My pre-run checklist

Before I go on long-runs, I mentally go through a quick checklist to make sure I don’t forget anything.  It’s the difference between having an enjoyable long run or an torturous one.

Now let’s see….

Barefoot me

  • Wearing sunscreen so I don’t catch on fire? Check.
  • Wearing bug spray? Check.
  • Vaseline strategically applied to prevent chafing?         Sorry, TMI…     anyway, check.
  • Got my keys? Check.
  • Phone? Check.
  • Sunglasses? Check.
  • Brimmed hat so I don’t look like a walking stop light by the end of the run? Check.

Is there anything else I need to go on a proper long run?

 

 

 

 

Nope.

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Are you pursuing the right things?

Most good people chase after the wrong things: money, true love, professional success.  These are all quite good in and of themselves, but they are merely the fruits of cultivating the right things: contentment, loving kindness, and self-respect.

These three things are entirely within your control, though most people find they take considerable effort to nurture them.  Then again, doesn’t it take considerable effort to chase after money, love, and success?  You can attain financial or professional success, yet still feel empty inside.  Or perhaps you can easily attract romantic partners, yet still be dissatisfied once you are in a serious relationship, always thinking that your “true love” is still out there, waiting to be found.  But if you are content, the amount of money you have is inconsequential, as long as it provides for your basic needs.  If you have self-respect, you’ll attract the right partner for the right reasons.

So when you’re trying to solve the grand problems in your life, be sure you are using the write formulas.  Develop your contentment through a sense of gratitude for what you have, no matter what it is.  Cultivate your loving kindness not by searching for who will love you, but by sincerely imagining others in a state of harmony and happiness, especially if you don’t particularly like them.  (Try it- forgiveness is wonderfully liberating for the forgiver.)  Finally, remember self-respect.  Dignity is one thing that no one can take from you unless you give it away.  With it, you are armed with universal power that shields your soul and transcends any worldly harm.

All of this is simple, but none of it easy.  Who said life was easy?

Let’s take a moment to listen to the cricket sounds…..

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So since you’re going to put some hard effort into something anyhow, apply it to the right things: contentment, love towards others, and self-respect.  Everything else will take care of itself.

 

Silence is Golden

I used to wear headphones just about every run I took.  I remember the runs that pre-dated my MP3 player, when I would run with a bulky Discman.  Unless I held it perfectly flat and stable, the music hiccupped with every plodding step.  I might as well have been trying to run with a miniature Victrola.
Admittedly, Walkmans worked better, but the only cassettes I could ever find were some Wayne Dyer audiobooks from the mid-eighties.  MP3 players worked the best for running of course, but those were only slightly less of a distraction than the Discman. I found I still devoted as much attention to the music as to my run.  I was either fiddling with the volume or trying to find just the right song for the moment, or trying to keep the ear buds from flopping out of my ears.
I didn’t like my dependence on music, yet still, I never went on any runs without it.  Just like shoes, it was simply part of my running equipment.
And then I started running barefoot, and I haven’t worn headphones since.
For one thing, the sound of my footsteps helps coach my running form: the quieter my stride, the better my form.  Also, I discovered that the primary reason I run barefoot is to connect with both my surroundings and myself, so cranking up music masks too much of that connection.  It’s like spending an entire camping trip watching YouTube on your smartphone.  Sure, you’re still in nature, but you’re simply not getting the full benefit.
Besides, I found that I didn’t need headphones to listen to music.  Our minds have a remarkable ability to play whichever song we want to hear, and it is often more interesting to watch where your thoughts take you.  It’s more meditative, more ‘go with the flow’.
Wearing headphones became an unnecessary issue of control, however minor.  I wanted to choose the right song, at the right volume, and keep those ear buds in my ears.  Of course, I would come to a song I didn’t want to listen to at that moment, or the volume would be too high or low for the circumstances, or those ear buds would fall out of my ears.  I wasn’t sure whether I was controlling the music or the music was controlling me. When I left the headphones at home, I found that I was watching my thoughts, but not trying to control them.  are an impartial observer of your thoughts, there’s much less to frustrate you.

So if you like running with headphones; do so- whatever helps you run is a good thing!  But you may be surprised how much music is out in nature, and within you, and how freeing it can be to let go of your headphones!

Fitting Things In

In this modern world of 24 hour electricity, we can be more productive than ever, yet more than ever we seem perennially out of time.  I think part of this stems from crowding too much in our life at once, as if our rampant consumerism has started to bleed into our goal-setting and self improvement.  When we get inspired, we want to do everything, and we let that desire spread our goals thin.  There’s nothing wrong with wanting to accomplish a lot, but we tend not to have the patience to master one goal at a time, so we end up mastering none.

