Running Form – LIFT Those Feet

I mentioned a while back that my increase in running was causing me to have some pain on the tops of my feet. It wasn’t just the increase in running though, I’ve had it before and it just seems kind of random.  One major point of running barefoot is to listen to your body tell you when you need to change something, so I cut back a little bit on my running and left it at that for a bit.

Stacey over at ArtSnark’s Artifacts mentioned that she was curious enough to Google what would cause that.  Geez.  Why didn’t I think of that?  I Google everything else! So I did too.

My results were actually pretty funny.  The number one cause of top of the foot pain is running in shoes that are too tight.  The number one suggestion to combat it is to loosen your shoes.  Um, that just isn’t going to work for me.  Another suggestion was to stop running for a while.  Seriously?  I wasn’t injured I just had a wee bit of pain.

Finally I gave up on Google (don’t usually have to do that!) and went straight to the Running Barefoot site and did a search there. I found a good article on foot pain after barefoot running in general and specifically what can cause top of the foot pain. Basically the article says top of the foot pain after barefoot running can be caused by ‘pushing off’ with your foot as you run.

Hey, I don’t do that!  So to prove it I had my son take a video of me running on the treadmill so I could see exactly how my feet did or did not push off.

Damn it, they did.

This whole taking pictures and videos of myself to check out my form is really a bit of a bummer.  But also a learning experience so I started concentrating on lifting my legs when I run instead of pushing off the ground.  It’s one of the two hardest parts of running with good form (for me) and they are, of course related. The second is cadence which will always be a work in progress.

So according to the article and many other sources of barefoot running knowledge the trick is “Instead of pushing off, begin lifting your foot BEFORE it lands.”  Not just this, but also lifting your entire foot, forefoot first, instead of rolling your foot up heel first like it seems that I very much do. This is not something that comes natural to me and it is not anything like easy for me to even completely comprehend.  I try to do it and I feel like I am prancing like a kid pretending to be a pony.  Plus I start moving my feet much, much quicker (as I think you are supposed to actually) and then I am tired 2 minutes later.

So this one is a bit more of a challenge for me than running with bent knees. I think it’s something that will take me awhile to really get, but I believe that running form is probably something that you have to check back in on along the way no matter how long you have been running so that’s alright.

But guess what. Although I don’t think about lifting my legs all the time nor do I think about lifting forefoot first too often it seems I’ve been thinking about it enough.  Because I no longer have any pain on the top of my feet at all.  It took a good week or two of practicing the forefoot bit but it worked!

Do you ever think about how you are touching the ground when you run? Do you push your legs into the ground with each stride or do you try to lift your feet with each step?  Do you think it even matters?

The more I study and try to practice good running form the more I’m becoming a believer!

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Dirty Girl Mud Run Tampa

I ran the Dirty Girl mud run in Tampa Saturday at 8am. That meant I had to be somewhere an hour from my house around 7am, translate to I had to get up really early on a weekend and it was my own idea.  Geez, sometimes even I wonder about me. I don’t think I’ve ever signed up for a run before 10 am because well, it would be before 10am. But check out the payoff.  It was beautiful and foggy when we got there.  Sadly the fog lifted quickly but Little Everglades Ranch is always beautiful.

100_3054It seems that Tampa is a saner place than it’s reputation, the early run wasn’t very crowded. Even if it had been it wouldn’t have mattered because they had the sign in process and everything set up really well. This is the first mud run I’ve ever done where I didn’t have to wait to spray the mud off AND there was actually enough water pressure to rinse off.  Nice!

I had originally planned on running this one by myself but I ended up running with a couple of fellow Tampa Bay Bloggers members.  This isn’t one of those races where the obstacles are so difficult you need to run with a team so everyone can help each other, but I had way more fun than I would have running by myself!

I was excited about this race because it is the first obstacle run I’ve done barefoot.  I stashed some running shoes in my backpack in case it wasn’t allowed but the few comments I got were all positive.  I knew Little Everglades Ranch would be a good place to try it though the run did start with a gravel road, I ran beside it in the grass.

Also, this pond is full of pointy rocks on the bottom, that was fun.

rocky pondThe only part I was really worried about was the rope net – I was afraid it would hurt and it did.  Of course I had to pause for a picture at the top just to prove that I had actually done it.

