Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Tarzan Returns

Halloween 5k trail run
Tarzan was spotted again.  This time he was seen running through the woods at the Ganaraska Forest this past October 31 for the Runner’s Life Halloween 5k trail run.  It was only a few degrees Celsius above zero but the sun was out and the air was still.  I started out way too fast this time because I was a little chilly.  It didn’t take long to warm up though and by then I was already starting to feel tired.  By 2k I had slowed quite a bit and just wanted to find a pace I could maintain with out loosing a lung on the many little hills.  I stuck with it and finished in a time of 24:18. When I compare this to my time last year it doesn’t look so good but last year I had done a lot more training in preparation for the half marathon and it was before the injury.  On the up side, I was still able to podium as a second place finisher in my new age category.

10k James run on crushed gravel trail
On November 7, I headed up to Trent University for the James Fund Walk/Run.  I ran the 10k and it was an out and back course on the mostly crushed gravel trail heading up to Lakefield.  It was another single digit temperature morning without wind.  I had never run a 10k race on gravel before and I don’t think I have even walked 10k on gravel all at once before.  The first 2k were easy with no real discomfort.  After the next two, I started to notice more discomfort and was looking forward to turning around and heading back.  By the time I was past 5k and was heading back, I was looking for places beside the trail that I could run on.   There were only a few short stretches that had grass or dirt where I could run and some of the places were covered with fallen leaves.  The leaves felt good but I was nervous of not being able to see what was under them and opted to stay on the gravel trail where I knew what I was landing on.  At about 7k I reached a point where I didn’t feel as uncomfortable and my souls were more tingly than tender.  I finished strong at about 50:30 which I thought was pretty good for a gravel 10k.  My feet were feeling quite warm and a little sensitive, so I walked on the cold grass for a few minutes until they felt better.  The next day I noticed a tender spot on my left foot that I think would have become a blister if I had continued running on the gravel for much longer.  Over the next few days my foot was still a little tender but I could feel the skin thickening and I was able to run 10k on the road the following Thursday night.

Running with Reid Coolsaet
When Dave posted that Reid Coolsaet was going to be at Runner's Life and was going to join us for a workout, I was interested but didn’t know who Reid was.  When I went to the store that Tuesday night and found out that he had finished the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon in a time of 2:11:23, the fastest time ever by a Canadian on Canadian soil, I was impressed and curious as to how he accomplished it like everyone else there.  It wasn’t until he ran with us for our workout that I got to talk with him.  He was not really training that day but ran gently (for him) around the subdivision with us.  I was impressed with how he was so easy to talk to and had no over inflated ego.  He ran beside me for awhile and we started talking.  He had noticed I was running barefoot and told me he though that was a good thing.  He said that he often runs barefoot in the grass as part of his workouts.  It was nice to get supportive comments from someone of his calibre.

I finished Michael Sandler’s book Barefoot Running.  It is a really good book for beginners and a great reference for more experienced barefoot runners.

I also finished Daniel Howell’s book The Barefoot Book: 50 Great Reasons to Kick Off Your Shoes.  Everyone who has feet should read this book.

The barefoot movement is really starting to gain momentum now.  It is not surprising that a lot of shoe companies are scrambling to find a way to profit from this by coming out with minimalist shoes for runners who want to be more barefoot like or  transition to barefoot running.   However, if you want to go barefoot all you have to do is not put anything on your feet and this is how you should start if you want to run barefoot.  You have to walk before you can run.  The more time you can spend with your feet free from footwear, the more adapted they will be to the environment.  So the best way to start barefoot running is to start living barefoot.  I find myself a bit unique among barefoot runners in that they are mostly trying to “transition” to run barefoot.  Whereas, I try to do everything barefoot and only look for a foot covering when I really need one.  I would prefer to allow my body to adapt to conditions than jumping straight to an aid.  For example, I did a lot more walking than running this year due to my injury, but I found that my feet are stronger now when I run.  I find myself now looking for opportunities to walk barefoot on the most challenging surfaces I can find.  Surfaces like gravel are difficult to run on but when you walk you can go at a more controlled pace and move very gently to avoid injury.  When I walk over difficult terrain I try to go until my feet start to hurt and then I will avoid that terrain for a couple of days and then go a little farther on it the next time.  I have even got a couple of small storage bins that I put gravel in so I can jog on-the-spot at home and toughen my feet all winter.  Todd Ragsdale has a video showing this here

