Posts Tagged ‘Barefoot Running’

Running again!

Crystal Falls early in my standard run. The left side of the waterfall is frozen.

Returning to the trails is like meeting an friend you used to see almost daily but circumstances kept you apart for a month. Not just the running. The experience of primal running is much, much more. It is prayer. It is breathing God’s creation. It is flowing through God’s creation. It is a return to the way things are supposed to be.

These last three days I’ve run 8 miles total. That was made possible by about a week of rather pathetic outings, hobbled combinations of running in place and trotting/stumbling a few dozen yards and back.

Pathetic as it was, I returned each time feeling better than I left. That how running primal works. I’ve said it before, but there is something about running that helps us heal.

This recovery I am doing a number of additional things that I was not on my previous 6 month recoveries (which matched how I felt at the beginning of this one and the only other times I was super slammed like this, so it’s the only bench mark I have.).

First: I understand now how having adrenaline kick in sets me back and I know how to avoid it. I’ve again regained the ability to shut down rather than enter fight or flight, which helps.

Second: The Genotype diet, Buteyko breathing, barefoot running, and floor living. God’s engineering makes everything more efficient, and so healing occurs more rapidly.

Third: I am eating a few finger-fulls of Cacao nibs each day. This raw, unprocessed bean is used to make chocolate. It soothes my continuing skull tectonic plates as they find their proper places. I’ve no idea what else it does, but it is considered a superfood for the brain and it’s part of my Genotype diet.

Forth: the inversion table and hyperbaric chambers.

Fifth: I’m intentionally staying out of interacting with my family as much as I usually would to prevent myself from short circuiting as often, which research shows only prolongs and deepens recovery time. Better two month of greater seclusion than 6 months of being slammed.

My hope is that since I am near the one month mark, I will take an additional 2-4 weeks recovery time to get back to where I was, then see where I get to go from there. Now that I am able to run, perhaps that will speed up the timeline?

Running but not writing

Running barefoot but neglecting the blog.

Take Off Your Shoes and Exercise!

Go Barefoot or Minimalist

There is a two-fold issue here. First, is shoes. They change the way our body moves, affecting everything from our toes to our nose. Why? Two reasons: they raise the heel, which changes our natural gait and makes motion far less efficient; and they “protect” and “support” our feet, making them, our ankles, legs, back, etc weak, hypersensitive, and prone to needing more and more support.

Does this mean you shed your shoes and run off happily into the sunset? No. Please don’t. The transition to going barefoot or “minimalist” (shoes that offer no support and minimal protection), can take up to a year. You have muscles, tendons, cartilage, posture, and new ways of moving to grow and learn. The hardest part of the transition, taken slowly, takes up to 3 months. To learn more about HOW to make this transition see:

How will making the transition to barefoot/minimalist shoes benefit your brain? The more efficiently our whole body functions, the less energy our brain spends on making it do the every moment tasks. The difference may startle you, because part of how we can help our brain have more energy is to decrease the energy our brain have to spend.


Studies are starting to show that running actually grows new brain cells in mice. Emerging studies also indicate that exercise helps promote overall healing and health. I’ll take both of those!

My own experience tells me that there is truth to both those statements. I the more I am able to exercise, the better I feel. I have reached the point that when my brain is fatigued (but not too fatigued), going for a run rejuvenates my brain and I come back feeling better than I left.

Whatever you form of exercise, be sure to do it with doctor approval and with help as needed so you are as safe as possible.

Minimalist Footprints…

This photo intrigues me. The print in the lower left is made by a guy I saw on the trail, who appears to weigh less, be smaller than me, and made the print about the same time I did. He was walking, I was running. I mention that to make clear the prints were made onto ground of equal softness and the deeper print was made by someone lighter and walking compared with my 190 lbs running. My print is in the upper right. I was wearing my primal moccasins.

My print isn’t quite “the best runners leave no print” ideal, but it is interesting to see the difference between primal running and shod walking in what appears to be a Converse or similar less structured shoe.

Clearly the shod print is a heal strike (see the deep heel imprint.) It creates an artificially flat surface. My primal print is soft around the edges and is clearly a gentle forefoot strike. My foot molds the ground slightly, but also molds to the ground. There is clear toe articulation.

