Friday, January 28, 2011

Calling Doctor Google

I had a pain this week. It was a sort of sharp pain below my knee, which radiated dull, hot pain all up and down my leg. "Oh, no!" I thought, "I've hurt myself, again".  So, I did what everyone does these days - I self diagnosed my problem using Google.

"Dr. Google, my leg hurts. I may have hurt it running. What could possibly be wrong?" I queried.

"Could be  periostitis" replied Dr. Google.

"Perio-what?" I replied.

"Sigh, yes, periostitis or Shin Splints" answered Dr. Google.

"Ahh! Shin splints. I can deal with that" I thought.

"Although, you have been running a lot lately, so we can't rule out Exertional-induced Compartment Syndrome. Could also be Achilles Tendonitis" replied the good doctor. "Or maybe Illiotibial Band Syndrome. Are you sure the pain isn't radiating from someplace higher? Hopefully, it's not your knee. Plica Syndrome can be really tough to treat."

"Uh, yeah, maybe, I don't know. My leg hurts..." I mumbled.

"In that case, it could definitely be a Chondromalacia Patella or even something as simple as a Pulled Hamstring. Sometimes PH manifests lower in the leg. Of course, if we consider PH, we must consider causes higher in the chain. Do you hear or feel popping?" asked the doc.

"Umm, err, possibly..." I stammered.

"Could be something such as Snapping Hip Syndrome or Hip Bursitis. Perhaps you have Meralgia Paresthetica. If we can rule those out, then we should move on to more neurological causes, such as Peripheral Neuropathy. Have you had an Electromyography lately?" suggested Dr. G.

"A what? Why do you think I need a...." I was panicking now.

"However, barring a neurological diagnosis, we should investigate other causes of leg pain, such as Bone Cancer" intoned the sage of the inter-webs.

A chill ran down my spine.

"Of course, bone cancer could be metastatic so we would need to explore primary cancer sources, such as.."

I closed the browser window in a cold sweat and limped off to bed. My dreams that night were filled with hospital gowns, Bert from Sesame Street, and Osama Bin Laden.

When I woke the next morning, the pain in my leg was gone.

I hate Doctor Google.

Friday, January 21, 2011

The Strange Effects of Running by Feel

Last year I was scheduled. I knew when I would run, how far I would run, and the pace I would run. The scheduling was all in anticipation of running my first half marathon in the Fall. And it was boring! By the time the Half Marathon arrived, I was not enjoying running very much. The training had turned running into a grind. I ran my race, and was very happy with my result, but afterwards, I decided to change the way I run. Change the way I even approached running. I would run by feel, for joy alone.

I threw away my weekly schedules. I stopped setting goals for time and distance. I just ran - when I felt like it - as far as I wanted - as fast as felt good. And something strange happened. I actually ran better, and experienced more joy, with each run.

Running became something greater. I found myself letting go of worries and concentrating on joy.  I found beauty in unexpected ways on my runs.

Today, I went for a run. I ran for joy on a crisp, sunny winter's day. I ran through the winding trails and bridal paths of Umstead State Park. I ran because I felt like running. I ran as far as I wanted. I ran as fast as I wanted. In the end, I ran just over a half marathon, without even knowing it. Strangely, I'm not even tired.

I don't know where my running is taking me, but I'm enjoying the journey.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Bantom Bigfoot - Barefoot Running and Foot Changes

I recently bought a couple of test pair of the new Merrell Barefoot line of shoes (Barefoot Trail Glove and Barefoot True Glove) so that I would have something more appropriate to wear on my trail runs than my Mizuno Wave Universe 3 racing flats or my Vibram Five Finger KSO shoes.
I was really hoping the Merrells would fit my feet since almost all of my other shoes had become too tight in the forefoot area over the past year and a half of barefoot and minimalist running. There's a great review of the new Merrell shoes on Jason Robillard's site, which was my main reason for buying the Merrells.

The shoes looked great and since I'm a long time Merrell fan (I've worn Merrell hikers as my daily wear for  the past 5 years), I was really excited when they arrived at my house from Gazelle Sports. I opened the Barefoot True Glove first and squeezed my foot in. A little snug, I thought, but they are supposed to be since you want the shoe locked to your foot during trail running. With that bit of rationalization in mind, I started my super scientific shoe test, which consisted of walking and jogging around inside my house. 15 minutes later, I was very happy to get my feet out of the shoes. It seems that my feet have become too wide, even for shoes designed intentionally with a large forefoot and toe box. Both the forefoot and midfoot of the shoe were putting some serious pressure on my now boat paddle shaped feet.

I was fairly depressed about the whole shoe situation, so I boxed up both pair (the Trail Glove model had the same issue for my feet) so I could return them, and tried to forget about the whole issue. However, I couldn't stop thinking about it. I'm an engineer by nature and by trade, and solving problems is like breathing for me. I must solve problems!

What was it about my feet that was causing all my shoe issues? I thought my feet had changed a bit since I started barefoot and minimalist running, but I didn't think they had changed that much. So, I did something that I had never done before in my entire life. I found a ruler and measured across the widest part of my foot.

4.3 inches! That doesn't sound like much until you realize that I normally wear a size 8.5 shoe (my foot is right at 10" in length). Good grief, I'm a bantom bigfoot! A young yeti! A shrimpy sasquatch!

