July 23, 2011: Running Like Our Ancestors
Picking up the pen today, I had some doubts. Was it too soon? When you blog as much as I do, you run the risk of wearing out your readers. After all, I just blogged in March of 2010. Would people be overwhelmed by yet another entry? Never mind, I told myself. Sometimes you have to strike while the pen is hot, and if that means two blog entries in a span of sixteen months, so be it.
I take pen in hand today to express my appreciation for minimalist running. I’ve been dabbling in it the past year or so, and I’m cautiously optimistic it will help me, you know, do that whole running thing.
I first got interested in minimalism last year when my friend Marcus told me it helped his knees. I thought to myself, “Self, you’ve got bad knees too – what have you got to lose?” Minimalism is particularly helpful for me since my problems stem from my knee cartilage wearing away. When running minimalistically, there is less impact overall, and your arches help distribute some of the force. At least this is what I’ve gleaned from a variety of sources, including the Internet, so it must be true. After reading many breathlessly excited comments (again on the Internet), I thought, “Self, these crazy folks might be on to something here.”
Besides the Internet, which has accurate information never blown out of proportion, I have read Born to Run and attended Adam Sundberg’s barefoot running seminar. I have to admit: minimalism seems to make sense. Unlike some questionable fads (see Power Bracelets), the minimalism theory is believable. After all, how did our species get around before Nike?
Unlike Marcus, who was surrounded by a ray of light and an angelic choir the moment he slipped on his Vibram FiveFingers, I’ve had a few bumps in the road. My first attempt at minimalism was last spring in a pair of FiveFinger KSOs. That experiment ended in the summer with aching arches, blistered forefeet, and a pulled calf. I’ve since realized that I was running too far up on my forefeet, thus stressing my arches and calves too much.
After that, I tried the minimalism form while training in regular running shoes. I bought a pair of Nike Pegasus thinking I would be better protected from rocks, roots, rusty syringes, etc., while still getting the benefits of the minimalist form. That was a disaster. I’ve never had plantar fasciitis before, but I sure as heck had it then. As you know if you’ve had plantar fasciitis, it hurts, and it’s harder to get rid of than state budget problems. There may have been a few whiney, sniffley walks home during that stage of the game.
Fortunately, that wasn’t the end of the story. After some prudent rest (why do we runners hope that more running might cure the problem?) to ease my tender fascia and pouty ego, I discovered Merrell's Barefoot line of shoes. They have a Vibram rubber bottom, but they don’t have the toe pockets. They look like a normal shoe except they don’t have the big heels, of course. I like them because they have a much tougher bottom than my KSOs. I don’t feel nearly as many painful bumps in the road and trail. I also like not having the toe pockets. Most of my toes fit in the KSOs, but my right pinkie toe was always stubborn. It was always a wrestling match to get that little guy where he belonged.
The Merrells have done me well the last couple months. I've been able to run consistently and build up to thirty-five miles a week. The next month or two will be the big test - usually forty miles is the threshhold where the knees decide they're not having fun anymore. They've given a couple peeps so far, but usually only when I overdo it: that twenty-miler I ran with friends because everyone else was doing it, for instance. On the whole, I've been pleasantly surprised with the agreeableness of the minimalist running form on my knees. We'll see how it goes. At least if I wear down my knee cartilage now, I'm wearing it down the way Mother Nature intended.
March 8, 2010: Fall NMTC Scheduling
Here's a question for the NMTC regulars out there. The 7th race of the Fall Series is currently scheduled for October 17th, the day after the Wild Duluth races. Last year several people ran the Wild Duluth 50k or 100k on Saturday and then hobbled through the Hartley race the next day. To keep that from happening this year, Jarrow is contemplating moving the race up a week to October 10th. However that is the weekend of Whistlestop. Whistlestop draws more runners, but Wild Duluth might draw more of the trail runner types that participate in the NMTC Series. So, the question is, would you rather have the 7th Fall NMTC race be on October 17th, the day after Wild Duluth or October 10th, the day after Whistlestop? By the way, instead of Hartley, the race will likely be Roughrider, a hilly course to put it mildly. One other factor to consider is that the 6th race is Hawk Ridge on October 6th (the last Wednesday race of the series).
February 22, 2009: Help Kapoor Decide
On Friday I moseyed over to Kapoor's desk at work.
Me: Kapoor, want to go to a race this weekend?
Kapoor: Um, where?
Kapoor is the Northland Runner photographer. He has never declined to go to a race, but he has learned to ask questions. Over the last year, Kapoor has stood in the rain at the Minnesota Mile, walked a mile in the snow to get to the Gobble Gallop, dragged himself out of bed at 4:30am to go to the Deer River Wild Rice Run, and gotten spectacularly lost with me on our way to the Brimson Sisu Run. After all these adventures, I think Kapoor was relieved that the Frozen 5k was only a few miles from home and starting at a very manageable 10am.
