Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Running to the Child In Me



I pushed too hard in my running program a few weeks ago and was quickly chastened by a flare-up of Achilles tendonitis that I'm prone to. But Saturday morning, I was feeling fine, was finally getting some energy back after last weekend's low, and headed out 7-ish for what started out as a glorious run. Not yet too warm, generous sunshine, a light, easy pace, the first 4 kilometres were a pleasure, the second 4 reassuringly comfortable, but then somewhere around 10k (about 6 miles for you non-metric sort) a few twinges quickly turned into shrieking tissues, and I had to walk home. Galling!

But I've been reading Christopher McDougall's fascinating and persuasive book Born to Run, and although I'm not turning into an ultra-runner (!) any time soon, nor throwing away my shoes and going barefoot, I decided to apply some of what he says to my homemade rehab plan. McDougall refers to a wealth of research that is beginning to point the finger for runners' injuries squarely at the shoes that were designed to prevent them. He offers some pretty compelling statistics to support his case, pointing out that humans ran for millennia before Nike encased our feet in rubber. What I'm most intrigued by is the argument that running shoes of the last 30-40 years prevent the foot from doing what it's designed for through eons of evolution -- the shoes change our natural stride, interfere with the intricate architectural engineering of bone and muscle, and shut down the bio-feedback provided by an unshod foot's registration of pain.

So much of this made sense to me that I decided to try walking barefoot out on our rocky beach. I walked gingerly at first, jerky motions betraying the stabs of rock edges, but I gradually realized that if I loosened up a bit, the sensation wasn't painful. Rather, I was in an enjoyably alert dance of constant adjustment, molding my feet around large round rocks or splaying my toes wide into a bed of pebbles. Like a child, I played with the sensation of different surfaces, squishing through a swath of recently-deposited seaweed.  The rough pressure of the stones, I realized, was not only giving me a decent foot massage but was challenging proprioception, encouraging me to move in ways that were loosening muscles up through my hips, into my back, even my shoulders getting into the act as I threw my arms out for balance.

And I was having fun! The muscle memory evoked childhood, those years when going barefoot was what we did whenever we could. Despite living right at the beach, I realized that I've got out of the habit -- except when Nola's visiting -- of walking out on the rocks to the point. So I extended my beachwalk out along the barnacle-encrusted slabs of sandstone, sculpturally pocked by the persistence of waves. Even the barnacles, at least the smaller ones, felt more like a gentle acupressure than anything my soles might have feared, although they could have scraped nastily if I'd slipped. Underneath my feet, the undulations of the sandstone and the way it released stored sunwarmth evoked a definite AHHHHhhhhhhhhh. Gym and spa and physio clinic all in one. I've decided to walk the beach once or twice daily, 10-15 minutes, while the weather's warm, and see if I can trigger some foot healing.

 Meanwhile, I managed a gentle half-hour run punctuated with a few walking breaks today, in my Nike Frees, a much lighter, less supportive but less constraining shoe. And I'm thinking of picking up a pair of those wacky Vibram Toe Shoes. If nothing else, I could use them to keep up my beach walking program through the cooler, wetter season. And who knows, I might even try to do some running in them. They certainly bring out the child in the runner!

I know many (most) of my readers are not runners, but I suspect non-runners and runners alike need to get some childhood back in our mid-life years: How have you managed that lately? Does it include bare feet?

Next up, another post about feet, but not about getting rid of shoes -- this next one's about a recent purchase, and has nothing to do with running . . .

19 comments:

  1. Those shoes look very cool and I think they would extend your beach walking into the next season. I am sorry to hear about the injuries from running.
    Walking, swimming and Yoga are about all I can manage.
    I have always admired runners like you mater, as they seem more dedicated to fitness than those of us who choose to walk.

    I am boldly going to suggest...
    Try soaking your foot in epsom salts and warm water and then rub a little Voltaren gel on the site put your feet up and knit or read for an hour. Hope that might help.

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  2. Oh dear, take very good care of that injury. I've had so many injury issues that I am very, very conservative now. I use a low-impact arc trainer for aerobic exercise. My running days are over.

    Childhood? I am getting such a kick out of my new converse all stars I can't believe it. Pure silly fun. I even like them parked by the front hutch. Whenever I see them I think a kid must be living here. Hey that's me :-). When I go out, I want to wear a big sign that says Check Out My Converse All Stars!

    Enjoy your squishy barefoot walks this week.

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  3. call me if you want some advise for home care for that tendinitis. Then book in with me for October 1st :)

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  4. Like Hotess - I admire runners - used to be one - until my knees started to give me trouble.

    My sister and I bought the toe shoes (for water) this summer for swimming in Lake Tahoe. The water is cool and the shoe line is rocky. They were great (bought them at a Triatholon store). Another advantage - I had no cramps in my feet - even wearing heels. My sister bought a "regular" pair which she uses at the gym.

    And I would have been in the ocean with you!

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  5. I spent most of my childhood barefoot, at our hippie school. My kids did the same. It is wonderful, once you get callused, to walk freely on the ground.

