Monday, July 26, 2010
I stopped dead in my tracks. My heart starting pounding faster in my chest and I felt the blood rush out of me and my face go pale. I didn't move. I didn't breathe. About 30 feet in front of me and just beyond the brightest area of my headlamp, a red glowing pair of front ways eyes stared back at me from the bushes off the side of the dirt road.
I'd read that there were jaguars here in the Copper Canyons. This mountain range being one of the last veins of refuge for this beautiful big cat in Mexico. Although the reputation for being a man eater is almost certainly exaggerated, I wasn't taking that chance and as soon as it became dark, I had picked up a sizable enough rock to use as a weapon if necessary. And if it wasn't a jaguar, it could just as easily have been a mountain lion.
I threw the rock at the bushes. The eyes didn't move. They just sat, motionless, staring me down. I picked up a handful of smaller rocks and threw those, yelling at the same, "Ha! Get outa here! Git!" For another moment the eyes remained still. Then, slowly, silently they turned away and disappeared down into the valley below.
I leaned forward with my hands on my knees and took a deep breaths to try and calm down and stop the shaking from the adrenaline (in retrospect I probably should have used it for the run). For all I knew it was just a stupid donkey, but that fact that the eyes were forward is what unnerved me. Sure it could have been a dog, but every dog I'd ran past so far would bark and chase after me nipping at my heels.
"Ah, geez. What the hell am I doing out here..."
I reached down to pick up another rock, stood up and started a slow run again. It was dark now and I'd been going for nearly 13 hours. Thankfully I was on my final leg of the race coming back down from the check point at Guadalupe Coronado with less than 4 miles to go. Most of the other runners had finished by now. There was only myself and 3 other runners behind me that I knew of at the time: Maria "La Mariposa" Walton, Kestor "El Toro Inglaterra" Wilkinson, and Brooke Kantor. I was exhausted, my feet hurt, and I was running on fumes. Even the gel packs barely had any effect at this point. I'd get a decent boost for about 5 minutes then bonk again, so I gave up on them, which was fine because they were beginning to make me nauseous anyway. But then, LIGHTS!
A pair of lights actually, distant and moving up towards me on the dirt road below. As they got closer I could make out the shape of a van with a luggage rack on top. I know that van! I began running towards it as fast as my dull headlamp would allow without me tripping over a rock. Then I heard a familiar voice come from the driver side window.
"Hey buddy! you doin alright?" It was Doug Rhodes with Micah True riding shotgun. They had driven out to check on the stragglers.
"Yeah. I'm tired." I responded as walked up next to the van. Micah's main reason for being out became apparent pretty quickly.
"Have you seen Maria?" he asked.
"Yep, I passed her coming up this way a little while ago. If she hasn't made the check point yet, she will soon. But I wouldn't be surprised if she isn't far behind me now."
"You need any gels or cliff bars?" he said holding up a plastic bag full of the stuff.
"Nah, I'm fine. Those things aren't doing me any good now anyway." I replied.
"Do you want a ride back?"
"No!" I said emphatically,"I gotta finish this race on my own two feet." There was no way in hell I was stopping now. Not when I was so close. Honestly, I was lucky I was even here. I'd only gotten the money for the trip a couple weeks before hand. I could have used it to pay off a huge chunk of a credit card. But... this trip was potentially once in a lifetime. I'd chosen the race over responsibility and I had to make it worthwhile. I wanted something more than just a "good experience". Besides, I'd been telling everyone for the past 8 months that I was ready to take this on. That I could finish. I had to back it up.
"Ok. See ya back in town. Its not much farther." Doug rolled up the window and the van started moving up hill, around a bend and the lights disappeared. I turned around and began my slow run again back towards town. I was almost home...
Monday, May 17, 2010
"How is running in your bare feet better than doing so in a $150 shoe thats specifically designed for running?"
