Terra Plana has a great little video showing the difference between a heel-striking running technique and more of a fore/mid-foot technique that happens naturally when one is barefoot or wearing minimalist running shoes. They also have technique drills that you can use to train your body to run more naturally. I use Vibram FiveFingers but am considering trying the Terra Plana varieties for everyday wear.
I went on what turnout out to be an incredible hike yesterday, though at times I felt pretty miserable. I headed to Lake Serene, a wonderful hike in the Cascade Mountains about 90 minutes from Seattle. Just drive east on Rt 2 towards Steven’s Pass. Head 7 miles past the hamlet of Gold Bar and turn right on Mt Index Rd (a well-maintained dirt road) and you’ll come to the trail-head.
It is a 7-8 mile hike round-trip, with the first part fairly flat to rolling along small rises in the hills. You’ll cross streams (great fun!) with an optional spur taking you to Bridle Falls (a 1 mile round-trip hike straight up the side of the mountain!). The final 2 miles to Lake Serene are a steady and steep climb, all the way to an epic looking alpine lake. On a nice day you can see the 3000 foot granite cliffs rising from the far side of the lake like an ancient amphitheater. It is totally surreal! Here is a photo panorama I took last year on a clear day:
Yesterday however, the weather did not cooperate. It was very cold at the start (40 degrees) and the rain began to pick up from a mist to a steady downpour. My supposedly rain-proof coat gave up and quickly became soaked through all the way! My pants were pretty useless too, so I zipped off the bottom portion and just hiked in shorts (people looked at me like I was crazy!). In fact, I resolved to hike “barefoot” using my Vibram’s, and everyone I passed on the trail asked me about them. It was pretty funny since most people were wearing intense hiking gear, with gaiters, poles, and full water-proof regalia…and here I was with a small day-pack, no shoes and shorts!
The trail was full of large puddles and at times was flowing with running water. After a few hundred yards I stopped trying to step around the puddles and just tramped right through them. These Vibram’s are meant for walking through streams while kayaking, and work incredibly well. Over time my feet have gotten used to the rocks and roots, and I only winced a few times when I stepped on something sharp poking through. I relished the chance to dunk my legs in streams mid-calf while other hiker tentatively tip-toed across rocks trying not to get their shoes wet! The sense of absolutely freedom that comes from just going right through mud, water and not worrying about the conditions is so amazingly cool.
I eventually made it to the summit, where the weather was much colder, the streams were frigid and it actually was snowing! My feet were cold but surprisingly not as cold as I thought. In fact, my hands were far colder than my toes!!!! I eventually reached Lake Serene, and this time, instead of seeing an epic amphitheater fit for the gods, was greeted by a misty fog-drenched lake, half-covered with snow. The granite columns were invisible. My arrival was also welcomed by the sound of periodic “ka-booms” in the far distance, followed by low-rumbles that grew to deafening roars. Indeed, avalanches on the far side of the lake were happening every few minutes! I could hear the rush of the snow, but due to the fog could not see a thing. It’s neat how when one of our senses gets cut off, the others are so much more in tune. Luckily, my position at the water’s edge surrounded by flat earth and large trees made me very safe from direct hit by an avalanche.
On my way down from the lake, I began to get colder and ridiculously hungry. I had plenty of food and water with me, but due to the cold, was hesitant to take a break and eat like I should have. As I descended the mountain, I was laser focused on the trail right in front of me. I wasn’t looking around. I was day-dreaming and not very present. I was out in this pristine wilderness but not soaking it in, I was in my own bubble. I might as well have been in a shopping mall or lounging in my apartment, I was that oblivious.
Suddenly, I turned a corner in the trail and came to a small vantage point. I was still laser-focused on the muddiness of the trail ahead, not enjoying the environment. This lovely woman was standing just aside from the trail and greeted me with a big smile. It was enough to get me to stop for a moment. She said a few words and seemed incredibly relaxed and enjoying the moment. I just stood there, still feeling cold, hungry and staring at my mud-soaked feet.
Suddenly, I saw her zip open her back and pull something out. It was a camera! She turned to one side and pointed across the valley, saying “check that out.” Turning my gaze I saw an epic waterfall, one of the biggest I’ve seen in a long time, pouring off the top of the mountain, spraying mist everywhere. In this instant I went from feeling cold and anxious to feeling totally calm and happy. A small shift in my vision made all the distance. I pulled out me own camera to capture the moment (check it out below….).
In the end, the hike was remarkable. I didn’t get the view of Lake Serene that I hoped for, but a small shift in my vision allowed me to see the bigger scenery that was there, and come away with a pleasant experience despite the conditions! If such a small shift in focus could have such a profound affect on a single walk in the woods, imagine how we can use such small shifts in our vision to make every day amazing!
You all know by now if you read this blog or follow me on twitter that my new favorite hobby is barefoot running. I can’t explain how much fun it is. You just need to go out and try it! While I was in Portland this weekend I hit up REI to see if they had any good sale items. I saw that they had Vibram’s FiveFinger Sprint’s in stock (I previously used the Classic’s) and tried them on.
I’ve been a runner for the past 15 years. Over this time I’ve suffered countless injuries. Training for marathons and Ironman Triathlons can be tough on your body!
Shin splints. Stress fractures. IT band issues. Knee issues. Plantar fascia issues. I’ve suffered through it all. I can run injury-free as long as keep my mileage fairly low, around 30 miles a week. If I get above 40-50 miles a week for a month or longer – I tend to develop issues. My easy response to this is just to keep my mileage low and cross-train heavily.
There must be a better way to stay healthy while training – without having to cut back on mileage.
Lately, there has been a lot of buzz about barefoot running. The benefits of ditching traditional shoes have been discussed in Men’s Health, bestselling books like “Born to Run” and by popular blogger Tim Ferriss. Running and walking barefoot is what we were built to do as human beings. Ditching heels and overly cushioned trainers are said to be a huge help in curing lower-leg and back injuries as well.