Sunday, May 13, 2012

30k in Five Fingers

Went out for a test run tonight - to see if through improved form alone it would allow me to run 30k barefoot style with the Vibram Five Fingers. My running has been very low mileage so far this year so there shouldn't really be a base to support this distance and the minimalist shoes promised to make it into quite a challenge.

I ran slowly from the outset so as to be able to concentrate on form. The last 10k would be a real struggle if I was inefficient and the main limiting factor was more likely to be muscle fatigue rather than uncomfortable feet. It's 3 years since I last ran this distance when I had a much higher weekly mileage but was heel striking. It was this period of high mileage that then led to plantar fasciitis which made the following winter of 2010 very painful in my ski boots. It took a good year for the main symptoms to die away despite starting to look into running technique and experimenting with a lot of things. It probably took two years for the symptoms to go away completely. During this period the limited running that I did was always barefoot style - except for one brief period to help with an Achilles tendon problem. Even last springtime, one year ago, starting up running again it was impossible to run more than one kilometre without serious calve muscle problems. Rather than give up I dug in deeper with working on technique.

The problem with running slowly is that it goes on forever - and you end up tired anyway. The goal was to get to the end and see if it was possible to maintain good form all the way. I also wanted to try out a few things when fatigue did settle in. 

The main focuses from the start were:
Posture - lower abdomen
Breathing - mainly nasal - lower rib cage sides and back
Relaxation - trying hard not to use unnecessary muscle power (no propulsion from muscles)
Falling - feeling pull of gravity
Twist - active use of the upper body
Connect - from hands to feet through the active rotation around the spine
Lean - forwards from the ankles
Arms - bent 90° at the elbow and held close to the body - swinging behind not forward.
Feet - lifting and not pushing off
Foot strike - always directly below or slightly behind - always midfoot
Stride - opening up behind
Knees - kept down
Rotation - energy translated into pulling the feet up instead of pulling the knees up
Cadence - high 
Mind - keeping focused and trying to think positive when fatigue set in

It wasn't warm so 1/2 litre of sport drink was ample. I ate one small energy bar too. 

My stride and foot strike must have improved because there were no blisters - first time ever! Leg muscles remained fine if a bit tired. The feet ached but were generally okay - no pains. The calves were perfect. When I got tired I tilted forwards more and it did make it all easier. I avoided all "pushing off" to spare muscles and tried to relax as deeply as possible in the hips to let gravity work for me. It felt good - but I was a bit worried when 15k from home whether or not I'd make it back! There were so many things that could go wrong - if the calves seized up, foot or ankle or Achilles tendon issues developed etc. In the event the final few kilometres seemed to last forever but it was more of a mental challenge than a physical one. Good focus and form all the way had worked. I was very glad to get my feet off the ground afterwards though. The feet felt tired - they are just not used to this level of work. Not so long ago I'd never have believed they'd get anything like this far!

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