Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Running form on technical trails

Human feet have amazing ability to adapt to almost any trail surface.

Many people worry that the rocks, twigs, and roots on a trail make barefoot trail running impossible.
Not true.
First, you use your eyes and avoid what worries you. Second, your feet aren't rigid and can grab and grip and mold around many "obstacles."

Running barefoot allows the body to receive essential information about the ground from the tens of thousands of sense receptors on the sole of the foot. This feedback is necessary to move correctly.

Watch in HD.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Running form video analysis

In August 2011 I shot a video to analyze my running form to get some feedback from the community.
Got some comments back and suggestions what to improve.

The issue mentioned the most was carrying my arms quite low and having a reasonable amount of lateral movement in them.

The Gait Guys even took it for their analysis here
They concluded "the right foot is spun out", "the left arm seems to cross the body more than the right"  and that I got "most likely some pelvic asymmetry" .

For the past two years I have been trying to improve and work on these issues and finally got to shooting an update.

To my disappointment I am not seeing much of a difference between those two videos shot two years apart. Although I can tell I run more relaxed now it looks like my left arm is still swinging more than the right one and as for the right foot...hmm...hard to say because of the camera angle.
I guess nobody is perfect and the pelvic asymmetry is a tougher animal to beat than I thought. Will see what happens after another two years.

Note about the video locations:
I shot both of these videos intentionally on a chip seal forest road because the rougher the surface the less you can get away with imperfections in your form. In both cases I also ran 6 miles on the road prior the shooting the video just to "settle in the form".

Running form August 2011

Running form August 2013

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Heart Breaker Half Marathon

Third time's the charm.

And here it comes again, Heart Breaker half marathon, one of my favorite annual challengers.
2 years ago I had to refuse the challenge at the very last moment because of a stress fracture from doing "Too Much Too Soon".
Year later I felt strong and confident and went for it full speed. Had a blast (full story here Heart Breaker 2012 ).

The race course was an easy one, mostly smooth paved downtown roads.
This year they have moved it out to the countryside and made it more challenging for a skin-to-ground runner. One more reason to go.

Saturday 8 AM, race day
Painting feet is one of my pre-race rituals. Today's paint job = rainbow shoes. At least my idea of it :-)

Morning is cold, overcast, with light drizzle and quite wet. I was expecting sun, that's what the weatherman was claiming last night. But I take it, it is winter time after all and running barefoot in 2 feet of snow somewhere else on Earth would be probably less fun.

Big crowd of runners. Nobody around is barefoot and I don't see any Five Fingers among half marathon people. Only Jen and David running 5k and 10k are in Soft Star moccasins. My choice of footwear attracts attention. In a good way, people are curious.

I know most of the course is going to be chip and seal roads with some sections of gravel. Five Fingers strapped to my arms give me a good feeling of some added security.
I finish my slushy Chia seeds cocktail and feel ready to roll.

Mile 1
Smooth pavement. Nice beginning, relaxed. I am still cold, feet are cold too, a couple of toes go numb. I know this is going to pass soon.

Mile 2 to 12
Chip and seal roads, some up and down hills. Under a nice old railroad trestle.

Feet warm up. Hands not so much. I shouldn't have left the gloves in car. Damn.
I find out pretty soon going downhill on this rough surface is the most challenging part. At mile 3 there is a short half mile section of a crushed gravel road. I go very light, knees bent, feet relaxed to allow just mold over the gravel. I have to run this twice (there are two loops here for the half marathon) so I am also scouting the terrain for the best second approach.

People spread up more now. After passing a couple of lonesome warriors I catch up with an interesting couple. The guy is all naked running only in a short leather loin cloth (and shoes). 
"What a nice pair of shoes you have!" he starts with a big grin.
We stay together for about a mile chatting so the time passes faster.

