Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Beginning at the beginning

A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, or so goes the overused, often misattributed, and possibly mistranslated quote by Lao Tzu. But there it is, and I think its use is fitting here. In my case, the journey began with a single mile. Specifically, a mile on a treadmill, in a basement, barefoot.

It started off quite typically really. I had been on the road for over a week for work, and between sitting through lectures for ten hours each day, massive quantities of food, beers in the evenings at the hotel bar, and a wedding thrown in for good measure, I swore I could feel my ass get bigger by the minute as I sat through yet another day of trainings. I had packed a pair of running shoes for my trip, and the hotel had a fitness center. So, like any good American I decided I would go down and run off the bacon and eggs, turkey sandwich with chips, baby back ribs and pint of beer I had wolfed down that day. One mile should do it right?

After checking in with the scale in the fitness center (and deciding it must be broken because there was no way I had gained 30 pounds since I got back from living in Japan) I slipped on my Nike Frees and ground out a mile and a quarter at a breakneck 5 mph, all the while looking like a lumbering hippopotamus I'm sure. I finished my run without stroking out or suffering a debilitating injury and made my way back up to my room quite proud of myself, because surely that would be enough to offset my dietary misadventures from earlier in the day. As I walked, I started to cool down. It was then that it occurred to me that this was the first time in about 6 months that I had done anything even remotely active. Longer if you're only counting activities normal people would call strenuous. Muscles began to tighten and, as someone with a history of knee injuries, I resigned myself to the fact that the pain fairy would be visiting me in my sleep that night.

I woke the next morning, hopped out of bed and started to get ready for the day when it dawned on me that something was missing. Specifically, the pain was missing. Oh my calves were plenty tight to be sure, but sedentary Fatty McFattersons like myself don't get to just up and run without really paying the piper the next day. Like any good scientist I spent the remainder of the day trying to determine what was the magic factor that has spared me my punishment.

The only thing I could think of that was different from all the other times I had run were the shoes. With thinner padding than my comparatively luxurious Asics, my Frees force me to shift to more of a mid/forefoot landing. I did some more poking around and came across this whole barefoot running thing. Could that be the key? I read Christopher McDougall's "Born to Run." The evidence continued to point to the shoes, or rather, how the shoes you wear influences your form. It was then that I decided to do something stupid. I would go down to the fitness center the next night and run a mile barefoot.

I did, and despite a couple of blisters (which I was expecting) I felt pretty good after. I did it again the next night. Again, sore muscles but otherwise pain free. I have repeated this experiment numerous times in minimalist footwear since returning home, pushing my woefully out of shape frame harder than is probably wise. Each time I am rewarded with new and special muscle pain as I work muscle groups I never knew existed in my legs, but no hint of the joint pain that sidelined my previous attempts at distance running.

I am rediscovering the joy of running, of heading out the door and just seeing how far you can go. It is my intent to make running a lifelong habit, and do it in such a way to make the lifelong part possible. This blog will be about that experience. I am not an "elite" runner, and it isn't my intent to become one, so if you're looking for a hard-core running blog I suggest you look elsewhere. Similarly, I will write about minimalist/barefoot running, but not militantly so. I will attempt to inform, maybe inspire, but hopefully my posts here will always be entertaining.

Photo by: Sarah-Wynne Taylor


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