Sunday, January 30, 2011

Report: 2011 Groundhog Run (5K)

To say I was excited to run this year's Groundhog Run for Children's TLC is a bit of an understatement. I intended to run it last year, but a stress fracture in the heel bone of my left foot in January 2010 kept me out of the race. I did volunteer at that event, but was sorely disappointed that I couldn't participate. What's more, my running goals in 2010 had to be scaled back significantly because of the setback of the fracture. Running this year's event, to me, symbolized a bit of a "rebirth" of running for me -- a chance to reset what went wrong last year and go at it with renewed gusto.

I should explain the Groundhog Run a bit further before we go on. The whole dang thing is underground in industrial caves. The event is a charity run for Children's Therapeutic Learning Center in Kansas City, a school that helps kids with disabilities. It's a great way for runners to comfortably wear lightweight running gear for a race in January (when the temperature outside this morning was around 22 degrees F) and also support a worthy cause.

I decided to run this race in Vibram Fivefingers Sprints. I didn't want to run it barefoot, as I remembered from volunteering last year that the pavement underground can tend to be pretty rough. I hadn't had a chance to keep my bare feet conditioned and thought it'd be best on the soles to wear some kind of covering.

I was signed up to run this year's 5K race as part of a four-person team for my employer, a children's hospital in Kansas City. The team leader knew fully that I am a slowpoke compared to them, but he was happy to have me on -- I think he knew that my time would be thrown out anyway, as only the top three runners on a team had their times counted.

My wife and I showed up about an hour ahead of time and claimed a spot inside the VIP team area to drop off our stuff and for me to warm up. That was really nice. Instead of the requisite porta potties that most big races have for runners, the "VIPs" could use the official restrooms in the reception area where we were allowed. No lines, no plastic lavatories. While warming up, I noticed that I had a really sore spot in the muscle of my inner right thigh, just above the knee. I worked on it to try to loosen it up.

When it was time to race, I lined up about halfway between the 8-minute-per-mile and 12-minute-per-mile signs, as I expected to run around 10 minutes per mile. The starting area was PACKED. It's one thing when that's outdoors, but when there's stone pillars all around and a solid rock ceiling overhead, you begin to feel a bit like sardines. The right thigh was still feeling a bit sore.

The race began and I started off at what I thought was a pretty decent pace. I tried not to waste too much energy by running too fast, but I also didn't want to make it harder on myself by running too slow. The tight muscle in my leg really started to loosen up and I felt really good upon hitting the first mile marker at 9:47. Not bad.

In the second mile, I started to tire a little bit. My abdomen was cramping just a little bit and I was ready for a drink of water. I would have just taken a swig from my running bottle, but I had decided to leave it behind for this race. That was probably a poor choice, because I think it would have helped me when I needed water instead of having to trudge to the water station. I normally run with the bottle and should not have broken the "don't change anything on race day" rule that all runners are recommended to adhere to.

I'll be honest: I had to take a couple of walking breaks just to catch my breath and recover momentarily. None were more than about 30 seconds long, but it bugged me that I had to stop running AT ALL -- even if I know that walking breaks can lead to a faster overall time. It was disappointing to me, though, because for my first 5K last year after my injury I was able to run the whole race...with a big hill in the middle of it.

I was getting near the end when I noticed a blistery spot developing on the inside ball of my left foot, just behind the big toe. My Fivefingers shoe was rubbing me the wrong way, literally. I kept on going, thinking that I didn't have too much farther until the finish. Then I looked down and realize that what we'd been running on really wasn't that rough. In fact, it was certainly adequate for running without shoes!

Instead of contributing to the developing blister by keeping my shoes on, I decided to stop with about half a mile to go, remove my shoes and finish barefoot. It was GREAT! My feet felt awesome, the ground felt wonderful and I was so happy to be running on my own two feet. The blister didn't end up being bad at all when all was said and done. I'd call it a "pre-blister." I put a little bit of tape over it to protect it from the Fivefingers for when I walked around afterward and left to head home.

I finished the race in 31:05 for an overall pace of 10:01 per mile -- a new personal record! That time beats my previous 5K PR of 32:50 and was the 6th best pace of any run I've had since I returned to running in late 2009. It was definitely the best pace of any organized race I've ever run.

I'm pleased with my performance in the race. I had wanted to finish in less than 30 minutes, but this was a respectable time considering that I did take walking breaks and stopped to take my shoes off. Heck, it still even beat my last PR in a race that I ran the whole thing!

Here's hoping that the gains I've made going into this race continue as I gear up for a half marathon in June -- the same race in which I PRed last year, just 10 miles longer.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

If the Tables Were Turned: Hypothetical Reactions to the New 'Fad' of Shoes

I got to thinking: What if bare feet were the norm and a "fad" got started up in which a small, vocal group of people started wearing shoes all the time. What would experts and the public say about that? Here's what I think:

A business owner: "We don't allow shod customers in our store. There's too much potential for people to get injured, and we would be liable if that happens. What if a woman in those "high-heeled" things rolls her ankle while shopping here? What if someone wearing shoes with a slick sole slips on a wet spot on the floor? I also have to think that those shoes would hurt the exposed toes of someone whose feet got stepped on. Have you seen how big and heavy some of those things are?! I've got to look out for my customers' safety. (Question) What's that? Broken glass? You know, I've worked in this business 12 years and I can't say that a barefoot customer has ever seriously cut themselves. Usually we clean up anything that's dangerous so it's not a big deal. I think we've had one or two customers that got a little piece stuck in their sole like a big splinter, but they just took it right out and went on their way. No bleeding or anything. If they did we'd give them a band-aid. Anyway, the other problem we have with shoes is that nobody ever cleans the outside of them! At least barefoot customers wash their feet every day. Who knows if or when a shod customer has ever cleaned the soles of them? Who knows what they stepped in that's collected on their shoes ever since they bought them? Gross, and my employees have better things to do than constantly clean the floors of all the dirty stuff that shoes drag in."

