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.    

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