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Barefoot Running University.

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Monday, August 31, 2009

100 mile training

Here's a brief update on my training. I have 26 days left until Hallucination. The training has went well thus far- no injuries to report. My training mileage has been pretty good- 45, 65, 81, 31, and 71 over the last five weeks. This week will likely be somewhere in the ballpark of 50 miles as I start a gradual taper over the next four weeks.

Mt crew is coming along. This last week, about 30 of my miles were run with Mark, one of my pacers. Some of Mark's friends may also pace which would be great! I will probably need all the help I can get! I'm still finalizing the plans for the race weekend, but it looks like everything is falling into place!

I bought a new pair of Vibram KSOs for the race- size 46. They are two sizes larger than what I typically wear to account for swelling in the latter stages of the race. I wore them for a 35 mile trail run over the weekend without incident. It is interesting, Vibram decided to make the soles of the KSOs slightly thicker than previous versions. This is somewhat disappointing as the new version loses some of the ground "feel". I was excited about the new "Treks" Vibram is set to release in October, but the sole is supposedly twice the thickness of the current KSOs. I'm not sure I could tolerate the difference.

In other news, I'm currently exploring the feasibility of starting a barefoot instruction business. Over the last four years, I've immersed myself in the study of barefoot running. My research, coupled with the practical training and race experience I've gained could be very useful to a new barefoot runner. I may have finally found a way to couple my love of barefoot running with the years of professional education and coaching experience! If anyone is interested in being a guinea pig for my methods AND you happen to live in the greater Grand Rapids area, drop me a line at I will offer the coaching for free to a handful of individuals to get some feedback prior to going public.

Friday, August 21, 2009

How to Run Barefoot: A guide to losing the shoes

The contributors to the Runner's World Barefoot Forum had a lengthy discussion about a guide to barefoot running designed for the new barefoot runner. Yesterday, while sitting in the doctor's office waiting room, I wrote a guide. It is posted on my website here. I am in the process of refining it based on input from my friends at Runner's World. Here is what amounts to the second draft:

How Do I Start Barefoot Running?

This guide will help you transition to barefoot running. This plan is universal; it is designed to be used by either novice runners or runners with years of experience. If you are a novice runner, simply begin the program as written. If you are currently training, you may continue your current mileage. Simply add the workouts in this program to your current running schedule. The idea is to replace some of your "shod' mileage with the barefoot mileage. Some people have done this by simply adding the barefoot mileage at the beginning or end of their already-scheduled runs. I would recommend doing this at the beginning of a run so you will not be as fatigued. Once you reach Stage 5, you may decide to continue replacing barefoot mileage with your shod mileage until your running is completely barefoot, or you may decide to continue both shod and barefoot running. Both options should help reduce injuries.


Form may vary greatly. There is no one "right" method. However, there are some general guidelines that seem to be fairly universal among barefoot runners. The most important is the way the foot impacts the ground. When wearing modern running shoes, most runners use a heel strike. The heel of their foot is the first thing that strikes the ground, and they continue to roll their feet forward and inward. With barefoot running, the ideal is to use a midfoot strike by softly landing on the outside half of the foot and rolling inward. The rest of your foot will then gently touch the ground (see video). This foot-ground contact should occur directly under your body, not in front as many heel strikers are prone to doing. After your foot touches the ground, you will lift it straight up primarily using your quads. It is analogous to riding a bike with your feet clipped to the pedal and using your leg muscles to pull up on the pedal. Sometimes it is beneficial to imagine lifting your knees or hamstrings instead of your feet. If done properly, there should be no pushing off, thus no friction. This relaxed, loose lifting motion tends to force the development of the other elements of good form.