I also think that we try to fit things in our daily routine, but in their own separate compartments.  If you want to go for a run, you set aside time to do so.  Then if you need to go to the store, you put that in a separate block of time.  Blogging goes in another time, and so on.

But with a little flexibility, it doesn’t have to be that way.  When you say you are going to “run to the store”, why not actually run to the store if it’s close enough?  If you plan on running every other day, and you also need to get a couple of items from the store, then strap on an empty backpack and set out on foot!

That’s what I did this morning.  I took an opportunity to fit two things on my agenda- running and going to the store- and both tasks were enhanced from it.

For running: it gave me an opportunity to practice carrying a little weight, which is needed variety for my leg muscles.  Also, I found the bag of tortilla chips I nestled in my backpack for the way home unexpectedly rhythmic and helpful for maintaining a smooth, easy pace.

For shopping: it forced me to focus on what I truly needed for the next couple of days, because anything I purchase would need to fit in my bag, not to mention that I would have to carry it over two miles home.  This helped me avoid buying things on a whim, which saves money, which is always a good thing, because that tree next to my house still ain’t a money tree.

It was not as long a run as I often do, and it was not as much shopping as sometimes I must do, but I was able to fit in two beneficial things in different, refreshing way that kicked my day off beautifully.

Besides that, it gave me a blog post to fit in before my 9 to 5 today.

Not a Guru

I’m not a guru.  Pretending to be something you’re not just gets you in trouble.  I’m an average guy with a good family.  Like the majority of free people in mankind’s long existence, we get by alright but we know that true security is like an enchanted deer in the woods that lets you get close but then bounds away just out of reach.

But I’m happy.

That’s in part why I’m sharing my thoughts.  Not because I’m a scientist, doctor or guru.  No- it’s because I’m like you.   I will never be the best at anything, but I want to try my best at everything. I want to take care of my family, get along with my neighbors, and thrive in a crazy world.  And, along the way, I keep my eye out for interesting tactics to live a life of abundance, no matter how much I have to work with.  So, for fun and posterity, I write about my journey and what I learn along the way.  And perhaps you’ll find something entertaining, and maybe even useful too.  Either way, thanks for reading, liking or commenting on my posts.  I’m honored you stopped by.

Flavor your barefoot run with variety

Variety is the very spice of life, 
That gives it all its flavor.
-William Cowpers, from “The Task” (1785)

A barefoot run is flavored better
With much variety of terrain.
-Andrew, from “Flavor Your Barefoot Run With Variety” (2016)

Let me start by confessing I’m not a barefoot running guru, doctor or scientist, so I won’t be showcasing elaborate charts on ground reaction forces or anything like that.  For me that sort of pedantic study dampens the whole fun in running, turning it into a very grown-up study of biomechanics instead of what it should be: something more carefree and almost child-like.

One way to stay tuned into this enjoyable state is to sample as many different terrains as possible on every run.  Switch it up whenever you want; in most areas, there’ll be plenty of opportunities along your way.  Each new surface will give your feet a certain respite from the last, and by changing the terrain frequently, your feet will strengthen, your reaction time will be quicker, your mental awareness will be heightened.

If you’ve gone on a barefoot run you’ve probably  already noticed the vast medley of terrains around you. Resist the urge to label any of these these surfaces as “good” or “bad”; each has it’s own unique character that you can use and enjoy.

Concrete and Asphalt

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If conventional wisdom says anything, it says this:  concrete is pretty good for speed but tragic for your joints.  It may or may not have been invented by the devil, and should be avoided as much as possible just in case.

The experiential wisdom of a great many barefoot runners (myself included) takes a much different view.  These hard, artificial surfaces, far from encouraging injury, are far more useful and safe than most people think.

Concrete and asphalt are ideal for:

  • Covering a lot of ground.  Once you learn to run properly, it takes far less effort to run on asphalt and concrete compared to all other surfaces, except perhaps running tracks, dry, soft dirt trails, and the surface of the moon.
  • Avoiding pointy things (I told you I’m not a scientist).  Concrete and asphalt are relatively smooth and level, so debris has no place to hide, if it hasn’t already been swept away by wind, water or broom.
  • Teaching yourself to avoid overstriding.  Overstriding is one of the most insidious habits runners can have because of the real harm it can do to your joints over time.  If you overstride on grass, you won’t get the negative feedback you need to break the habit; grass is just too soft and forgiving in that regard.  Overstriding on hard surfaces, however, will give you hot spots and blisters, feedback that’ll encourage you to polish your form in a way that few other things can.