A running expert: "Adding a shoe to the foot and landing on the heel totally changes the dynamics of running. There's no evidence to suggest that a heel strike is more preferable to a forefoot or midfoot strike when running. It could even be a problem for the joints of the ankles, knees, hips and back, as all of those forces would travel up the skeletal system. I also see a problem with cutting off the sensations from the soles impacting the ground. There are thousands of nerve endings in the feet and these shoe people want to just cut those off? Sounds ridiculous to me. What next? Should we just run with horse blinders on? And paying more than $100 every few months to replace shoes when they wear down seems sketchy. I know a lot of runners that aren't going to make that kind of investment. It just sounds like a scheme from the shoe companies trying to make lots of money."

A podiatrist: "While I think there might be benefits for short periods of time in wearing shoes -- for protection from certain dangers, for example -- there's no research that shows they are better for your feet than simply going barefoot. There's a lot of evidence to the contrary, actually. Some of the shoes that people are wearing pinch the toes together or cram them into the front of the shoe. We're seeing an uptick in our practice of bunions, hammer toes, corns and other afflictions...and they're all from people wearing shoes. We're also seeing a lot of ankle and knee problems because shoes artificially raise the heel of the foot in completely unnatural ways. Lots of our patients -- most of them actually -- also complain of foot soreness, pain and even weakness because the shoes they're wearing are completely inflexible and essentially cast their feet while they have the shoes on. Wearing shoes also provides the perfect environment for growing fungus and other bacteria that need a warm, moist environment to thrive. Finally, wearing shoes on an uneven surface could lead to the shoe catching on the ground and the ankle to roll, causing soft tissue damage or a fracture. I definitely don't recommend that my patients wear shoes unless they have a medical need to or if they need them for protection from some activity they'll be participating in or bad weather. Even then, though, I don't see why a simple, thin sole wouldn't be enough for most things."

Your everyday citizen: "Shoes are so disgusting! Look, people were born barefoot for a reason. We've got all of those joints and bones in our feet and shoddies want to just stick those in a box? Plus, their feet in shoes are always sweaty and it usually causes their feet to stink. Cramming all of my toes together to the point of pain because it "looks good?" Whatever. And who needs protection all the time? It's not like there's broken glass just laying around everywhere. Paranoid weirdos. Just look where you're walking and you'll be fine. And if you step on something that cuts your foot, it's not like our feet are all that fragile or that they can't heal. Oh, here's my biggest thing: Who wants to spend hundreds of dollars constantly buying new shoes?! My feet don't cost anything and they never wear out. I'll spend my money on something else, thanks."

So what do you think? Is this how many people would react if the tables were turned and bare feet were the norm? Do you think I'm way off base with something I wrote? Please let me know your comments in the section below.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Should Podiatrists Give Away High-Heeled Shoes?

I was more than a bit disturbed to discover that a California podiatrist is holding a contest to give away "designer" shoes. On her blog The Shoe Expert's Blog, Michele Colon, DPM, has posted the guidelines for someone to win a pair of shoes from Jimmy Choo or Christian Louboutin by the end of this year, "making one shoe lover’s New Year’s celebration one to remember!"

What's most upsetting is that the shoes she displays on her site are not flats or even low heels. They are VERY high heels that may be stylish, but certainly can't be good for the feet or ankles. Here's a screen capture of the images:

Image from The Shoe Expert's Blog, captured Jan. 13, 2011

I'm not here to pick a fight or disparage Dr. Colon, and I also don't know if the shoes displayed on her blog are the ones she intends to give away. Given the evidence showing how bad high heels are to the feet, however, it seems highly inappropriate for a podiatrist to hold a contest if such shoes will be the prize. To me, it seems like someone who makes a career from healing those with foot and ankle problems should not give away devices that CAUSE foot and ankle problems.

On another front, a podiatrist giving away such dangerous footwear seems like a potential conflict of interests. What if a woman were to wear these, fall, sprain her ankle and then go to Dr. Colon as a patient? That doesn't look good, to say the least.

I recommend that Dr. Colon rethink this contest and her promotion of these kinds of shoes to her patients.

UPDATE (12:24 p.m. CST, Jan. 13, 2011): After becoming aware of this blog entry, Dr. Colon replied back to me on Twitter with the following: "The designer shoes don't have to be high heels. They can be the Jimmy Choo UGGs or other ones. Those were just examples."

Maybe so, but I replied back that just giving the option of high heels seems inappropriate. I also asked that, given that she's in Southern California, how likely is it that the winner would choose flats over high heels? I stand by my previous statements.

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