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Sunday, June 17, 2012

A year in Vibram Five Fingers

Last year, I wrote a couple of entries regarding my experience in Vibram Five Fingers. After a year, it seems reasonable to follow up. Besides, for all the razz these shoes generate from the people who require their shoes to look "regular," the therapeutic benefit I have experienced leaves my not giving a rat's ass what other people think about them. Of course, I'm a form follows function kind of guy, and if you need to look good over be good, then you're time is wasted here.

So, here goes.

Towards December, I tried my old sneakers, ASICS, the ones with maybe 30 miles on them, and they were just brutal. The overly cushioned arch support left me piled up on the couch for an afternoon in recovery. Both pair remain in the give away pile. Size 13. You want them? I'll never wear them again.

In late January and early February, I decided to participate in a Tough Mudder event to be held in late October of this year. That gave me nine months to get ready. When I announced this at my yearly physical, the doctor did not prescribe antipsychotics. He discussed physical conditioning. In particular, he told me the walking wouldn't do it. I'd have to run.

He was correct, and I flew to San Diego where I worked a week by the harbor. Warm sun. Light breezes. Flat grassy terrain. I stepped out of the hotel and ran nine miles. This over-activity immediately produced a stress fracture in my fourth metatarsal. Right foot. Six weeks to spend on a bike as it healed.

What a dumbass I can be.

It healed. I started running again. Slowly. Short distances. In April, I was up to a mile. A whole mile. You might recall that it was the that I participated in Rugged Maniac. It was there that I learned just how far I had to go if I were to be ready for Tough Mudder. Yes, I met my limit. I also walked out alive.

More running. Up to four miles. All in Five Fingers. Here comes the Warrior Dash. I didn't hit the wall this time. I also didn't set a land speed record, but I did finish under my own steam.

Then I broke the five-mile barrier in May. Some buds and I also participated in the Ninja Challenge. Still not a land speed record, but we did well, and we did it all together. We skipped across the finish line.

My training runs are all in Five Fingers. I wouldn't have it any other way. The mud races, I've run in minimalist runners. Vivo Barefoot Evo, to be specific. The reason is that I fear losing my my Five Fingers in the deep, sticky mud. Nonetheless, the Five Fingers would be superior on the obstacles, and I see many people out there wearing them.

At this point, my intent is to increase my speed over five miles. I could add distance, but the more intense aerobic workout will pay the greater benefit. I'll also add more upper body and core strength building. It's unlikely that I'll bulk up like the stereotypical body builder as I find that musculature antithetical to my intent. Besides, the aerobic work is where my sanity lies.

And yes, my feet have changed. The arch is stronger. It's sufficient to hold me up, which is what the original design specified. My toes function independently according to what is required to hold me up. There is visible structure in my foot. Yes, they still ache like hell some days, especially after a hard workout, but those days are the exception now.

The weight is not falling off, but it is reducing. About a pound a week. The days I can't run are the days I feel weird. Weirder, as one person reminded me.

All in all, the progression has been a good one. After a decade of indeterminate problems, I'm convinced now that the usual treatments involving heel lifts, arch supports, taping procedures, and custom orthotics only served to make the problems worse. We have thousands of years running barefooted behind us, and only a few decades running in shoes. There's a huge hint there for us all. Perhaps think of that the next time you come home, sit down, and rub your aching feet.

Meanwhile, I need to get going. There's lunch with Lily coming, and that's followed by another five miles. It's going to be a very good day. Besides, m'Lil wears Five Fingers too.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

We ran the Ninja Challenge

You might recall, especially if you're reading the Thank-you blog, that we managed to put together a team for the Ninja Challenge. 5K. 15 huge obstacles. There was some attrition, and we wound up starting the noon heat with two women from work, one from my regular life, and me. Last time I ran with the homos. This time I ran with the girls. This all seems about right.

Noon heat? Heat is the operative word there. It was in the low 90s. There was some humidity also. Think of it as a moist heat.

We started together. We faced each obstacle together. We finished together...skipping. Yes, we skipped out holding hands and smiling to beat the band. I sure hope there's a picture of that somewhere. 

It has been a very long time since I had such a good afternoon, and I can say with certainty that I've never, ever, experienced a better team building exercise. If our little company could capture only a single percent of the teamwork and sheer force of will I witnessed on that field, there would be two or more extra zeros on our bottom line at the end of the year.

Here are some details...

One of the early obstacles involved was 30 feet of 4x4s over pools of black swampy mud. I faced this one with confidence. I fell off at 10 feet. Grandpa needs to work on his balance, and we believe that'll begin with core strengthening.

We faced the Iron Mountain with some trepidation. There were four walls on a steep incline: 5, 7, 9, and 11 feet. No ropes. No trampoline. Lots of gravity. Way too much gravity. We scaled the first wall, and then the second. We stood down the last two as we felt we'd met our limit. Besides, we did 50%, and we concurred that we met the criterion for minimal competency. I quickly offered my psychometric validation to the assertion. (That's an inside joke from work.)

