Friday, 30 August 2013

Getting going again

Last Saturday I did the park run.  I decided that I should wear trainers, and I carried out a DIY foot taping job just to secure my foot.  I wound tape over the top of my right foot, just behind the toes, over the ball of my foot and towards my ankle.  I hoped that it would give support to the obvious but undiagnosed weakness.

It worked a treat.  I ran the 5k in just over 27 minutes, which I'm happy with, and I had no additional pain in my foot afterwards.

On Wednesday (two days ago) I did a barefoot mile.  I've been re-reading information about barefoot form, and I also posted a message on the the Yahoo! Running Barefoot forum which was set up by Barefoot Ken Bob himself.  I even got a post back from Ken Bob (thank you, Ken), which, in a nutshell, reminded me that I need to concentrate on re-learning my technique so that when I run, it doesn't hurt.  Sounds simple enough, but it's so easy to forget this vital piece of information.

So in my barefoot mile, I concentrated on everything I could:  relax, relax, relax; bend my knees; bend them more; lift my toes - a little mind you - not too tense; let my hips lead me forward; stay up straight; look ahead; lift my feet rather than concentrate on putting them down; shorten my cadence......  it was like trying to drive a car for the first time, so many different elements to think about, and as soon as I concentrated on one I'd forget another.

But there were steps that I took that didn't hurt.   For a few paces at a time I got into a rhythm that seemed comfortable, pain free and pretty easy on every part of my body.  That's what I need to focus on.  I will do the drills in Ken Bob's book, I will do my Asian squats and 100-ups, but when I run, I will just try and run without any discomfort.

That will take time (again), and in the meantime I have races to run where I'm raising money for the hospice that looked after my lovely mum earlier this year, so I will wear the trainers for my training runs, and do barefoot miles here and there for now until after the half marathon in October.  Then I'll start barefooting again in earnest.  It's disappointing, but I want to do it right.

Sunday, 18 August 2013

What to do next??

Where have I been, you may ask.

Well, in the interest of giving a true account of my barefoot experiences, I thought I'd come clean and confess that I've been nursing a recurrence of my foot injury :(

After upping my mileage, and doing some speed work and intervals as part of my half marathon training plan, the top of foot pain that I suffer with on and off following my stress fracture (2nd metatarsal, Nov 2011) flared up again.  Not exactly the same location, but very close by (a little further towards the ankle).  I think a combination of speed, increased mileage, and also a couple of trail runs where I landed on stones precisely underneath the location of the fracture, have triggered the pain again.

I rested for 2 weeks.  Then, when there was no pain in my foot at all, I tried a run in trainers.  I did 4 miles (probably a little too much), but what I noticed after about 2 miles was a pain in my left knee, shortly followed by aching joints in my hips and ankles.  Everything felt hot and prickly.  These are pains that I immediately associated with wearing trainers and training for races, pre my barefoot days.

On the plus site, my foot felt fine.

2 days later I ran a mile barefoot.  No joint pains or trouble with my knee, but I could definitely feel that stress fracture pain again within a few hundred metres of setting off, and the pain lasted for another 3 days.

Yesterday (again, waiting for zero foot pain) I did 3 miles in my Vivobarefoot shoes.  I chose these because they are zero drop, but they came with some padded insoles to aid in the transition to barefooting, so I put these in to give a little support to my soles.  Knees, hips & ankles win, but again, foot adversely affected.

So, considering that I am half marathon training, and have a 10k race in early September, I feel a bit lost as to what to do next.  I think I'm sold on barefoot / minimalist - there are just too much big joint pains associated with trainers for me now, but I really need to sort this foot out, and I think that boils down to form.  Now all I need to work out is what to do about it...

Saturday, 20 July 2013

Weekly roundup

I didn't manage my long run this week (supposed to be 7 miles), but I did do a good 6 mile tempo run, well above target pace, and a 3.5 mile run in bare feet, followed by a PB at the park run this morning of around 26.40 minutes (waiting for the official time to come in).

I'm beginning to notice that my speed is picking up again.  I knew that learning to run in minimalist footwear or bare feet would mean a significant loss of speed for a fair amount of time, and I'd sort of forgotten that I actually can run at a decent speed (decent to me, if not to anyone else!).  But it was only really today that I've hit (and possibly even improved upon) my old targets.  My form has changed significantly - it's been a long time since I've suffered with those awful shin splints I used to get on every single run, and even my joints and muscles don't seem to suffer in the same way.  In the past, I've put this down to the slower speeds, and more gentle footfall.  Now I can see that my new form (which feels completely natural to me now) is starting to reap benefits, and with the pace picking up, I'm feeling better than ever.

