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 . . .