Thoughts? Riff away in the comments section…

Baby Step Miracles!

Bathed in gentle alpine glow after a night’s snow, this view looks down Ute Pass.

As I connect with, learn, and live the basics of “God’s engineering” I am deeply humbled by how great we are made and how much we try and do things our way and simply gum up the works.

What do I mean by “God’s engineering?” I mean that God, through evolution, designed us to be the most beautiful and efficient and gifted creature on the planet: mind, body, and soul. Learning how to listen to our body and what it’s trying to tell us can make everything in life better. Two cases in point:

Primal Running:
When I first began going barefoot (last spring), my feet tingled as the blood rushed in, grew new tissue, woke up dormant neural connections and created new ones. My feet began giving the rest of my body input about where I as compared with the ground. My brain no longer had to struggle to figure this out. My body (from my navel down) just knew. As this awareness and reflex grew, I realized I could run. A few more months and constant testing to see if I still needed the 4 pound walking sticks, and I’ve shifted to 8 oz. trekking poles (Thank you, Mountain Chalet!). I’m now running and moving faster and more efficiently than ever (including before my brain injury!). I’m hopeful that running will help grow new connections and help me recover even more over time (studies show mice grown thousands of new brain cells when they run compared with when they don’t).

Primal Breathing:
Using the Buteyko breathing method, my breathing is now keeping the maximum amount of accessible oxygen in my blood, increasing my body’s efficiency throughout. I’ve even been able to run more in the afternoon and once in the evening (Mornings are my best “brain energy” time). I feel better more, have more brain energy, and my sinuses are not a constant presence in every moment of life. I suspect this new efficiency deeply contributed to my being able to go to lighter sticks, as it provides a better, more consistent oxygen supply to my brain.

Baby step miracles by way of learning how to listen to my body and the way God created me to breathe and move and eat (Blood Type Diet). I wonder what other aspects of life I take for granted that I’m actually doing things counter to how God created me? How else can I go primal? The search continues… Grin.

Plus 43.6 (Yes, I’ve been negligent in reporting them!)
Total mileage: 519.5 miles

Snow Traction Update

Traction in the snow on steep trails (One I run climes 1000 feet in 1.5 miles) is a challenge. There is (at least) one dilemma for the minimalist runner: how to get enough traction while not weighing down the foot or hindering it’s function.

The bottom line:

  • I run in most situations in my double soled primal mocs. This includes in well crystalized snow up and down on moderately packed snow. More on this later.
  • When I absolutely need additional, I now use Stableicers Lite. Why? Because they are the only traction device I’ve found that doesn’t constrict my foot through the minimalist footwear. I use velcro straps over the top to help hold them on (they slip off otherwise).

Here’s more details:

R and D with a solo moccasin maker in the Christmas season slows way down because he’s filling Christmas orders! We’re working on a possible wire and leather traction solution, but it remains in the pre-prototype stage for being too successful. Grin. Shameless plug: Chuck is great to work with and I highly recommend him if you are ready for a fantastic, quality, custom sized primal moc you can resole and will last forever. Connect with him at Mountain People Footwear.

I much prefer the leather sole to a rubber one (like Vibram’s Cherry). Why? With proper primal running technique traction equals rubber soled shoes, yet is warmer, provides better ground feel, and allows the exchange of energy with the earth. Exchange of energy with the Earth? Isn’t that a bit wacko? Possibly. But I experience it. I feel much more energized running with leather sole on any surface, but particularly on trails. The closest thing to a “scientific” explanation is that running barefoot or with leather allows for the exchange of energy/electrons with the earth, in which we release waste energy through the soles of our feet and receive renewed energy from the earth. I’ve tried multiple testing of this and, whatever the explanation, I simply feel better running with a leather sole.

Winter is hard on leather soles. Replenish them with Obenauf’s Heavy Duty LP.

