Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Kung Fu -- Barefoot or Minimalist Shoe?

Well, folks, it's still on my mind.  What does a new barefoot running adherent do about shoes for Kung Fu training?

Responding to my last post, Barefoot Josh asked in the comment section, "Do you have to wear shoes for Kung Fu?"

This is a very good question.  Don't think that after all this barefoot running I haven't had the notion to train barefoot in Kung Fu.

I have already mentioned that I asked my sifu about it and he said that he was of the opinion that shoes were better for Kung Fu training.  He is an expert with a lifetime's worth of martial arts experience and has tried many things, including training barefoot, so I respect his opinion.

And I have already mentioned that Kung Fu is traditionally trained in shoes but I didn't know why.

So, I went out a-Googling to try to glean some insight from what's published out there on the Internet about it, which isn't too much, but there is some.

First I'll show you the information I found and comment on it, and in the end I'll tell you what I've concluded.

(Disclaimer -- My writings and thoughts on this topic are horribly unscientific and incomplete, and I am a know-nothing, so all this is just my personal musings and brain-ramblings and ought to be taken as completely non-expert opinion in the matter.)

Why Do We Train Kung Fu in Shoes?
There are two main answers I have got for this question so far.  One is that martial arts such as karate and tai kwan do, which historically had been trained and practiced in a dojo indoors, developed a custom of practicing barefoot because of the Japanese and Korean custom of not wearing shoes in the house, and to keep the mats clean.

Kung Fu, on the other hand, was a martial art of the street.  It was martial arts for the people and it was practiced outside where it was dirty and cold and shoes were worn for that reason.

The other reason put forth for training in shoes that I've been able to find in my Internet-surfing is that because of the fighting and self-defense nature of Kung Fu, it's practical application is likely to occur on the street if one was being attacked and got in a fight.  Usually in that circumstance a person would be wearing shoes, and if you had been training in bare feet at your school on the one hand, you might get thrown off balance by the fact you were wearing shoes at the time you got attacked on the other.

One of the more interesting and cute articles I found about the custom of wearing shoes for Kung Fu practice was on Kung Fu magazine's site in an article called "Monk Takes Off His She: My Life as a Shaolin Shoe Salesman," by Gene Ching.

The information I was looking for, however, was more along the lines of how shoes were part of or were necessary to form optimal technique.  I didn't find anything like that, really.  The answer to wearing the shoes just seemed to sum up as, "because that's how it traditionally was practiced," but did not ever really specify if the shoes were intrinsic to the art itself or added to the functional aspects of training and development of the form in the sport.  So, I decided to dig a little deeper.

Pros and Cons of Barefoot vs. Shoes in Martial Arts Training
In my continued readings of forums and articles on the subject, I did pick up a sense that there is a continuing dialogue going on within the martial arts community over the benefits/drawbacks of wearing shoes vs. going barefoot for martial arts training in general.

The people who prefer training barefoot value it for many of the same reasons barefoot runners value it -- because of greater foot strength and conditioning, more subtlety, greater balance, less equipment, better understanding of the body, room for adaptability, feedback from the environment. (For more, see "Barefoot Training in the Martial Arts: No Shoes is Good News!" by Rick Tew.)

Likewise the people who prefer training with mat shoes value it for many of the same reasons runners who like to train in shoes value it -- protection of the foot from diseases, cuts and abrasions (one of the biggest complaints about barefoot training is that foot cuts and mat burns are common in beginners), greater stability, shock absorption from training on hard surfaces like wooden floors. (For more, see "Martial Arts Training Shoes: Four Compelling Reasons to Wear Them," by Ed Sadler.)

In this one article I found, "Mat Shoes vs. Barefoot Training," by J.P. Alvarez, over at Suite 101.com I learned that martial arts which have traditionally trained barefoot are being replaced by using shoes to train.  Little by little the shoe companies are designing martial arts shoes.  It sounds like right now this martial art shoe category tends to be minimalist and light, but I fear the shoe industry grabbing on to this trend and starting to develop shoes that spring-load your kicks and give you greater stability, etc..., just like the shoe companies did for the runners.

In fact one of the sensei's quoted in the "Mat Shoes vs. Barefoot Training" article even said that he thinks there will be a new era of mat shoes as men and women look to be more hygienic and avoid the spread of disease and frequent toe injuries.  He also predicts that athletic companies will probably start designing shoes tailored to the needs of martial arts students because of this new trend.

By far, the most thorough article I was able to find was from an April 2000 issue of Black Belt Magazine which was on Google Books, "With or Without Shoes: 9 Experts Debate the Pros and Cons of Barefoot Martial Arts Training" by Adrienne Lee Bell.  That article quoted experts from the various disciplines in the martial arts.  It seems like a barefoot runner taking up one of the disciplines that trains barefoot would be right at home and something of a traditionalist.  But a barefoot runner who took up Kung Fu, where the training has been done in shoes, would be breaking with tradition.

In the end, it seems like cross-training in both shoes and barefoot might be a good choice.  That way the student could get the foot conditioning and strengthening and other benefits of barefoot, while getting the practical knowledge of training in shoes.

What Shall I Do?
Well, after all my research, and all my experience learning how to barefoot run this past summer, I have a great desire to train my Kung Fu barefoot.  I believe there will be great benefits to my Kung Fu form by including barefoot training, just like I believed my running form would improve if I tried barefoot running. But since the tradition is to train in shoes -- I shall also need to conform to that tradition in order respect my Kung Fu school and sifu's protocol.

I have been thinking that one thing that is putting me off from barefoot Kung Fu training is similar to something that puts established runners off from trying barefoot running.  Because of the principle that one must develop the foot strength gradually and not do too much too soon, the established runner is often not inclined to try it because he/she would have to cut back on mileage and temporarily "lose" what they have gained in their training thus far.

I feel the same way about my Kung Fu training.  Perhaps I could not get through a full class barefoot at this point.  In that case, the same principles that govern learning to barefoot run might also apply in learning to train barefoot Kung Fu.  In the article above, the beginners complain of foot cuts and mat burns and that is why they run out and get mat shoes for their martial arts training.  But from what the more advanced practitioners say, this is less of a problem when the feet have been conditioned for it.  I think that, just like with barefoot running, one should transition by incorporating just a little bit of barefoot Kung Fu at first to allow the feet to adjust to the new task.

So, I will find a more suitable training shoe than an old running shoe for my Kung Fu classes, and I shall begin to add some barefoot Kung Fu practice at home.  In the beginning, I might do as little as ten minutes of practice barefoot and gradually build to longer and longer amounts of time.  In the meantime, I will train in a minimal shoe while in my classes at the Kung Fu school, which will allow me some of the flexibility and benefits of barefoot, if not all of them.  A cross-training approach.

I feel very strongly that I must get out of the shoes I've been wearing ASAP.  In that case, I am leaning toward the Feiyu martial art shoe.  They are inexpensive, generally praised in the reviews (although I have heard complaints about lack of arch support, which for me would be a good thing), and have the right kind of grip for the mats.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Ouch! On Being a Barefoot Princess and Needing Minimalist Shoes for Kung Fu

It's been snowy wet and cold here and I have not gone out to run since the Buzz and Woody Best Friends 5K a couple of weeks ago.  Don't worry -- (were you worried?) -- I've got plans and I shall be getting back out there.  I'm just re-grouping.

But I did tell you that I at long last started black sash training for Kung Fu.

Now that I have graduated to being mainly minimalist, barefoot, or in socks almost all the time, it felt really really weird to put on the old pair of running shoes that I had been using for Kung Fu.

Not only did it feel weird, but I was finding that I could not stand them.  It seemed like the outsides of my feet were raised up on some kind of platform and this was pushing my feet inward, but then there was this bump in my arch that was digging in when my feet were inward.  I could feel my toes cramming in to the front of the shoe and pressing up against it. I felt so-o-o-o uncomfortable and I knew that I needed to be doing this in a much more minimal shoe.  As I went uncomfortably through my workout, I made a firm decision to get a different pair of shoes for Kung Fu.

The experience for me was like that old story about the Princess and the Pea.  The real princess would feel the pea under all those stacked-up mattresses because she was so sensitive.  Well, I felt like I have become a real Barefoot Princess, and that my feet have developed into these sensitive soles that can feel every lump in her shoe, just like the princess could feel every lump from the pea under the mattresses.

In fact, at one point during the class I was taken by surprise by this very painful foot cramp in the arch of my foot.  It felt like I was getting a Charlie Horse in the arch of my foot and I couldn't believe what was happening.

We had just finished our third set of jumping jacks and push-ups and were about to go into the third round of crunches, when the charlie horse cramp hit the arch of my left foot.

I was in so much pain that I couldn't start my crunches and I just lay there.

I had to focus and try to relax the muscle cramp.  But I knew that it was because of the shock my feet were having from being in the supported and bolstered running shoes.

When I first joined Kung Fu over 4 years ago, I was of the mindset that I would need a lot of support in my shoes because of my weight.  I tried using my then-current running shoes, but they provided too much traction.  We do Kung Fu on this foamy kind of exercise mats and my feet were literally sticking to the mat and when I would switch stances, my feet would not follow that easily, putting a lot of pressure on my twisted-up joints.

So, I took an old pair of Brooks running shoes that were smoother on the bottom because they had worn down and they had seemed so perfect, just like my running shoes for running had always seemed and felt.

(Ran out of my alloted free space on Google Blogger's Picasa.  Rather than purchase more photo space, I'm trying out this photobucket thing until I figure out how I'm going to manage.)

So, I will be looking in to what shoes I shall use for Kung Fu from now on.  I did a little research tonight, but I can see that it might take me more time to decide. I'll write another post with some of what I'm finding out about minimalist shoes for Kung Fu.

A few months back I had tried to use my Vibrams for Kung Fu class, but the Vibrams had a little bit too much grip on the mat and I believe it caused me to get a strain in the area where a person gets a toe turf injury.  I wrote about that here:  "No Run for Me Today: Minor Surgery Instead"

Traditional cotton Kung Fu shoes like the ones you can see here --  Cotton Sole Kung Fu Shoes -- may be my very first option.  They only cost about $10.00 and reading the reviews makes me think they will be just the thing.

The funny thing is that way back when I first started Kung Fu and I thought I needed support, I saw a picture of these shoes and thought, "Those look way too flimsy.  For sure I will need more cushioning and arch support, etc.... blah, blah blah."  Now, I'm looking at the same shoe and thinking, "This looks perfect!"  It's amazing how much I've changed without really realizing I was changing.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Something Different -- How About a Little Kung Fu?

This is horse stance.

Horse stance is one of the basics of the foundation of learning Shaolin Kung Fu.

When you first start in Kung Fu, they make you hold that stance for about a minute.  By the time you get to the Intermediate/Advanced level, they make you hold it about 3 minutes.  But the people in black sash training have to hold it for 5 minutes.

This morning I held it for 5 minutes for the first time.

I took the self-portrait above before I met all of you on Barefoot Fresca blog.  Two years ago, actually.  Around the same time I decided I was going to run a half marathon.  Around the same time I decided to build a base by walking for 8 weeks or so and then walking a 5K as a preliminary to starting to run again.

This was before I knew that my plans to start training for the 2010 Disney 1/2, despite how carefully crafted they had been, were going to end with a bad case of plantar fasciitis.  Before I knew that I was going to have to quit my training the following Thanksgiving.  Before I knew that I was going to adopt a what's-the-use attitude and eat my way through the holidays and gain about 25 pounds.  Before I knew that I was going to get my can-do spirit back and begin again.  Before I knew that when I began again I was going to end up trying barefoot running.  Before I knew I was going to start another blog ...

That was then.

But this is now:  One of the reasons (amongst many others which I've iterated on this blog) I wanted to train for the 1/2 marathon was that I was slowly working my way towards getting into the black sash training at my Kung Fu school.  I had heard that the black sash training was tough, and I thought that some aerobic exercise would help my stamina.

Well, the time has come.  After four years of working to build my Kung Fu base, I have been invited to black sash training.  And the first class was this morning.  It was hard, and I'm very glad that I have been barefoot running because it helped me so much to get through that very tough class this morning.

I've come a long way with this Kung Fu stuff.  About five years ago I was looking for a mother/daughter athletic activity we could do together.  I was worried that I was not a good role mother as a mom.  My children never saw me participating in any physical activities.

As I was spending my time contemplating what athletic activity we could pursue -- run together?  take ice-skating together? roller blade? ride bikes? swim? -- my kid surprised me by coming up with something of her own.  How about we take Kung Fu?

Kung Fu?


Well, I knew it was a martial art at least.  Was it like karate?  It wasn't exactly what I had been thinking of, but why not?  Let's check it out.

I thought the forms were pretty.  I had liked taking dance and gymnastics when I was young, and it kind of fit in to that concept.  I didn't think there was any way at my age and level of conditioning that I'd achieve anything in it.  I figured it could be as good an exercise class as any I might go to and give me a nice workout and improve me somewhat.  So, we joined the school.

The first classes were agonizing and difficult.  I felt a knot of fear in my stomach each time I headed over to Kung Fu class in anticipation of the pain I'd be in, and the how much effort I would have to exert.  I also did not enjoy being the slowest and least member of the class.  It was a humbling experience. My face would go beet red and I'd be huffing and puffing during the sets of conditioning exercises -- jumping jacks, crunches, push-ups -- that occurred at the start of each class.  The instructors would look nervously over at me, "Mrs. Barefoot Fresca!  Are you okay?" and "Breathe, Mrs. Barefoot Fresca, breathe!!" (Of course I was not known to them as Barefoot Fresca then.  In fact, I wasn't even Barefoot Fresca then, but I'm using my stage name here to tell the story).

Well, I bet you can guess what happened.  That's right.  Little by little the body responded, as the body is wont to do with physical activity, and as the law of accommodation kicked in and my physical conditioning improved -- lo and behold -- I found myself actually really loving it and becoming interested in really learning how to do it, not just showing up for an exercise session.

And after a bit, I even began to believe that maybe I, too,  could proceed to black sash training

Well, the time has come.  I was so ready for it this past Fall, but something unanticipated happened.  I got a little Kung-Fu-de-conditioned in the past couple of months.  It's kind of a long story, but my schedule got pretty full and trying to juggle and balance everything resulted in my Kung Fu suffering a bit in the process.

So, my first day back after a little Kung Fu hiatus was this stepped up, incredibly intense Kung Fu workout.  Boy oh boy was I glad that I was in condition for it aerobically.  That helped a lot.  Mostly all I had to do was contend with a drop in my level of muscular strength.  I know that will come back in about 3 weeks.

It was a tremendously positive experience.  This school is very special and the black sash class is very encouraging.  We're all in it together.

There was a bit of pressure on because if someone "messes up" the whole class has to begin all over again.  I was the cause of everyone having to begin again a couple of times, but there were others there who caused it too, so it wasn't too bad.

At one point, we had to do these battle-line kicks across the floor, which entailed hopping on one foot.  Hopping across the floor when you weigh what I weigh is no easy feat.  I had been practicing them in the regular Kung Fu classes, but had not been able to make it across the floor. I would hop about 6-10 times and then step and then hop 6-10 times, then step.

But that wouldn't do today.  As soon as I took that step, he called everyone back to begin again.  Oh no! They'll all be mad at me for making them begin again!

But they weren't.  Everyone started cheering for me.  Sifu said, "yes, you can," and I made this act of the will, contracted my abs, focused on making sure I landed squarely centered beneath me each time, did not get my foot ahead of me or behind -- hey, kind of like running barefoot! -- and to my great surprise I made it across.  Not only once, but several times on each leg.

So, as you can imagine, I'm feeling pretty good (but a little stiff and sore).

I don't have as great a motivation to run barefoot in the cold as I did before.  Before, I was doing it to keep my feet conditioned for Disney.  I will try to run barefoot when it's favorable conditions out there, but I may be wearing my Vibrams more often for the winter months now. Monday will be my first run since Buzz and Woody's 5K last week, so we'll see what happens.

But I think for the winter months I may be writing a bit about Kung Fu on this blog, since my workouts for that have now stepped up in frequency and intensity and I'll be working for that black sash test in June.  I hope you will follow along as I write now about both barefoot running and Kung Fu black sash training.

Friday, January 7, 2011

"Run Disney" Barefoot -- Buzz and Woody Best Friends 5K Race Report

Evil nubby pavement Disney Epcot parking lot.

Above you see my best shot at trying to convey the texture of the painful surface that slowed me down in the first mile of the Buzz and Woody Best Friends 5K run this morning.  In fact, as I sit here typing this in the evening, I can still feel the slight soreness on the balls of my feet as my little souvenir from that first mile.  I just thought that I should post the picture of this nubby, pointy, sharp, stabbing surface first, because that was the main challenge I had in the race.

But let's go back now to very early this morning as we arrived at the Epcot parking lot around 6:00 a.m. in the morning.

Disney has a special bus to bring everyone over.  We arrive in the dark.  I'm wearing my Vibrams to walk over to the gathering area.

My sister gets a snapshot of me in my Barefoot Runner's Society T-shirt.

I had been observing the parking lot surface for a while, and even through my Vibrams I could feel that those nubby, sharp bumps were not going to be fun.  I waited until about 6:45 and removed my Vibrams.

As soon as my feet felt those sharp pointy bumps, I knew it was going to be rough going.  I immediately began to worry and calculate.  Should I put my Vibrams on and wait until I got into the park?  How far would we be running on this?  My knowledge of where we were standing and where the entrance to the park was made me realize that I was going to have to run pretty far on this surface.

Interrupting these thoughts was a surprise voice from behind the rail calling to me, "Hey, Barefoot Runner's Society!" I look over and there is a guy in these huarache running sandals calling and waving to me.  It turns out that it was Warren, who started a thread about running the Disney races in a forum at BRS's web site.  His wife had seen the T-shirt and he had come looking for me.  He told me he would be running the Goofy challenge, which is 1/2 marathon tomorrow morning and then the full marathon the next day.

Warren was kind enough to pose for a picture that I told him would be on my blog:

I have to admit that it felt really good to meet another person who knew what I was doing and expressed approval for it.  This was a VERY shod race.  The sea of feet around me stretched on in all directions of every kind of running shoe on the market.  I did not even see any Vibrams there, although my sister told me she did see another person at one point with some Vibrams.

(Later on, my Mom and Dad -- who had been spectators and been specifically watching for barefoot runners in particular because of wanting to spot me -- told me that they did not see one other barefoot runner.  That means that it is possible that I was the only barefoot runner in the race.  That would be cool.)

Well, it was time to start, and there was quite a walk to the starting line, since we lined up by pacing groups and I had put myself in the 13 - 16minute group.

Here's what it looked like as my feet began the walk:

and here is how far it was to the start line (actually was further -- it was just that at this point I thought to take picture).

I bring this up because, besides the evil sharp pointy parking lot surface, this was another factor in it taking me 22 minutes to get to the first mile marker!!!

When we finally got to the start line, Buzz and Woody were there chatting away.

I was trying to stay within sight of this family dressed up in costume.  About six of them running together with the same heads.  Two of them stopped on the side of the road and graciously gave me permission to put a picture of them on my blog.  I think stopping to take a few pictures also contributed to my 22-minute at one-mile problem:

And I was thinking of all of you when I took some time out to get a picture with this army guy:

After that the lines for the characters got a little too long to stop for photos.  So I just took a few as I ran along:

But, the nubby parking lot, the long walk to the start line, the stopping for photos had brought me finally to the sad time at the 1-mile mark:

Now, anyone who's been reading along for a while knows that I don't really run for a time.  I'm not a contender, and run at the back of the pack.  Nevertheless, I have been happy to keep improving my own personal  little best, and when I ran as Barefoot Cavewoman, I had run much better than this.  This event today was a fun run and there were not going to be official times and winners.  But I didn't want to be hobbling across the finish line in last place.  I didn't think it would be good for the barefoot image.

So, now that we were on smoother surfaces at last, I decided to concentrate on running well, and not stop to take pictures with the characters, who now had long lines forming by race contestants.

Snow white & Dopey:

Gepetto from Pinocchio up on the balcony:

and Chip and Dale standing on the pavilion in the Japan section of world showcase:

All seemed to be going pretty well in mile 2 except for one thing:  I had to go to the bathroom.

I had been concerned that it hadn't occurred before the race.  And now I wondered if I should just keep running or stop and use the rest room.  I wanted to make up somehow for that first mile, and I knew that if I stopped that I was going to have to forget about making any kind of good personal barefoot showing.  But, remembering how sick I got one time (and a time or two after that), when I went ahead an ran when "the call" came and it was pretty horrible.  So, I stopped to use the rest room.  It was a full 5-minute stop!

Now, -- I will tell you -- all summer long I have not been that upset about running on the dirty sidewalks with my bare feet.  I've dodged around crazy looking spots and tried not to think about the fact that the "clean" parts I'm stepping on might have God-knows-what on it.  But in all my barefoot running days, I have never been as grossed out as I was walking barefoot in the rest room at Walt Disney World.  (Mental note to self -- bring along a pair of paper slippers, like the kind you get in the hospital, just in case I ever have to do that again.)  Sorry to bring the topic up, but it's part of gaining barefoot experience and getting better at anticipating things and protecting one's self in the future.

When I came out from the rest room, I was dismayed to see that there were no longer the back-of-the-pack runners, but the walkers out there.  I stepped back into the stream, and soon arrived upon the two-mile marker:  41 + minutes!  Why, I practically ran an entire 5K in that time just a couple months ago.  Oh, well!  This is a Fun Run after all.

I was really enjoying the scenery along the way:

But they turned the course suddenly and brought us on some back service roads.  Darn!  More rough asphalt.  Not as rough and nubby and evil as the parking lot, but not nice to run on after having experienced the parking lot 20 minutes or so earlier.

