Tuesday, November 16, 2010

More on Vivo Barefoot Kali -- and My Bad Flip Flops

I remember one of the things about yesterday's run that I wanted to talk about.  I wanted to talk about how surprised I was to discover how much my barefoot walking had improved, and why I think this has happened.

It has been my custom to warm up before each run with about a quarter mile of barefoot walking.  It's been actually harder for me to walk barefoot then it has been for me to run barefoot.  I have felt awkward and very slow during my walk section.  I have experimented with how to walk, but all the whole while it has seemed to me that walking barefoot ought to be even more natural than running barefoot.  I walked barefoot so much as a child and I never thought about it, and I don't remember being slow or awkward.  And yet it wasn't. I just could not find a natural walking rhythm and stride while barefoot.  Until the past two times out.

During yesterday's 1/4-mile walking warm-up, I was surprised to be walking strongly and smoothly and well on the sidewalk.  And I am pretty sure I know why there was a big change.  I am fairly sure it was because of the time I've been spending walking around in the Terra Plana Vivo Barefoot Kali shoes the past couple of weeks.

I wrote the other day that I have to start wearing some kind of shoes in my daily life because it's getting a little too cold at night.  So, if you remember, I wrote that I was using the Vivo Barefoot shoes I owned for that purpose.

Well, I truly believe that walking around in these shoes has  improved my completely barefoot walking stride, and my barefoot running as well.

When I first wrote about them, I had written that I had a problem with the top pressing down and the heel rubbing.  But no more!  The shoes are completely broken in and they are wonderful.  I love them!  I love them!  I love them!

I'm going to try to explain something next that is a little complicated and I'm not sure how I'm going to put it all together.  I've got a few pictures to help me explain.  I hope I can get my point across.

I want to try to explain a kind of evolution I've been undergoing over the summer regarding the health of my feet and running barefoot, and being barefoot at other times in my life as well.  I want to try to explain how I've come to the point that I think the way we're walking around in our daily life has impact on our ability to run.  I've been writing about this all along, but I kind of want to pull it all together in this post so it will be in one place.

Influence Number 1
The Barefoot Running Clinic I took in Central Park
with Michael Sandler, author of Barefoot Running: How to Run Light and Free by Getting in Touch With the Earth

Before I took my first barefoot running steps, I attended a free barefoot running clinic by Michael Sandler in Central Park that was organized by the NYC Barefoot Meetup group.

At that seminar, he explained how slowly we had to condition our feet.  He talked about how it was like working out the feet muscles, and that they needed rest and recovery for the muscles to grow stronger, just like one would have to do with any weight lifting routine at the gym.  At one point in the talk, he suggested that we could wear our old running shoes walking around during these rest and recovery times.  Since, the shoes supported the arch and controlled the motion of the foot, the foot was "resting" while it was in the shoe from the barefoot workout it had undergone.

Okay, so taking that point to heart and taking it home with me, I decided that my feet could obtain this rest in a pair of therapeutically-designed plantar fasciitis flip flops I had bought to wear when I was suffering from my case of plantar fasciitis last year.  These flip flops had a really strong arch support, so I figured they could serve the function of giving my feet a "rest", like I had heard the running shoes could do

Exhibit I
Evil Therapeutic Plantar Fasciitis Flip Flops (Orthaheel Women's Tide Thong Sandals)

Here you see that pair of innocent looking flip flops.

From above, they look rather ordinary and harmless.
But let's take a look at them from the side, shall we?

As you can see, they have a very pronounced molded shape.  When I first got them in the mail, while suffering from the horrible pain of plantar fasciitis, they felt like absolute heaven to me.  The sole is very spongy, but does not collapse and has remained supportive for months.

I have come to believe that wearing these flip flops may have caused my fibular bone to rotate out of position.  That arch molded into the flip flop tipped my foot to the outside.  The advertisement for the shoe claims that this is a desirable effect -- that the flip flop realigns our feet to a "more natural position."  But I have come to believe it is just the opposite.  After all that barefoot running was teaching me, it felt unnatural to be bearing my weight on the outsides of my feet, and when I walked in the flip flops, I felt a strain on that peroneous longus muscle.  As I walked around, I would find myself trying to tip my foot back inward toward the arch (kind of deliberately pronatingthat anterior fibular head somatic dysfunction I wrote about.  There may have been other factors too, but this is my biggest suspect.

Exhibit II
Evil Reef Flip Flop

Take a look at the innocent-looking Reef Flip Flop from above:

I purchased these flip flops at the running store where I had joined the running club a year ago last spring.  Everyone was waiting for these flip flops to come in, and on the night they arrived at the store, everyone was lined up to buy a pair, and I, of course, got right in line with everyone else. (These must be the flip flops that runners wear!)

One of the reasons I had not worn these very much after making the purchase was that they had a nubby rough sole and -- this was way before I was barefoot running -- and my soles had been too tender and were getting sore from the abrasion of the surface.