Snow type does make a difference. Like any shift in terrain, the type and temperature of the snow we run on makes a difference in terms of how we interact with it. As any skier using waxed skis knows, there are different waxes for different types and temperatures of snow. For leather soled folk, the wetter (ie, warmer) the snow, the less friction it has. Snow is slippery when wet. Increased traction is required on wet snow. On well crystalized snow (ie, temps 25F and below), I’ve found very few circumstances requiring additional traction (again using proper primal techniques (as a refresher: primal is the style/technique/experience of running or walking either barefoot or minimalist).

Running a winding, rocky trail downhill in primal footwear is mind altering delight. The concept/ technique for it is this: small, rapid steps that take you on the edge of the traction/friction equation. In essence, you run as close to the point of slipping as you can, but because your feet are moving so fast you have a LOT of traction when and as you need it. It’s amazing how our feet and legs are made for this (the same is true of any steep/rocky terrain) — our mind only has to decide the track of our travel, our feet and reflexes take care of the rest (I suspect this requires a lot of time learning the technique and building up the right muscle groups, but Wow! is it a fun payoff!). So, while the Stableicers are functional, and at this point the best I’ve found, they greatly hinder primal running an so the search continues. Hopefully our own research for a primal moc traction device will yield some results.

Something about a leather sole!

Wow. There is something absolutely energetic about running in an all leather shoe. Running in an all-leather primal moc feels far more barefoot than running in Vibram Five Fingers or even a moccasin with a rubber sole. The difference is palpable.
Why? I don’t know. Apparently when we walk barefoot, electrons are exchanged between us and the earth, helping us unload whatever we need to and giving us renewed energy. Whatever it is, I can certainly feel that difference when I go barefoot, and this feels similar.
So, what are the drawbacks to an all leather sole? Only one that I’ve found: slippery when on snow and ice or wet grass/smooth wet rocks. For me, we get a lot of the snow and ice round here, but not much of the others. I’m testing out more options to help with traction with the moccasin and will report back when I learn more.
Another thing that may be a problem for some is if their running technique is heavy/loud rather than light/silent, they will wear through the leather, perhaps more quickly than they are used to. From what I can tell so far, wear seems similar or better than Vibram Five Fingers.
Chuck Perry of Mountain People Footwear is the guy to go to for custom primal running mocs. He already has the all leather, but if you’re wanting a rubber sole, we’re working on that as an option.

Plus 7 miles
Total: 240.2

How to uphold the Dignity of the Tarahumara (Rarámuri) — and all of us?

10-22-09 Update: there is a newly created site here to help support the Rarámuri.
We, and far more critically our brothers and sisters the Rarámuri, live at a cross roads. Why would I so arrogantly place myself, living rather comfortably far from the Copper Canyons, among those effected by the crossroads the Rarámuri face? Perhaps I’m out of place, but I do so because what effects one of us effects us all. That’s the notion of solidarity. We are in this together. Even when it looks like we aren’t. Solidarity is one of the four permanent principles of Catholic social teaching. It offers every one of us a starting place for asking the question, how do we uphold the dignity of the Tarahumara?

To learn of the Tarahumara, I highly recommend reading two things. Born to Run by Christopher McDougall, and this article in NatGeo.

To learn of the four permanent principles of Catholic social teaching, I recommend reading this post. If you really want to dive in, take a look at the Model of Catholic Social Teaching. (I wrote it and it’s a bit of wandering egghead, but it will get you through the ideas and principles needed here). While the concepts are explicitly Catholic, they are universal (the meaning of catholic), and speak to the natural law we all share and are bound by.

The Tarahumara face the centuries old challenge of what happens when one culture collides with another. The typical pattern is some form of slavery, impoverishment, and loss of self reliance. It appears that is much the way things are headed for the Tarahumara now, with numerious pressures, legal and illegal, pressing in on them. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

There is an answer. It’s one we may have heard and perhaps discarded. Or the idea that follows that one. Or it’s one yet to be thought. But in the end, it will be an idea that meets the rigorous tests of upholding the common good, subsidiarity, and solidarity and thus upholding human dignity — the dignity of all involved. Find that answer and we achieve something far more human than what is happening now.

The current proposal of tourism development clearly undermines human dignity, violating the principles of the common good, subsidiarity, and solidarity (the encroaching roads can be argued to have done the same.

