Thursday, April 29, 2010

Looking Forward and Looking Back

I've had a couple great runs in the VFFs, but haven't been able to post for awhile. The iMac is once again at the Apple Store. How many geniuses does it take to fix a faulty temperature sensor?

I'm getting faster!

This Monday I went out for my 7km loop from work. It felt pretty fast. While it wasn't exactly effortless, I felt like I had much more gas in the tank at the end of my run. I could pick the pace right up and hold it longer. For the first time in a long time I was passing some people. In the last third of the run I was able to kick it back into gear and have fun instead of just trying to make it back.
After the run I wanted to confirm my thoughts and double checked my pace. It turns out that the last time I was able to hold a 5'09"/km pace was November 3rd, 2007. That was a 16km leg of the Haney to Harrison Relay race. So in the 160 runs I've logged over the last two and a half years, I've not held the pace that I was able to on Monday. I've had periods of very active training during that time: at least as focused as I've been over the last month. For instance look at the monthly runs graph from my current Summary Statistics:
Note that June of 2008 was very similar in terms of distance to now (April 2010), other than the fact that I had a better preceding month in '08. But the fastest pace I could hold in June 2008 was 5'20" over 4km. I'm a little faster now, over longer distances, with slightly less training. The speed isn't that different, so maybe I'm splitting hairs. But, I went out again on Wednesday and came back with an even faster time:
Ok, ok... four one hundredths of a second per kilometer. I really am splitting hairs here. This falls well within the margin of error of the Nikeplus iPod gadget. Still, says it is an improvement and I'll take what I can get.

I really think running in the VFFs is making me faster. Two people I've mentioned that to have said that it is probably just enthusiasm. To that I reply "either way, I don't care as long as I'm getting faster!" But I really think there is more to it than a love of new gear. Running in the VFFs is not a little different. It is a lot different: completely different. I certainly welcome the sharp uptick in my Pace over Time graph.

While it is tough to compare running with my Asics to running in the VFFs, my gut feeling is that towards the end of my run I've got more gas in the tank and can hold a quicker pace while I'm tired. It turns out there may be something to it...

A nice find on the inter-tubes...

I recently came across a fantastic paper on barefoot running that pulls together information from many different sources. You really should read Why Running Shoes Don't Work by Steve Magness. It includes information from studies that show (among other things) that the cushion of shoes may cause harder impacts than no cushion, etc. But, the thing I found most interesting backs up my gut feeling about having more energy later in a run.
Running shoes do not utilize the elastic storage and return as well as barefoot or minimal shoes. More energy is lost with shoes than with barefoot running (Alexander and Bennett, 1989). In addition, in some models of shoes, the arch is not allowed to function like a spring. The arch of the foot can store around 17% of kinetic energy (Ker, 1987). Given these results, its not surprising that running barefoot when compared to running with shoes is more efficient. Several studies have shown a decreased VO2 at the same pace with barefoot running, even when weight is taken into account. This should be no surprise as I mentioned above, without elastic recoil VO2 requirement would be 30-40% higher. Running in a minimal shoe allows for better utilization of this system.
 So I'm not crazy!

Well, let me qualify that... In this instance there may be data that corroborates my perceived increase in cardiovascular endurance while running in minimalist shoes.

Looking forward, looking back.

Running in the VFFs has me exited about running again. If I continue to improve I could have my speed back to a reasonable clip pretty soon. Can I ever reach that 44'22" 10k PR? I guess we'll have to wait and see. For now, my goal is to simply complete the Vancouver Sun Run 10k. I'd like to keep it under an hour but just running a 10k in the VFFs is good enough. I can't help but think, given the pace of my recent runs, that I could improve my time over the last couple of 10ks I've done. My Sun Run time last year was 57'52" Guess I'll find out in a couple weeks.

So, what's the downside?

I'm not sure it is really a downside, but I've been surprisingly sore. I guess it stands to reason that I would be. I've been wearing the same Asics GEL-Kayano model shoes for many years. These are as structured and cushioned a shoe as you can get: thick heel, squishy foam, motion control, shock absorbing gel, arch support. They have been doing much of the work that my muscles, bones and arch should have been doing, and I have some developmental catch up to do. Like wearing a cast, the muscles haven't been able to their job, and have atrophied.