I realized I’m starting to like the walls that you can climb (without a rope), I think because going over the top used to be so scary and now it doesn’t bother me. Any and all progress makes me happy!  Oh, and yes it seems there was a bit of muddy water on my camera lens and also the waterproof camera bag I had it in slipped to the side so several of my pics had a lovely black ring on one side or the other. Someday I’ll have to invest in an actual waterproof camera, but today is not that day.

100_3081TheWallA fun thing about these mud runs that aren’t crazy hard is you seem to get much, much muddier.  There was a mud pit where you had to crawl under a net to get through, there was just no other way and also some long tubes to crawl through full of nice, dark coffee colored water to go through. I can’t pretend I wasn’t thinking of water moccasins crawling through there. You can’t tell in the pictures because I was wearing black but my clothes  were soaked in thick muddy water. It required quite a bit of scrubbing to get clean afterwards!  There IS a reason they call it the Dirty Girl mud run.

AfterRaceI can’t think of anything I didn’t like about this run.  The parking was close, the organization was stellar and the run itself was a lot of fun.  I would have liked more obstacles but I think that about every run, I love the obstacles!  There was even the mandatory complimentary ice cold beer afterwards (yes, I know it wasn’t even 10 am yet.  don’t judge). I was a little bummed they gave out necklaces instead of the usual medal, but this is a lot more wearable and it IS a women’s run so it fits.  And on that note, my also mandatory showing off of the bling.

DirtyGirlSwagAfter the run I did a couple errands and then headed out to Riverview to visit some friends.  They took us to Sakura for saki and sushi.  I like sushi OK but there are usually maybe 2 vegetarian choices so it’s not my favorite.  I had the AAC roll (asparagus, avocado and cucumber) which was the same ingredients as usual but honestly better than I’d had before and also sweet potato rolls.  These were outstanding!  I also had a seafood salad that was pretty good, it was oddly florescent though which made me wonder why. I also tried saki for the first time. I can’t say it was my favorite. It wasn’t horrible or wonderful, it just was.  I know there are lots of different kinds so I’ll have to try it again.

All in all a pretty great day; Sunday I did as little as possible and enjoyed that as well!

The 5k Zombie Run – Why Can’t I do this Every Weekend??!?

This race was pretty simple.  No obstacles.  No timers. No roads. No way out without getting dangerously close to many, many zombies….

Infection is Spreading

Nothing like sprinting through a small zombie horde to get your heart racing!  I think I ran faster during this un-timed run than ever before – thank goodness we were able to walk between the zombies.  That’s the biggest part of the fun of these runs, trying to dodge between zombies chasing you, zig-zagging back and forth at top speed.  It’s not everyday an adult can get away with that you know.  The other half of the fun is everyone there is obviously having a blast and really, really nice.  This is the second time I’ve run this and both times every single person I met was super friendly.

I started wondering if I could get my kids to dress like zombies and get them to jump out randomly on my regular scheduled runs. Would my neighbors come running out to help?

There were a lot more zombies this year than last year. The run was at Lake Park in Lutz, Florida which is like 30 minutes from my house and I’ve never even heard of it before. I’ll definitely be visiting here again! I’d even swear I saw a lake through the trees at one point, I must go back exploring.

The bad thing about a trail run with zombies?  Well, a trail isn’t exactly a road.  If a zombie comes running up behind you (some were original Dawn of the the Dead slow and some were new Dawn of the Dead fast) you can’t exactly get through the crowd in front of you.  It’s kind of like my driving mantra. You can’t go faster than whoever is in front of you, try as you might (stupid tailgaters). However, in a moment of zombie induced panic I did try and get past the guy in front of me for a minute, then I had to stop and apologize.  He didn’t care a bit but I felt a wee bit dumb.

There was no mud and not too much blood so no need for an after picture, but here we are before the run.  Heck ya I was proud of my I ♥ Daryl t-shirt.

Zombie 5K 2013Speaking of blood, they had a blood splatter station for the zombies.  Dexter would have been so happy.

One other thing of note – this is the second time in a row I started a run with shoes and ended without them.  I wore the same shoes I always do to an organized run but this time they tore up the backs of my feet from the heels all the way to the top of my shoes.  Maybe because this wasn’t a mud run and my feet were dry?  I have no idea but I think I may be officially done with running in shoes, obstacles or not.  I’ll spare you the gory pictures (you’re welcome) but trust me when I say it was quite the lesson learned.  And contrary to what I would have thought only one single person even seemed to notice the lack of shoes, and she just asked if I was a barefoot runner.