This weekend I will be running the Whitby 10 Miler, but the really exciting part of it is that I will be running it with a couple of other barefoot runners I have recently met online but have yet to run with.  There was even some talk about having local media do a story on us running the race barefoot.  I like the idea of informing the rest of society about the benefits of barefoot running and having them realize it is not a crazy idea, but I tend to shy away from attention.  However, I would like to see a day when barefoot runners are just runners and running shoes are cause for a double-take.
I am now hoping for an injury free winter running season as I try to find ways to meet the challenges that come in winter and my goal of running the Peterborough Half Marathon barefoot in February.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

A Couple of Races

On Sunday October 3rd , I ran the Run for the Cure 5k run and it was a good 5k test for me. The air temperature for the race was about 8°C and I decided to run about 3 to 4k to warm up and do some stretching before the run. The Run for the Cure is more of a run than a race for most of the participants. The start was quite slow with many walking groups of people in front. I’m sure for most of the people there it was the first time they had seen anyone running barefoot. I got lots of cheers and supportive comments from young and old, both racers and spectators which always makes it more fun for me. I don’t know what my official time was, but I would guess it was around the 23 minute mark. This showed me that I had regained much of my speed for short distance races since the fibula break. I iced the ankle when I got home and it gave me a few painful twinges over the next couple of days, but overall it felt pretty good and I was able to get out for a few longer training runs.

Early this summer I decided to register for the Oasis 10k Zoo Run after one of my running friends told me how much fun they had running it the year before. She told me that she and some friends ran it all dressed in costumes of a common theme. When she told me they were going to dress as monkeys this year I ask if I could join them as Tarzan since it would be a costume that would fit well with my barefoot running and also their monkeys. The thought of running through the zoo wearing not much more than a loin cloth seemed like a better idea in the summer than the 16th of October.

The temperature was a bit of a concern as the race day approached, but the morning ended up being 5ÂșC and sunny. The logistics of the costume with the temperature, running and the new chipped bib they were using for this race were mostly just improvised at the last minute. I changed into the costume in a very busy public washroom in the zoo (not a good idea) and as soon as I came out people were turning their heads, hooting and commenting. Being the only barefoot runner in all the races I have run had prepared me for this kind of attention somewhat. I was being asked to pose for photos with people I didn’t know as I tried to make my way to the start of the race. I was lucky to find one of my monkey runners in the starting line and was happy that I only had a couple of minutes to shiver in the cool morning air before the race started. Once the race started I was getting cheers and comments of support from both spectators and runners I was passing. It was great and I didn’t even notice the temperature any more. The race was a little different from other 10k races I have run with the costume and the twisty, hilly zoo path we were running, but all of the comments, cheers and hoots of support just pushed me to go faster and keep going. I found myself so drained by the end that I didn’t even have much of a finishing sprint and I didn’t even think to look at the clock for my finishing time. Due to some problem they didn’t post the times and so it wasn’t until I got home that I found that I had bested my Milk Run time for this year. My chip time for the Zoo Run was 49:25 as compared to my 50:17 Milk Run time.

Prior to getting injured, my 10k PB was 47:08 and my 5k PB was 23:07. Since the injury my 10k PB is 49:25 and my 5k PB is still close to the 23:07 as well. So as I look at my races since my fibula break, I am encouraged that both the healing is going well but also the injury for the most part hasn’t had any lasting effect on my running ability.

Oh bye the way, we won first prize for our costumes at the Oasis Zoo run.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

First Race Post Break

On Sunday July 18, I ran my first race since my fibula fracture. I ran the 10k race and it was much more hot and humid than I remember it being last year. I wasn’t aiming for any particular time as long as it was less than one hour. Being my first race since my injury, I was focused mainly on how I felt and maintaining good form. I tried to keep slow and steady breathing as that would be my best indication of a safe pace. I was able to keep my breathing slow for the first 5k, but found it getting progressively faster during the last half. I remembered from last year that the downhill toward the finish was a lot longer than it seemed. I made sure I didn’t start to speed my pace too much until I could see the finish line. Once I saw the finish line, I slowly increased to the fastest sprint I could muster. My finishing time was 50:17 and I was happy with that all things considered. I was happier that I felt good after the run and for the most part during the run, which is more than I can say for a lot of people out there.