My forearms are frozen hard now. I can hardly bend my wrists. I should have known, that's a beginner's mistake. Looking at the bright side, Chia does its magic and keeps me hydrated so I do not have to stop at any water stations and can just keep running like Forest. 

Soon after mile 10 I start feeling the effect of wet roads. Pads are getting softer, pavement harder. Running on painted center lines is not helping much. Somehow the paint on a chip&seal is rough too.

"Do not run through pain" I hear my less competitive half.
But there is no pain, just soreness and it is only 3 more miles to the finish. I guess Five Fingers can stay where they are and just enjoy the rest of the ride.

The last mile's nice smooth pavement gives me a welcome relief. When sprinting to the finish line and looking at the timer with 01:53 I feel really good. 3 minutes faster then a year ago and all that barefoot on a much more challenging surface ! 

There is no visible damage on the bottoms of my feet and besides the pads soreness and frozen hands I feel very good. Another fun race with a bit of challenge, couldn't be better. Loving it.

Soles right after the race

Race stats:

Distance  13.1 miles
Time  1:53:59
Pace   8:42
Placed   23 / 39 in my AG
            157 / 474 overall

Course map

Aerial photo

Course profile

The Aftermath

Balls of the feet get really sore in the next two hours after the race. To the point I can only walk in a pair of thick cushy socks for the rest of the day. I soak feet in hot Epsom salt bath to reduce the inflammation. The next day is much better. Two days after the race some deep tissue blisters show up but the recovery is really fast. I can run barefoot again in four days. Considering the run conditions I take it as a success. Human body has amazing adaptation capabilities.

Pads one day after the race

Pads two days after the race

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Heart Breaker Half Marathon

Cold February Sunday morning, 6 AM.
Hot shower, banana and some water.
The usual pre-race ritual.
Rolling calves on my water bottle. Spreading a little Vaseline on my feet, putting ankle warmers on and heading out, barefoot.
It is brisk outside, a windy 35 degrees.

Heart Breaker Half Marathon story

About a year ago, first week in January 2011, I signed up for the traditional Portland's winter half marathon - Heart Breaker Half. I was feeling great, ready for my first half.
That was week 26 of my transition to barefoot running and I ran 35 miles in it.
Too much.
Too soon.
My right fibula did not like the pressure and cracked. Stress fracture just six weeks before the race. That reminded me I was still in my early transition to barefoot running and to take things slowly. The dream of running a half marathon did not happen at that time.
A year has passed.
I got stronger. Faster too. Somehow lost interest in running on pavement anymore. Have been running mostly trails.  A trail freak - some friends call me. Ran my first trail half marathon last year in July and did pretty good.
However a road half marathon is still somewhere on my list.

6:55 AM
All this is in my head as I am walking slowly to the race registration booth feeling the cold pavement under my feet. Sun is still down but it is getting lighter outside. Downtown streets are calm and quiet and the only busy area is around the World Trade Center where the race starts.
Lately I have been feeling really good on my runs. It feels like I finally got over all the growing pains in my transition so last night I decided to grab the opportunity. I am going to find out how a road half marathon tastes like and run it today.
I strap my Five Fingers to my arms as emergency shoes and I am ready to roll.

7:30 AM sharp and off we go. A pack of about 500 runners slowly spreading out. I start somewhere in the middle. 35 F. It is cold but the pavement is dry so feet will warm up in no time. It is the perfect running weather.

At the start

Mile 1 to 5
All flat. I am quite familiar with this section. I have run it twice before at 10k races so I know what to expect and where. There are some rough pavement areas so I occasionally stick to the nice, soft, painted line saving feet for later. At one aid station they are offering fresh strawberries which is nice so I grab one and save it for later too. You never know.

Mile 5 to 10
Climbing up 600 feet. At the beginning I quickly eat my strawberry convincing myself the fructose rush is going to help me to conquer the hill. The placebo effect works its magic. I am really enjoying running uphill. All 5 miles I keep passing the runners in front of me.

