Saturday, March 26, 2011

My Reemergence into Fancy-Freedom

As I pulled up to the trailhead, I was overjoyed.  It was only 1:00 pm and I had already had a very eventful day.  Hours earlier I had been fired from my job.  Since my place of employment was also my  place of residence, I consequently had to pack up and move out instantaneously.  It took me a few hours to gather my belongings and then I departed Winter Park after a three month stint there.  Now, I was about to go for a run at Matthew Winter’s Park, in the foothills just outside of Denver.  Not only was I completely exhilarated from my newfound freedom, but I had just come way down in elevation and had been running on packed snow for the past three months.  It was going to be a great run.  I was now free as a bird and about to fly around the eight-mile loop.  And that I did.

Nice dusting at  the trailhead (Matthew Winter's Park)
My quick departure from the lodge was not unexpected. I would have been more surprised to have lasted until mid-April, as I had agreed to.  My employment was terminated after a confrontation that was fairly irrelevant, but reflective of bigger issues. I had to confront problems I have been trying to ignore or tolerate, because doing so allowed me to live a lifestyle I was thoroughly enjoying. Although so many things were perfect, I have the luxury to pick up and leave at a moment’s notice. Therefore, I do not have to take shit from anybody.

The moment it was decided, I was elated. This marked my re-entry into my cherished Camp Fancy-Free lifestyle, which I had temporarily traded in for another, not completely disparate lifestyle, but one altogether less open than I have become accustomed to.  The events of the morning and my spontaneous stop for this run had me instantly enjoying the freedom I had sacrificed the last three months.

As I flew around the loop, my thoughts only caused an increase in my pace.  I can go anywhere and do anything.  The unknown is upon me once more and I could not be happier about it.  My running is effortless at this point.  I bound down a steep downhill to the parking lot, catching sight of Mama.  I nearly pee my pants as I ponder the new and exciting adventures that will follow.

After the run, I went to Denver. I spent a few days with my aunt and cleaned and reorganized Mama before heading to Salida, Colorado for a trail marathon. Salida is a super-cool town in the Arkansas River Valley (same as Leadville, a former home of mine). Although dwarfed by snowy peaks, Salida is a much lower elevation than Leadville, and boosts a desert landscape. River sports, climbing, and mountain biking are enjoyed by the masses. Mild winter weather (it was about 65° race day) makes it the perfect trail running destination this time of year.

The race started and ended in the downtown and circumnavigated the adjacent hills on dirt roads and then onto a fairly new network of singletrack.  It was fun course.  Almost snow-free.  Although my current condition did not allow me to be competitive with my own times for this distance I was happy with my first longer effort of the year.  It felt good to get some climbing in (over 4000’) and to be on solid, dry ground after running on packed snow all winter.

San Luis Valley (just south of Salida)
After the race I headed a south to the Valley View Hotsprings.   I’ve been wanting to check these out for years and was surprised to learn I was close by.  They were everything people cracked them up to be and definitely necessary after the run.  I spent the night there, soaked more in the morning, then made my way to Leadville.

Valley View Indeed (from the hotsprings)
I have visited Leadville numerous time since living there.  It always feels like coming home and I have no doubt I will live there again.  I hung there with my friend, Wizard, for three days, enjoying the beautiful weather and then made my way back to Denver.

I initially came down here to spend St. Patrick’s Day with my aunt, Ginny and other relatives, but have now been here for a couple of weeks.  Without looking for it, fun and lucrative work has found me, and I’m trying to take advantage of it as well as all the big city offerings…live music, food, new friends, all-around massive consumption, etc.

It is looking like one more week here, before I start making my way west to the singletrack of the Fruita/Moab area via a couple days skiing, snowboarding and live music in the high country.   With a couple races coming up in that area, and the snow-free desert climate/landscape, it seems like a perfect place to hang this time of year and somewhere I’ve only spent limited time, but have always wanted to explore more.

While I shall continue my quest to always be "fancy-free" psychologically, regardless of my physical circumstances, I recognize how much easier it is when the lifestyle is commensurate with the state of mind.  And how sweet it is to be fancy-free once more. Don’t get me wrong; I had it good where I was. Not only did I have endless amounts of fun activities right out my door, but my restrictive schedule gave some much needed structure to contrast my usual haphazardly spontaneous existence. I like both. But there is nothing like one to remember how much I like the other. Short-term exposure to six-day work weeks, a power-tripping boss, and a more mainstream crowd than I’m used to, give me a greater appreciation for my unconventional and drama-free lifestyle. And, I missed Mama. I slept better in her my first nights back, than I did for three months. Home. Yeah.
Mama is ready to go.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

My Year in Feet

Although my transitional effort to wear more minimal shoes, could be described as nothing more than half-assed, the results have astounded me.  One year ago, after a few months in Guatemala of envying a friend’s pair and convincing myself, mentally, that they would fix all my problems, I bought a pair of Vibram Five Fingers. 