Since the plantar fasciitis flip flops were bothering me, and my soles had gotten much tougher from barefoot running, I switched to this pair of flip flops for walking around.

But I had a concern, and you will see that concern when I show you what these Reef flip flops look like from the side:

Just look at that heel! I could feel that heel as I walked around. And the better and further I got with barefoot running, the more I could feel that heel.

So, why didn't you buy a pair of cheap flip flops at the local grocery store, Barefoot Fresca?

Well, I just figured I had spent enough on my barefoot running books and race fees and stuff that I would make do with the flip flops I had. These two pair of flip flops were not inexpensive and I felt that I had to get use out of them. Also, my understanding of just what all this barefoot was about was evolving. After all, I never signed up to go barefoot all the time. I was just trying out barefoot running. I had figured barefoot running would teach me a good mid-foot strike, and all along I had been planning to take what I had learned about barefoot running and put my little bare tootsies right back in a pair of good old running shoes (preferably minimal) once I knew how to run right. I had no idea that what I was doing was going to change the way I thought about the shoes I wore.

Influence Number 2
The Barefoot Book: 50 Great Reasons to Kick Off Your Shoes by Daniel Howell

Around the same time, another barefoot mentor I had adopted from reading his stuff was Jason Robillard (The Barefoot Running Book ). Over on his blog, Jason reviewed Daniel Howell's book, The Barefoot Book.  He was having a contest and the winner was going to get the book, but I decided to just go ahead and purchase it.

This book appealed to my idealism.  The discussion and argument made in the book made a lot of sense.  But there was one problem.  I get cold feet in the winter.  As much as I loved the idea of going barefoot all the time, and as much as I bought that it was better for my feet than my shoes, I just really felt that I could not take the leap and be an all-the-time barefoot person.  In addition, I hate having to stop and wash my feet so often.

Could I do part of it?

I could go barefoot more often.

I could even go barefoot a lot more often.

But sometimes I was going to need shoes.

So, that's where we've caught up to right now, the Fall.  At the beginning of the summer, I could not have gone barefoot more than what I was running, which was just a little bit each time.  I did need that rest and recovery that Michael Sandler had recommended (though I think I have come to disagree that any shoes with arch support are the way to rest, although it is difficult to picture how one is going to get around until one's feet are strong).

But now that I have been training and conditioning my feet for 5 months, they are stronger.  And there was something else that Michael Sandler had said (if I am remembering correctly).  He had said that once your feet were in shape, then go barefoot and wear flip flops (the flat kind) to your heart's content.  I think that time has arrived.

But my version of barefoot are these great shoes from Terra Plana's Vivo Barefoot line.  As I've walked around in these minimal shoes with no arch support or heel, I have had the unexpected and delightful benefit of it having enhanced and strengthened my barefoot running and walking experience.  Barefoot running the past couple of times out has seemed way more natural and free and I am convinced that it is because I've ditched the heel and the arch support from those evil flip flops I was wearing around all summer.

I think that it all works together somehow.  The way we walk and the shoes we wear when we are not running may play a role in how we're coming along as barefoot runners.


Anonymous said...

Great post! I really appreciate your including photos that show the top and side views of the "evil" flip-flops. They certainly support your theory that these highly-structured shoes were throwing you out of alignment.

But you might have become this comfortable in any case, just by walking and running barefoot for a number of months. (Not that it matters. The important thing is that you feel good now as you walk or run barefoot! :)

I've just run my 20th race barefoot (almost all of them since Labor Day.) Mostly 5Ks, but there were two 5-milers and a 10K. Sometimes I'd feel great after a race. Sometimes a couple of toes would hurt, if the road surface was rough. But my knee and back always feel great--and that's why I run barefoot: to ensure a low-impact stride that will not re-injure my knee or back.

So for me, as well as for you, this barefoot running is a work in progress. We keep learning.

Keep at it...and keep sharing your progress!

Avocational Singer said...

Thanks for your great comment, Ken

I know what you mean about how I might have become comfortable in any case. I like to theorize and analyze, but I don't mean what I write to be definitive.

Yet it makes sense that how we're walking around in our non-running hours may have an effect on the quality of our barefoot running. I am a singer, and sometimes a singer can work and work to solve a vocal problem while they are practicing, only to discover that it was poor speaking habits that have been undermining their work, and not faulty singing technique.

In the same way, I'm beginning to think that my barefoot running form can improve by what I'm doing when I'm NOT running.

But again, it's hard to say for sure.

I saw your blog. It's great. It looks like you're having a lot of fun and I enjoyed reading your 50 mile post. I look forward to reading about how it all develops for you.

Anonymous said...

Amazing isn't it, how we are told to stick that junk under our arch! Love your progess!! And those shoes are adorable!!!!!!!!