, I stretched normally before the run, and I had absolutely no issues.  I will definitely be stretching fully before and after every run.

I have been noticing now that I have made the transition to running with no cushioned heel, that wearing normal shoes at work tends to hurt.  Anything that has a formed arch, including my sandals, hurts my feet.  My flat flipflops feel great, though.  So I am now looking for minimalist shoes to wear to work and casually.  (I can’t wear flipflops to work)  Some people on the minimalist shoe forums and blogs suggest just wearing their VFFs to work.  Since they are enclosed toes, technically, they meet most workplace requirements, unless you work in construction or a machine shop.  Mine get so muddy from trail running, there is no way I could wear them to work.  I would have to get another pair for non-running activities.

For now, I will just pull out the inserts of my boots or casual shoes, and hope that’s enough. 

Monday, March 8, 2010

First Trail Run with Vibram Five Fingers shoes

Today I was able to enjoy the awesome weather (almost 60 degrees) and got in a run after work before it got dark.  Even better, I ran in my new VFFs.  VFF is short for Vibram Five Fingers.  They are a new (at least to me) type of minimal shoe.  They have been popularized by the Barefoot Running movement and a book entitled Born to Run by Christopher McDougall.  I just bought the book on Amazon Kindle for iPhone.  It looks really interesting.

I have the KSO Treks, which are a bit pricey ($125).  They have others that are less expensive, but the store I got them from had a hard time keeping VFF’s in stock, and they had the KSO Treks in my size, so I got ‘em.  They say you are supposed to ease into using them, starting off with a mile or two, and working up from there.  The reason is that you use a lot more of your “stabilization muscles) (my non-technical term), and if the muscles aren’t used to it, you could hurt yourself.  This is similar to the difference between going to the gym and using free weights vs. machines.

You also have to run with a different foot strike.  Most people in the US wear running shoes with a big clunky heel, and they are encouraged to strike the ground with the heel first.  Before modern running shoes, everyone ran with the mid or forefoot striking the ground first, using the natural shock-absorbing properties of the foot.  I have been working on this foot strike off and on for years, so i am somewhat used to it.  My first run was on streets around my house, and on frozen ground in a grassy park near my house.  My second run, weeks later, was today at Patapsco State Park.  Rather than just running a mile or two, I ran about 5ish miles.  It is fairly technical terrain over dirt single-track trails.  I couldn’t just run a mile.  I was rushing to get my run in before it got dark, so I decided to do the whole thing in the VFFs.

I really enjoyed it.  I always enjoy running, but it was really cool trying out a new way to run.  With my old shoes, I would typically try to hop from rock to rock or log when crossing streams, because wet feet get heavy and slow me down.  With the VFF’s, I didn’t feel that need, as sloshing through streams didn’t weigh my feet down.  But then I tried hopping from rock to rock, and was amazed at how much control and traction I have.  I guess it’s like wearing climbing shoes.  So I would alternate, depending on how I felt.  My KSO Treks have trail nubbies on the soles to supposedly provide extra traction.  I’m not sure if they really do or not.  I’d have to try a model of VFFs with the standard sole to compare.  I found that my toes provided great traction in the mud, soft earth, snow, and gravel.  Well, pretty much everything.

Now that I’m done the run, I can tell that my calves got a super workout.  They felt pretty much the same way after the Ugly Mudder 2 weekends ago, in the deep snow.  On that day, I wore my Inov-8 Trail Shoes.  (I don’t know the model.)  The Inov-8s are known for having a low heel for increased handling on trails.  If you aren’t ready for the almost barefoot experience, I suggest you give them a try.  You can work on your midfoot technique and enjoy a mixture of the benefits of barefoot and shoe running.  It is difficult to adopt a midfoot foot strike with most conventional shoes.  The heel is so thick and raised, it makes it difficult to do it properly.

I should probably include more information on foot strike techniques, but this post is already long enough.  I’ve been reading about it for years, and I have a couple books to recommend and even a DVD.  I’m sure there is stuff on Youtube also.

One additional observation:  running in the snow and cold winter streams can be a bit cold for your feet if the toes are separated.  This is especially true if you are doing a long run and going to be in the elements for hours.  Vibram makes a Five Fingers model with a neoprene upper, called the Flow.  It’s like a wetsuit for your foot.   I don’t know how it would be, but if I was going to do a lot of snow running, I would strongly consider getting them.  Actually, that’s the kind I was going to get, but the store did not have them in my size.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Trail Running in snowy downtown Baltimore City

In the past week, we have had 2 major snowstorms, dumping like 40-50 inches of snow on poor Baltimore.  I confess, I’ve been a wus about not running, because I saw how horrible the streets were (and still are) in my neighborhood.  What I have been doing is digging out my alley (twice), digging in front of the house, lots of walking with a shovel full of snow to find a place to put the snow, and walking around the neighborhood to obtain beer and victuals.

