Sunday, August 26, 2012

Wearing the Wrong Shoes

At work recently, I was on the task of pruning and hauling branches from an overgrown area near a roadway. Since this was going to require stepping on uneven ground with thorny branches from osage orange and honey locust trees as well as broken bottles and possibly worse, I wore my old cross training shoes from before my nearly barefoot days. The day was, for me, a stark reminder of why I wear the shoes I do.

I cannot believe I used to run in those shoes. They have a stiff, thick sole, thick leather uppers, and a bit of ankle support. These features are great for keeping thorns and glass out, but as far as foot function goes, I got a re-education on what is wrong with athletic shoes.

First of all, if it were not for the thick soles I would not need the ankle support. The thickness of the sole made me feel like I had 2x4s attached to the bottoms of my feet. The taller the platform under the foot, the more instability there is, simple physics.

Second, heel to toe drop. All day long I felt like I was sliding into the front of my shoes. I felt that way because I really was sliding into the front of my shoes.

Then there are the narrow toes, my shoes are an extra wide size and I re laced the laces to make room for the front part of my foot, and still, the outside of my feet were hanging over the sole, pressing against the sides of the shoes and deforming the shape of the upper as well as deforming the shape of my toes.

I couldn't feel the ground under my feet and spent the day stumbling around on the uneven ground. A problem I don't have in minimal shoes.

The worst instance all day was when I stepped on a small stone. Since I could not feel the stone under my foot before I put weight on my foot my foot rolled to the outside. As the bottom of my shoe made contact with the ground, the platform of the sole of the shoe caused my foot to roll further. I really feel that if I had not strengthened my lower legs through nearly barefoot running I would have injured my ankle.

On the bright side though. No honey locust thorns in my foot.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Soft Star Shoes Children's Rambler

When I realized what cramped shoes had done to my feet over a lifetime, I started looking for a good choice of footwear for my daughter so that she would not suffer the same injuries and, let's be honest, deformities.

The solution I came to was a company called Soft Star Shoes.

Is there supposed to be a disclaimer here? Soft Star Shoes has given me nothing, I've bought four pairs of footwear from them, one for me, one for each member of my family.

Ramblers after some serious wear and tear.
Anyway, my little girl loved her Soft Star Ramblers.

Her style was a smooth leather upper, Vibram rubber sole, and a sheepskin insole. She got them in August 2011 and wore them until her toes grew through the end.

This has been her favorite of any shoe she has ever worn. She still occasionally asks if she can wear them even though they don't fit her anymore.

She grew right out the end.
I love Soft Stars commitment to sustainability and their community. I also love their shoes. These shoes were put to the test of a very active four year old. She ran in them, as much as a mile on pavement, she hiked in them, played in them, rode her bike in them. The sheepskin eventually had holes worn through, and after 6 months the stitching came apart at the toes in one shoe. That is partially because the leather kept stretching to accommodate her growing foot allowing the sole to eventually start wearing where the stitches were.

What's left of the sole after many miles.
The shoe has a two piece upper that can let water and debris in, but this was not often a problem. The shoes allowed her foot to move and flex naturally while staying on her feet without slipping off. This is accomplished by an elastic strap around the ankle. As I mentioned earlier, the leather stretched as her foot grew, so even as she outgrew the sole, the leather still allowed her foot to remain uncramped.

So those are her daddy's thoughts, what did she think of the Ramblers?

She says they were her best, best, best shoes, she loved them because they were pink and blue and so comfy and had sheepskin and were so flexible.

In short. Best shoe for kids I've ever seen.

Tri, Tri Again

Awakened by the electronic sounds of the iPod next to my bed, I open my eyes. The sun is not yet up, the room is dark except for the greyish light from the noisemaker next to me. Most mornings, at this point, I would blindly reach toward the night stand and tap around until my finger found the snooze button, but this morning was different, this was the morning of my second ever triathlon.

The mental list sprang to mind unbidden, goggles, helmet, running shoes, energy gels, sports drink, five-gallon bucket, helium balloon, towels, bandanna, bike, tires are aired up, time for breakfast.

Steel cut oats with berries, fried eggs, orange juice, clif bar in the pocket for later, and coffee.

Also, more coffee.