I was happy when the service road section brought us back around and into the park again:

As we approached the big Epcot ball that houses Spaceship Earth, I just kept passing walker after walker.  From now on, that's what this race was about for me, just passing and passing everyone because they were all walking and I was running:

In a way, it was kind of nice.  Because when I'm up with the runners, I usually feel like a stone in a river that is flowing up ahead of me.  All the runners are usually passing me.  I had a completely different perspective back with the walkers as I was the one passing all of them.  It, once again, gave me the full understanding that because I have begun to run, I am ahead of the game, even if I am in last place.  That is the illusion that one gets when one is a beginner.  One feels in last place.  But it is hard to see and understand that by being a beginner, one is ahead in many ways.

I had a surprise waiting for me as I got to mile 3.  I was just getting ready to ask the Disney cast member to take my picture for you all at mile 3, when I heard a little cheering squad break out.  It was my Dad, Mom and one of my sisters.  My Dad was taking a video.  Here's a short clip I edited from the video:

Of course I had to ask my Dad to take the 3-mile picture:

Okay, so that's pretty crummy.  I was running, and I had a time that some people who walked the race might have.  But I really do blame it on the evil parking. lot and the fact that I had to stop to go to the bathroom.  I was worried that there would be more evil parking lot at the end of the race, but -- thankfully -- it was all regular asphalt for the next .2 miles.

There's some kind of official race photos, and Warren (remember Warren from Barefoot Runners Society from the start of this story?) took some photos of me at the finish line that he told me he's going to e-mail to me.  So, maybe I'll post some of them when I get them.

But this is it for now.  I think I was 58 minutes and something at the finish line.

When I told the official race photographer to get my feet in the picture, she asked  if my feet were cold.  I couldn't even imagine that anyone would think this weather, which was around 60 degrees, was cold.  Did I stop to tell her that I thought it was really great and that my feet felt absolutely heavenly compared to 31 degrees?  No, she thought I was weird enough.  Why exacerbate it?

Had to go back out to the evil parking lot surface to get my stuff from the bag check.  Just to be a tough guy, I walked on it a bit before I put my Vibrams on. But boy-oh-boy did it feel good to have them on again:

My Dad thought the Vibrams were pretty cool and took his own photo of them:

To finish up, I'll leave you with a few more images of "evil parking lot."

And thus ends my first barefoot running season (which I never knew was going to be a barefoot running season at all).  I  wonder what the next season will bring!

Thursday, January 6, 2011

"Run Disney" Barefoot

Thought I'd send you all a few pictures on the eve of my Disney 5K.

But while you're looking at the photos, just a few words about why I "run Disney."  I have some catching up to do here at Disney.  My mom has run the Disney 1/2 and the Disney marathon.  My dad has run the Disney 1/2 and the Disney marathon. (They both did it in their 60s for the first time). "Little" sister number 1 has run both of them multiple times, and has done the "Goofy Challenge" (run the 1/2 on Saturday and the full on the next day).  "Little" sister number 2 has done it a couple of times.  And "little" sister number three has done both of them multiple times.  This weekend sister #1 and sister #3 are here and #1 is running the marathon and #3 is doing the Goofy challenge for her second year in a row (and I think has done it in the past.)

Well, I think you kind of get it.  I'm the only one in the family who doesn't have a Mickey, Goofy, or Donald medal.  It kind of seems like I have to run one of these races some day to complete the family picture, but I'm starting with the 5k

Around the turn of the millennium, my mom told us that for her 70th birthday she wanted our entire family to run the Disney marathon together. At the time, I thought it over but decided it was too much to ask. At the time I weighed about 275 pounds and knew that I would have to devote a LOT of time to the goal, and I just couldn't see myself doing it. At the time I was devoting a great amount of  time on my singing as I couldn't add the time to train for a marathon. I sadly told my mom that it was too much time and I would not be able to participate in her 70th birthday wish,

But I thought it over and decided it didn't have to be all or nothing.  Five years ago, I decided to come down here and show my kids what athletic aunts and grandparents they had.  I guess they knew my family ran a lot, but they never had seen it, so I decided that it would be really good for them to not only see their extended family run, but also to be around lots of people who did stuff like this.  I wanted them to be exposed to that world, that they might not ever realize existed.

We came down and walked.the 5K.  I planned to maybe run it the next year.  But I actually strained my hip joints during that walk. It took a long time to heal, and I decided to proceed more carefully next time I started moving again. I had planned to upload a photo of me crossing the finish line that year, but I forgot to upload it before I left for my trip, so I'll have to add it later.

My mom never got her 70th birthday wish. A couple months after I came down to walk that 5K, she was diagnosed with leukemia. She had to stop running and she had to go through chemotherapy and then she had a stem-cell transplant. Her 70th birthday passed. But soon after that everything looked like it was going to be just fine. The treatments were successful. She went into remission. She started training again. But one of the steroids she was on destroyed her knee. Now she can't run any more.

So, last year I decided to train for the Disney 1/2. As many of you know  it was during that training that I got plantar fasciitis and never finished my training (long run was up to about 6 miles by the time I had to call it quits).

When I started up this past spring again, I didn't know what would happen, but I signed up for both the 1/2 and the 5K. And you are up to date now, because you all know I started barefoot running, and because of how gradually I had to build barefoot -- well the 5K it is!  Maybe next year for the 1/2?

Everybody's down here except sister #2 (she ran it last year).  Mom and Dad work at Disney's Wide World of Sports, so they're always down here during the winter.  So, today we went over to Disney's Wide World of Sports and signed up and hung out at the expo:

Lots and lots of running shoes down there in that mob of people.  But I did not look at a one.  Oh, I did stop to look at this one:

Yes, that's Cinderella's famous slipper done up with running treads.  Maybe Cinderella needed that tread on the bottom of her shoe when she had to high tail it out of the Ball.  But do people forget that her other foot was barefoot?  As she ran away, why didn't she just kick off the other shoe and just run barefoot?

Ah, well, no time to worry about it now.  I have to get to sleep because we have to get up at 4:15 in the morning to get over to Epcot by about 6:30.  I'll see you all after the race.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Happy New Year -- First Barefoot Steps of the New Year

Happy New Year, everyone!  I feel most fortunate to have been able to go for a barefoot run on the first day of the year.

(I got a little ahead of myself with my blog posts.  Before I could post this one, I had to finish up the series "Winter Cross Training in Vibrams, Parts I, II and III."  That resulted in me posting a barrage of posts all at the same time.  If you missed the Vibrams series of posts, you can start reading it by clicking here.)

For the first day of 2011, I got ready with my warm layers, but when I checked the temperature out I was surprised to see that it was 50 degrees!  It had been a few days since I had run.  I was very busy doing two special performances in the middle of the week with one of my choirs.  There was a lot of rehearsing.  But on top of it all, a tooth that had been worked on about a month ago with my very first really big cavity started acting up, and now they are telling me that I may have to get my very first root canal.  I have never really had any significant cavities and this has been my very first toothache and I have not been liking the experience very much.

But I knew today that if I was going to make it in that Disney 5K next Friday -- toothache or no --  I was going to have to do a "long run" (which for me is a 5K distance).  I had cut back in recent weeks and had been running shorter runs to acclimate to the cold.  I figured that those shorter runs were maintaining my 5K distance for the most part that I had built up over the summer, but if I went much longer it was going to be tougher.

 When I realized it was 50 degrees out, I ditched my sweatshirt and hat and gloves and headed out barefoot.  Having decided that in the winter it is a good idea to take a little barefoot walk around to test the sidewalks, I did just that before I set out.  It is true that it was pretty warm, but the melting snow made the sidewalks really wet.  Since it wasn't freezing, I figured the wet would not be a problem as far as how cold my feet were, but would pose the usual problem of running in wet, some of which I first discovered when I wrote here about running in the rain.  The way was mostly clear, with occasional patches of snow in the way which looked easy enough to jump over. 

When I got to a spot like the one to the left here,
it was easy enough to find strategic spots to set
my feet, which you shall see in the next photo.

As you can see, there's always a way with these conditions. This is something I would not have realized if my hesitancy to try it out had kept me indoors. In fact, one begins to almost feel slightly clever  as one starts to discover little solutions out there.

I remember reading in one of my barefoot running books (can't remember which one) that feet getting wet can be okay if you find a dry spot to get them dry as soon as you can.  It's when they get waterlogged that there is more of a problem because then the skin starts slipping around and that's what makes one more prone to blisters.  So, that little bit of reading knowledge came back to me after I got my feet wet going over the snow patch.  I found a dry piece of sidewalk and made sure the water was transferred there as you can see by the photo on the left.

Speaking of solutions, I wasn't sure what to do when I had this snow bank blocking my way to my running path.  I had thought that by now they would have cleared the cross walks.  But there it was, the same snowbank I had walked through with my Vibrams earlier this week.

I thought about it and said to myself, "Well, I have walked on snow before, and that was when it was much colder.  I can do this with my bare feet.  There's bound to be dry spots on the path beyond and this will only take a second.  So, I took the plunge and just walked in the deep footsteps others had provided for my bare feet to follow:

Sure enough, it was easy, thanks to the fact that I had made myself walk in snow a couple of times.  As I've been learning, all this stuff doesn't have to be "all or nothing."  A little bit of walking on snow can be fun enough, and it's safer than deciding to go run 8 miles in a blizzard.  It gives one's feet a little taste of the experience without risking injury. It just stings a little.  But then again, doesn't it sting when you grab a handful of snow with your bare hands to make a snowball?