But be careful of:

Going too far, too fast.  On my first barefoot run, I found concrete liberating and adventurous, perhaps because I was always told that I couldn’t do it without good running shoes. Yet here I was, running barefoot on concrete, feeling as free as an uncaged canary.  Though I only ran a mile that first time out, I discovered that I had blistered the bottom of my feet and turned my calves into solid granite.  I could barely hobble up the stairs for a week.  Even one mile was too far, too fast at first, and I learned it the hard way.

TIP: Make sure you go a very short distance at first, so you can see how you feel the next day and make the proper adjustments to your technique.  For most people, a quarter mile or less is an ideal distance to try on your first day.  If you feel like you can run further, resist the temptation!  Form issues may take a day or two to show up, so if you feel good the next day, run just a little further.  If on the other hand you’re sore after just 400 yards, then you’ll feel like a genius for not crippling yourself by doing a full mile.

Gravel and Playground Bark

Running barefoot on surfaces like gravel and playground bark is uncomfortable, especially at first.  You’ll adjust to them over time, but they’re never going to be as comfortable as smooth surfaces like concrete or soft surfaces like grass or mud.  Gravel and wood chips, as uncomfortable as they can be at first, do have their uses, however.

Gravel and playground bark are ideal for:

Training your foot muscles on how to relax.  The estimable Barefoot Ken Bob Saxton advises beginning runners spend a lot of time getting used to this rougher terrain, so their foot muscles learn to almost mold itself to the surface of the ground.  If you can’t run or walk comfortably on these surfaces, he recommends just standing on them at first, with knees slightly bent, foot fully on the ground, and torso upright.

But be careful of:

Getting stuck on one of these surfaces.  You might find yourself on a barefoot run, brimming with confidence, and decide to start running onto gravel or wood chips or something like it.  Your confidence will power you through the first fifty or hundred feet and then all of a sudden it will dawn on you that this was a really stupid idea… and you’ll end up hobbling slowly and ingloriously the nearest different terrain you can find.

TIP: Like all surfaces, start with small doses so your foot muscles have a chance to adapt at their own pace. Try to keep your feet muscles relaxed, and when running, think about picking one foot up before the other one comes down.  This can help you keep your stride quicker and softer, and that makes this terrain easier.

Grass

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I’m a Coloradan, so you’d think I’d love burning through grass.  (Cue rimshot here).  But seriously folks, running on a grassy surface definitely has its benefits, but in my opinion, injury prevention is not one of them.  Yes, cool grass feels lovely in the summer, but like sand, it won’t really teach you proper barefoot form because it’s too soft to give you the right feedback.   Personally, I see grass-running as more of a dessert, not the main course, and I tend to run on grass for stretches of 100 yards or less at a time.

Grass is ideal for:

  • Cooling your feet in the summer after running on hot surfaces
  • Cleaning your feet as you run.  No, your feet won’t get sparkling clean, but I find that shuffling through the grass once in a while can wipe dirt and small particulates off your feet without having to stop.
  • Training your feet to adapt to hidden, slightly uneven terrain.
  • Strengthening your leg muscles by giving them more resistance with each stride.

But be careful of:

  •  Hidden debris, either natural or man-made.  Debris is much tougher to spot in grass.
  • Grass in cooler weather, which can be FREEZING cold, and needs to be treated with the same caution as running barefoot through snow.
  • Self-limiting dependence on the soft surface.  Some people only run barefoot when they’re on grass, and to each their own, I suppose.  To me, I see it this way: running only on grass when barefoot is like only riding a bicycle only with training wheels.  Yes, technically you are riding a bike, but shackled to the self-limiting belief that you need training wheels to stay balanced on a bike.  The same is true with limiting yourself to grass, which stems from the same belief that you need something soft underfoot to avoid injury.

Hard-packed Trails:

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What can I say about hard-packed dirt trails?  Just this: I love them.  They have just enough variety in their textures and terrain to make for a very enjoyable run.  This type of surface is stimulating without being dangerous.  For me, it is the best of all worlds.

Hard-packed trails are ideal for: 

  • Observing animal tracks.
  • Letting your feet enjoy the different sensations of the earth underneath you, and having one helluva good time in general.

But be careful of:

  • The usual debris that could lurk anywhere…

 

 

The Unbeaten Path

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There’s a dry creek bed that runs along a path near my house.  It is about three feet deep and about as wide, and has a number of foot bridges thrown across it about every quarter mile or so to give neighborhood residents easy access to the path.  Typically I do not run barefoot in such terrain because it contains Nature’s version land mines and Punji Sticks.  But on this particular run I figured what the hell- the world is my playground!  And so with a heart full of adventure, I leaped in.

Unbeaten Paths are ideal for: 

  • Keeping nimble
  • Training your feet and legs to be more responsive to bumps, branches, and dips.
  • Feeling slightly feral.

