The distance is coming along slowly. I started with a .5 mile runs, and after about 3 or 4 weeks increased that to 1 mile. Since then, I've generally been trying to stick to the 10% rule (increase distance by no more than 10% every week.) Yesterday, I ran 1.3 miles, so I'm on track to break 2 miles in about a month and a half.
I have to say that the progress at this point is almost unbearably slow, but it's not just the arbitrariness (arbitrarity?) of the 10% rule that I feel is holding me back. Once I reach the 1/2 to 3/4 mile mark I kind of hit a wall where I'm suddenly not having much fun anymore. Part of it is the Dallas summer heat, and part of it is the fact that I'm not a morning person (but I have to get up early to beat the heat). And another part is that I'm just not physically conditioned for running yet. I don't feel in sync when I get to this point, like I can feel all 205 lbs of myself at every step, like some self-conscious, lumbering giant. A giraffe with lead boots. It's a big difference from the stealthy ninja feeling I have at the beginning, and I really have to concentrate to keep it smooth and relaxed.
And now I'm talking about the things I feel for the entire duration of my runs, but I'd rather not be self-conscious the entire time, especially if I ever get the point where I can run for more than 20 minutes. If it's anything like swimming, there's a point where your brain turns off while your body goes through the motions. It's kind of relaxing, almost meditative. If it exists for running, I hope I get there soon.
A couple of weeks ago, I decided to take off the VFF's and go for a real barefoot run. I mentioned it a couple of posts ago, as a way to help improve your form. Well, I tried my hand (foot?) at it a one more time since then, and it was a total disaster.
First, I made the mistake of trying it after work one day. The temperature outside was about 95 degrees, and the temperature of the sidewalk was probably 10-15 degrees hotter than that. Second, I made the mistake of only running on the sidewalk (which is a way rougher surface than the road, which I had stuck to on my previous barefoot run). And my last mistake was that I naively thought I could run the same distance as before without any problems, despite the difference in my environment.
I ran about .3 miles when I started getting "hot spots" on the balls of my feet. I pushed through it a little bit, which in retrospect should have been my sign to stop. I ran a little further when I noticed the ball of my left foot felt like it had some kind of air pocket stuck to it. I could feel it squishing a little when I landed on it. Actually, forget that. Sure, there was certainly a squishing feeling, but it was accompanied by its good friend, pain, who managed to deliver a much more intense sensation. So I stopped after only making it .4 miles, and hobbled the short distance back to my house.
The heat and friction of the sidewalk had created a blister from my 2nd to 4th metatarsal on the ball of my left foot. It was like the skin on the sole of my foot had separated from the flesh underneath, and the resulting pocket had been filled with some clear fluid. I made the mistake of popping it and then putting hydrogen peroxide on it. The peroxide actually went inside the blister where it created a layer of tiny popping bubbles, which slowly expanded to fill the void. I could have swore my foot was on fire if not for the fact that there was no accompanying seared flesh smell.
It took 3 days to heal to the point where I could walk normally again. Needless to say, I probably won't be going for any more barefoot runs after work.
Maybe in November.
It's crazy to look back to when I first started out with the forefoot style of running and compare my form then and now. Here's a small list of some of the things I've learned:
- It's okay to let your heel touch the ground. Actually, the sooner it touches the ground the better, as it means you are spreading the impact across the entire surface area of your foot, and you won't put as much strain on your calf and achilles tendon. I would venture a guess that it's probably better to land on the entire foot simultaneously, but it's really hard to do without hitting heel first.
- Don't spring off the ground with your toes. This causes a lot of stress (pain) on the top of the foot and in the ankle, and introduces an unwanted up and down motion. Instead, lift the toe and heel off the ground simultaneously. This is actually a pretty difficult motion to learn, and the slight pain in the top of my foot means I'm not good enough at it yet.
- Focus on moving forward, not up and down. Vertical movement wastes energy. Not only that, but it adds extra stress to your foot landing. Normally, when something starts hurting (like my shins) it can be immediately remedied by minimizing my up and down motion. Bent knees help a lot here. Bend them to the point that it feels almost like you're sitting down.
- Fast cadence with shorter strides is better. 180 steps per minute (or quicker) is recommended. With my long legs, I find this really difficult, but it does seem to keep my form smoother.
- Don't try to control the natural inward roll of your foot. As someone with flat feet, I tend to over-pronate. For a while, I tried tensing up my foot and ankle muscles to prevent my foot from rolling inward. This just caused horrible ankle and foot pain, and gave me a bruise on the sole where I was landing. By letting my foot land naturally, I quickly ended the pain.
- Along the lines of the previous point, don't fight through pain. Pain is there to tell you that you are doing something wrong. Continuing to repeat the painful motion will only make it worse and lead to injury. If it feels like something in your joints or bones, or like your muscle is about to give out, then either something is off in your form (you should change it up so the pain goes away), or you are doing more than your body is ready for (you should stop and build up gradually).
- Running works your abs like crazy. A few weeks ago, I noticed that I had a mild stomach ache after a run. I thought maybe it was just a cramp, or maybe gas. When it persisted after each run, I thought that maybe my body just wasn't made for running and that my stomach was taking some kind of revenge for shrinking it down to a normal size. Well, it turns out that running with good posture and minimal upper body movement means your core has to do some stabilization, and as a result it gets a great workout. On my last run, I pressed a few fingers to my stomach and felt an almost constant low intensity flex, with a stronger flex on each step. Whatever thoughts I had of moving my ab days to coincide with my running days have now been thrown out the window.
As I mentioned in the last post, I want to be able to run 5 miles by the end of the year. If I can keep increasing the distance by 10% every week, I'll be doing 5 mile runs in 16 weeks. However, if my recent running experience has taught me anything, progress will probably be a little slower. In any case there are 23 more weeks left this year, which seems like a reasonable time frame. Feeling motivated!