A proposal:
The first and most obvious idea is that the Mexican government declare the Copper Canyon a national treasure and the ancestral lands of the Rarámuri, giving it to them to manage, as they have done for centuries already. If they want tourism, let them do it their way. But it’s not a reservation — it’s like a free and independent state. Government aid would have to be very carefully considered, as experience in the US shows us it creates a cycle of dependance that also undermines human dignity (see most if not all current reservations to see this cycle in action — no people receive more government aid).

I’m guessing based on the very limited info I have on the Tarahumara, but their economy is based on korima: the trading of favors. Could that not happen on a societal level?

How does this proposal pass the tests?
It appears to pass the tests of upholding the Common Good.

Subsidiarity. We have to know what the Rarámuri think. If they approve the idea then we can continue in examine if it passes Subsidiarity (it appears to, as Governments role is limited only to protecting the fundamental rights of the Rarámuri).

Solidarity. This proposal appears to pass the test of Solidarity.

It seems to me we need a dialogue between and amongst the Tarahumara, the people surrounding them, including the Jesuit priests serving them, and others to learn more fully the situation and what is needed. The internet seems a perfect tool for such a fool-hearty endeavor.

What needs to happen to both refine and implement this proposal? Or is it as ill considered as the current, tourism proposal? Should it be tossed aside and we enter and facilitate dialogue with the people directly impacted? Input and action from you is needed. Please leave any ideas in the comments box.

I’ve got Morton’s Toes (and he wants them back!)

I’ve got Morton’s Toe (or Morton’s foot) on both feet (where the second metatarsal is longer than the first, often resulting in the second toe being longer than the first).

I’ve struggled with the painful extra strain and callus that develops under the second metatarsal. The typical answer is an orthotic that adds a thicker portion under the first metatarsal, so it “lands” first. This worked for me, but is not feasible when barefoot and it’s not practical in minimalist shoes. Besides, if there is a way to make it work without anything, I much prefer that.

On the Barefoot runners group, I’ve researched the wisdom and experience there. Here’s what I’ve found, both from the group and from my own experimentation, summarized:

– with every step (walking around the house, running, trail running, hiking — every step), I curl my toes up in my stride forward, relaxing them as I land on the ball of my foot. This does two things: 1) pushes the first metatarsal down so it lands properly and 2) loads the natural spring in my foot to absorb more of the landing. The only trick seems to be how much to curl, and I’m allowing my feet to tell me that. – When sitting in a recliner, I’ll exercise my toes by curling them both up and down, alternating feet just like when I’m walking/running. This helps train my muscle memory so my natural gate will simply have the toe lift in it.

Note: as with most barefoot/minimalist techniques, it often works well to exaggerate a new motion to help move it into muscle memory, but then to gently pull back and listen to your feet as you run/hike/walk and find where your own “balance” point is. Th better you are at listening to what you feet are saying, the quicker this will happen. If you run with exaggerated movement for too long, without listening to your feet, that’s when injury happens. (Not that I’ve ever done that! Grin.)

It is working well so far, though I’m only 6 miles into testing it.

10-3-09: Update
Wow. I did not expect this to settle into my muscle memory so quickly (possibly a benefit of not having traditional memory?). Today’s run was magical. I’ve accessed the windlass mechanism in the foot, which creates a natural “spring” absorbing more of the impact (except barefoot/minimalist technique uses it to not only lift the foot, but more so to  cushion the landing. Traditional shoes use it to push off — which barefoot technique does not do, instead simply lifting the foot). My stride felt more natural than it ever has, and I ran as fast as I did pre-disability. My feet have rotated toe inward, so they are where they are supposed to be (it’s common with Morton’s Foot to point the toes out to compensate, but this messes up leg and back alignments). No longer was I fighting to maintain my posture. My foot even felt relaxed, like it was born to run this way. Not sure how that happened so quickly, considering the act of curling toes upwards tenses the foot. But I just let my feet run and they felt great — clearly doing what I was wanting them to do, without me having to think about it. Wow.

10-4-09: Update
The wonder continues. Today I ran the best times I’ve ever done and my feet feel great after. I hardly had to think about lifting my toes — they are getting close to being automatic.

Deacon Patrick’s Round the World Progress

Deacon Patrick's Round the World Progress