What else could there possibly be to add to the good times?  Superman Walks founder Thomas Mills was there.  If you haven’t heard of Superman Walks you should check out their site, it’s a great organization. I’d love to walk with them one of these times.

And of course you can’t forget the racing bling.

Zombie Bling 2013

Just a 2 Mile Run

I went on my planned 2 mile run last night. I had originally planned on doing something akin to fartleks but instead of concentrating on speed for short bursts I was going to concentrate on raising my cadence for short bursts. Instead I set my metronome app on 170 and just tried to keep up most of the way.

Before I set out I asked at Barefoot Beginner group for some tips and they gave me a great one – don’t try and touch your feet to the ground with each beat, try and lift your foot with each beat. It sound trivial but it really made a difference.

I can’t say that a switch went off and I suddenly figured out how to do it right, but the more I ran the easier it seemed, I think with practice I can actually get this.  I had a lot of fun speeding up and slowing down while trying to keep my cadence right at 170.  I have to admit it was still much more tiring than just running without thinking about it, but I do believe I’m going to get this.

Now to go completely random on you please tell me what you see in this picture.  I took it out my window at work through the screen.  HINT: IT’S A TURTLE and it’s dead center. None of my kids see it.  Please be on my side on this one.

20131105_140839

Cadence – The Quest For 180

I’ve read in several places that one of the keys to running is to run with a cadence of 180 a minute or faster.  The science behind it depends on the study you read, but the theory sounds sound to me.

Basically the faster your cadence the less time your foot is on the ground with each step.  The less time your foot is on the ground the more time is is not on the ground – resulting in a lighter, less injury prone step.

This is especially important when you are running barefoot over rough terrain such as gravel or, a favorite here in Florida, broken up shells. They cover a lot of the otherwise sandy roads in the parks here. The reason this is so helpful is, again, because you don’t want your feet to totally settle (or slam) into the ground.  You can test that by taking a short jog over some pebbles or gravel, and then trying to walk on them.  When you are walking your foot settles fully into the ground, and you feel EVERYTHING.

I’ve had two issues with running at 180 beats per minute.  No, I haven’t even tried for faster than that.

One, if my feet are moving that fast then I get tired too quickly no matter how slow I’m running. One of the advantages of a higher cadence is said to be a smoother, more effortless run. I believe this simply because so many professionals say  it’s true – but so far it certainly feels like a lot of effort to me! I’m hoping that with practice that won’t be true.

Two, how the heck am I supposed to know I’m running at the right cadence?  Technically speaking you should be able to count how many times one foot touches the ground for a minute and then multiply that by 2. I have an issue with that, wouldn’t I already have to be running at my normal speed when I started the stop watch? Um, I can’t really concentrate on both of those at the same time.  It’s physically impossible for me to be that graceful. BUT I did manage to do it by setting a stopwatch on my phone and then setting the phone on the treadmill so that all I had to do once I settled into my normal speed was hit the start button and count how many times my right foot touched the ground until the beeper went off.  82 times.  That’s a cadence of 164 which is actually quite a bit better than I would have guessed! I think it’s a bit high to be honest. I was trying to run at my normal pace but I DID know I was timing myself and human nature and all…

Unfortunately some suggestions I’ve read to help with improving in this area just don’t work for me.  First I tried running to music with a beat at a particular cadence.  Turns out the fact that I don’t dance isn’t a fluke. I just don’t get it.  Fortunately for you it seems that music does work for everyone else on the planet. However, when I try it I either can’t find the beat I am supposed to be running to for more than about 30 seconds at a time OR I kind of hear it, but my lame attempts at running to it makes it look like there is something very, very wrong with me.

Moving on.

How about an app to turn my phone into a metronome?  Now this works for me.  It seems like it should be boring to just listen to the tick-tick-ticking but to me it’s kind of meditative. I have the RunSafe app and I don’t use all the features but I like it for this. It not only gives you the beat to run to, it counts your steps and tells you how you are doing. I think it would be more accurate if I didn’t carry my phone in my hand, I need to invest in an arm band.

So, all of that said, what to do to improve cadence? Here’s my plan.

  • Add a one mile run a week where I try to concentrate on cadence the entire run.  I’ll use the app and set it at a slightly higher cadence than I usually run at.
  • Cut my Tuesday run to 2 miles and run fartleks.  I’ll simply pick up my cadence a good bit until I pass a light post or two a few times during the run. Sound kind of random and unstructured?  That’s why I chose fartleks. You can be random and still do it right.
  • I’ll keep my last 2 runs of the week at 3 working on 3.5 miles and not worry about a thing while running besides what music I feel like listening to.