Today, I have off because of the Presidents Day holiday, so I figured I’d run down by the promenade.  There was a path of compacted snow that was easy to run on.  In fact, it felt like trail running in the heart of Baltimore!  I felt so good, instead of doing my goal of 30 min to loosen up after 2ish weeks of not running, I ran 1 hour 21 min around the Harbor from Canton, through Fells Point, through Innerharbor area, and around to Federal Hill, and then back again.  I actually remembered to bring my Garmin Forerunner, so I know I did 9.43 miles in 1:22, at 8:46 per mile, spending 1132 calories, at an average heart rate of 163bpm.  Yeah, I know that’s more than 3/4 of a minute slower per mile than the last time I did that run, but navigating the snow slowed me down quite a bit.  Plus, of course, I was a bit out of shape from not running.  But I did much better than I expected.

It was cool to see the rest of the city; I had been hibernating for a while.  It was interesting to see the area where the long line of dumptrucks filled with snow were waiting to dump their load in the harbor.  I’ve been hearing about this, but hadn’t seen it til this morning.  Some people are complaining because of all the environmental damage it is allegedly doing to the harbor because of salt and oil runoff.  Well, to those people, I ask them, if it was left on the street to melt, where do you think the storm drains take the water runoff?  Yep, you guessed it, they run right into the harbor.  Anyone who has done any amount of running on the promenade will have noticed all the garbage floating in the water at certain points.  That is where the storm drains go.  The only negative I see is that the huge mound of snow in the water could theoretically break off into a Baltimore Iceberg, causing small boats some trouble.  But I don’t think it will be a big deal.

I purchased a set of Vibram Five Fingers shoes a couple weeks ago.  I won’t get much into that here, as it is a subject big enough for a post or series of posts.  But one of the key skills in using them without hurting yourself, is forefoot or midfoot running.  (ie, not heel running that most running shoes are built for).  I didn’t wear them today, but I did about 90-95% of today’s run on the forefoot and midfoot.  It felt good, and my knees and ankles aren’t screaming.  I guess we’ll see tomorrow morning!

I signed up for the Ugly Mudder yesterday.  I’m psyched, because it is a really cool course in Reading, PA, and it ends at a German Beer Hall.  And I’m meeting my old roomie and her boyfriend, haven’t seen them in months.  There should be plenty of snow on course, plus two beer stops!  Serving Pennsylvania’s finest, Yuengling.  Also, it is put on by Pretzel City Sports, the finest race management organization in all of Reading, PA.

Step Counting.  My work has this new plan where if you wear a pedometer that counts your steps, you get bonuses that pay down the health insurance deductible.  My guess is that they did not gear this program towards ultrarunners.  On an average day that does not include any specific exercise, I’ve been doing about 7000 steps.  On the day I really attacked the snow mounds in my alley, I did 14,000.  I wore my pedometer today on my run, and I got about 14,000 steps just for the 9.5 mile run.  It is now reading 16,000 for the day.  I’m wondering what will happen when I do long runs of 20-30 miles? 30,000 to 45,000 steps in a few hours?  The examples on the website (virginhealthmiles.com) show that kind of activity as a MONTHLY goal.  HA!  They say you should upload every few days, because the device runs out of memory.  I’m expecting that it will give up the ghost in the middle of a run.  “Halp, I wasn’t designed for this!  Stop!”.  It also isn’t water proof.  What good is that?  What about water crossings?  They are often waist deep.  Maybe I can rig some kind of waterproof bag around it.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Thanxmas is over!

Ok, I haven't posted in a while because school and work was getting a bit crazy, plus the holidays were distracting. I didn't do much over Thanxmas. Thanxmas is the time between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

I've been swimming a bit, and tonight I swam 1 mile. It felt great. Yesterday, I ran from Canton, through Fells Point, the Inner Harbor, and into Federal Hill, and then back. I took what I call the "business route" on the way out. The "business route" is the straightest, fastest way. I normally take this on the way back, when I get hungry, thirsty, tired, or all three. Yesterday, I reversed things, and took the business route on the way out, and then took the scenic route on the way back. The scenic route follows the promenade around the water, and zigzags a lot more. As you might guess, the scenic route is a bit longer than the business route. The weird thing is that I hit the same time for each. 33 minutes. Yeah, I know it's slow, but considering I'm restarting from scratch, 1:07 isn't so bad. I'll probably do 1:30 or 1:45 on the trails on Saturday.

BTW, I had an awesome 50 min trail run last Saturday, and rediscovered what I loved so much about trail running.

I've been slacking on the race signups, so I need to sign up for some trail races and triathlons ASAP. I will post here when I figure out what I'm doing.