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Friday
Apr022010

Self-experimentation

In the sense of the single-subject scientific type of thing, nothing too dubious, promise!

There appears to be a certain way I approach things. So, with the running thing I don't just go and run, I have to read lots about running, and training approaches, and diet, and so on and so forth. I read books on training (so far the 'Complete Book of Women's Running' by Dagny Scott and 'Keep on Running' - some sports science book of GG's) and a couple of story/natural history books ('Born to Run' by Christopher McDougall and 'Why we run' by Bernd Heinrich). And of course, I scour the internet. 

On one of my many trawls, I started reading about barefoot running. In fact, that's what lead me to 'Born to Run'. I've had problems with over-pronating, causing pain in my arches, and a (pretty mild really, only took 6 months of no running to recover) case of planter fasciitis. So I was really intrigued by the reports of barefoot running strengthening your foot and ankle muscles and helping to relieve it. Especially since I have a history of having to strengthen my muscles to protect my hyper-extensive joints! 

Now, clearly, I'm not going to start running barefoot on the pavement around here. Way to much dog poo, apart from anything else. Then I found out about Vibram Five Fingers... Well, I have to admit, I thought they looked ridiculous. And they aren't exactly a cheap experiment. But they are much cheaper in the US, where (coincidentally) we were heading shortly after I found them, so I went and got me a pair of gorilla feet. 

Gorilla feet

For those that don't want to look them up, those are a pair of thin vibram rubber soles, with a lightweight upper. They have no support at all, no padding. The idea is that when you run with no padding, you land naturally on a part of the foot that doesn't hurt: the ball of the foot, rather than the heel. If you land on the ball of the foot, the arch can do its job of cushioning properly, and the padding on the ball of the foot does its job. You run with a shorter stride, but less stress because until 30 years ago and the invention of trainers, that's how we had to run so we are evolved for it. Makes sense to me. 

You know what? I love them. I felt like a bit of a freak at first, but I just enjoy wearing them! 

You have to ease in with them, because walking and running barefoot uses muscles you don't use when you're walking in a padded, supportive shoe. I can testify to that one. I had very tired calf, ankle and foot muscles when I wore them shopping, and doing a 3 mile run in them leaves me with a serious problem going upstairs! But it's not sharp injury pain, just tired stiff muscle pain. They take none of the sting out of the pavement, and those bumps they put at crossings are quite painful! You really start watching where you put your feet. 

I'm not up to running all my runs in them yet, but already I can see a change in my foot shape when I get out the shower (you know, that 'tread on something' test to see if you have flat feet?). I can sort of feel my stride changing even when I'm not wearing them too. I am only a single subject experiment, which has even less significance than those adverts for hair or skin care when they say 90% of women, but for me so far? This experiment is a success!

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