The dark outside the window was turning gray, then pink, then orange, the sky brightening to the east paralleled the nervous energy rising in my mind and body. Actively distracting myself by going over my checklist, neatly packing my bucket with all my triathlon gear, and taking my bike out to the bike rack for the drive up the road to the Bowling Green Sprint Triathlon.

I couldn't decide whether to listen to some soothing classical music on NPR or to scan the radio stations for something more energetic. I turned on the radio, it was already tuned to NPR, and I liked what I heard, so I took that as a sign to listen to classical. Not long after, NPR news came on, so I switched the station. The first push of the button led me to "Welcome to the Jungle" so I decided it was time for some pump me up music. All the while hoping the triathlon would not bring me to my kn-kn-kn-kn-kn-kn KNEES!

Mid-August felt more like mid-October this morning, I got out of my car, headed over to have my number marked on my arms and left calf and to get my timing chip. I was number 248 of nearly 300 participants. We would later be lined up in numerical order which was determined by our estimated and self reported swim times. 248 out of 300 means I was going to be a pretty slow swimmer.

I met up with my awe inspiring support crew. My wife Tammy, whose example got me started running, and doing triathlons, and trail racing. My stepdaughter Jordan who constantly sets amazing goals for herself then busts her tail reaching them including graduating from the high school ranked number one in the USA by Newsweek. My daughter Emma, who decided one day she wanted to train enough (at age four)  to bike 5 miles to Chaney's Dairy Barn for ice cream.

I set up my transition station with everything I would need after exiting the pool including that helium balloon tied next to my bike to make it easier to find my spot for the transitions. The race director gave out pre-race instructions and all the athletes headed over to line up.

There are some things I like about the swim leg being in a pool, one is the calmer start. I've not yet done an open water triathlon, but I've seen the videos. The swim start looks less like a race than a battle. As if the beach were a sinking ship and the swimmers were rats trying to flee before they drown. Another is the opportunity to chat with other triathletes who reported similarly slow swim times. There was a ten second wait between starts, 2,470 seconds for me to wait. 41 minutes. This year, instead of nervously pacing in line, I sat down and relaxed.

Too soon it seemed, the line was thinning out, my turn to jump in the pool was coming. I watched as person after person walked up to the line, "3,2,1, GO! Move to the line. . . 3,2,1, GO!" As each person jumped in and I got closer to the front I could feel a thrumming energy in my core, growing stronger and louder with each 3,2,1, GO!

My turn.

3,2,1, GO!

I swam. On the first lap the doubts came to mind. "Why am I doing this? Swimming is so hard! I don't even like to swim. I don't know if I can even finish the swim."

I had forgotten about all these doubts that like to try to sabotage me, but I remembered the secret doubt crushing weapon I used during training. I began to repeat my mantra in my mind.

So I swam.

My family cheered me on at the end of each odd lap. Then the last lap, exit the pool, run barefoot to the transition area. Even though I had rehearsed my transition. I forgot what to do for a second. I grabbed that upside down bucket that was on my towel, how could I sit on the towel with that bucket there. Oh right, I'm supposed to sit on the bucket. Transtion one was quick. I grabbed my bike and ran to the "bike out" gate. The guy in front of me was running his bike, he got to the line at which you may mount your bike and he. . . stopped. Right in front of me, he stopped. So I stopped, and nearly fell down. Next time, if there is someone in front of me I won't be so silly as to assume that just because they are in a race they will continue moving quickly.

On the bike, to the road, squeeze out the energy gel, stuff the wrapper back in my bike bag because I hate litter, pedal, pedal, pedal towards the hill on Glen Lilly Road.

Here is the part I like about being a slow swimmer, a fair cyclist, and a slightly fast runner. I get to pass people. Up, up, up that hill, sucking in wind then spitting it out to make room for more. To the top, catch my breath, start on my bottle of sports drink. Still passing lots of people and occasionally getting passed. Now, for the reward from that climb. Down the hill at forty miles per hour, water streaming out of my eyes and over my ears.

Pedal, pedal, pedal,  back to the transition area. Jordan yells, "Don't forget to take your helmet off." In a normal state of I would have thought, "How in the world could I forget to take off my helmet?" In this state of mind I thought, "I am so glad she reminded me of that!"