At least I hope that is all. I'm sore enough that I'm worried a bit about injury. When I wake up in the morning I can't actually walk. I hobble around favoring my left foot, wondering how I'm going to get through the day. But unlike other soreness I've had, it works itself out pretty quick. A few minutes of movement and I can walk OK. A few more and I'm fine. Every time I get up I go from thinking I'm actually injured to feeling fine in a very short time. It is different from other pain I've had. If my back hurts like that, I know I'll be out of commission for awhile. My quads or other muscles, 2 days. It is very odd.

My current plan is to take a couple days off, and maybe try to get a run in this weekend that is more than 7km.

We'll see how it goes.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Nose Dive

So for my third time in a week since I got them, I went out with the Vibrams. Today I did my 7km lunch run around Lost Lagoon. This was the longest run I've done in them so far, and it was a bit of a mixed bag. I went out too fast. I knew I went out too fast while I was doing it, but I just didn't want to rein it in. I just felt too good. As you can see from the graph, I didn't exactly sustain the pace.
Still, I feel pretty good about the run and the graph, considering how bad it dropped. (I'll get to that). Out of the gate I was super quick (for me lately). But even after the first two stoplights, shown as pauses in green, I held a good pace for the first half. For instance, here is the graph of roughly the same run in my Asics just over a week ago:

For the first half of the run I averaged much much faster than usual. While slower, my average for the second half was at least as good. But, the old run is much more consistant and steady. With the Vibrams my pace is all over the place. I actually think it is accurate that my pace is fluctuating for a couple of reasons. First, it supports the sense of acceleration I mentioned in an earlier post. Sure enough I can accelerate with less effort, but can't hold it for long yet. Second, the distance for the run seems accurate (the slightly longer run I did before had a different route at the start). Third, pacing myself with a runner who passed me, I could tell I was fluctuating. I think it is a good thing.

The bad news from the run today is that the blister on my big toe is back, and this time I was wearing the toe socks. I noticed it right when I paused in the middle of the run. Again, I wished I had a camera. During that pause, on a little foot bridge, a squirrel came up on the rail to within a foot of me. Anyhow, maybe the blister hadn't healed completely. I'm not used to getting blisters, so I don't know how they work. I did some googling, and stumbled across another great resource the Minimalist Runner email group. It is an awesome site, but it seems blisters is a pretty common thing. So, I may need to toughen up, or change my gait and toe-off a bit. During the run it felt pretty bad, and I expected a huge popped blister. But it isn't quite that bad. It is deep in the toe pad and tender, but I think it will heal without ripping. It is fine to walk on now, but it did mess with my pace more than my legs or cardio capacity.

So,  I want to heed my body's warning about doing too much too fast, but I think I'm failing. I've done about 15km in them in less than a week. That is more than I've been running at all lately. But I like it so much I want to take them out every run. It will have to be back to the Asics next time, but I'm optomistic about doing the Sun Run in these.

I had posted a picture of the goofy shoes on my Facebook and my old friend Shady Brady responded with this link. So very, very funny considering.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Round two: feet versus the world.

Round two with the Vibram Fivefingers. The ankles and calves felt good enough to use the goofy un-shoes for my morning run in to work. This time I wore the Injinji toe socks, and had no hint of blister. Once my calves and ankles had warmed up the run felt fantastic. So, that first acceleration where my pace shoots up to nearly 3:20/km (in the raw data) is inaccurate. I had attached the pouch for my Nikeplus foot pod around the closed velcro strap of the shoe instead of around the top part of the strap so it gets secured between the velcro. This allowed it to slide down to the side in a vertical position. I glanced at the iPod a couple of times and noticed the higher than expected pace & eventually noticed the sensor being out of position. The interesting thing here is that it seems like it may have corrected. The sensor slipped where you see the steep increase in pace in the raw data, but I didn't notice until just before the green pause line. I wonder if the software somehow adjusts for anomalies as you go? Anyhow, the data looks correct after the pause, including the nice acceleration to the 4:00/km pace range.

About that acceleration... One thing I noticed on the run was that when my pace had slacked off, I could fairly easy bring it back up. I'm not sure if it is just perception or real, but there was this feeling that I could increase cadence with less effort than before. It could be that the KSOs are lighter, or that I'm taking shorter steps. Or it could just be in my head. The sidewalk felt hard today. Not bad, but it felt great when I could run in the grass next to the sidewalk. My muscles felt great, and not a hint of blisters.