Kapoor is a computer consultant for the company I work for. His time in Duluth is temporary, but he will most likely be here through April. That would make his stay just long enough to attend one more NMTC race, the Millenium Run on April 29th. After photographing many of the NMTC Fall Series races and getting to know some of the runners, Kapoor is considering running the Millenium Run to get the full NMTC experience. Actually, I believe his exact words were, "No way!" Obviously this is his way of saying, "Sure, if everyone else thinks I should."
So, what do you think? Should Kapoor run the Millenium Run?
February 11, 2009: Warm Running
I have been enjoying a running resurgence lately what with the warm weather we've been having. Now that the snow and ice have melted, many of my routes have nice soft dirt shoulders to run on. I figure I should take advantage of it before things freeze up again. On Saturday I thought what-the-heck and went out for an illicit seven mile run. My usual run is three miles, so seven was a veritable coup. I just couldn't resist the gorgeous weather.
I've also been thinking about ways to get more running in. I've noticed that fartek and sprinting aren't so bad because I'm up on my toes more. It seems to be easier on the knees. Perhaps when Spring comes, workouts on a nice soft cinder track will be in order. Also, just as downhill running puts more stress on the knees, uphill running is pretty easy on them. So, some hill workouts might be on the agenda as well. Now I just need to find a race that is half on cinder track and half uphill, and I'll be set!
January 29, 2009: Moooo
I walk down the driveway and turn onto the road. It’s a cold, mid-January morning, twenty below if my thermometer is correct. I start running faster than I usually do, trying to get my body temperature up. I wind through the city blocks, and after a few minutes I am out in the open, running on dirt country roads. I grew up in this small town, and I pass the road signs highlighting the names of its first residents, settlers who carved their existence out of the raw land. I pass, too, reminders of this town’s original way of life - hulking barns, ramshackle sheds, overgrown fields - skeletons of this small town’s farming past.
There are still active farms out here on the back roads, but not as many as there once was. Many of the original barns are still standing though, each marking the spot a few hardy souls decided to try their luck long ago.
On this day many years ago, a farmer was probably striding across the field I am passing now. Maybe he was checking on the animals, or maybe he was starting his morning chores. He probably hunched his shoulders against the blustery January weather, just as I am doing now. He didn’t make a conscious choice to work on a bitterly cold day like today. He made that choice when he decided to become a farmer. There were probably days he would have rather slept in and days he would have preferred to do something else, but farming isn’t a 9-5 job, it’s a lifestyle. When he sold his harvest in the fall, he would have been paid for what he produced, not what he could have produced had he worked harder.
On the surface, I don’t have much in common with the hardy farmers who built this town. I enjoy watching cows graze, but I can’t tell a Guernsey from a Holstein. I can spot corn growing in a field, but “not corn” is the best I can do when pressed to identify other crops. I have no idea how to fix a tractor, except, perhaps, for attempting a well-placed kick.
I grew up on these country roads and still run on them, but my life is considerably different than that of the town’s founders. I live here, but I commute to the city for work. I sit at a desk and type on a computer all day in seventy-degree comfort. I make my living with my brain, not my hands. My lifestyle reflects our way of life in these modern times. We widen and pave these old dirt roads. We whizz off to work in the morning, the long roads and wide fields more of a barrier to us getting to our destination on time than anything else.
My route today is a loop. I reach the halfway point and make the turn for home. I am warmed up now, running on all cylinders, so to speak, and I pick up the pace. Up until now, I haven’t seen anyone else out. I’ve been alone in my thoughts, just me, the road, and the moon. But now I am starting to see lights on in some of the houses, and I suspect the first car of the morning will pass me before too long.
To a non-runner, venturing out on a morning like this one may seem a little crazy. I didn’t have a choice, though. I made this decision when I committed to a training plan months ago. To be honest with you, some days when the alarm goes off, I would rather stay in bed. On other days, I have so much going on it can be hard to find the time to run. And on peak mileage weeks, I sometimes wonder if I can keep dragging my body out here day after day.
I know though, that these are challenges and how I deal with these challenges will determine how successful I am. The moment of truth will come when the gun goes off at the starting line and the race begins. That is the moment that all my training will come together: all the miles, the interval training, the fartlek workouts, and the tapering. The race directors aren’t going to knock a minute off my time because that’s how fast I would have run if I hadn’t gotten lazy. How well I do on race day is a direct result of the work I am doing now.
An hour later, I pass some of these same roads and fields on my way to work. I turn off my radio and delay my entry into the modern world as long as possible. At work, I settle into my cubicle, my home for the next eight hours. To passersby, I may look like a modern office worker, quietly tapping away at the keyboard. But deep inside me lives the spirit of my town’s founders – the farming way of life.