Because this was a Ninja-style course, there were three sets of accursed monkey bars. I hate a monkey bar, and I lacked the strength to do much more than fall off, but I fell with great aplomb, or so the medics said. I've focused on running through the past few weeks, breaking the five-mile barrier, and although that gives me the aerobic capacity to keep moving, it does little to make my upper body and arms stronger. That will be added to the regimen in the coming weeks.

And so we come to a pond. Two ropes are stretched across. Floating on the water are sheets of plywood. Well, maybe it was particle board. Memory fails me now. I characterized this challenge as Indian Jones' Leap of Faith. If we moved across the plywood slowly, we would sink. We had to run. Everyone ran but me. I walked fast, and I nearly sank. We all got across without falling, though I did wonder as I stepped on the final sheet of plywood only to realize it was split. Oops. Uh oh.

Now, there was a perfectly dry path from the pond to the next obstacle, but the course designers didn't follow the logical trail. Oh no. That'd be too simple. Where's the fun in that? We got to cross the pond again. They had a log. I hopped into the water, held the log, and walked across the pond. Yes, the mud was deep, and there were the holes. When I climbed out the other side and turned around, I beheld a great spectacle, a spectacle that burned itself into my memory, a spectacle the delivered a reminder about thinking outside the box: Everyone else was walking across on the log, and they were staying dry. Oh well.

The very next obstacle involved an inclined plane of slick plywood and ropes with too few knots. I should probably mention that our shoes were slick with mud. It'll help me save face later. I slipped, the ladies had to push me up the incline, and the peeps on top pulled me the rest of the way. I should bring a recliner to these events. The reward for making it to the top was jumping into a large garbage bin filled with iced water, and then getting out somehow. I had visions of Luke, Han, and Lea in the imperial garbage compactor on the Death Star.

Then came the Death Ladder. 45 degrees rising some 15 feet then descending on the other side. I started out walking on the widely spaced rungs, but my still slippery shoes told me this was increasingly imprudent so I knelt down and crab walked. No problems until the last rung on the descending side where, oh yes, I tripped. Perfect timing.

The final obstacle was humbling. You either had to jump, grab a ledge some seven feet up, and then crawl up and out without handholds, or you had to chimney climb. I wound up jumping with three women then pushing my butt and legs until the miniature woman on the top pulled my hulking, oddly still breathing self over the edge.

From there, we skipped. Yes, we did. We skipped hand-in-hand like grade schoolers across the finish line. We grabbed a lot of water. I put down two liters all by myself. There was also a dumpling food truck that saved my life, but that's another story. For dessert, we went for ice cream. I got vanilla, and it might have been the best cup of vanilla I have ever tasted.  

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Wherein I ate a stuffed jalapeno

A few weeks back, I rode my bike downtown to have dinner at my fave spot. The special included cheese-stuffed jalapenos. I was feeling frisky, and I got me some with some iced water. After eating one, I got me some more iced water. Lots more. While eating the other thing I ordered, I nibbled another half pepper. After that, I just squeezed the cheese out and ate that. Mostly, I couldn't feel my mouth anyway, and eating the rest wouldn't be a problem, but I saw no reason to further assault my belly. My delicate virginous belly.

Following a yummy dessert that I could almost taste, I hoped on my bike and made my way back home. (I know the dessert was yummy because I've had it before.) I follow a greenway for most of the way, and the greenway cuts through the NCSU campus. The sun was down, and I navigated by residual daylight punctuated by my LED headlight. As I'm passing the little pond that catches runoff before it gets to the creek, I'm thinking how it won't be long before the frogs are out and singing to me as I pedal by.

That's when I felt the undeniable, nonnegotiable, immutable pang. I headed my bike into what I hoped was a clearing between two trees. It slowed in the vines. I stepped off, dropped the bike without ceremony, and moved another couple of feet off the path, my feet tangling in the vines as I unbuckled my belt. My pants and draws hit the deck as I turned and leaned forward in a single motion that is surely studied for years before mastery in gymnast school. For the next hour, I sprayed without ceasing molten lava across the surrounding landscape, surely an artist ahead of my time.

I had no words to describe my feelings then. I only had the hour-long inhalation that was followed by a silent scream the likes of which this world could not bear as an audible expression. We're talking the Word of God here.

As you surely know, there only civilized cleanup following such an event includes an evening in the shower. Unfortunately, the bastard greenway designers failed to foresee my distress, and I was left to find the one red bandana I carried, stuff it in my draws, and reassemble my altogether as best I could in the dark with my feet twisted in barbed vines while the cooling lava crackled and spit across the landscape behind me, the landscape I could no longer see in the dark.

Dignity is not required to mount a bike, and I hopped on carefully to pedal my way back home, wondering along the way who would be in the lobby of the apartment building waiting to share a ride on the elevator with my odoriferous and slightly steaming self.