When I got to the office there was a crowd of people in the break room getting breakfast, coffee, etc. when I got a glass of water. Everyone wanted to know about the shoes. Some knew what they were and had been wanting to try them. One person seemed shocked that I had ran in them. "How much cushioning do they have?"  Umm. None. That's the point. Interestingly, another coworker who isn't a runner launched into a a brief explanation of all the studies showing that cushioning actually sends more shock up your legs and spine.

Here is an interesting talk by Barefoot Ted, a minimalist running enthusiast who runs ultra-marathons in the Vibram KSOs and one of the subjects of the book Born to Run (which I have not yet read). It starts a little slow, but it is worth sticking it out.

Back out in the Asics

So, after being incredibly sore from my first run in the Vibram KSOs, I wore them around all day Saturday. My thought was it would help stretch out the muscles and work through the soreness. That was probably a good idea, but I should have limited my time in them. I'm better, but wasn't ready to go for a run in them. I spent a bit of the day in work boots, digging around and trying to find where the electric to the garage is shorted out (that is going to be a nightmare). I was itching to go for a run after, but didn't think the my calves could handle the Vibrams.

I knew I needed to go for a run. I'm still painfully out of shape from doing nothing over the Winter. But the thought of running in the old runners didn't sound that fun. But, not running isn't going to get me in any better shape, so I figured an easy run was in order. I'll keep running in the Vibrams and slowly increase my usage, but clearly I need to get in some more miles than that. So back in the Kayanos. The first impression was that the heels were much higher than I remembered. I'd only been wearing around the Vibrams a couple days, but I see where much of the soreness is coming from. Most shoes have a heel. Without one, it really stretches out the back of your calf. Of course using all our muscles to stabalize your ankle and activly catch your weight without slamming your heel down adds to it. But I was shocked out how fundamentally different the position of my foot was.

Now for a brief digression to bitch about the nikeplus thing. You may recall I just replaced it because it notified me of a low battery. So I turn it on today and it gives the same notification. Does the new one have a low battery? Did the old one not have a low battery & the message is wrong? Further, the iPod could not locate the sensor. Again, this is a huge blow to my motivation. I want this run to count! So I reboot the ipod, plug it in (the battery on the iPod was somewhat low as well). Still not working. A quick google shows many people having problems with the touch (Apple, I love you be this string of hardware issues is getting on my nerves). So I went into the settings and reconnected the ipod to the sensor, and it seems to be working. See if it holds.

So, the run is back on. Have I mentioned how much I love running in this city? Especially this time of year it is just amazing. All the cherry trees are in bloom. It is getting warm. It is not yet too warm. Everyone is out enjoying it. So I decided to do a couple loops around Trout Lake. It is close to home and has a beautiful running path around it. The run there is through a nice neighborhood too. The only down side is there is a good sized hill between home and the lake, but that is good for me, right? So the run there was amazing: an explosion of white and pink blossoms on all the cherry trees, and a fine blanket of petals like snow under them. At one point a black squirrel hopped along in front of me for a few blocks. Most times when I run I wish I had a camera with me. It is too bad the iPod Touch doesn't. I have a nice route around a different lake from my work (Lost Lagoon). The other day on my lunch run I decided to lug my Blackberry around in addition to my iPod just so I could snap a picture if I wanted. This is what I got:
I could have gotten several shots just as good today. I wish the iPod had a fantastic 8 megapixel camera.

I still think my goal for the Vancouver Sun Run should be to run it in the Vibrams. The Sun Run is huge. It is so crowded I'd get a crappy time even if I were in good shape. Since I'm not, I've been just looking at it like another training run towards some mythical time in the future, when I've dropped 30 pounds and have my 10k under 45 minutes again. As it stands I'll be lucky to be under an hour. But, completing the race barefoot (well, almost barefoot) seems like a good goal. I'll have to see how I can increase my miles, but I think I can do it. Under an hour in them? We'll see.

Friday, April 16, 2010


So the first run with the Vibram KSOs went so well I was ready to pitch my Asics in the trash, until I woke up the next day and could barely walk. It is pretty clear structured running shoes have been protecting all the muscles from my lower calf to the top of my foot. Very intense how sore they are. But, they don't feel injured. They just feel like I haven't ever worked those muscles at all, and then when for a 4km run.

I'm really looking forward to building up my strength to the point where I can run in them full time. I don't really want to use them as a training tool to supplement my runs. I want to run it them every time I run: not for health benefits, or because I want to get faster (although I believe those things will happen), but because I really enjoy the feeling. Had I done a 10k yesterday in my Asics instead of less than 4k in the Vibrams, I probably would have ducked out for my normal 7k out and back around Lost Lagoon. Instead, I did not run at all. I'm sore enough I didn't feel it made sense to run, regardless of the shoes.