This year I was able to get my name on the Runner’s Life team. I am proud to say that for the second year in a row the team has won this event thanks to the performances of my fellow team members.

June 25 was my last appointment with Dr. Krete regarding my fibula fracture. After looking at the x-ray he told me that the bone was fully healed. I find that I get more nagging aches with it now than I did earlier, but I think it is just the soft tissues adapting to the new lumpy fibula. I find that I usually don’t notice it at all when running, but it aches some times when I am resting. I am hoping this will go away with time and more exercise/stretching.

As I am reading through Michael Sandler’s “Barefoot Running” book, I can’t help but think that I could have avoided my injury if I had this book to follow when I started running. I love this book and in my opinion should be read by every runner starting out. It is full of helpful advice including stretches, exercises and drills. The important part I found was that his emphasis is on good running form and not pushing yourself too hard. I am trying to get Michael to come to Peterborough for a brief talk about his book. If I can get enough people to come from 12 to 1pm on Thursday, August 5 for the talk, I think he will make the stop on his way from Ottawa to Toronto during his book tour. So if you think you could make it, let me know as soon as possible.

One last thing, I’m now signed up for the Toronto ZooRun 10k on October 16. You can pledge me online here

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Carbon-free Footprints

 Peterborough Moves is a joint project of Peterborough Green-Up, City of Peterborough and the Peterborough County-City Health Unit. Every year Peterborough Moves runs a program for the month of May called Shifting Gears. Shifting Gears is a transportation competition and campaign encouraging people to use sustainable and less polluting ways to get to work: walk, bike, take transit, carpool, or work from home. For the last couple of years I have participated in this by riding my bike to work a few days throughout the month. I live 10k from work and this year I wanted to try to run to work. It is always a challenge to get in all the training distance that you want for a marathon and I thought that running to work and back would be a good chance to get 20k of running in every day without it using up all of my free time. Since my injury I have not planned any races and I am slowing getting back into running by doing a lot of walking with a little bit of running thrown in. On the last Friday of the Shifting Gears program, I decided I would take advantage of the warm weather we were having and get to and from work with just my bare feet for transportation. I had planned ahead by leaving food and my work clothes at work the day before. All I had to take with me was my keys and cell phone that fit nicely in the pocket of my hand held water bottle holder. I left my house that Friday morning 2hrs before I had to start work since I didn't know how much walking I would end up doing. The air was humid that morning with intermittent drizzle that stopped after about 30 minutes. I started out with a light run for about 10min. followed by 10min. of walking. I then reached the mostly downhill part so I ran until I was about 3k away and looked at the time and found it had only taken my 45min. to get that far. That meant I was going to be really early for work so I decided to walk the rest of the way. After drying myself with paper-towel, I felt energized and my legs, ankles and feet felt fine. The trip home in the afternoon found the weather to be humid like the morning but much hotter and sunnier. I walked the first half of the trip home and was covered in sweat. I ran the rest of the way home since I was already hot and sweaty. After I showered at home, I drank some watered down orange juice while I razed and iced my ankle for good measure. I felt proud of myself that I was able to go to and from work leaving "a carbon-free footprint".

My ankle still aches from time to time, but it is mild and I usually notice it after a couple of days of rest. So right or wrong, I take it as a sign I should give it some gentle exercise. I'm happy to say that the gentle exercise now includes a light track workout. On Tuesday, I went to one of Dave's Tuesday night track runs and was quite happy with the workout and pace he gave me. It felt slow and a little boring at first but I was able to focus on my form more. Again, I had elevated and iced my ankle when I got home from the track. After the workout and the next day I didn't feel any soreness in the ankle so I would call it a success. During my recovery I have been doing a lot of walking since I haven't been able to run. My feet felt a lot more comfortable running on the rough track than they had last year. I credit all the walking I have been doing with toughening up my soles. The varying terrain and the reduced friction of the walking seem to have allowed the skin to thicken more than the running. I am going to try to incorporate more walking into my routine even when I am back to full running.

Tuesday was a good day to be barefoot and not just at the track. The City of Peterborough council had proclaimed June first "Barefoot Challenge Day, in support of International Children's Day" as posted on the City's website. The proclamation made me feel (rightly or wrongly) like there was more social support for the benefits of going barefoot. I don't however like the idea of linking being barefoot with raising awareness of the poor. I feel that the poor have much greater needs such as good food, shelter and access to medicines and education. The last thing they need is blisters, athlete's foot, plantar warts, plantar fasciitis, neuroma, hammer toe, corns, bunions, heel spurs, arthritis and ingrown toenails caused by shoes. I would much rather see bare feet being associated with health, sport, fitness, adventure, spirituality and environmental awareness.

