There are as many reasons for running as there are days in the year, years in my life. But mostly I run because I am an animal and a child, an artist and a saint. So, too, are you. Find your own play, your own self-renewing compulsion, and you will become the person you are meant to be.
- George Sheehan

Friday, February 24, 2012

How Cold Can You Go?

Above is a video from the Chicago area featuring a local barefoot runner.  The piece is very good - focuses on the basics of barefoot running, the whys, the hows, and the how to get started.  All very solid and reputable information to follow!  The piece also covers running barefoot in winter.

This winter was my first "cold" one as a barefoot runner.  Last winter I spent down south, and mainly restricted to running in shoes for reasons well outside my control, so I didn't get much barefooting in last winter.  This year though, I wondered the age old question posed in this climate:
"How cold can you go?"

Today was probably my coldest run yet.  I've done several runs in the 40's, no big deal at all.  Temps in the 50's is like tropical weather after awhile.  I've also run a few times in the 30's, and after the first couple of minutes, it's business as usual and my feet were perfectly warm.  Today's run started with an air temp in the high 30's, but dropping quickly down to freezing due to a sudden incoming snowstorm.  I snuck my run in anyway and dealt with the wind chill.  Surprisingly enough, my feet never got numb this time around.  Usually they do for a minute or two, then warm up to normal with full feeling of the ground.  Today they were a little cold starting, but never numb.  They warmed up quicker and overall I had a nice 40 minute run with a few tempos in there.

It felt great out there today, and I was glad that I got to run instead of putting it off for tomorrow.  Every run in the cold builds confidence that I can get out there and have a good time and be comfortable.  I still don't think that I wish to try anything in the 20's or teens, but anything in the 30's is fair game for me now and I don't have to think twice about it.  By putting my regular window down into the 30's, I increase my opportunities to go run and enjoy what I do.  The whole point is to keep it pleasant and fun; it's not about pushing my limits all the time or trying to impress anyone.  Because believe me, it's shocking enough to people to be out there running barefoot when the snow is beginning to fall!  ;)

Here was what rolled in at the end of my run.  This photo was taken maybe 10 minutes afterward:

The Trap of Technology

The beauty of barefoot and minimalist shoes is simplicity.  Something that barefooters are intimately familiar with, and what only a handful of minimalist shoe manufacturers actually understand.

Above is a link to the Skechers Go Run, the company's entry into the minimalist shoe horse race.  The video at the top of the page is mostly good information, regarding foot strikes and biomechanics, the necessity of full flexibility of the foot and the need for a shoe to be able to twist as well as flex, and the need to for the industry to get back to natural running.  But what bugs me about this ad is the assumption that runners need protection ("ZOMG RUNNING IS GOING TO HURT!"), and that the "sensors" on the shoe are going to tell your body how to move.

Hint: you get better feedback from the ground by having less material between your foot and the running surface.  Hence, some of the best minimalist shoes out there are the simplest ones: they just have less crap between you and the ground.

The sensor pods on the Go Run are complete and utter bullshit.  I say that because if you listen carefully to the video, there is not one single piece of hard scientific evidence actually justifying their existence on the shoe.  The guy states: "These sensors are obviously completely decoupled, they're allowed to move so that no matter how you land on the shoe... there is is always going to be data transferred through the shoe through these sensors.  It really is one of the key components of these shoes; you can offer more cushioning but still get a dynamic sense of what is going on with the ground..."

...But HOW, exactly?  I strongly feel that those sensors are nothing but a false aesthetic designed to give buyers a sense of technology being on their side, keeping them safe.  There is no hard proof in that testimony of how the sensors actually function.  We as a running culture have become so accustomed to gadgets on shoes to improve our runs and reduce injuries, that I believe runners come to expect some sort of ground-breaking technology included on even the simplest-at-heart shoe.  It's a little silly, because again, the best minimalist shoes are the ones without the bells and whistles. 

The Nike Free has its own issues, but that shoe's success derives from its fresh simplicity.  The design of the sole is just a bunch of deep-cut grooves along with lighter materials to make the shoe not only lighter, but more flexible than the average running shoe on several planes.

At the end of the day I applaud Skechers for their entry into the minimalist market, and providing potential minimalist runners with another option for them.  Not every shoe works for everyone, so hopefully the Go Run will help some people get back to slightly more natural running and enjoying the sport.  I think it's a mostly honest effort on behalf of the design team, but once again (like the Reebok RealFlex), the Go Run is just one more example of an overly-engineered shoe that doesn't need the bogus gadgets to do what is actually intended.  Clearly the shoe designers think way too hard on these things.

Flat.  Light.  Flexible.  Those are the only things that a good minimalist shoe needs to be worried about.  Leave the sensor pods on the design table.

Don't Be That Awkward Runner

This is just too funny not to share!

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Winter Wonderland - or not

When I started barefoot running, I didn't exactly know how I was going to handle the winter weather.  Spending last winter down south and away from the constant snow and cold certainly hasn't helped.  But thankfully, runners (both shod and barefoot) in my area have been blessed with a pretty mild winter thus far, and I've managed to squeeze several BF runs in the middle of winter.

Back in January, we had a short deep freeze followed by some 30 degree weather.  I hate running on treadmills and inside on the track (in shoes), so I jumped at the mini-heat wave and left the shoes home.  It was AWESOME to get out there again!  Feet felt great, and unlike the track (in shoes), my run was effortless and I didn't have to focus on keeping my good form.  It was easy, it was natural, it was perfect.  It also emphasized that I really can't have anything between my foot and the ground, because I rely heavily on that feedback to maintain effective form. 

Later in the month it warmed up to a very unseasonable 50-something degrees on its way to 65.  I got to run a couple times that week, and it was so fun being out there in shorts, a t-shirt, and barefoot at the end of January!  Today it was mid-40's with some wind, but even with that, the ground was warm enough and the run felt great.  I found it interesting on my way back in that my hands were freezing (so I put my gloves back on), but my bare feet were happily floating along down there, nice and toasty.  The small wonders of barefoot running are what keep me interested on EVERY run.

People's reactions are always interesting.  I've had a lot of looks as usual, some nods of approval, some cyclists thinking that they're clever for yelling "BAREFOOT!" when they pass, and of course some positive and negative comments from other runners.  I also had a couple of ladies on different occasions stop and ask me about barefoot running and why I do it.  Very pleasant conversations.  That's always nice.

Don't your feet get cold?
Sure they do, but not for long.  The more I run in cold weather, the better tolerance I've had.  Anything below 55 used to be terrible.  Then it was 40's.  Now anything below 30 is rough for me.  Today with the air temp in the 40s (not including windchill), the ground felt cool when I was standing still, but warm as soon as I got moving.  When it's in the 30s, my feet get numb for a couple minutes at the beginning, then warm up and regain all their feeling (which is vital).  So really, the cold part only lasts a couple of minutes at most, then it's business as usual, amazingly enough.