Happy days :)

Tuesday, 16 July 2013


Today I did a tempo run in my Merrells.  I uploaded the workout to my Garmin before I left, so it was all programmed in:  1 mile warm up, 4 miles at 9.33 min/mile, 1 mile cool down.

My Garmin shows me an average pace for the entire run.  I always run slowly at the start as it seems to take a while for my joints and feet to warm up, so by the end of the first mile, the average pace was showing around 10.20 min/mile.  When the Garmin beeped to warn me to get ready for the middle 4 tempo miles, I checked my watch, still slower than 10 min/mile, so I sped up.  The Garmin quickly beeped to say I was in the 9.33 min/mile zone, and then shortly after beeped again to tell me to slow down.

This seemed odd, as I didn't feel I was going much faster than at the end of my warm up mile.  I didn't trust my watch.  I felt I wasn't pushing hard enough, so I ignored the irritating beeps until they gave up on me, and I just kept running at a comfortably fast pace.

When I got home, my watch told me that I had done the middle 4 at 9.14 min/mile!  This is significantly faster than the target pace, and makes me wonder if my form is beginning to show signs of speeding up without too much effort.  So far in my barefoot/minimalist running story I have found it difficult to run anywhere near as fast as I could have in trainers.  That (and the lack of structured training) have kept my pace pretty slow, though speed is not really of concern to me.

It was interesting to run today and feel like I could probably go faster than that, and maintain it, at least for a 10k if no more.  I did enjoy reading an article about adding speed to your barefoot running from Barefoot Beginner which came up on my Twitter feed a few days ago, and I even had a go at copying the video drill.  I thought about that whilst I was running, trying to replicate pulling up my feet from the hamstrings and keeping my ankle in line with my knee.  Maybe that has something to do with it.

Monday, 8 July 2013

Confidence is growing

It's been an interesting week.  My half marathon training plan says I should have done a tempo run, long run and easy run.  I did the long run (7 miles) in Vibram FiveFinger Classics.  No major problems there, average pace of 10.10 minute miles.  

On Friday, I should have done a 5 mile tempo run, but things conspired against my OH and myself, and we ended up doing a 2 and a half mile easy run, which I did mostly in Merrells, with the last half mile or so bare foot.

On Saturday, I did the park run with my daughter.  I wanted to run with her as she is trying to beat the 30 minute barrier, and I was very proud that she did the race in 28 minutes and 43 seconds, 2 seconds faster than me as she sneakily threw in a sprint finish which caught me unaware!

On Sunday it looked like a scorcher of a day, so my OH and myself went out for an early-ish run.  He was suffering from a little over indulgence the night before, so we only wanted to get a few miles in, and with no target pace.  I decided therefore to set out in bare feet.  I carried my Classics in case I needed to put shoes on at some point, but I was really pleased that I managed to run my furthest distance to date - 3.5 miles - all in bare feet.  The picture above is of my feet at the end of the run - a little red in places, but with no damage at all.  Our average pace was 10.40 minutes per mile, but we weren't looking to run particularly fast.

So I had a great week of running.  This morning (Monday) I walked the dog in the woods at the back of our house.  I've often looked at the ground in the woods thinking it would probably be quite dangerous to run through bare foot, as it is covered with bark, twigs, dirt and all sorts of unknown bits and pieces.  Today, being such a warm and beautiful day, I walked up there in flip flops.  As no-one was around, I took them off for a moment, and ran a few steps - just to see how bad the ground would be to step on bare-footed.  It wasn't as bad as I'd expected.  A little further into the woods, I took them off again, picked them up, and ran, very slowly and gently, through 50 metres or so of woodland.  Just as with the pavements, I found it much less difficult to run on than it looked.  Yes, I took care not to step on any large twigs and branches, but the ground was actually much softer than I expected.  I find this with pavements and roads too - when I'm in trainers, I look down and think "That's too rough or stony to run on", but when I take off my shoes, it's never as bad as I had thought.

I've started to contemplate running the 10k in September in bare feet as my confidence grows.  I wonder what the race organisers would think about that....

Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Battling the demons

This week sees the start of my half marathon training plan.  Today's run was planned as a 2 mile easy run, pace around 11 min/miles.

Not wanting to forfeit all the hard work I've been doing on my barefoot running, I'm planning to do all my training runs in minimalist footwear (Vibrams, Merrells, Vivos) and my easy runs in bare feet.  2 miles in bare feet is definitely do-able for me, but those demons inside my head started chattering away early on this week....

I rarely set off bare foot:  usually, I wear footwear for at least a mile, until I've summoned up the courage to take them off, and then I run home bare foot.  When I say courage, it's not courage to put my  bare soles on the floor, it's courage to face the oncoming traffic, friends, neighbours and dog walkers, who look at me a little bit funny, as if to say 'do you know you've got no shoes on..?', 'is it safe to talk to that weirdo?', that must hurt, dog poo, glass etc etc etc.  I'm fearful that I'll step on a giant shard of glass the second a person catches a glimpse of me, so they can see the pain written on my face, and smugly nod as if to say 'I told you so'.  I'm convinced that the police will stop to 'have a chat' with me, or that I'll twist my ankle on a pot hole and have to be whisked off in an ambulance, where the doctors will shake their heads at my foolhardy ways.

Of course, I could easily twist my ankle in shoes.  I could step in dog poo and spend twenty minutes at the sink trying to dig it out of the grooves in my trainers.

I find this fear very difficult to get over, the demons chatter away at me right up until the second I walk out the door, sometimes they win and I put my shoes on, today they didn't.  I stepped out of my front door without my shoes, and started running.  I ran along the main road, waiting at the side of the road for the traffic to slow before safely dashing across in front of a neighbour's car and giving a slightly awkward wave to her.

I confess that I did veer off the main road to head along a country lane for the most part of the run, and this is not a route I would normally choose because it's quite hilly and it's recently been resurfaced, so the tarmac is quite rough still.  However, I met only one car along the way, and it was lovely and quiet with my silent footfall and my dog's quiet padding.

At just over a mile in, I turned around to head back.  Safely back at home, with a perfect overall pace of  11 minute miles, I feel suitably proud of the fact that I did what I set out to do and I banished those demons, for today at least.

Friday, 24 May 2013

Longest run to date

Today I've run 10.35 miles :)

I couldn't decide what footwear to put on before this planned long run.  Options were Vibram Classics - so far the footwear that's seen my longest run of 7 miles or so; Vivobarefoot - I didn't fancy these for a long run, because they are ever so slightly too short on the toe (my fault for being a cheapskate and buying the only remaining size in an Amazon special); or Merrel Pace Glove - super comfy when I tried them out the other day, but I've only done 2 miles in them, and the last thing I wanted was to have to cut the run short over a blister.

The other option of course was regular trainers, and I admit I was tempted with these from a safety point of view - I know I can run 13 miles in trainers, because I've done it before.  I reminded myself that my goal is to run the 10k and possibly half marathon in minimalist footwear though, and that trainers don't guarantee blister-free running (I've got the photos to prove it), so I finally plumped for the Classics.

When I ran 3.5 miles on Wednesday I had a bit of Top of Foot Pain (TOFP), and I was concerned that this might be an issue for a long run.  However, I recall Barefoot Ken saying that pain can help you refine your form, so I decided to view any pain as being welcome, so long as I could then adjust my form to prevent the pain.  Before I set off I did some Asian Squats - something I've been trying to do once a day to built foot strength and stretch my achilles / calves etc.  I also did some tiptoe exercises - I could feel the TOFP when I stood on tiptoe, so I adjusted the angle of my foot slightly and this avoided the pain.

Once running, I adopted the same foot angle as when I had practiced standing on tiptoe before setting off.  I tend to run very straight footed (if not actually turning my toes in towards each other just a little). This seems to put extra pressure on my 2nd and 3rd metatarsals.  By turning my foot out ever so slightly (ie so my feet would make a very slight v shape if I stopped and put them together - like a ballet stance) the pressure was taken from the middle toes and moved more squarely to the ball of my foot.  This seemed to do the trick and the pain was non-existent when I used this technique - just coming back if my form changed.