They say you can’t learn to run faster without running faster – and I fear this falls into the same category. I’m not convinced that 180 is the magic number for everyone, but I am convinced that barefoot running can be improved by a faster cadence- so here goes.

Do you think that a higher cadence is a key to good running form?  If you work on your cadence how do you do it?  I’d love to hear some suggestions on good apps or any drills you can recommend to help improve running cadence.

Running Form – Bend Your Knees!

As you know if you’ve been reading along I don’t run a ton of miles, but I do want to do the miles I run right.  I randomly think about my form and I feel like it’s pretty good but of course most everyone’s form could be better.

I had a non-running form wake up call the other day though when I asked my daughter to take a picture of me doing chaturanga and then took a look. Um, I felt like I was doing it so great!  Not so much from the camera’s point of view, I was much much higher up than I thought and my elbows weren’t as pulled in as I thought.  It’s my body, I really thought I knew what it was doing. Stupid everything.

Anyways, I’m going to start concentrating on one aspect of my running form at a given time for a while and see if it makes a difference in how I run.  Well, in how I perceive I run since that’s probably a totally different thing.

First thing to concentrate on is one of the most important according to Ken Bob Saxton, and who am I to argue with him?  Especially when it’s his book, Barefoot Running Step by Step that really got me started in the first place.

Bend your knees!  It makes a lot of sense after someone says it out loud.  If you run with your legs straight you are not allowing your knees to work as they are intended to and you are jarring your whole body with every step.   Keeping your knees bent while running allows them to absorb some of the shock that running can otherwise put on your body.

How much should your knees bend when you run?  I’d guess it’s different for everyone but here’s a video of an expert – take a look.

Barefeet Really DO Talk to You

I ran 2.5 miles my last two runs, and I have to admit I’m pretty happy with myself.  Tomorrow night should be 2.75 and I’ll be at 3 by the end of the month! Of course it’s the passing 3 miles that always seems to get me, but I’ll deal with that next month. This whole consistency and planned improvement thing does NOT come natural to me but at the moment I’m loving it.  I’ve even been wanting to run on my off nights, which I know would not be a good idea, I need the rest.

The funny thing is it’s not my legs that get tired and I’m not getting out of breath, it’s the muscles in my feet that are getting sore.  It’s mostly the muscles on the TOP of my feet, which I find kind of strange, maybe because I’m trying to keep my toes curled up a bit to avoid letting the road (or treadmill) blister them. That’s never happened to me but I’ve heard it can and it doesn’t sounds fun so…

I know running barefoot uses different muscles, and also that one major benefit of running barefoot is that your body tells you sooner when it’s had enough instead of allowing you to run until to injure yourself. It’s interesting to me though to see it in action.  Everyone knows you aren’t supposed to increase your running distance too fast, but if I was wearing shoes would I physically feel it?  In this case I don’t think so, because nothing else in my body is telling me to take the rest days. Kind of cool, in my humble opinion.  I’d way rather have sore feet for a couple hours when I wake up than sore hips all the time!

Why Barefoot?

I’ve been asked quite a few time why I decided to run barefoot.  After all, I don’t know anyone else who does and I live in Florida, land of creepy things to step on.

Well, last November I somehow hurt my hip and couldn’t run anymore. Heck, I could barely walk.  I don’t even know how I hurt it. Maybe it was running, maybe it was driving over 90 minutes each way to work or the combination of the two.  Maybe I was abducted by aliens, but whatever it was it was bad enough that I went to the doctors about it and that’s something I avoid probably a bit more than the average grown up.

While I was unable to run for a few endless weeks I started reading a lot more about running. I scoured the internet and even picked up a few books.  What causes hip injuries? How do I get rid of it? How do I not do whatever I did again?

I kept coming back to barefoot running. I picked up Ken Bob Saxton’s book, Barefoot Running Step by Step.  Really it didn’t sound all that different from how I already ran.  I knew not to heal strike and the rest just didn’t sound  like it would make that big of a difference. But the big thing that I read everywhere is that if you are running with bad form AND running barefoot you will feel it right away and adjust – not feel it after something was really hurt.