As a final note, I just received my copy of Barefoot Running by Michael Sandler. From the small bits I have read so far it looks like and excellent book and I will be posting about it in the future.

Monday, May 10, 2010

The Debate

On Friday April, 9th, Chris asked me if I would be willing to go on his radio show to participate in a roundtable debate of shoe running versus barefoot running. I said I would and decided to do some internet research to see if there was any new data out there. I was surprised at how many people are now talking about barefoot running now. The majority of it is about Daniel Lieberman's study and writings from Chris McDougall.

Armed with printouts of my research I went to the Trent Radio studio on Wednesday afternoon. Joining me on the show was Dr. Brian Lindsay, who was going to be arguing on the side of running shoes and Chris who stated that he "strongly sided with the shoe side of the debate". I knew this would be challenging, but I had done my research and was confident with the information I had.

Chris started out with a list of topics we would cover, although I think it was pretty much free-flowing once we got going. The topic we started on was Injuries. Both Chris and Brian felt that running barefoot was a dangerous undertaking due to injuries from cuts, scrapes and puncture wounds. Brian felt that there are some people with conditions that should never attempt this due to increased risk of infection including "to some extent obesity". I agree that these people need to do what is best for their health for their conditions, but they also need to live their lives without over protection or becoming overanxious. Chris and Brian both felt that parents would not let their kids run/go barefoot because of the (perceived) risk of sharp debris (i.e. glass) causing injuries. I told them that the risk was over exaggerated and that in the 2 years of barefoot running, I've had more cuts on my hands from everyday activities than on my feet (wearing shoes doesn't ensure healthy intact skin as there are many open blisters from running in shoes), but that doesn't mean I am going to be afraid of not wearing gloves everywhere. Brian asked me as a microbiologist how I reconcile the risk of infection by going barefoot. I told him I don't believe there is an increase in infection by going barefoot and than in my opinion the cause of a lot of foot infections and ailments is the shoe itself by providing a warm moist place for harmful organisms to grow.

We also talked about how barefoot running would affect typical running injuries. We agreed that there is not enough data since very few studies have been done. Brian suggested that there aren't a lot of studies out there because there is no interest in it from the shoe companies who are the ones that have spent the vast amounts of money on research. I questioned why the shoe is always the default and barefoot is not when barefoot running is what people have been doing for 2million years and the modern running shoe has only been around for 40 years and the injury rate in running is 60-80% for the last 40 years and hasn't changed even though the shoe companies have added all of this technology to their shoes.

At one point Brian said he felt that barefoot running seemed like a complete fad to him and if it was not going to effect performance or participation, then he didn't really see the point of it. I had to say that I was somewhat surprised when I look at Nike's website and saw that they had on their Nike Free shoe page for the Free 0.0 a bare foot. They also had written there "Barefoot running isn't just a fad; it's proven fact that it improves strength, flexibility and balance." So it was strange to use a quote from Nike to support my position. We agreed that shoe companies really just want to sell a shoe to everyone.

At the end of it all, I said even if you believe barefoot vs. shoes debate is a draw at least I don't have to pay the money every so many months to buy new shoes and if I decide to go running no matter where I am I always have my running shoes.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Back to Running

This is an x-ray of my left fibula 3 months after the injury occured on Dec. 7, 2009.

I went to see the doctor on Wednesday March 31. I had to get another set of x-rays done. After having me move my ankle in all different directions, he told me that I could start running on it again and to let up if I started feeling any pain. I told him that I run barefoot and to my surprise he was actually quite supportive and interested. He didn’t know the exact cause of my injury, and although felt I was well enough to start running, he wants to continue seeing me and x-raying the leg on a monthly bases. So although I don’t have any definitive answers about what happened and how to keep it from happening again (and probably never will), I do have my own theory.