I donned them around Denver for the month of March between snow storms primarily for dog walking and casual dress.  I continued to run in my bulky Asics road shoes.  It felt awesome to have the Vibrams on.  I instantly felt lighter and more ninja-like.  It seemed passively therapeutic.  My pinkie toe was the only resistance as it has lived under the toe next to it all my life and in the Vibrams is stretched out on its own.  A little seperation anxiety, I guess.

I spent the spring in South Lake Tahoe and again wore them sporadically between snow storms and for some of my housekeeping shifts.  As the weather got nicer they proved perfect for kayaking and paddle boarding. Finally, I started running short distances on the pavement in them, but still primarily wore the old road running shoes.

For my first few runs in the Vibrams I just ran two miles.  It felt unbelievably awesome.  I had been focusing on my posture and bio-mechanics, but with these shoes on it moved from a mental projection to my natural technique.  The road I lived on was windy with steep little rolling hills.  On the downhills my legs turned over so fast to protect my feet, I could hardly believe it.  I felt like a deer. 

I then made that mistake that I’ve heard many have also made.  Feeling so good in them, I over-ambitiously went from running two or three miles to eleven one day.  I was so excited to run on a trail that was finally snow free.  Everything felt incredibly grand until I hit the pavement for the final three miles home.  I tip-toed the last few miles thinking I might have to crawl.  My feet and calves hurt so bad the next few days, I could barely work.  I was starting to worry I had really hurt something, when after two or three days things started loosening up and I could tell everything was just really tight. 

After that episode I was scared to make that mistake again and stuck to a couple of miles at a time.  I then finally replaced my running shoes with a pair of running flats I found at an Addidas Outlet Store nearby that was having a tent sale.  I found exactly what I was hoping for; an extremely minimal running flat.  The only problem was that the only pair I found seemed way to big.  They felt good width-wise, so for $20 I went for it.  They turned out to be perfect.  Although too long, they felt better than any shoe I have ever worn.  I am now convinced I have always worn shoes that are too small (subconsciously trying to hide my jumbo, disproportionate feet).  I wore these shoes the rest of spring, all of summer and most of fall.  Through dozens of 20+ mile efforts, on super technical trails they held together.  They are still in one piece actually, but I got a new pair of Nike Lunarlites, also from outlet store, in the fall, to try a little more shoe.  These have a slightly thicker sole, but are still ultra light. 

It was very early on that I noticed results.  In the spring I stopped feeling lower back pain, an affliction I have suffered for over 14 years (stemming from a fractured tailbone).  This cure may also be attributed to a kidney cleanse I did at the same time, targeted at my lower back.  Unfortunately, I didn’t isolate the two treatments to determine if it was one or both that led to the disappearance of pain, but its gone.  It is the single most noticeable change I have ever created in my body.  And it happened so fast.  I went from having to take a couple days off every three or four weeks because my back would tighten up to not having the slightest feeling of pain in my back.  It gave me the confidence and realization that I can change anything in my body no matter how long it has been the way it is.  At the same time a four-year-old mild, but nagging, foot pain vanished, only to return whenever I put my feet in shoes with arch support.  It is really astonishing.

The other major, noticeable change is that my feet are longer now.  Not really what I was hopping for, but I’m happy to see my toes spreading out from the scruchieness that I subjected them to the last 28 years.  I already wore an 11 in womens.  Now I’m closer to a 12. 

I continued to wear the Vibrams through the summer, but mostly for non-running ventures.  My running became pretty inconsistent through the summer months of festival hopping and traveling.  I would go on a few really far runs a few times a weeks with no running in between.  I didn’t feel comfortable wearing the Vibrams on long runs.  And it became difficult to keep them clean enough to wear when living in the van.  After three of four days in them, I can’t stand how bad they smell and usually take a few days to address the problem. 

I initially thought deciding upon winter in the high country was sentencing the Vibrams to a winter in the closet.  I feared a bio-mechanical backslide as I was going to need to wear boots and more foot protection from the elements.  Luckily, I am able to wear the Vibrams to work in.  Unable to find a more protecting, yet minimal sole shoe for running in the winter, I’ve continued to wear the Lunarlites in the snow.  I just wear super thick polypro socks to keep my feet warm enough. 

My backsliding fears were in vain.  I have been able to continually improve my posture and bio-mechanics through the winter, although hints of my foot problem have resurfaced.  I am attributing that to ski boots, both downhill and cross country, which seem to directly correlate with the pain (more of a slight uncomfortableness).  It turns out I didn’t learn my lesson and again got over-ambitious and ran five miles in the Vibrams on a treadmill one day.  I couldn’t run for a week.  Hopefully, I got it through my thick skull that I need to ease into them, but that remains to be seen.

Overall, this whole process has amazed me.  While I was hoping this would fix some little tweaks I was suffering, I was not excepting this noticeable of a transition.   I have inspired myself.  The dream of perfect bio-mechanics is definitely attainable.  I highly recommend addressing your footwear if you have any bio-mechanical glitches.  Just learn from my mistakes and take it slow.