So I'm getting obsessed with these. Lets hope it drives me to run more.

I would actually love a pair of the KSO Trek's just to wear around.

These look like the perfect shoe to me. They are sturdy, good for hiking, decent tread. I think they look fantastic, but Katie isn't convinced. Also a coworker says it looks like a bigfoot foot, or a monkey. I think they meant it in a bad way, not a "that looks awesome" kind of way. Seriously, I would wear these every day. They may be the coolest shoes I have ever seen.

The other thing I want to get is the book Born to Run. It looks like a good read, and will help feed my obsession. I guess being obsessed with the 5 fingers shoes and barefoot running in general will give me something to do until I can walk again... ;)

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Freaky Shoes Drive Me to Blog

I've never had a blog. I've been on the Internet consistently since 1992. I write for a living.

Crazy, huh?

It gets more far fetched. You see, the thing driving me to blog is a new pair of shoes. Now, these aren't ordinary shoes. I just bought a pair of Vibram Fivefingers. These are some freaky looking shoes that let your foot work like it is barefoot. They even let your foot look like it is barefoot. 

I've been wanting to get on the barefoot running bandwagon for a long time. The first I really heard about barefoot running was from this whacked-out hippie's web site: He has had a barefoot running site since before I started running. I'm not even sure how I came across it the first time, but I tend to like what whacked-out hippies have to say. Sometimes they are right on the money. Sometimes they are just three sheets to the wind. Since then, there is mounting evidence that shoes (especially shoes that are heavy with cushioning and motion control features) are not good for us in the long run. 

But, there was really just one thing stopping me from loosing the shoes: the Nikeplus iPod feature. I'm hooked on it, along with the slowgeek site a friend put together. Somehow I feel like runs I do that don't wind up logged there just don't count. I love being able to look at it and realize that I'm slow because I didn't really run this winter, dropped a full minute per kilometer in pace since 2006, or even gain some comfort from the fact that March 2010 is the best March I've had (April is shaping up to be terrible). So, I've been hesitant just running without shoes at all. I've also not been interested in the early models of the Vibram Fivefingers because there was nowhere to mount the Marware pouch I use to secure the Nikeplus foot pod to my Asics Gel Kayanos. Plus, I couldn't find a retailer here in Vancouver, BC to try them on for fit. If I had been born in Kenya I wouldn't have these problems...

For awhile I considered simply going for a racing flat, or some other shoe with less structure, but haven't been able to stray from my Kayanos (which I've had many, many pairs of and always enjoyed). For awhile, I was considering ordering a pair of the Terra Plana EVO shoes. These look like fantastic shoes for barefoot running. try to wrap your mind around that sentence They seem like they would be as good as the Vibrams, or at least nearly as good. Maybe there is some benefit to having the toes completely separated. And, they have laces where I could attach my Nikeplus accelerometer. But, again I have nowhere to try them on. If I lived in the states I would have just ordered both shoes in a couple sizes from and sent whatever I didn't want back for free, but that doesn't work in Canada. So I gave up. I decided to leave well enough alone and stick with my trusty runners that have more cushioning and technology than you can shake a stick at.

Then, at a concert the other night (Deerhunter and Spoon, if you must know) I saw someone walking around in the Vibram Fivefinger KSOs. These weren't like the Vibrams I had seen before. The material went further up the foot and had a velcro strap to keep them closed. It brought back my desire to try a more natural form of running. It made me think that would be a fantastic shoe for dancing barefoot at a concert without having to be barefoot. It got me wondering if you could attach the Nikeplus footpod to the strap. So the next day I spent a little time on the Google. The first thing I found was this blog. With a little more poking around I figured out that the local MEC had them in stock.

The Shoes

So, a couple days later I found myself in the local kayaking department of the local MEC. Hiding them in the kayak department was a good try, but it didn't work. There were five runners trying to share the one small bench trying on the Vibrams. NOTE: MEC, move them to the shoe department. After trying a couple sizes and running around the store a bit, I went with the size 44. That left me enough room to put them on with toe socks. The sales guy tried to tell me I should use them with socks, but I wanted to be able to wear them when it is cold, or if I have blister issues. So I wound up with some nice running socks that have separate toes as well. As you can see, the pouch holding my Nikeplus foot pod fits nicely on the velcro strap.

