The Search for Shoes

I have been rocking the same running shoes since September: my beloved Merrell Pace Gloves.  I love them.  I love what they have taught me about my contact with the ground.  I love how light they are and how much they breathe.  Love. Love. Love.  But then this pesky peroneal tendinitis poked it’s ugly head and won’t go away.

When I saw the doctor, he did not tell me that I should skip the minimalist shoes, only asked how long I’d used them.  My physical therapist has also never told me that I shouldn’t use then, just that I need to be smart about them.  Despite both of them not having problems with minimalist shoes, I decided the other day that maybe it was time to try a little more cushion.  I want to increase my mileage (someday) and I want my feet, ankles, etc to stay in good shape.  I still want to do that half marathon in October, after all.  Maybe my peroneal tendinitis has nothing to do with my shoes, but I’d like to give new ones a try and see how it goes.

So I started looking at shoes.  I read a few things.  I went to Frontrunner today to finally test drive a few pairs.  Going in, I  thought maybe something from Brooks Pure Project would work out.  I tried a couple of them, but all of them seemed like too much.  I like my Merrells for their light weight and zero drop.  The Brooks were nice, but they just weren’t quite right. I almost settled on the Pure Grit because it seemed the flattest of them all and the least all up in my arch (which is a new technical term, by the way).  I tried the new Nike Frees, which were significantly better than the old Nike Frees.  I would consider a pair of those in the future, but not right for my needs today.

So what did I end up with?  These beauties…

Wait. You said you wanted more cushion and ended up with another minimal shoe?  What the hell?  So as I was going back and forth between the Pure Grit and these, the lovely gentleman helping me was struck with the idea of putting the Grit’s insert into the Minimus Zero. I kept going back to the New Balance shoes because of how light they were, but couldn’t say yes to them because the whole point was for more cushion. VOILA! Stick an insert in there and you get the best of both worlds.

I took them for a mini-run a little while ago just to test them out.  They are actually a smidge lighter than my Pace Gloves, though the added insert probably kills that.  They’re super flexible and breathe well. They are a little narrow in the toe box, but that could be more because of the insert since my feet are reasonably narrow themselves.  I am slightly concerned that the insert makes them a bit too tight, but I am hoping that it sort of wears in.  I’m planning to do some extensive walking around with them tomorrow, so we’ll see how it goes.  The other thing is that I don’t anticipate always using them with an insert.  After tomorrow, I may try on a bigger size if they don’t start to give a little more, but other than that, I am super pleased with the purchase.  The best combination of minimal plus added cushion.

Kitten Approved

Kitten Approved.

Something New: Form Check!

A couple Saturdays ago, I attended a Good Form Running clinic at a local running store.  I decided it was my big “something new” for my March goals. I’ve read plenty of things about running form, watched videos, etc, but it’s awfully hard to find a place to stare at yourself in action.  So I signed up for the running clinic.

I didn’t know what exactly to expect going in.  I knew we would be doing drills, so I dressed appropriately.  The group of people attending the clinic were friendly, of all ages, and with all sorts of running backgrounds. One guy was just starting up again, a few others had barely begun, etc.  It was nice that it was a diverse crowd.  The instructor started off talking about the 4 basic principles of GFR: posture, mid-foot strike, cadence, and lean.  We did a couple of drills and then we were videotaped running through the store (which was apparently supposed to be done first), which we would see later after we had gone through everything and knew the “proper” way.

I was sort of familiar with a lot of this going in. Mid-foot strike is the part of my running form that I have tried to get the most right, especially since the shoes I run in almost demand you land properly. My posture is not so great any way, so I knew that probably wasn’t right.  As far as cadence goes, I had tried to run with a metronome app before, but it just wasn’t my cup of tea. Lean was something new to me as well and not something that I naturally do, I don’t think.  We talked about and did drills for each principle.

Posture was the first thing we talked about. This was the driver behind getting me into the clinic.  After overhearing another GFR class talking about what your shoulders do during a run, I realized that things were not so hot there.  I went out the next day, tried to keep my shoulders down and relaxed and had a much happier run because of it.  The importance of staying straight and aligned properly from top to bottom hadn’t really sunk in until we went over it in class.  This is one of the toughest parts for me, but I’m hoping that with practice, my normal posture will also improve.

The mid-foot strike drill was similar to the 100-Up that Chris McDougall talks about here, so I was familiar with that.  The instructor for the clinic repeated several times that you can get the proper foot strike in any shoe.  Minimalist shoes and a few others in that range are made with the intention of helping you to have the proper foot placement.  Heel-striking is very bad for you and seems to be the cause of a lot of injury, so I think doing things to help promote proper strike is important.  Personally, I can’t imagine heel-striking in my Merrells and I think that has been really helpful.

Our cadence drill consisted of running in place and then running around the store at different paces.  180 steps/minute really isn’t difficult, but if you’re over-striding (and therefore taking fewer strides), it can be much harder.  Lean was literally just feeling the proper lean of the body.  You don’t want to fall over, but you need to lean forward sort of until your toes “catch.” This one was hard for me to really feel and I need more practice there.