Time to run. Last year, I left my watch at home on purpose. I only wanted to complete the triathlon. I wound up running the slowest 5K I've ever run. Today, I started my stopwatch and ran. Much faster this year. I headed toward the water table behind a woman in a dayglow shirt. She grabbed a cup, I grabbed a cup, and she. . . stopped. Right in front of me, she stopped. So I stopped and nearly ran over her. Next time, if there is someone in front of me I won't be so silly as to assume that just because they are in a race they will continue moving quickly.

On to the run course, still passing people, words of encouragement from some of them, "Good job." "Looking good." Runners can be so sportsmanly.

Mile one under 8 minutes, not really fast for me, but much faster than last years pace. I checked in with my body. Heart drumming but not too much, breathing hard, but not gasping. Yeah, I can maintain this.

Just before mile two, I see my family, my support crew, my little girl wants a high five. I smile. Slap her hand, then run off.

Somewhere in there I heard my family giving words of motivation. I can't remember what they were, but I remember getting pumped up again.

Mile two, I go into my usual 5K self motivation technique for the final mile. I start looking ahead for people to pass. Then I start picking them off. One by one I find someone in range to pass, catch up with them, and pass them. It might sound overly competitive, or arrogant, but for me it is just a way to keep myself running hard.

Less than half a mile to go, the guy in front of me grabs his daughters' hands, one on each side. I smile thinking of my own. One of his girls says, "Nobody can pass us now!" He says, "Yeah, he can pass us," and moves his girls to the left. I pass on his right.

Nearing the end. I come around the last curve, there is Jordan who tells me it is time to run hard, to finish strong. Thanks Jordan. I can't let her down, so I run for the finish line.

PR. Personal Record. I beat last year by four minutes.


Tuesday, August 14, 2012

"I Wish I Could Join You, but I Can't Run"

Three years ago, my wife, who was a runner wanted to go watch the local triathlon so we went out and checked it out. She was mesmerized, she wanted to train for and compete in the one the following year. I was impressed by the athletes, but since running always hurt my hips, knees, and ankles I was not a runner, I also had not really swam since childhood swimming lessons. Even in those lessons I never got up to the level of learning strokes, so it was more like "not drowning" lessons.

Over the year between the 2009 and 2010 triathlons, I kept doing my martial arts training, and watched my wife tri training. Come triathlon day I was support and video crew, and babysitter for our little girl while my wife put her all into her first ever triathlon.

This time I was mesmerized, it was just such a shame that I was not "born to run", hips knees and ankles, remember.

So I poured a lot of effort into my kung fu to placate myself and my inability to run with my wife and to do triathlons. It was great fun, but I really wanted to run.

Later that year, while my wife was out on a run, I grabbed my old Wal-Mart mountain bike and biked out to join her. I biked beside her for a while, and this crazy idea got into my head.

Maybe, I could run.

So I hopped off the bike, pushed it next to me and ran next to my wife for about 3/4 of a mile. It didn't hurt. Maybe, just maybe I could run.

More time went by, I had tried going on some walks, but my hip would hurt even on one mile walks. I did some research, before I had become athletic, I had been suffering from chronic plantar fasciitis. My relief came from arch support orthotics put in every shoe I owned. I had not suffered from it for a while, but gosh my hip sure hurt when I walked. I read that there were a lot of people that put in arch supports for PF and then suffered from hip bursitis, which was the exact diagnosis of my hip. (My doctors advice for the bursitis was to stay off my feet. What does a duck say again?)

I ditched the orthotics.

I could walk. Maybe I could run. My wife was running in our town's Great Turkey 5K. Eight days before the race, I decided to see if I could run the distance. (I know, crazy right?) I got off the couch in the cargo shorts and tshirt I was wearing and ran 5K. It didn't hurt. Until the next day when my quads were too sore to walk.

I ran the race with my wife. My first 5K. I wasn't even sore the next day. Afterwards, I got on and logged onto "SmartCoach" and started my first running training. I discovered that there were some stretches I could do to alleviate the occasional hip pain, later came to minimal shoes (Have you read Born to Run?) and never had my issues again.

Spring ran on, and my wife said, "It's time to start triathlon training." So we got a membership at the local aquatics facility and I had to learn to swim. At times that task seemed insurmountable.

Last year after a lot of hard work, after overcoming limitations in my mind, (I can't run, I can't swim) I completed a triathlon with my wife, on our anniversary. In 5 days I do it again.