Some other points- your knees should be slightly bent throughout your stride. You should have a very slight forward lean that originates from the ankles. Do not lean forward at the waist. Your posture should be upright without a forward hunch. You do not want to lean forward from the waist. Your head should be up with your eyes focused on the running surface in front of you. Your entire body should be very relaxed. The following is an excellent description of proper posture from PeaceKaren, a contributor to the Runner's World Barefoot Forum:

"What works for me is to not think about leaning at all. I either think about pushing myself forward from the hips using my gluteus muscles (like my hips are in a race with my feet and I want my hips to win) or imagine being pulled forward from the hips. I sometimes visualize a cord running parallel to the ground, attached at the center of my hips (just below the belly button) and at the other end connected to a winch on a tree or telephone pole or some object directly in front of me. Then I imagine that winch winding in the cord pulling me forward from that center hip position. This automatically pulls my hips under me, improving my posture and causing the lean to happen naturally."

The cadence (how many times your foot touches the ground) should be around 180-200 per minute. To achieve this, shorter strides are required. The strides will typically be shorter than the strides of a shod runner as you are not extending your stride ahead of your body. Some people have found an MP3 player with a metronome track to be especially helpful in learning good cadence. Download one here.

Video of Barefoot Running

Pain and Injury

One of the dangers of beginning barefoot running is doing too much too soon. Your feet have likely spent most of their active life confined in shoes. Shoes weaken the bones, muscles, ligaments, and tendons of your feet. The skin on the soles of your feet will not be used to the sensory input of the ground. In order to prevent injuries, it is important to begin barefoot running cautiously. Barefoot running feels wonderful! The urge to do too much before your feet are ready is very powerful. As such, it is important to follow a conservative plan even if you feel great in the beginning. Going too fast may result in a myriad of injuries, including tendon and ligament damage, excessive blisters, stress fractures, and other over-use type injuries. If at any time you experience pain, STOP! Add a second day of rest, then try again. Continue until you are pain-free. Do not give in to the temptation to "run through the pain". The soft-tissue injuries that can occur during the foot-strengthening process can set your progress back by weeks or even months. Give this process time and the rewards will be great!

Barefoot or Minimalist Shoes?

"Should I begin transitioning to barefoot running by wearing a minimalist shoe (Vibram Fivefingers KSOs, Feelmax shoes, cross country racing flats, huararche sandals, etc.)? Many people will ask this seemingly logical question. It is my belief that it is better to learn the proper form of barefoot running first, then use minimalist shoes as needed. If you begin by wearing minimalist shoes, you may be insulating your best form of feedback- the soles of your feet.

The Plan

Stage 1 (2 weeks)

Walk around barefoot as many places as possible. Do not start running yet. This will begin to condition your feet and soles for more active barefoot running. This stage could also include barefoot activities such as hiking.

Stage 2 (2 weeks)

Begin running in place barefoot. The idea is to learn how it feels to lightly touch the ground and pull your feet straight up without pushing off. This will also begin the process of preparing the bones, muscles, tendons, and ligaments of your feet to barefoot running.

Stage 3 (4 weeks)

Find hard, smooth surface without debris. Examples include new asphalt, smooth sidewalks, or running tracks. Begin running 3 times per week with at least one rest day after each barefoot run. Limit distance to 1/8 to 1/4 mile depending on running experience. Increase distance by 1/8th mile each day. Pace should be VERY slow, the focus is on finding a form that works well for you. If you experience pain, take an extra day off. If you develop blisters, slow down or reevaluate form.

Stage 4 (4 weeks)

Begin adding different terrain, including softer surfaces and hills. This can include grass, dirt trail, sand, etc. A good strategy is to run a hard surface one day, then a soft surface the next. At this stage, you should be running approximately 1.5 miles barefoot. During this stage, continue adding 1/8th mile per run. Continue going slow, your focus is going to be perfecting your form. Again, if you experience blisters, slow down. If you feel pain, take a day off.

Stage 5 (No specific time frame)

By this point, you should be running about 3 miles per run. You may begin experimenting with slowly increasing your pace, increasing your distance, or adding technical trails or hills to your routine. Only add one element at a time. Do not increase distance by more than 10% per week or speed by more than 15 seconds per mile.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Why do you run? Thoughts on the "Running Man" Theory.

If you've run long enough, you will inevitably get this question. Personally, I find this question very difficult to answer. Yes, there are standard, canned answers... I run to stay healthy, to lose weight, as a means of relieving stress, I enjoy the outdoors, I enjoy the company of others, yadda, yadda, yadda. I've never liked these answers, though. They seem woefully incomplete. Sure, I like feeling healthy, and I really do love the connectedness with nature when running trails. With three small children, running definitely relieves stress! Still, there's a deeper, more primitive reason I run. It is exceedingly difficult to capture in words, but it feels like a drive of sorts. It feels like this is what I was meant to do.

There's an anthropological theory that suggests humans evolved as long-distance runners (the "running man" theory). This idea is explored in Christopher McDougall's book "Born to Run". The idea- we evolved originally to use a method called "persistence hunting". The basic theory works like this- we would hunt animals by running them to death. Most animals are faster than us, but do not have the physiology to maintain long, slow distance running. Eventually they collapse from exhaustion or hyperthermia. I find the theory to be endlessly fascinating in part because of my social science geekiness, but also because it helps explain why I feel the way I do when I run. It helps explain this unknown drive to run ever-greater distances; to continue to push myself to find the point of failure.

In my last race (the Fallsburg Marathon), I was feeling somewhat fatigued around mile 20. At that point, I had run about 45 miles over two days. As I was going through the laundry list of mental tricks distance runners use to survive the cycle of mental and physical peaks and valleys, I stumbled on perhaps my best trick. I saw a runner in front of me. I imagined they were prey and I was hunting them. Suddenly, the pain subsided. I felt a burst of energy, immediate, intense focus, and a surreal sense of happiness... surely it was the result of a massive release of endorphins and epinephrine. It was as if I were suddenly floating over the trails. Within 30 seconds, I caught that runner. I continued this "game" for the next six miles, ultimately passing about twelve runners. Never before have I finished a race so strongly, even though I had just passed the fifty mile mark over two days of running. Next time you find yourself in the clutches of that low the marathoners like to refer to as "the wall", try thinking of yourself as a hunter stalking and capturing the prey in front of you. Channel your ancestral root! You are doing what we were designed to do.

Sunday, August 16, 2009


In forty-one days, I will toe the line for my second attempt at finishing a 100 mile race. That leaves me with five weeks of training which includes two taper weeks. I have been obsessively poring over my plans from my 100 mile attempt last year. I am looking for every problem that sprung up; searching for any variable I overlooked. I am constantly comparing this year's plan to the previous plan. Am I making the appropriate changes? Are there any other variables I am forgetting? Will this year's race unearth problems I did not experience in the last race? Surely there will be some obstacles that are new... that's the nature of ultras. Am I adequately prepared for the unknown? Can you prepare for the unknown? These are the thoughts that have filled every quiet moment of my day.

My major shortfalls last year were a lack of training mileage and inadequate fuel (food) during the race. There were minor issues, also. I chafed more than I should have. I did not account for my feet swelling, thus my Vibram Five Fingers were too small. My headlamp wasn't quite as bright as I would have liked. I didn't bring my lights with me early enough... I didn't account for the darkness caused by the canopy of trees at dusk. I took too long at aid stations. I packed too much unnecessary stuff. I had no first-hand knowledge of the course. All of these problems are fairly easy to correct with better planning and more training rigor. Sadly, the preparation does little to curb the nervousness. Until the horn goes off at the start of the race, the anxiety will continue to build. Is this a great sport or what?

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Fallsburg Marathon- the results

I finished in 4:40 and some change. Not my best marathon, but I am satisfied considering it was supposed to be a training run. I am awaiting the placing info. My idea to run the course before the start of the race was cut short... I only managed 14 miles. At that point, I was worried about not making it back to the start line in time. The course itself was a mixture of asphalt, gravel roads, and trails. There were numerous hills; more than other area marathons (or shorter road races). The temps were in the 80's with relatively high humidity. I ran the entire marathon barefoot without incident. I did get a small blood blister on my toe, probably the result of stepping on a rock.