While Born To Run was a fantastic story and did a good (and convincing) job at answering why its better and even goes into describing good running form, unfortunately McDougall's chapters on the subject were somewhat limited in detail on how to transition into barefoot running, and do so properly, as barefoot running wasn't the overall focus of his book. Many runners and non-runners alike were introduced to the idea of going barefoot for the first time and re-discovered their love of running after reading BTR. And like so many others I got overly excited and went out to run a fast 3 miles around the block. I ended up killing my calf muscles, was lucky I didn't blow out my achilles tendon or worse, and couldn't run (I could barely walk comfortably) for over two weeks, after that having to pretty much learn as I went.
Thankfully for the rest of you who are just now getting into this ever growing form of running, this is where Michael Sandler and Jessica Lee's BAREFOOT RUNNING: HOW TO RUN LIGHT AND FREE BY GETTING IN TOUCH WITH THE EARTH comes into play.
Michael Sandler is a well known runner and coach in the barefoot community with nearly 20 years of professional athletic experience and it shows in the knowledge presented in this book. I wish I'd had this manual when I started. I use the word manual because that is exactly what this is, and man is it thorough. Even after a year of running barefoot I realized I still had a lot to learn.
As an example, I knew I'd been running with a much easier and lighter form than I ever had in shoes. But lately I'd been having some trouble with a sharp pain (felt like stepping on a needle) in the arch of my right foot that would get progressively worse as I went. I have strong feet and was recently able to complete my first ultra marathon (Copper Canyon of Born To Run fame) in a pair of Vibram Five Fingers without any problems, so I figured it had to be my form. "But I have good form!" I thought to myself. Well not as good as it should have been. When reading the sections on form and stride, it turns out I wasn't keeping my back straight enough and was leaning forward causing a pelvic tilt, basically running with my butt sticking out, which in turn caused my stride to become too long. On my next run I put Michael's suggestions into practice feeling so light and easy I ended up running my first sub 6 minute mile since high school even after just having run about 4 miles on technical singletrack.
But this book is about far more than just good form. Its important to note that this book does NOT tout barefoot running as a panacea, but rather another piece of a balanced holistic approach to fitness and staying injury free, doing so from the ground up. Its separated into 6 parts:
Part I: Why on Earth Would You Want to Run Barefoot?
This sections gets into the scientific reasons (and solid references to scientific studies) why its not only great injury prevention but also great for balanced MENTAL health and stimulation, staying grounded (literally), focus, patience "Go slow to go fast!", listening to feedback from your body, and improving proprioception.
Part II: Tear Off Your Shoes and Truly Feel the Earth Beneath Your Feet
This is where it really starts to get fun because you actually go out and start running and putting things into practice as you learn them. Here you learn about form, foot strike and stride with great illustrations, a brief but informative anatomy lesson on the feet and the function of each part. It also includes a 12 week plan to going totally barefoot, exercises for proper foot strengthening, pad development, maintenance, core strength, cross training, stretching and even nutrition.
Part III: Dancing With Nature
Want to know how to train and run in sub-freezing temperatures or on ridiculously hot shoe melting surfaces? Its covered in here along with running over nearly every surface imaginable, overcoming injuries if they happen and finally building up to preparing for race day.
Part IV: Discovering and Rediscovering the Joy of Barefoot Running at Any Age
Goes into the dangers of forcing kids to wear shoes and the benefits of allowing them to go barefoot. Interestingly in a section I did not expect is how the elderly can get into running barefoot and why doing so may even help those with diseases that cause bone and neurological degeneration or at least contribute to preventing them.
Part V: If You Really Must Wear Something on Your Feet
A section on what to look for in minimalist footwear with a fun subheading entitled "Don't Trust Your Shoe Salesman" debunking some common myths about running and shoes.
Part VI: The Final Step
Short and poetic, Michael's concluding thoughts.
If you are at all thinking of trying barefoot running you need to get this book. I found it to be quite simply the most comprehensive guide available for proper technique and transition into this fun and primal art form. Corremos Libre amigos!
Caleb "El Llama" Wilson