And it was worth the trip over the snow bank, because the path before me had plenty of dry stretches.  It was going to be good.

I ran about 3.15 miles.  That ought to do it for a long run.  I can have two more runs this week and then I'll be in good shape to run at Disney next Friday.  According to the Weather Channel, the low will be about 42 degrees that day and the high 69.  It says there will be a few showers, but that can be dealt with.

Notes to self:  Look for the dry spots and you will be just fine.

Winter Cross Training in Vibrams -- Part I I I -- The Barefoot Part

Ah, here we are at last in the final part of the 3-part series "Winter Cross Training in Vibrams."  Yes, folks, I dared to write a 3-part series about an hour out running the same route I've run for the past 6 months.  I don't know how long I can keep it up, writing about the same run over and over and over again, but somehow, there is always something new.  There was so much on this day when I capitulated to the fact that the weather had beat me and I would have to put on shoes, that I did, indeed, need to tell the story in 3 parts.

In the first part -- "The Preliminaries" --  I wrote about how I fretted over exactly how I would proceed with this new kind of running with shoes on.  I gave an account of the short walk up the block to the boulevard path and the little challenges the presence of the snow presented.

In the second part, -- "Running in Vibrams," -- I wrote about what it was like to run my first steps with shoes on since last June.  Since you've seen my little running route adorned with summer and fall, I gave you a peek of it in its winter dressing.

Now, in this final part, I get to the fun -- "The Barefoot Part."  This part could also be titled, "It Doesn't Have to Be All or Nothing."  That's because just because weather and my degree of conditioning may cause me to have to forgo being barefoot for one of my runs, it doesn't mean I have to give up barefoot altogether until spring.  I can still include a little bit of barefoot. A little bit of barefoot to keep me happy.  A little bit of barefoot is better than nothing at all.  And that little bit of barefoot might be doing two things: 1) it may be keeping my feet conditioned enough over the winter so that I don't have to start so tender-footed when the good weather comes and 2) it may be conditioning and accustoming my feet to winter conditions so that I may enjoy longer barefoot runs in the winter in the future.

So, here we go.

I had decided that there was a little stretch out on the bluff that looked favorable for a barefoot section of running.

When I returned to the spot, it was time to take off the Vibrams.  This proved to be a little tricky, as there wasn't a place to sit, and I wasn't sure how to go about it.  I finally settled on something like this:

I picked the Vibrams up and tuck them under my belt.  My feet were pretty warmed up from having just run 2.37 miles.  Since I had done those other runs in the 30s of degrees, it really did not feel bad at all.

I set out and took a video of it for you all:

I continued on to run a half mile in my bare feet.  It felt really great to run a half mile outside the day after a giant blizzard.  Somehow I felt way less defeated by the natural forces around me.  I think a half a mile is fine for someone like me -- still a relative beginner -- to tackle my first year of barefoot running.  I definitely could feel that the training and preparation I had done in the colder weather -- even the very few steps out into the snow I had done -- had made it possible for me to run barefoot this way.  I was very happy.

The last piece of tricky business, was how I was going to put my Vibrams back on.  Back when I had been trying to envision this, I had pictured sitting on a bench, and tying Daffodil to the bench so I could use both hands.

But when I got to the bench I realized there was a bit of a problem with that plan:

I considered just trying to climb over the snow bank in my bare feet and head home, but when I looked at the snow bank, I decided not to:

It looked like I was going to have to try to put my wet Vibrams on while standing in place on one foot and holding a dog leash.  It went something like this:  First, drying my feet with the little towel I had brought along.

Then the rest:

It was a bit of a struggle, cold toes were hard to feel so I couldn't tell which toe was going in to which slot.  But it wasn't as bad as I had pictured it would be when envisioning it beforehand.

Daffodil and I took one more look back at the path:

And then I picked her up and carried her over the snow bank.

First one step:

and then another

and another

Until we were all done.

Thanks for coming with me on my first day of cross training in Vibrams. (Remember, I decided to think of it as a completely separate sport from barefoot running, so I wouldn't feel bad about having to do it.)

New Year's Day will bring some surprisingly warm weather and delight me in that I will be able to go for a completely barefoot run again.  But I didn't know that at this point.