That bulge behind the ball of my foot is the main problem of fitting my feet into shoes these days. That isn't just extra sock, and it isn't just squeezed skin. It's thick, muscular tissue and bone baby! That's nearly a year and a half of foot adaptation. I truly wish I had taken some pictures of my feet before beginning my barefoot and minimalist journey, but I just didn't know what was in store for me at the time.

The width of my feet under load is pretty amazing, however even unloaded my feet appear to have grown wider, thicker and more muscular.

I like my strong new feet, but it still sucks not be able to wear my old shoes, or almost any shoes for that matter. The search continues for a shoe that doesn't hurt my foot. Maybe I can just grow more foot hair and become a 5 foot 9 inch tall Hobbit. I do love beer after all...

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Attack of the Abominable Snowman - Little River Trail Race - 7K

It's January. It's cold. I'll run a trail race! Sure, it's been snowing a lot (for NC) the past two weeks, but I need to somehow counteract all the sitting on my arse I do at work. Not to mention, I didn't hold back over the holidays when it came to eating and drinking.

Little River Park is a great place for hiking. I've taken the kids there several times, so I knew what I was in for when I signed up for the race last Fall. What I didn't expect was to be running in the snow. In fact, I was totally caught off guard since all the snow around my house (just 20 miles away) had been gone for over a week.

Race day, I arrived early. One and half hours early. I hate to be late - for anything. Turns out this compulsiveness was a good thing, since parking was very limited and there were nearly 500 people racing in this event. I checked in, got my shirt and racing bib and wandered over to the coffee. They had damn good coffee, so I loaded up a cup with half-n-half and lots of sugar, and headed back to my car to keep warm. Did I mention it was 27 degrees?

The 10 mile race was scheduled to start at 9:00AM and I wanted to meet one of the minimalist runners from the Huaraches Google group, Sean Butler, who also happens to run ultra marathons. So, I hop out of my cozy warm car, grab a banana from the food table, and head to the start line to see if I can spot Sean. I had never met Sean, and I couldn't spot him based on his Facebook profile picture, so I watched the 10 mile race start, then sat in the warm sun for the next 20 minutes waiting for the 7K race to start at 9:30AM. Sean actually found me after the race and introduced himself. Maybe one day I'll be able to run an ultra marathon. Ha! Who am I kidding....

About 5 minutes before the start of my race, I ran into John Tullo, an old friend from my days at Nortel. John and I have been running a lot of the same races lately (Tobacco Trail 10 miler, City of Oaks Half Marathon), and I thought he had mentioned that he would be at Little River, so I wasn't too surprised to see him there. We chatted for a bit, but the race was about to start, so I headed to the front. I hate to be stuck in the middle of the pack at the start. Too much shuffling, and too many speed changes. Starting from the front, I get mostly clean lines and don't have to worry about passing people. Yeah, people have to pass me, but that happens all the time, so I don't sweat it.

The 7K race starts on the far edge of the parking lot, so we have about 100 yards to run before we hit the trail entrance. I still hadn't seen any snow in the parking area, so when we rounded the first corner on the trail and ran right into packed snow, I was surprised, to say the least. I was moving at a good clip since I was in with the leaders, but as soon as I hit snow, I had to slow down. I had worn my Mizuno Wave Universe 3 racing flats, which work decently on semi-dry trails, but they were a hazard in this snow. I skidded. I slipped. I bobbled. I almost bought it several times in the space of a few steps before I put on the brakes. John caught up with me pretty quickly (he was wearing much more sensible shoes) but even he commented on how surprising the snowy conditions were. I hung with John the next half mile or so, but had to let him go since I was a danger to myself and others wearing my slick racing flats.

So, I kept going, slowly, trying not to bust my arse at random icy and snowy spots. I made it about 2 miles. Then suddenly I was horizontal. One second my feet were below me in a little icy turn on the trail, the next second I was staring up at tree tops. Folks passing asked if I was OK. I picked myself up and replied that I thought I was fine. Took quick stock of my body and noticed that my left knee felt a bit strained. Not good. That knee has been through the ringer in the past 20 some years (5 surgeries, with 3 ACL replacements). I started slowly running again, paying attention to my knee. It seemed alright, until I hit the next up hill portion of the trail. Then I felt the sickening wobbly feeling that tells me I have sprained something. And then, to add insult to my injury, the abominable snowman jumped out from behind a tree and stuck a knife into the back of my knee. Honest. Pain that bad had to be knife wound, and I didn't see any other racers around.

I had two miles to get back to the finish line. I walked some. I ran some. I am passed by what looks to be a 10 year old kid. I passed him back. No little kid was gonna beat me, knee or no knee! A few minutes later the abominable snowman stabbed me in the knee again with his Swiss Army knife. I (had to) let the kid pass me and never see him again until the finish.

Somehow, I managed to hobble my way to a 40 minute finish, running a 9:40min/mile pace. I have no idea how. I must have been skiing some of the downhill portions of the first half in my slick shoes, because I certainly didn't feel that fast, especially in the second half.

Next year, I'll wear better shoes. And bring a ham sandwich for the abominable snowman. I hear that's his favorite.