Sunday, July 3, 2011

The Long and Winding Road - My Transition to Minimalist Running, Part 4

The Phoenix
After injuring my achilles through sheer stubborn, stupidity, I spent the next month kicking myself. I had to do some serious stretching to be able to kick myself, but I had nothing better to do since I couldn't run, so I worked hard at it. Once I was able to pull off the elusive double kick to my own arse, I stopped kicking myself. I now have a black belt in self abuse.

Having mastered the art of kicking myself, I once again spent too many boring hours on the elliptical machine in the gym, since this seemed to be the only serious aerobic activity that didn't bother my achilles injury.

I now hated the elliptical machine even more than the treadmill and vowed that if I ever recovered enough to run, I would never set foot on one again. I should stop making vows since I'm as good at keeping them as I am at keeping New Year's resolutions...

Horrific boredom aside, things did slowly get better. My calf and achilles felt better after a few weeks of stretching and elliptical workouts, so I decided to slowly return to running again.

Run To Success!
I'm lucky to have not one, but two neighbors who are physical therapists. Both of them recommended the "run to success" method to return to running. The concept is actually very simple.

  • Start slow and short and add 10% to your distance each session. 
  • If anything feels even slightly off during the run in the area of the injury, immediately stop. The next session, back down 10%. 
  • Repeat.
I'm a simple guy, so this simple set of rules was perfect for me. 

And they worked! Within a month, I was back to 3 mile runs, with no pain. 

Injury Free Running, At Last!
If you've read all of the posts in this series, you are probably expecting something bad to happen about now. Something epic. Perhaps something involving mythical beasts, or rich, earthy cursing. 

Trust me, so was I. 

But happily, and boringly (that doesn't sound like a real word?!), nothing bad happened again during the next 2 months. I ran farther, and faster in my Vibram Five Fingers with no real drama. By the end of May, I was regularly running 3, 5, and 7 miles during my lunch hours on Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

3/5/7 doesn't sound like a big deal, but for me, this was a monumental achievement. Even when I was regularly running in my 20's (nearly 20 years ago), my weekly runs were usually something like 3/3/4. Granted, I was speedier then (sub 20 minute 5K on occasion), but I never ran the kind of pain free free miles, that I was now regularly achieving in my 40's. 

This was simply stunning to me, especially considering how extremely unfit I was just prior to my return to running, and the totally trashed condition of my left knee, even with the very good rebuild of surgery number 5.

I became nearly evangelical in my praise of Vibram Five Fingers and minimalist running in general. I would tell anyone who would listen about VFFs and the miracle of minimalist running. I was a pain in the arse. 

I don't put any stock in the idea of Karma, but I do like the phrase, "Karma's a bitch". So, don't call it a comeback...


  1. Are you my doppleganger? Your story reads so familiar, except you can add 10 years to mine and I was never a fast runner, except maybe as a child living on the south side of Chicago and running from hoodlums.
    I had the calf injury. I was the boring Vibram guy, heck I even created a blog titled "Vibram Chris." And now I am looking outside Vibram, although I still enjoy the training I am doing in them. I just can't use them long distance I think.

  2. @Chris - LOL! I've got a feeling that my "unique" story is pretty common among people who have attempted the transition. Or at least parts of it are common. I too still enjoy my Vibrams, but I'm slowly moving away from them to other options depending on my needs. Different tools for different needs...

  3. I'm really enjoying this series! I can definitely identify with all the "phases" of your journey. When I think of my own, ongoing journey, the phrase, "a sucker is born to run everyday," comes to mind :-)

  4. @Andrew - Tha's right sucka! You were born to run! Right into an injury... ;-)

  5. No sooner arguing against Vibrams as they have become my friend again. I continue looking for alternatives but since I have time to do so I have gone back into the Sprints and really focused on my form. And, Volia! I feel great running around. So I still look forward to your next installment against Vibrams. It remains a love/hate affair for me.


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