Mile 10 to 13
Fast downhill all the way to the finish line. Pavement, pavement and more pavement. My feet get bored and I have to find a way how to entertain them somehow to compensate for the missing trail elements (mud, sharp rocks, slugs). I start running on raised curbs wherever possible trying to keep balance as long as I can and when that is not enough I run zigzagging the road. It is nice to have some fun on a run.


Strawberry is long time gone but adrenaline still works so let's sprint to the finish line.
My time right under to hours is about the same I had on my trail half marathon but the feeling is different. 6 months ago after finishing the trail race I had to massage and roll my calves heavily to deal with cramping and balls of my feet were sore for the rest of the day.
Today I feel great. So great I go playing soccer right afterwards. This is the way running should be. Easy, comfortable, relaxed and FUN !

Hopefully I inspired some people :-)

Race stats:

Distance  13.1 miles
Time  1:57:09
Pace   8:56
Placed   23 / 39 in my AG
            182 / 464 overall

Course map

Aerial photo

Course profile

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Sole conditioning at 18 months

Sometimes the human body adaptation still amazes me.

I have been running barefoot for 18 months now. Although I started on pavement, last 12 months my runs were primarily on forest trails. I have been experiencing some changes to my feet along the way, mainly spreading of the toes, loosening and flexibility of the toes and a wider, more muscular foot.
I thought it would be interesting to do a sole conditioning photo comparison so I went through some old photos I took early after starting running barefoot. I found one I took at about 1 month and tried to shoot a new one from about the same angle.

This is a sole conditioning comparison of my foot at about 1 months and 18 months of running barefoot. I think it is pretty interesting to see the adaptation capabilities of a human body.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Ubertons Resolution Run 2012

Saturday 10 AM, Cook park, Tigard, OR

My first race this year. In addition to the usual pre-race excitement I am also really happy my wife Zdenka and my son Lukas (6) are joining me today. Lukas really wants to run the Kid's race today and Zdenka agreed to work as a support team.
Weather is looking good, around 50F, ground is soaked and wet after the last night's rain and sun is occasionally peeking through the grey cloud cover.
It has been raining solid for the whole past week. Nothing unusual for our west of Cascades region this time a year but rivers are already overflowing.

Barefoot and minimalist runner

This trail race was originally planned in a beautiful Champoeg State Park but because that area is now flooded, Ubertons moved it to this small city park at the very last moment.
I have never been here before and after seeing a nice smooth concrete trail weaving through the trees I am really hoping there is going to be some nice dirt trail section as well. Running on a smooth pavement in not my idea of a trail race.

The rest of our Barefoot Runners Society team is showing up. There is Jennifer, Kevin with his little one in a stroller and Jim.

Our whole group, only Kevin is missing in this shot

The organizers are announcing a "big dangerous slippery mud covered hill" on the course. After seeing the well maintained trail I take that warning with a grain of salt but having "better safe than sorry" in mind I clip my Vibrams on my forearms just in case and head to the start.

There are not that many runners around. About 100 people altogether, half going for 5k and half for 10k. The course is just 5k so the second group is running it twice.
Our barefoot/minimalist team starts last. We have nowhere to rush. Everyone just wants to enjoy the run. I have no plans to beat my 10k PR today. Although I feel really good and strong, my left fibula spot above ankle has been acting up on some recent runs so I will only gun it if it behaves today.

And off we go - Kevin with stroller, Jim, myself and Jen

After a quick warm up I feel like speeding up a little. It takes me the whole 3 miles to completely relax and settle into the right form. Sadly there is no dirt or gravel on the course. The "big dangerous slippery muddy covered hill" is a joke. There is however a good number of nicely sized puddles on the trail and I make sure I do not miss the joy of splashing through all of them. I realize my Vibrams work just as weights on my arms so I throw them out when starting on my second loop.