I took my shoes off 2.5 miles into the run, and did 1.4 miles in bare feet, and then put the shoes back on for a while, removing them again just over 7 miles in.  I did a total of 2.93 miles in bare feet (the longest I've done so far), and 7.42 miles in Classics, making a total of 10.35.  Towards the end of the run, my knees felt quite stiff, but the pain was not a 'bad' pain which concerned me, just a bit of muscle fatigue I think.  What was reassuring was that both knees were equally sore, which made me think that I must have been running nicely aligned (something which I'm sure I never used to do).

I'm very pleased with today's efforts.  I finished off with a cold bath for my knees, and my feet are a little sore on the soles, but nothing that a good night's sleep won't sort out.  If I continue to progress as well as this, I should be able to complete the half in Classics / barefoot.  Happy days.

Sunday, 12 May 2013

The Race is on

I've entered a couple of races...

Cardiff 10k in September 2013, and then the Cardiff Half Marathon in October.  I was thinking of doing some races this year (or next) to raise some money in memory of my Mum, and with a bit of gentle persuasion from my other half, I've taken the plunge and paid the entrance fees (or rather, he has!!).

The question now is what to wear on my feet when I run.  I'm quite keen to run the 10k at least in Classics or Vivos.  A week ago I would have said Vivos, but this week I've done quite a lot of miles in the Classics and I've really enjoyed wearing them.  I don't think I'm ready to run barefoot yet (and I'm not sure I'd be brave enough to face the crowds without at least something on my feet), but September's still a way off and I'll hold off making a decision until nearer the day.

Training for the time being will be in minimalist shoes on the whole, though I did wear trainers for a run today as I had a little top of foot pain at the site of my old stress fracture, and I erred on the side of caution and stuck to the more solid support of a trainer.

I'm quite convinced now though that my ankles seem to suffer a lot more in the joints when I wear trainers, as on Friday I did 7 miles in Classics and bare feet, and felt no discomfort or stiffness in my ankles at all.  Today I can already feel that they have done some miles, even though I didn't go as far.  I also found my socks rubbed my soles (just as much as any rubbing from the pavement on bare feet, if not more) and my feet did feel really hot at times.

All good stuff though, and I'm feeling really positive about supporting the hospice that looked after my mum (and my family) back in February.

My JustGiving Page.

Sunday, 5 May 2013

Yay - 2 miles plus

Headed out again today in my Vibram Classics with the intention of clinching that 2 miler that I missed on Friday.

Shoes felt good, though I did notice a bit of Top of Foot Pain at the site of my old stress fracture, so I didn't push it, just ambled along.  I took them off earlier than yesterday, telling myself that I could always put them back on if I needed to.

I ran the same route, and stayed barefoot for the whole of the run after that first mile or so.  My feet did feel a little bit sore - still recovering from Friday's 1.99 miles, and in particular, my left foot, on the far side at the base of my little toe felt a little uncomfortable.  There's not much padding there, and whilst I avoided most of the friction, there was still a bit of that tarmac rub which is noticeable now, a good few hours later.

Did have an amusing moment when a cyclist passed me and said 'enjoy your run'.  My brain took a while to engage, and what came out in return was 'yes..... thank you..... and you...... on your bike....'.  Doh!

Still, I'm well chuffed, as I've done 2.2 miles Barefoot today, with a total of 3.5 in all, and that takes me over 50 miles in bare feet since I started last year.

Saturday, 4 May 2013

Not quite a 2 miler!

Last Sunday would have been my mum's 70th birthday.  We had a family get together planned to mark the event, but early in the morning I decided to get out for a run.  The weather was beautiful, and whilst I had only planned to go a couple of miles, I felt good, my Vivos felt comfortable and the dog was running well too, so I decided to head for a slightly longer route which took me away from the main road and up into the countryside. 

When I got to the lanes, I took off my Vivos and ran barefoot.  Instead of thinking about sad things, I relished the feel of the road on my feet, and the peace of running without the slap, slap of trainers, and things felt good.  I did just over a mile in bare feet, then put the Vivos back on to reach a total of 3.5 miles in all.

Yesterday I took the same route, this time setting off in my VFF classics, which I haven't worn for a while.  They felt incredibly comfortable, and I enjoyed the greater degree of feedback from the pavements, even in comparison to the Vivos.  I took them off earlier in this run, and my feet felt so comfortable that I didn't put them back on all the way home, clocking up a total of 3.52 miles, with 1.99 in bare feet.  In fact, I reckon I could do that whole circuit barefoot, just with a slight caveat that there tends to be a lot of broken glass along the main road on the second half a mile out (which I can avoid on the return journey).

