It's been just over two years since I took my first tentative running steps from the proverbial couch towards a 5k. I feel like I've made running a part of my life, though I've had a fair number of set-backs ... some sort of hip injury that sidelined me for three months the first year, recurrent mild achilles' tendonitis all last summer, a plantar fasciitis that hit after the SufferFest 25k trail run, and most recently a bit of ilio-tibial band syndrome. My body isn't as invincible as I thought it was; I'm prone to doing too much too soon, to pushing myself hard for no particular reason. It takes me longer to recover than I'd like, and I much prefer to try to strategize myself through a recovery from injury rather than wait it out.
The first year I was driven to make gains in cardiovascular fitness. It was fun. Gains came quickly. Not only was I not as out-of-shape as I thought, but my body seemed to have been poised to respond enthusiastically to the higher demands I was putting on it. I was thrilled to improve from 13-minute miles to 8.5-minute miles in the space of just four months. I loved that with my pace controlled to a little under 10-minute miles, I felt like I could run indefinitely; I enjoyed soldiering on like that for a couple of hours at a time. I began to feel like maybe I was built for endurance. But I got hurt while pushing myself to prepare for a Half Marathon.
The second year, coming back from that hip injury, I was careful not to push myself as hard. I slowed my pace on my regular runs, and increased my mileage more gradually. I had read "Born to Run" and began to experiment with changes in my running form, moving to what felt like a more natural running style. I dispensed with my high support Asics Gel Kayano shoes and moved into the transitional Nike Lunarglides for about half my running, with the other half done in Vibram Five Fingers, huaraches or my bare feet. I increased my cadence (stride rate) to try to control any overstriding. I trained myself to use a forefoot or midfoot strike. I had a pretty good year. I ran a nice Half Marathon in Canmore finishing in under 2 hours. I was disappointed with my time at the SufferFest, but I did earn an age-group medal.
However, looking back on it I think I made the same mistake I'd made the previous year, just in a different domain. I wasn't pushing myself too far or too fast, but I made the changes in my form and footwear too quickly and my body didn't have time to adapt. I got into trouble with my achilles tendons, probably the commonest difficulty for transitioning runners. The kicker was the SufferFest run in October which I did in my new WT100 minimalist trail shoes. A 25k mountain trail race is probably not the best way to encourage your legs to adjust to a completely new type of shoe. I paid the price afterwards for quite a while. Plantar fasciitis and the first bit of ilio-tibial band syndrome (ITBS) on top of achilles' tendonitis.
Through this past winter I didn't run much. It was just as well: my legs needed the recovery time. Generally I ran at least once a week, but not my customary 3-5 runs a week. It has been a cold, snowy winter. I've mostly been back in my Lunarglides for their warmth and snow repellancy. I've managed a few barefoot runs when the roads were clear enough of slush and gravel and the temperatures were not too far below freezing -- but those conditions haven't presented themselves very often this winter.
Recently the snow has been melting more than it's been falling, and the temperatures have mostly been above freezing. So in the past couple of weeks I've been running most days again and doing a couple of partial barefoot runs a week to start to condition my soles to the terrain. I run a couple of kilometres in the Lunarglides to warm up my feet, kick my shoes off at the side of the road, run on for a couple of barefoot km, turn around and retrace my route, donning my shoes once I meet up with them again. (I've discovered that 95% of people don't notice my bare feet unless I happen to be carrying my shoes in my hands. If I'm carrying my shoes they think I'm very strange. So it's best to leave them somewhere and then put them on when I get back to where I stashed them.)
Erin has been running a bit with me. She and I are struggling with the same kind of ITBS. She seems to have it a good bit worse than me. She's in her first season of distance running she is definitely her mother's daughter: too much too soon. A scant three weeks into it she was up to 10 miles! Anyway, she's taken over my WT100s, so I took that as an excuse to buy myself the next incarnation of New Balance's minimalist shoe models, the Minimus. Kootenay Mountain Sports ordered them in special for me, and my friend Janis, the co-owner of the store, was intrigued and ordered herself a pair too. I picked mine up today.
On the footbed is printed: < = >
Translated: less is more. Perfectly geeky and enigmatic for my tastes.
I like them. They look a lot like regular shoes. They weigh scarely more than the VFFs, but offer a more aggressive lugged sticky sole intended for trail-running. I like the VFFs for smooth trails and asphalt. But we don't have many smooth trails around here, and on asphalt I'm more inclined to run barefoot. So I was really wanting something truly minimalist for rough and rocky / rooty mountain trails. The Minimus seems like it will probably fit the bill. I haven't run in them yet. I'll probably take them out on the road a few times this week. The trails are probably at least a month, if not two, from being free of snow. (Hard to believe I had already been running the lakefront trail for a couple of weeks by this time last year. What a different winter we've had this year!)
Yesterday Erin and I did a long run together. I guess with the snow and ice disappearing I should have thought to pull my Vibrams out of the box where they've been since the end of October when winter started, but I didn't: I pulled on my Lunarglides like usual. Most of my runs so far this year have been under 10k but we planned to do about 16k at a nice leisurely pace. As usual by about about 9 km I was feeling my ITBS pain. Not too badly, but enough to wish for less of it. I knew I'd be okay to finish, though, so we kept going. Wanting to continue toughening up my soles, I kicked off my shoes at a strategic point before a loop-back to fit in 4 or 5 unshod kilometres.
Within sixty seconds my ITBS pain was gone. Completely gone.
This year I'm not going to try to get stronger and faster. I'm happy with where I'm at. I'm not going to try to adjust my running form any more. I'm happy with where that's at. Instead I'm going to try to follow Barefoot Ted's advice:
"I say don't obsess about distance and speed...rather seek out that sweet spot of joy in running and let that be your guide. In the end, joy is a great teacher ... of both your mind and body."
Yeah. That's where I'm going.
Only ... does this mean I have to give up using my Garmin?