Throwing shoes out

The next three miles are great. I feel fast and relaxed. Aiming for the puddles second time, having a blast. When sprinting to the Finish line, Lukas is cheering me up in his Five Fingers anxious to run his Kid's race next.
49 minutes gone and feeling good !
Jen and Jim in Vibrams show up soon and Kevin gets a big applause finishing 5k pushing his stroller all the way to the finish at solid 9:42 pace.

At Mile 5

Joining Lukas at his 1k Kid's race

Since there are almost no kids participating in the Kid's 1k, Lukas takes home the gold medal which he is pretty happy with.
The rain starts at the perfect time, right when everyone is heading home. A good lunch with a good company is in order, time to plan some more group runs together.

Jim, Kevin and Jen

Barefoot Runners Society Oregon chapter is getting bigger and stronger !

Race stats:

Length: 10k
Time: 00:49:08
Pace: 07:55 
Placed: 8 overall (of 52), 2 in my AG (of 12)

Monday, October 24, 2011

Run Like Hell! 10k

Run Like Hell! Portland

The last week in October. The days here in Pacific NW are already short, cold and rainy. It is the perfect time for a hellish race like Run Like Hell.

Run Like Hell is a Halloween-themed race that sees participants dress out in full costume for a run through Portland’s urban parks and along its waterfront areas along the Willamette River. Run Like Hell has become a Portland Fall tradition. This year the theme of the race is zombies.

This race is very special to me. I ran it first a year ago and it was my very first race ever. And first one barefoot too. I was running in a Hawaiian man costume, it was raining and I had a blast.

Today it looks like it is going to be a bit chilly but nice sunny day. I feel good a ready for a strong run but this was not the case some two weeks ago. I pulled my calf muscle and it took me well over two weeks to get rid of it. On some recent runs my right calf has been still acting up and I am hoping today it is going to stay calm.

I pick the 10k distance again and my plan is to enjoy the run and - if the stars are right - beat my last year's time of 48:33 minutes. For a costume I need something very light that allows bare feet. Since last year's Hawaiian man worked very well I choose to do a couple of alternations and improvements and go as a Hawaiian dancer this time.

And the best part at the end - I am not going to be a lone barefooter this year, Mike as a "zombie killer" is running too.

Warm-up hula dance before the race

8 AM, 52 F.
20 minutes to start.
Waiting for the "zombie killer" to show up but he is nowhere to be seen.

10 minutes to start Mike calls me he is on his way. That's a good news I guess.
But I am getting cold fast. My grass skirt is not generating as much heat as I was hoping for.

Finally I hear the starting horn blasting from a distance so I start running towards the start line leaving Mike to his own destiny.
Really glad to be moving. The start line is a little chaotic but once the crowd gets moving, my feet are happy. I do not bother starting slow. I feel a strong urge to run like hell so I just go for it. The adrenaline works its magic, I feel great, really light and unbreakable.

Because of the "end of the pack" starting position I just keep passing runners the whole time which also adds some motivation. People around are cheering "Go Hawaiian!" and sun finally wakes up and starts to shine.
As expected the grass skirt is ventilating very well which unfortunately is not the case of my heavy wig. Sweating heavily.
But finish is in sight. I save some energy for the last 300 feet of fast sprinting and it's over. So soon, I feel like running more.
I check the time and feel some accomplishment. 40 seconds faster than last year and what a blast !

Finishing the race

I am pretty sure Mike eventually made it to the start so I am waiting and cheering up the incoming zombies. And sure enough after a while there is a barefoot "zombie killer" with a happy face approaching the finish line.
We get together and head down to the post race refreshments at waterfront. Jen with her husband from the 5k division join us and we have much to celebrate with a couple of good beers.

It was a good day today.

Myself after the race

Mike the "zombie killer"

Race stats:

Length: 10k
Time:  00:47:51 (Pace 07:42)
Placed: 15th (from 65) in my AG
             137 (from 1424) overall

Race course