First Impressions

I try not to let my initial impressions of something take over too much. I'm prone to hyperbole.  I can absolutely love a new gadget, only to find the attraction wears off before too long. That said, these shoes feel amazing. I wore them out of the store. My family picked me up and we went out to dinner. My 4 year old thought they were cool, buy my wife was a little embarrassed. Why can't everyone agree with me that these shoes look awesome? They are instantly the most comfortable shoes to hang out in I've ever owned. They are better than five year old Birkenstocks. They are like going barefoot, but better. I feel like I'm a super-hero or a ninja in these things. When I got home I took the dog for a walk and did some light jogging in them: no idea how they will do on a real run. After wearing them all evening and running around a little bit, I have some predictions. I planned to run roughly 4k to work in them the next day, but it made me a little apprehensive. There is no padding. No support. Just some protection against cut and puncture.

After the walking around in them, one thing is certain. My ankles and feet are weak. My left foot in particular was complaining, somewhere under the bones on the outside, above the arch. My gut feeling was that I would not be able to run the entire way. I actually had a tough time sleeping, and laid awake a bit in the middle of the night wondering how it would go.

Run Day

In the morning I decided against wearing the socks. I wanted to get as much feel of the ground and running barefoot as I could. But before I even put the shoes on I felt a little twinge of pain in the pad of my big toe, like a very small splinter or the spine of a beavertail cactus like I used to get stuck in me as a kid chasing snakes and lizards in Nevada. It was there and annoying, but nothing I could see and minor enough to ignore. Next, when I got down to the street and fired up the Nikeplus app on the iPod touch, it complained that my footpod had a low battery. I had been hoping to compare my pace and distance with the footpod on the Vibrams with my existing runs. What are the chances that it would complain on this first run? One of those pods lasts a couple years. Anyhow, I figured it would work well enough for one run. According to the stats, I was slightly slower than usual.

But this doesn't seem to match my perception of the run. Twice when I checked pace, the iPod said I was running at 7:14/km. I know I was running faster than that. The grey line of raw data never even goes that slow. So during the run I was wondering if the low battery was causing it to miss data points. I guess I won't know until I have more runs under my belt with a new accelerometer.

But How Did They Feel?

These were an absolute blast to run in. I felt like a ninja: smooth and silent, no stomping and clomping. I could feel when I went from rough pavement to smooth concrete. I could feel and adjust to imperfections in the road. Cutting through grass my toes would sink in and separate a bit on the kick off. For the fist kilometer or so I was on the balls of my feet, and I was worried that my calves would give out. But once I settled into a pace I could drop my heels a little bit in the footfall, using the whole foot in my stride. If I accelerated, decelerated or had to go up or down a curb then I would naturally pick back up on to the balls. I could feel my brain automatically adjusting my feet and stride depending on what I was doing without having to actively think about it. But it was still there to think about after the fact, and it made the run really interesting. During the run I thought up a couple of analogies to describe it. Fist, it made me think that running in padded and structured shoes was a bit like wearing gloves to type: sure, you wont injure your fingers but you can feel what you are doing. At another point in the run I was equating it to wine. When you drink a wine that is not offensive, but not very interesting, it does the trick. It goes down, and it is wine and it may make you feel a bit warm and happy. When you drink a fantastic wine it engages your brain. From the smell to where the tastes hit on your tongue, to the subtle cherry, pepper, chocolate, or whatever flavors, to the subtle changing aftertaste. It makes you think. The Fivefingers are like that. They make you think about your form. Not in a active "I should now try running like this" kind of way, but in a passive "wow, it is interesting how my body is reacting to this" kind of way. My run was smooth and fluid. It was much more interesting. By the end I was wanting to do all of my runs in these shoes from now on.

But then I started feeling a hot spot on the pad of my big toe. After awhile, I realized it was going to be a blister, and right now it is a huge pillow of fluid. I'll spare you the picture. Is it the fault of the twinge I felt before the run, or is it that my feet aren't yet tough enough to have only a few millimeters of rubber between them and the pavement? Either way, I'm glad I bought the socks and I'll try them next time.

I'm hoping I can build up my feet strong enough that I can wear these shoes for the Vancouver Sun Run 10k. Ultimately, I would like to be able to do any distance (half marathon, of even a full some day) in them.

I guess we'll have to see.