Many people commented about my barefoot running; some asked questions. Overall, the response was very positive!

I briefly talked to one of the race organizers for the Woodstock race events. Apparently there are 13 people signed up for the 100 mile race. I was expecting at least 100. Thirteen people?!? That really adds the pressure to finish. Based on how I felt today, I have more confidence in my abilities this year than last year. I will be taking two days off to recover, then maybe two more higher mileage weeks. At that point, I will slowly drop my mileage in preparation for the 100 miler.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Fallsburg Marathon Update- My crazy-ass idea...

Tomorrow morning I will be running the Fallsburg Marathon in Lowell, MI. I had originally planned on running the Marquette 50 miler next weekend, but had to settle for the shorter, cheaper local race. While running a 10 1/2 mile run today, I decided to try running the course before the race. That will push my weekly miles to slightly above 90. This should be my most ambitious week. This is my plan:
  • Leave my house around 12:15 am
  • Arrive at the course around 12:45
  • Start running around 1:00
  • If all goes according to plan, I should finish around 6:30-7:00. That will give me some time before the actual race starts... just long enough to grab a quick in-car nap, down a few calories, and grab a quick change of clothes.
  • I'm hoping for a finish time under six hours in the actual race. That will probably make me one of the last finishers. :-)
I will be carrying my Vibrams on at least the first running. The course includes a gravel road; it may not be runnable. It would have been smart to assess the course prior to running, but I tend to do dumb stuff...

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Fallsburg Marathon

This Saturday, I will be running the Fallsburg Marathon in Lowell, MI. This marathon consists of approximately 50% roads (asphalt and gravel) and 50% trails with several good hills. It should be a very good training run for Hallucination 100 Sept. 26th. To get all my planned mileage in this week, I will have to do another run on Saturday. As of right now, I am leaning towards a shorter run before the race on Saturday. That will give me a little more time on the trails in the dark. I am confident about my night running at this point, but the extra practice can't hurt.

Along with the trail marathon, I am also planning on running the actual Hallucination 13 mile loop tomorrow. My plan is to drive to Pinckney (MI) early, getting there around 4a.m. This will give me a chance to run the loop in the dark. If I can maintain a decent pace, I would like to do two additional laps. At this point, a 39 mile run is significantly longer than my other long runs, but I should be prepared for it. Based on the advice of some more experienced ultra runners, I have started cutting my crosstraining back a bit. I am also consolidating my weekly runs to make fewer runs, but also longer runs. It will allow greater stressing of my body along with more recovery time. This week's mileage should be in the ballpark of 75-85 miles. This should be my highest total of this training cycle.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Learning from my 100 mile mistakes...

I've been reflecting on my 100 mile experience last year at Burning River. In an attempt to correct my mistakes, here's how I would grade my run last year:
  • Training base (mileage): D+
  • Crosstraining: A-
  • Hydration: A
  • Electrolytes: A
  • Heat acclimation: B+
  • Chafing prevention: C+
  • Foot care: C-
  • Caloric intake: D+
  • Clothing: B+
  • Gear: B
  • Lighting: B+
  • Pacing/ race strategy: C
  • Drop bags: B-
  • Mental toughness: D+
I think I will be better prepared this year. Failure can be a wonderful teacher.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Well, I'm not doing a very good job of keeping up with current posts. I'd like to say I'm busy with work, but I'm on summer vacation. Just lazy I guess...

Anyway, I finished the Grand Haven Coast Guard Festival 10k in 42:21... good for 5th in my age group. I was generally satisfied with the finish. I would like to have broken 40 minutes, but I just felt a bit off the entire race. At least I didn't develop any blisters... a good indicator my form is finally adequate. It was my last road race before Hallucination in September.

The 100 miler training is going well. This week marks my first high mileage week (should be about 50-60). I am trying to accumulate as many trail miles as possible, many of which are night runs. My tentative plan is to run the 13 mile loop this Sunday. That should give me enough information about the terrain. I will be able to develop a race strategy (barefoot, Vibrams, etc.).