Posted by: Steven Hammer | July 12, 2010

A few updates

So, two weeks into training dedicated to the 50-mile race, I’m pleasantly surprised to report mostly successes:

I’m full-time in my Vibrams now, and can’t say enough about the effect they’ve had on my training and health. I’m running more miles per week than ever before without injury/pain. I haven’t been able to run 5 days per week since high school. I seem to be bouncing back day-to-day much more quickly than usual. Now, if I were suspicious I’d be crossing my fingers and knocking on wood… Anyway, switching to minimalist/barefoot running (which, in turn, has forced me to really pay attention to posture as well, a la chi running) has been extraordinarily successful thus far. I’m not sure I’d be able to log the necessary miles in conventional footwear. My history, at least, indicates that I would be running between 50-75% of my current mileage. And with an ultramarathon quickly approaching, I’m glad to be able to prepare with these long weekend runs.

Speaking of long weekend runs…damn, they’re really challenging and tiring. This weekend I did a 3:15:00 run on Saturday and a 3:40:00 on Sunday. I’m running a 9:00/mile pace with occasional (one per hour, more if needed) walking breaks to drink and eat. Yesterday I met my friend Mike at his house in Moorhead and we ran together for an hour, which was really nice–both to catch up with a good friend and to just run with someone else and break the monotony of solo running. I think I’ll arrange more of these partner runs, though I’m not usually one to run with other people.

I’m beginning to get nervous about running 50 miles. The usual suspects: “Will I finish?” “Is my training preparing me well enough?” “Will I look like an idiot when I crash and burn?” “I feel tired after 26 miles, there’s no way….” You know the drill whether or not you’re a runner, right?? Anyway, I’m trying to work through that and trust my training, trust my body, trust that I’ll find a way to cross that finish line.

I’ve developed quite a crush…on ice baths. Running “barefoot” has eliminated injuries thus far, but my feet and calves are still pretty sore after runs longer than 2 hours. Good sore–the kind that tells you you’re doing some wicked strengthening, but sore nonetheless. So it’s a bathtub of ice and cold water for me…and it’s heaven, especially since we’ve had some really toasty (for North Dakota, anyway…I write this the morning that the Badwater ultra begins…135 miles in Death Valley, CA…temps of 130+) weather this summer. I think they’ve helped keep swelling down and quicken recovery, allowing me to put in these long weeks.

Ok, there’s the lengthy update for mid-July. A month-and-a-half until the big race in Hot Springs. Hope you’re feeling good and enjoying yourselves.

Posted by: Steven Hammer | June 29, 2010

Can’t seem to keep my shoes on…

Today was day one of training dedicated to the 50-miler in August. In fact, it’s just about 2 months away. I’m excited and nervous as you would expect.

So, day one. Due to a busy day, I had to run tonight (just finished, it’s just before 11). I did 8 miles at a 9 minute pace, and wouldn’t you know it–took my shoes off again. Same shoes as Grandma’s just a week and a half ago. Now, I know what you’re thinking: doing the same thing, expecting different results… I guess I’m just trying to be sensible in going minimalist, i.e., not go full time VFF and get some stupid overuse injury that leaves me unprepared for Lean Horse. But it seems that I can’t get and stay comfortable in shoes anymore. My left foot, left knee, sciatic nerve on both sides hurt when I wear shoes and when I take them off, sure, my feet get fatigued and are a bit sensitive, but no pain. It truly baffles me. I’m honestly not sure what I should do. I guess I listen to my body, let it make decisions on footwear.

I’ve really come to realize why I have so many injuries on the left side of my body. I think my left leg is longer than my right (it’s hard to tell when I’m sitting or standing, but I can feel it) because I really pound the hell out of my left foot/heel/leg. It’s hard to land softly and efficiently with shoes on, where if I go bare/minimal it is forced to behave. Good to know, I guess.

I wonder if I’m ready mentally. A secret: I really struggled mentally in Duluth. Yes, I finished. But mentally I hit a really big wall. I wanted to give up, and in some ways I did. I psyched myself out a bit. It felt a lot like some cross country races in high school: wasn’t feeling “it” and conceded. Didn’t drop out, but slipped into self-pity and “well, let’s get this over with, just finish with as little embarrassment possible…” You know, real Eeyore stuff. So, I’m a little psyched out right now. I’ll try to improve that during training I suppose, and I’ll bounce back. Always do.

Happy 4th weekend, friends. I’ll be off to the lake with my family for a little getaway! Vacation is good.

Posted by: Steven Hammer | June 22, 2010

Grandma’s Marathon

What a fun weekend in Duluth. The city is beautiful, the people friendly, the event well-organized. My race experience, however, was, well…interesting.

I was daydreaming when lining up, apparently, because in order to run with the 3:10 pace group I had a lot of catching up to do. I found the group and settled into the pack. I felt wonderful: easy breathing, no soreness/sign of injury, feeling great. Until the 10 mile marker. It was then that I felt 4 hot spots on my feet. I knew it was going to be an interesting race. I decided that I would hang with the pack until the blisters became too painful, then I’d just barefoot the rest of the race and carry my shoes. My half marathon split was on goal pace, but I had reached my threshold of foot pain. I pulled over, cursed at my shoes while I peeled them from my sensitive feet, and began the long and barefoot journey. My pace slowed by a minute per mile or more, and it became a finish-with-a-good-attitude goal. I finished at 3:32 or something, and had fun.

So, I didn’t come close to a qualifier, but had a good time and ran my first barefoot half marathon…? It was a good experience to encounter that kind of adversity. I’ve hit walls before, but I’ve never been passed so much in my life. While I cheered the passers on, I felt a little sting of humility inside… It really tested my “have fun, don’t worry about numbers philosophy” that I’ve tried to adopt. I won’t say that I was a zen master out there–at times I really felt sorry for myself. Felt like I gave up, felt embarrassed to be running slower than usual (as if anyone cared or knew…). