Monday, January 24, 2011

The Next Day

I am fairly convinced that running one mile in the Vibram Five Fingers did not have any significant impact on the way my muscles feel this morning. I mean, my legs are tired and stiff, but no more so than I would expect after a weekend of running...especially following a couple of my highest mileage training weeks faster than my anticipated race pace.

I am eager to try my typical 3 mile orbit in the Vibrams, especially because it is on asphalt and features some demanding hills...meaning it would give me a better idea of what I can expect out of them. But I really do not think it is a good idea to chance running in them any more until after I run the Surf City Marathon.

I think I can afford to wait. After all, it is now less than two weeks away!

Sunday, January 23, 2011

First Mile in Five Fingers

This could be the most significant mile in my running history. I am well aware of this as I park my SUV in Peninsula High School's lot. I have already run three miles today wearing my trusty Asics Kayano 15s, but this will be different. There is no pressure to run fast. No need to go far. I am just here to try the Vibram Five Fingers TrekSport...to feel what they were designed to do.

Part of the reason I have elected to run my first mile here is to reduce barriers to entry. PenHi's track features a rubberized surface. Though not as squishy as some, it should still be easier on my feet than asphalt. Additionally, the track provides the only flat surface near my home. While I do not expect the Five Fingers to cause issues on uphill runs (where I definitely favor toe-strikes), I cannot guarantee the same for downhill stretches (where I have a tendency to relax my stride). With my next marathon only two weeks away, I am not taking any chances.

Upon opening the door, I immediately notice broken glass on the asphalt...perhaps my biggest concern about using these minimalist shoes upon the road. Fortunately, I have noticed this obstacle and can safely step around it. I keep my eyes open for more shards as I walk towards PenHi's track.

I walk out on to the track as my Garmin watch locates the GPS satellites and finds my position. I hit the start button and accelerate to a comfortable pace. There's a natural spring to each step. I feel light on my feet. My feet do not notice the absence of cushioning or support I would get in my Kayanos, but immediately are aware of how much less clunky they feel.

As I reach the first straightaway, I see my pace is in the mid 7's per mile range. I am not exerting any effort to run fast, so this is a very good sign...especially given how much slower I ran during my earlier 3 miler.

My second lap feels even better. I sense my pace increasing and my stride seems stronger. Same is true of my third lap. As I glance again at my watch, I see my pace is now solidly in the mid 6's.

I am approaching 18 miles over the past two days. I should be tiring, but instead find myself cruising. As I round the final turn of my last lap, I have plenty left for a speed boost. Kicking it into high gear, my pace drops into the mid 5's. If I wasn't running a race in a couple of weeks, I might have been tempted to keep going.

I complete my mile in 6:49.71...not among my fastest, but faster than any I have run in over a week...and probably the easiest sub-7 minute mile I have ever run. Now I am really eager to attempt longer runs in these shoes. Of course, there's still a chance I will pay a price for this break in my regular training routine. Check back tomorrow morning to see how my legs and feet feel!

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Fastest 14...and Valerie's First 10

With Surf City only two weeks away, you would think Valerie and I would be sticking very close to our training routine. However, Valerie has to travel for work tomorrow morning, so she needs to move her long run up a day. She is particularly concerned about how her week long trip will affect her training because she will not have any time to workout...so she wants to do her first 10 miler today (longer than what is recommended on her half marathon training schedule).

I am shifting my run because Valerie claims to need my encouragement. I have mapped an out-n-back that will allow me to stay with her for the first half of her run, but with a desirable extension so I can get my scheduled total. We are driving to start near the beach so that the route mimics the expected amount of elevation change she will experience during her half marathon. At the very least, this should give her a better idea of what kind of pace she is capable of achieving.

I am not used to skipping my short, fast run...which usually gives a pace boost to the subsequent long steady distance workout. My legs have been feeling the accumulation of distances since my peak training week. Thursday, in particular, felt a bit rough.

We run down from the parking lot to the bike path and continue along RAT Beach to the Redondo Beach Pier. I start slow, not just so Valerie can keep me in view, but also because my legs are a bit stiff. When I reach the pier (exactly 2 miles into the run), Valerie is not far behind and looking strong. I stop to take a photo of her. She does not stop...even though she doesn't exactly know where we are going.

I finally catch up to her again as the bike path turns right through the pier's parking lot. I yell to her, motioning her to join me. I prefer to run on the sidewalk just outside of the lot (partly because the GPS does not function properly within the parking structure). We continue our run past Kincaids, around the International Boardwalk, and down Harbor Drive. I wait for Valerie to catch up to me at Herondo. Again, she is not far behind and still looking strong.

I lead Valerie to the dirt trail that becomes Veterans Parkway and tell her I will stop at the 1 1/2 mile marker (which should be our five mile mark...and her turnaround point). No longer needing to give Valerie directions, I do not need to hold back. My legs feel loose now and my joints appreciate the softer surface. Time to up my pace.

I reach the 1 1/2 mile marker and take photos while I wait for Valerie to catch up. When she does arrive, she stops across the intersection from me. Apparently her Garmin already claims she reached 5.0 miles. My Garmin hit 5.0 exactly at the marker. Whatever. I walk back across the street, take a few photos of her, and check her watch. She is maintaining a steady pace faster than ten minutes per mile. If she can keep this up, she will easily finish her 10 miler before I can complete 14.

Valerie turns back and I press forward. I feel particularly good as I continue through Hermosa into Manhattan Beach. I am kinda surprised that I have felt no ill side effects of having consumed a Behemoth from the Grill 'Em All Truck during yesterday's lunch. Not once. I mean, here's a sandwich comprised of two full-sized grilled cheese sandwiches as the buns for a generous sized hamburger patty (with bacon, beer soaked onions, pickels, and sauce thrown in for good measure)...shouldn't some of this tasty monstrosity still be residing somewhere in my gut? Now I am starting to wonder if I have found the perfect pre-race food.

I reach my turnaround point at the 3 1/2 mile marker. I feel good enough to continue all the way to Fry's, but realize I do not need the extra distance. Swapping my long and short days has already disrupted my scheduled weekly distance totals...and puts this seven day period dangerously close to my peak training week (just one week earlier). I stick to the plan.

As I start back through Hermosa Beach, I realize I need to pee. I do not want to stop running now as I have really hit my stride. A quick glance at my pace suggests I could break my half marathon PR today. I figure I can hold out at least until I pass the restrooms around the International Boardwalk.

I decide to make that pit stop. Before continuing, I review my run history. I am still on track to beat my best half marathon time...and, if i can maintain my pace, by a surprisingly significant amount. That said, my legs are starting to tighten up...and I am feeling a blister that has been on the ball of my right foot for the past week. I must get moving!

After passing the Redondo Beach Pier, I run up George Ferth Way to the pedestrian path that overlooks the strand. Fearing the incline and path have killed my pace, I attack the stairs at Knob Hill. I skip every other step with barely a break in my stride, but am terribly winded by the time I reach the Esplanade. I have less than a half mile to go to reach my half marathon split, so I decide to consume what energy I have left to see how much lower I can set my PR.

I cross the 13.11 mark at 1:41:47...pausing to celebrate / record my victory and catch my breath. My previous best was in the 1:43's with gravity assistance, so this shows significant improvement...and suggests that, despite starting my marathon training a bit late, I may yet have a chance to PR at Surf City. I start wondering if I might catch Valerie before she finishes her 10 miler.

Having achieve this unexpected result, the rest of my run is gravy. Rather than continue to push, I just let my legs go as fast as they feel running. I finish the 14 miler with a 7:44/mi average pace...far faster than I figured I would have run today. I would have been happy with a flat 8.

I drive up to my mom's house to meet up with Valerie. She reached mom's just 10 minutes before me, completing her 10 miler in 1:38:23. Her average pace of 9:49/mi is faster than most of the runs she has ever attempted (at least those I have record of...because she may have run faster on Maui while I was wearing her watch). It is hard to believe this is her first 10 miler. I am so proud of her!

My data

Valerie's data

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Day 3 with Five Fingers

First time I wore them to work and kept them on all day long, but still no running in them. It has gotten easier to align the toes, but pinkies are still a challenge. Went for a walk...a half mile orbit that included a stop at the local Starbucks. Still feels a bit unusual to walk outside in them, but really have no issues.

The top of these shoes do breathe nicely (I am a bit concerned that the heat emitted by the PC under my desk will make my feet sweat...fortunately the AC is directly overhead and provides nice relief when it kicks in). All-in-all, I think I could get used to wearing them wear as an every day shoe.

And, yes, I did get some comments about them from my coworkers.

I commuted in the NSX, giving me a chance to verify their worthiness as a driving shoe. They definitely have the advantage of not having a clunky sole to get in the way of heel-toe driving and what little sole they do have grips the pedals really nicely. The individual digits do not seem as prone to slipping around the sides of the pedals as they did in the Pilot, but I am still a tad concerned how they will perform in heel-toe driving (which I can't really test during a commute).

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Day 1 with Five Fingers

Only wore my new Vibrams for an hour, but not to run in. Still having difficulty getting my toes to line up, especially the pinky toes. I tried playing Gran Turismo 5, so I could anticipate any challenges working the pedals of a real car while wearing them (I play using Logitech's Driving Force GT, which has a brake and gas pedal). I actually like they way they grip the pedal and help anchor the base.

In many ways, the Vibrams are like driving shoes, the latter being essentially a glorified sock with a thin rubber sole...but I am a little curious about such things as toe-heel driving (especially given that the toes work independently in the Five Fingers). The driving shoe may still have an edge.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

A Tale of Five Fingers

Ever since Justin showed up to work wearing them a couple of years ago, I have had my eye on a rather unique five-toed shoe made by Vibram...and been following a growing movement towards natural running (using such minimalist shoes or going barefoot). That said, I have not been willing to part with the comfort and support I have been told I needed and grown accustomed to having over years of running.

In concept, what seems like a radical shift actually makes a lot of sense. The human foot is not designed to absorb impact on the heel. A quick attempt to run barefoot will discourage this behavior immediately. But, for some reason, shoes over the past couple of decades have made huge strides to assist, if not encourage such unnatural form. When I ran cross country and track in high school, I gravitated towards Nike Air for this reason. When I rediscovered running just a few years ago, I adopted Asics Gels...as much for their ability to absorb impact as their arch support and room for my toes.

Around my second marathon, I made a conscious effort to shift my running form to favor ball or mid-foot strikes over the heel...and felt that the change indeed improved my pace and endurance. That said, Justin, now a former coworker, commented just the other day that I probably revert to heel striking whenever I get tired. He contends that my trusty Kayanos encourage this lazy behavior whether I realize it or not.

I have kept this in mind over subsequent runs and, while I am fairly certain I run upon the balls of my feet most of the time, he is probably right. There must be a reason why I still deal with pain in my right ankle with symptoms of Plantar Fasciitis not only persisting in my right foot, but also starting in my left.

One month before a race is hardly the time for changing ones running shoes, adjusting a running style, or even making slight tweaks to a training routine, but my wife and I suddenly find ourselves at REI each trying on pairs of Vibram Five Fingers TrekSports. My former coworker's recent comments and my wife's client's experience hiking in them have encouraged us to, at least, see how they feel on our feet. The first thing I notice is that traditional shoes have done far more than alter my running form...I can barely separate my toes enough to slip them into the digits of the shoe! My left pinky toe, in particular, appears way out of alignment...almost as if it has rolled under the others to conform to the shape of what previously seemed like a generously wide toe box of my Asics Kayanos. The salesperson encourages me to step on the climbing rock to see how the shoes feel. He immediately points out how my toes naturally wrap around the contours of the uneven surface and correctly notes that I am standing more comfortably balanced than I would wearing a traditional shoe. I am notably intrigued.

I had not previously given much thought to how adaptable the human foot is over uneven surfaces. The salesperson relates how he unexpectedly adopted a more cat-like posture when hiking over rocks and crossing logs while wearing the Vibrams. What would seem more challenging terrain for a nearly flat soled hiking shoe suddenly becomes a more natural path for someone wearing Vibrams. Toes and arches naturally wrap around irregular points of contact. Having run on my favorite trail earlier in the day, I immediately could appreciate the benefit. The trail had been etched by recent storms with exposed rocks and hard-packed grooves that often made it difficult to find stable footing. While I have long been concerned about how painful it might be to run over such rocks wearing the thin soled Vibram shoes, I could see how many additional ways I could have approached the rugged terrain had I been wearing them. My wife starts thinking about how well such shoes would work doing yoga since some poses require splayed toes to maintain balance.

By the time my wife and I had finished trying them on, we were convinced we should buy the Vibram Five Fingers TrekSports...if not to improve our running form for our upcoming race, to strengthen muscles that should further reduce impact on aching joints before our next one.

 
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