After the drills, we watched the video of ourselves running in slow motion.  The instructor said I do something pretty common with minimalist shoe wearers: a slight forefoot strike with a roll back to the middle.  Apparently this is not a problem as long as I am not running on my tiptoes (something I think I was doing for awhile early on).  I still end mid-foot, I just start a little forward.  The foot strike was not actually the most enlightening part.  My shoulders were the real problem. They kept doing this strange shrug motion as I went.  It’s hard to say whether it was just the close quarters we were running in or what, but I have put a lot more emphasis on posture, relaxing my shoulders, etc since seeing myself.  I think I am making improvements on that front at least.  I am still working on cadence and lean  also, but I will be happy for now if I can get half of it down pretty well.

The GFR site has videos about all of these things and will probably explain things much better than I can.  It’s good to note that GFR is only one of several methods that all teach essentially the same thing. Good Form Running just happens to be the name that New Balance uses for it. When I decided to go with a barefoot/minimalist shoe, I came across links you can find under the “minimalist running” tag pretty helpful.

Barefoot/Minimalist Running Resources: Videos

So I listed some resource links back in the entry about my Merrell Pace Gloves, but I wanted to include some of the videos I’ve been watching to help get my form down. I’ve been trying to pay extra attention to my footstrike and my posture the last couple times on the treadmill.

Here’s what I’ve been watching:

(You may want to turn down sound on this one. The treadmill noise is rather loud and grating.)

(Terra Plana also makes barefoot shoes, though I can’t offer a review on them.)

C25k/Minimalist Running Status

A quick little update for anyone interested in how the Couch-to-5k is going.

I have stuck with restarting the program with the new shoes. I made it through the first week again and have started on the second. The biggest issue I’ve faced so far is my calves have been burning. Still no problems with my feet hurting (though I did rub my heel raw one day) or anything else, really. Today I even noticed decreased pain in some of the places that normally hurt (e.g. my knees).  I have continued to use the Merrells at work on and off. It doesn’t seem to be a great idea to use them all 8 hours, but they feel good for a much longer time than expected.

Oh! And one of the best parts: I’ve increased my run pace, which has also helped increase my distance. I got all the way down to 13:20.  Part of what inspired me to try harder and go faster was an article with the following:

Learn how to define what’s truly hard for yourself. “Many athletes look to coaches or formulas to tell them what hard is by heart rate, pace, or percentage of VO2max. Hard is hard. You run hard. Until you connect to that, you will not run as fast as you want to; you’ll run as fast as someone tells you to go.”

Run hard. Simple, right?

Going minimal.

Here they are. My new Merrell Pace Gloves. After first trying these on, I was set on getting them. I even had dreams about them! They were so light (a whole 2oz lighter than my Kinvara 2s) and I felt like I could really feel the ground I was walking on.  When I finally went to get them this past Sunday, they were definitely just as I remembered.  I also picked up a pair of the Barefoot Pure Gloves since I was so jazzed about the Pace Gloves. I sort of figured that going barefoot/minimal across the board was going to be a good idea, especially in transitioning to running.

I got the shoes on Sunday, walked casually in them a few days, and even worked in them a little bit yesterday.  Today, I did my first run with them. 2oz doesn’t seem like a whole lot of difference necessarily, but it really is.  They are so, so light that it’s unbelievable. I am constantly amazed at what it feels like to actually feel the ground you’re walking on, not just the cushion of a shoe. I know it sounds like that might not be better, but it gives an entirely different tactile experience to moving.  It makes you more aware of where and how you’re walking/running.  The shoes themselves are so flexible (there is a picture in this review of them rolled up here) that I can really feel what my toes are doing. Whenever I was crouching down at work, the shoe moved with my foot instead of vice versa.

As far as the running today went… I redid the first day of Couch-to-5k. I figured that was a pretty easy back and forth between jogging and walking. I could work on my form and see how it felt overall.  I had been warned from when I first tried the Pace Gloves on that my calves would hurt. A friend of mine had talked to me about how his Vibrams made his calf muscles more defined in a different way since it was using different muscles, etc. I was prepared for calf pain.  And, let me tell you, my calves burned. It wasn’t unbearable, just uncomfortable. They’re a little sore as I sit to type this, but not in a bad way. My feet didn’t hurt at all during the run, which was pretty cool.  They also didn’t go numb at all and that was something I feared might happen.  I think I have a ways to go yet with the form of barefoot/minimalist running, but I’m getting there.  It’s hard to re-learn how to do things when you’re used to hitting on your heel.  Walking in them is actually the hardest.  Jogging was easy. Maybe I already land in a more forward strike when I run, I’m not sure. If so, I think that will help the transition.

My plan is to alternate between where I am already at in C25k and sort of play catch up on alternating days with the Merrells. I feel as if I’m going to be stuck on Week 3 for a minute, so it will work out. My first day of Week 3 was yesterday and that was pretty rough. I think I have a harder time running at night than I do in the morning. Going to the gym after work is often necessary, but doesn’t leave me feeling the best.

I’m sure I’ll talk more about the minimalist running transition as it happens. I also want to hit on some of the other stuff I’ve started doing, but in the meantime here are some of the places I’ve been reading up on barefoot/minimalist running:

Barefoot Running University :: has lots of articles, links to videos, etc.

Barefoot Running @ Runner’s World :: the barefoot forums there are also interesting… Is barefoot running bad for you? and a guide for new barefoot/minimalist runners are both good reads.

Merrell BareForm :: videos and other info

Barefoot Angie Bee :: some shoe reviews, etc.