I had been unable to run more than about three steps without doing some serious injury, even after going off running and on some meds the doctor had given me for a while. I decided to give it an honest go, the right way. I started running just a quarter mile the first week.  It hurt.  Not my feet, my hips.  But not as much as before. and here is the kicker – after about my third quarter mile run it started hurting LESS. My hip actually started heeling after I started running again. Best of all? Although I have had a problem with my hips being sore for years, well before I even started running, they rarely bother me now. I think this also has to do with switching to a job that is half the drive.

Do I think running barefoot is for everyone? Maybe. I don’t think it is good for everyone to do exclusively. It does require the ability to set very small goals because jumping into it full steam is a recipe for disaster for most people.  It can heal one injury and cause another if you aren’t careful. The amount of people who toss off their shoes, go for a 5 mile run, and end up really injuring their achilles tendon is fairly high.

Since trying it out the first time (which was nothing like perfect) I’ve run very few times with shoes. It just works for me.

Have you ever tried barefoot running? Would you consider it as a supplemental ‘training’ portion of your regular runs?

New Month, New Year

If you read a lot of blogs (guilty) then you’ll quickly notice that a lot of people set these things called goals, and they do it often.  Like, every month.  When I try that I have a high tendency to set completely impossible goals, or to set a ton of goals that sounds reasonable, until you ad them all up. So I just don’t set them very often.

This month however I think I’m going to jump on the bandwagon, since it is an admirable one. Plus, my birthday was the first so I’m not only starting a new month, I’m starting a new year.

But this time I’m setting nice and easy goals, nothing all crazy like a marathon or 10K (heaven forbid).  So I’m going to try and meet these four goals, and when the month is done I just might set 4 more.

1) By the end of the month I want to be running 3  miles every time I go out.

I usually run about 2, so this really shouldn’t be a stretch but for me a 5K is my breaking point.  Not because I can’t run further, but because every time I get back to running a 5K I lose all sense of motivation and kind of stop running.  Both stupid and weird? Yes.  But nevertheless true every time. This is my main goal so to get myself started I ran a mile three times on the treadmill last night, taking a few minutes between each one to walk around. Easy that way, but still mentally a start!

2) Check my mail at least 3 times a week, then look and see what’s in it.  Don’t ask, I don’t know why I hate to check the mail. I think it feels too grown up or something. Plus, it’s not like I get any letters from people I know.

3) I’m getting myself out on the paddle board at least once this month, it’s ridiculous how long it’s been since last time I went. Plus, I have to have a 100% fun goal.

and

4) At the end of this month I’m setting a new running goal for next month.  Even if it’s just to keep on keeping on.

So there you go, wish me luck because because while some people have an issue listening to authority figures I have an issue listening to myself.

Do you set short term goals for yourself? Do you tend to keep them?

Best question of all, do you reward yourself if you make your goals?  Maybe I’ll sign up for another mud run if I make all 4 goals, now that’s motivation!

Won’t Running Barefoot Make Your Feet Gross?

When I started running barefoot I read some books about it and joined a Facebook group and all of that. After all, I was making the change because I heard that it might help the injuries I had and I wanted to be sure I was giving it a fair chance by at least trying to do it right.

All the questions that could be asked and one of the first I asked the Facebook group was um, are my feet going to get all gross and dirty and calloused? I’m not exactly fashion conscious or anything (kind of an area I slack in) but I’ve seen people with skin that looked as if it had been grown with dirt as a natural part of it, and sorry but it’s kind of gross.

Now that I have a whole 9 months experience I can answer my own question, at least for me.  I run 3 nights a week and I don’t run further than a 5k ever, and rarely that far. So I don’t know if there is a difference if you run barefoot marathons or ultras (ya, there are some really, really bad-ass people who do that).

The answer is no.  My feet didn’t get permanently dirty and they didn’t get calloused.  As a matter of fact the skin is softer and smoother now than it used to be. I think it’s for two reasons.

One, I mostly run in the neighborhood and I think the asphalt acts kind of like a pumice stone, smoothing out the skin. I had almost expected my skin to get thinner as a result, but again I was wrong.  My skin actually seems to be a little thicker. The bottoms of my feet also seem to have a bit of padding or muscle on them that wasn’t there before.  Kind of a plus actually.

I think the other reason is because running on asphalt actually is a bit gross. When I get home my feet are black as tar and I washing them with soap doesn’t do much. I have to actually use a pumice stone after every street run.  I don’t scrub them hard or anything, but I do use it. Maybe that’s why the little cracks that I used to have on my heals are gone now.

So question and answer. Won’t running barefoot make your feet gross? Nope, it’ll leave them better than they were before!