I was pretty much living a sedentary life before I started running. In the first year of running I didn’t train very hard and I was only running 8 to 10k per week. The second year I decided to run the half marathon in Hamilton. In July I ramped up my running to about 40k per week plus track workouts. I was only running and not doing any cross-training with other exercise. At the end of that year I got the fracture after running a few k’s in cold temperatures without warm-up or stretching. Since bones thicken to support muscles but at a slow rate compared to the muscles. I believe that the muscles had strengthened too fast for the fibula to support it under the conditions that I was running under. The tight tendon and strong muscle pulled the fibula apart creating the stress fracture.

The doctor didn’t agree with my theory, but until I hear something better, I’m going to stick with this one.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Ankle Update

On Monday February 22, I had a physiotherapy appointment and we talked again about the lump just above my ankle bone along the tendon. This spot has been where my ankle starts to ache after I work it too much. I asked if she thought it was scar tissue, fluid or something else. She told me that it felt too hard for fluid and too soft for bone and she really didn't know what it was. I stated that I thought I should go back to my doctor and see about getting some kind of scan done so we would know exactly what we were dealing with since I hadn't had any type of internal scan performed on my ankle up to this point. At first I thought this might be futile because whatever scan I went for would likely not be for about a month. I figured it wouldn't hurt to call the doctor again anyway and the sooner the better. So the next day I called and got an appoinment to see the doctor the following day. That night I ran the indoor track with the group and felt pretty good. I pushed it a little harder and felt the soreness creep back a little quicker as I suspected it would do. However, I felt I had done more than the week before and that I was still getting progressive improvement.

The next day the doctor felt the lump on my ankle and said he would send me for a x-ray. I said I thought he was going to send me for an ultra-sound or MRI so that the soft tissue could be looked at. He told me he didn't care about the soft tissue, it was the bone he was more concerned about. When I asked him how long it would be before I could get in for the x-ray I was surprised when he said “right now”. I went into the x-ray office and there were no other patients so they took me right away. The technician took 4 images of my ankle at various angles. As she was taking the last one I asked her how much soft tissue the x-ray would be able to show since it was a tendon injury. She told me it wouldn’t show much soft tissue and then she paused and said “Well you definitely have more than a soft tissue injury.” She then motioned me over to look at the image and I could see even before I got close that there was a fracture across the fibula about 6cm above the ankle joint. I was shocked and felt a little sick in disbelief. She said it was pretty much healed and it looked pretty straight to her. I thanked her and still in some shock I left the office.

On Thursday, the doctor’s office called and referred me to an orthopaedic surgeon. So now I am waiting to set up an appointment with him. It was again another shock that I now have to see an orthopaedic surgeon, after all this time and it not feeling what I imagined a bone fracture would feel like. With my brain now unable to concentrate on anything else, I have been searching online for more information on my situation.

Here are a couple of sites I found interesting.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

More Winter Lessons

As I recover from my strained ankle tendons I realize I have learned the hard way that one of the challenges of barefoot running in the snow is avoiding tendon injury. The problems are dealing with a slippery uneven running surface and keeping the tendons warm enough to have the flexibility to maintain stability on this kind of surface. Part of the solution is to do a good warm-up followed by plenty of stretching of those tendons. I also found it is a good idea to maintain a pace that will keep your feet, ankles and legs warm during the run and not slow down until you are done and somewhere warm. The other part of the solution is to run where there is a clear ice-free surface and preferably no salt.

I believe this injury would have occurred even if I was wearing running shoes, however I understand now that a barefoot runner is going to develop strength and stability in their ankles by the increased demand they put on them, but the flip side to that is when conditions are poor (cold, no stretching and running fast over rough terrain) the increased demand can cause injury to even the strong ankle of a barefoot runner.

Strains can take a longer time to heal than other injuries. It’s been almost two months since I injured my ankle and I still cannot run on it even though I can do moderate walking with no problem. I am seeing my Physiotherapist on a weekly basis and she seems happy with my progress however, I am not planning any races this year at this point.

There are still places along the tendons that are swollen with fluid and causing some discomfort, but it is a lot better than it was. I am currently taking Aleve in the morning and at night to reduce the swelling and wearing a tensor bandage with a foam insert to put pressure on the swollen parts of the tendon. My Physiotherapist said she thought I could try running at the indoor track on Tuesday February 16. The other night I went to the Wellness Centre and tried the Deep Water Running and I found out how much cardio I have lost in the last two months. The Deep Water Running involves wearing a floatation belt, tethering yourself to the wall of the pool as you run suspended in the deep end. It’s a good workout and I plan on doing more of this until I am healed.