 

But be careful of:

  • Debris and obstacles!  Debris is much tougher to spot on an unbeaten path, and there’s plenty to stub or scrape your foot on, like sharp sticks, hidden rocks, fallen branches and beer bottles.

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Case in point… After picking my way over about a mile’s worth of the dry creek bed, I scrambled out.  I didn’t want to overdo it.  When I checked my feet, it turns out one of them had gotten into a scrape with one of the neighborhood ruffians I call the “Creek Bed Twigs”.  I knew the risks, and had brought sanitary wipes, band-aids and Xero huaraches in my backpack just in case something like this happened.  I felt prescient and a little foolish at the same time.

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TIP: Be light on your feet and keep a sharp watch on the ground about ten to fifteen feet front of you.  I suggest bringing moist towelettes and some shoes with you, just in case.  I recommend Xero Shoes;* they’re very light and easy to carry and will protect the bottom of your feet from things like what you see above, but still give you an “almost barefoot” ground feel.

Conclusion:

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Mixing in a variety oIMG_20160424_101524f terrains on each run will help you spot major errors in your form, fine tune your technique, and inject a sense of curiosity and playfulness in your runs.  They’ll keep things from getting monotonous.  Listen to your footfalls as your run across a wooden bridge, and try to be as quiet as possible.  Use playgrounds and outdoor exercise stations that might be along the way.  Use this variety to stay mentally connected with your surroundings as you run.

Feel free to comment on what works for you– it may be different than me, and if there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that barefoot education is never quite finished.

Happy Trails,
The Running Llama

 

*Full disclosure: I am employed by Xero Shoes, but the opinions expressed on this blog are my own, and do not necessarily represent Xero Shoes.  It’s not in my job description to reference them in my blogs, and I am not required to wear them, but I can honestly say that unless I am at a funeral or wedding, they’re the only thing on my feet.†

†Oh, like you’ve never thrown in a shameless plug once or twice in your life…

 

 

 

Streaming thoughts on a Mile Run

I wake up late.  Not too late, just later than I want.  This is an opportunity.  I want to run.  I didn’t run for a couple of days, so I’ll kick myself later if I don’t run today.  Carpe diem!   Can’t do my normal 3 or 4 mile run.  Not today. There’s not enough time.

I’m going to run a mile as fast as I can.  Gotta go for speed once in a while, just to switch things up. There’s time for a mile, and it’s a bona fide run if I do it fast. I’m going to do it barefoot.  Good practice and I’m curious to see if I will get any blisters running fast barefoot.  Out of bed now. Brush my teeth. Open the Strava app on the phone.  Run in place and hyperventilate a little bit to get my legs and lungs ready.

Burst out of the house and down the concrete path.  Gonna run past the lake and up the hill for half a mile, then pivot right back.  Speed run.  Quick pace, longer strides, on the balls of my feet.  Perfect weather.  Just rained. A little chilly, still wet.  Past the lake now.  Quarter mile in. Feeling good.  My pace is 5:22/mile!  I’m going to set a PR!

IMG_20160411_062201.jpgBut what’s this? My lungs and legs are slowing down a bit down for some reason.  Shit.  Now just going a little faster than my medium run pace.  I’m already out of steam?  Aaaargh!  Keep going.  Quicken pace.  It’s only a mile.  Balls to the wall. Stay tall. Up the hill.  Not too steep.  Hate this hill, wish I were on a long run so I could take it easy. I love long runs. No! Focus. Keep the speed up.  Top of the hill. Half mile now, turn around.  Yea- downhill! Take advantage. Go faster! Pick it up. Pace: 6:55/mile. Not going to be a PR.

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Almost at the lake again.  There’s a person walking their dog in front of me.  I’ll go on the other side of the lake to finish.  Don’t want to slow down. For some reason I don’t run as fast when I’m running towards people. Don’t know why.  Get self conscious?  Oh well, doesn’t matter. Dirt path on this side, cool and soft today. Nicer than usual.  So glad it rained.  Usually this path’s uncomfortable. Good practice though.

Time so far: 6:30.  New goal: Gotta finish by 6:50.  Pick it up!  Balls of the feet!  Move those arms quicker!

6:45.  C’mon.
6:46.  Almost there. C’mon.
6:47.  Any second now.
6:48.  C’mon mother fu-
6:49.  Mile!

Slowing.
down.
to. a. walk…

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Accomplished, energized and spent all at once. Time could be better, could be worse, but ran pretty hard, and I’m proud of that.

Glad I did it. I remember why I don’t do this more often, but really need to.

Next time I’ll just wake up earlier.

 

-Andrew
The Running Llama