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  6. Oh yes, barefoot is the way to go. I always feel more secure when I can feel the floor, or beach, or rock! I have
    always had a great admiration for and fascination with runners.....BRAVO to you! Hope your tendon feels better
    soon.
    I will be in Vancouver for just one week....tagging along
    on husband's trip....his company is based downtown so we will be staying in hotel there.
    Thanks for the pilates info...I hope to go walking and/or
    biking in Stanley Parlk.
    PS. I don't know why I thought you lived on Bowen's Island! Your island is a paradise.

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  7. I really miss running sometimes.

    For me, the ultimate is going barefoot in the grass. I love the feel of cool green grass underneath my feet!

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  8. Hostess: I haven't heard of Voltaren -- thanks for the suggestion which I'll def. try. As for running vs. other fitness activities, I don't see it as superior in any way. I love walking as well, and Pilates, and have begun enjoying yoga -- but I'm fortunate enough to be able to run still and I love it for a kind of intensity that de-stresses.
    Susan: You seem to catch exactly what I mean about recovering childhood in something simple -- for you the Chucks bring the same glee I feel in digging my toes into the warm beach pebbles. Aren't we lucky? Such accessible joys!
    Meg: You're on!
    Ming: Sounds as if you can handle the cold water -- you could have joined me today, brrrr! What you say about ridding your feet of cramps is just what I'm hoping for from the toe shoes eventually, the barefoot workout right now -- I know it's impossible to give the foot its free range while it's stuck in a rigid runner. Plus the silliness of the toe shoes--colour and shape-- has its own childish appeal!

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  9. Lisa: Someday you'll have to tell us more about the hippie school -- sounds idyllic and wacky all at once. I suppose in much of California you could, actually, spend most of a childhood barefoot, weather-wise. We only had that luxury in summer -- would have grown either webs or algae between our toes the rest of the year!
    Pavlova: If you're fascinated by runners, you need to read McDougall's book, really! Can I suggest that you try to get out to the UBC Museum of Anthropology while you're in Vanc'r? It's not too bad by bus (can't get there by rapid transit, sadly) and well worth the visit, both for the architecture, the site itself, and the exhibits -- check it out online for a preview.
    and e-mail me, if you'd like, at fsproutATgmailDOTcom, with your dates
    Pseu: I know! I'm really wishing we had a decent lawn around here -- my toes are imagining it right now. . .

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  10. I love dancing in barefeet. Every summer Saturday night in my community there is a concert on the green. We bring a picnic, wine, and dance barefoot.
    Divine.

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  11. I love going barefoot and spent most of my childhood summers unshod. I still love to kick my shoes off but a w recent stubbed toes and breaks have left me more cautious. I'd like to try those shoes as well. I have a neighbor who bought them for working in the yard and hiking and he loves them.

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  12. Oh, Elizabeth, that sounds glorious! Where is this enlightened community?!
    Mardel: Yikes! Stubbed toes are so painful! Still, I'm thinking that the concentrated barefoot workouts might train to avoid those. And, of course, the toe shoes offer the best of both, right?

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  13. I love being barefoot. My physical activity of choice, yoga, is of course a barefoot gig. You talk about regaining childhood and I've realised that yoga lets me have what I never had as a child - a sense of physical freedom AND accomplishment. I grew up being told by my mother that I was 'hopeless' at all things physical, and only now do I actually get pleasure out of flinging myself into a handstand, or running along a beach, or playing a ball game in the park with the kids. Such a waste ...

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  14. Tiffany: For me, it was Phys. Ed. at school that made me feel "hopeless" at the physical, and I think it's why I take such delight now in being considered athletic simply because I run. I can't imagine ever being confident or adept at the trickier aspects of yoga, but I take similar pleasure just in being able to move my body at my own pace. You're right that part of the pleasures of those child-ish or child-like activities is to go back to a time before we started getting those messages.

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  15. I'm due for a new pair of runners and have looked at Nike Free, but after plantar fasciitis surgery on my very high arches, I'm wary about the "free" part. Lots of padding sounds better. Are you happy with yours?

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  16. Miss C: I'm not sure what to think. I've been very impressed by McDougall's book, which makes tons of sense to me intuitively, but it's a big leap of faith to switch from the solid running shoe. So far, the Free are just for one or two shorter runs weekly (and I LOVE them for walking), but I ran an hour in them today. (I have the opposite feet to yours -- very, very flat)

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  17. Ah, the joys of being barefoot. Not long ago, my shoes were hurting me so much, I simply took them off and carried them, as I walked home from the subway. It was bliss. And, I realized, the first time I'd ever walked the sidewalks of Toronto barefoot.

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  18. I have the 5 fingers. I also have a minimal shoe made by Merrill. Both have really thin soles.

    I like the feeling of running in minimal shoes. I feel it's released the real runner within because I am not being dragged down by clunky running shoes that alter my gait.

    With time you will enjoy the minimalist shoes.

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  19. I'm now up to 8K in my Nike Frees, and I do enjoy running in them. Still haven't got the 5-fingers, but intend to. I do my long runs, though, in a distance shoe -- have you switched over completely? and not experienced any problems?

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I'd love to hear your response to my post. Agree, disagree, even go off on a tangent, I love to know you're out there, readers. Let's chat, shall we? I apologize, though, for the temporary necessity of the Word Verification -- spam comments have been tiresomely numerous lately, and I'm hoping to break that pattern.

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