I started on the trail of barefoot running in about April this year. I have never enjoyed running any further than a 400 meter race. Any more than that was literally fatiguing to the point of nausea. As I learn more and practice more barefoot running I realize that my fatigue likely came form poor form. I was a stomper. My high school hurdles coach likened me to an elephant in my Junior year, but I was a skinny kid. I just made a lot of noise. (*heel strike, foot slap, heel strike, foot slap*) I dealt with shin splints within a week of starting track practice in the Spring, and they lasted the entire season. I loved sprinting and hurdles. But make me run mid-distance, and I was miserable. After high school, I abandoned running for beer except for one summer when I trained for and ran the Bix 7 Mile Race in Davenport, IA at the behest of a friend. (I barfed twice at the finish line of that one, mostly from too much water at the last water stop.)
I began Chiropractic school in 2002 and started to get back in shape, but with weightlifting rather than running. I still struggled through the odd mile here and there, but the shin splints were too much. Lifting was fun for me though, and I had two dedicated training partners to keep me going. We moved a lot of weight. The trouble with that kind of workout is the equipment. It's hard to lift weights without weights to lift, and after I graduated and started paying back student loans there was no money for gym memberships, so I tried running again. My running career continued to be sporadic and painful.
Fast forward to December 2010. I saw an ad for the Warrior Dash, talked it over with my wife, and we signed up. Soon after that she became pregnant with our second baby so she is no longer running the race in July. I started training though, vowing to stay ahead of my shin splints with ice massage and stretching. You can imagine how that went.
About three weeks into my latest failing attempt at a running career, I went to see my shoe guy, Jamey. He and I have been friends since high school, and he manages the Tradehome Shoes store in Rochester. I demanded answers. He showed me the latest ASCIS. Hefty price tag on those bad boys for something I may not be able to continue with. I think he could sense my frustration with the newest must-have shoe and put the ASCIS down and instead gave me Jason Robillard's book. It's an odd thing when a shoe salesman hands you a barefoot running book. Jason's experience was similar to my own and the way he presented barefoot running jived with something deep down in my soul. I am a Chiropractor and I believe in the human body's abilty to function properly. I won't get into things like orthotics in this post, but suffice to say I have started to see the error of those things for most patients.
This post is getting longer than I wanted so lets get back to where I started. I promise that I am really the King of too much too soon. I sit here tonight with pain in my left heel and ankle. The same pain that recently sidelined me for two weeks after doing a 5K on June 4th. At that time I was still running in my trusty motion control New Balance shoes, but I had changed my form and gait to running on the balls of my feet and not heel striking. My shin splints were improving and I vowed to make the switch to barefoot after the Warrior Dash in July. The race went well. Too well. I took 40 seconds off my per-mile time, seven weeks into my training. Oops. The Achilles Tendonitis that developed in my left heel was like walking on hot coals every second of the day. Through treatment and my trusty Kinesio Tape I was ready to go again in two weeks. I put on my New Balance shoes and headed out for two miles, alternating from forefoot strike to heel strike depending on how my calves felt (I had still not learned my lesson). The run went fine but I did end up in the middle of a rainstorm.
Thursday was my next run day and my shoes were still soaked from Tuesday's run. I had already purchased a pair of Merrell Trail Gloves from Jamey and since I didn't think I was ready for a real barefoot run slapped those puppies on and off I went. Two miles later and I'm riding high. NO PAIN, ANYWHERE. So what did I do? Ran again Friday. Heel pain. Damn it! Too much, too soon. I took the rest of the weekend and Monday off from running. I put my Merrells back on yesterday, and did two miles. I even took my shoes off for the last half mile interval! It felt great! I couldn't believe it! Again, NO PAIN! Until this morning. Too much, too soon.
I think I get it now. I need to run barefoot so I learn how to run, then I can use the shoes this Winter. I need to run barefoot so I get the feedback from my feet that I need to prevent injury. My calves are ready, my lungs are ready, but in this case my Achilles tendon is exactly that. My Achilles heel.
I have a feeling that my experience mirrors or at least parallels a lot of the Type-A, high-strung, gotta-win new barefoot runners out there. The most important thing in my story is this: I now love running. I want to run every day, and I want to do it barefoot. I think I'll give up my crown though. I've learned that lesson.