What I really enjoyed from this second run was a surprise moment:  we overtook an old lady walking along the road, my husband and the dog first, and then me, silently padding past.  As we ran past, I felt incredibly light footed, as if everything had fallen into place and I could run forever.  It was really quite an exhilarating moment.  I hope that if I can continue to improve my distances in bare feet I will get that feeling more and more.

My feet were not at all sore when I got home.  The soles were warm and tingly (and remained so for most of the day), but as usual, I was amazed to look at them and see no visible signs of wear and tear, even though in places I knew I had stepped on some sharp stones.  My next run?  Well, I'm going to have to hit that 2 miles in bare feet, and then I'll be almost at the point I was before Christmas when everything else in my life went a bit pear shaped.

Saturday, 20 April 2013

Running further

Well I've been keeping up with the short barefoot runs at the end of my other runs, and I can feel my soles getting stronger each time.  My feet are starting to look much nicer - instead of dry and picky skin after months of wearing fluffy socks, the pavements are working like a pumice stone and my feet are starting to become presentable!

After a 5k last weekend, I dropped my shoes (Vivos) at the house, and then did 0.6 miles in bare feet around the block.

Yesterday, we did just over 6 miles.  I wore my Vivos most of the time, but in the middle, I took them off and ran shoeless for just under a mile.  My feet felt great, really strong.  There were some very tough gravelly areas to get through, where the pavements had deteriorated badly.  These were made up of hard packed gravel with lots of loose stones, and I found these really hard going, but it made the 'normal' bits of pavement seem easy in comparison.  I put my shoes back on a bit earlier than I would have liked because of these sections.

One thing I notice is that when I run with shoes, I survey the ground to see if it would be good barefoot running, and my estimation of how difficult a particular bit of ground might be is often more cautious than the reality - i.e. I think it looks rough, but when I'm actually in bare feet on it, it's not as bad as I anticipated.  Pavements with small bits of strewn gravel are much less of a problem to run on that you might think, as my feet seem to curve around small stones.  The most difficult ground I've done so far is the hard packed gravel, as it can have some very sharp stones in and there is no respite.

A few weeks ago I did a bit of grass running, which I've never done before.  That was quite good fun too, but slower than I expected - it's actually quite demanding to run on uneven soft ground.

Anyway, I've really fallen for my Vivobarefoot shoes.  They are a tiny bit on the small side (my left big toe just clips the end of the shoe from time to time), but the toe box is really roomy, the sole is much the same as my Vibrams, and they are brilliantly light to wear.

Saturday, 16 March 2013

Long time no barefoot

Well it's been a pretty poor start to the year.  We were plagued with illness over the festive season, with my other half ending up in A&E with the start of pneumonia, and we all had coughs, flu, sickness etc etc.  Then we had the freezing weather, and running was hazardous to say the least.  Lastly, my mum's cancer returned with a vengeance and after a month of racing back and forth across the Severn Bridge, she finally lost her battle on Valentine's Day.

So running has taken somewhat of a backseat, though I have managed a few soul searching runs with my husband and dog.  For these runs I have stuck to trainers, simply because concentrating on something else seemed too much to deal with.

But over the last week I've taken to my old habit of removing my trainers for the last 0.3 miles of each run, and I haven't been disappointed.  Yes, my feet have softened up a bit, and the ground seems super prickly, but I don't think my form has suffered, and I've not had any worrying aches or pains.

So yesterday, I took the plunge and wore my Vivos for a 4 mile run.  I was a little dubious about this, because I'm very conscious that I've not put in the work in bare feet for a while, and the last time I made that mistake (ie running too far in minimalist shoes without the barefoot groundwork before it) I ended up with a stress fracture.

However, the run was absolutely great.  My feet felt very light (after wearing heavy trainers), I felt like I'd retained my barefoot form despite not having run barefoot for well over two months, and I really enjoyed it.  I did suffer a small developing blister on the top of my foot from the shoes - just another good reason to go without!

Today I did another 2 miles with the dog and wearing my Vivos.  For the last 0.3 miles I took the shoes off and let the dog carry one for me.  The blister formed by the Vivos developed and now I've lost a bit of skin on the top of my foot, but my soles are doing well and I'm definitely back in the game.  I hope that my mum is watching me from somewhere xx.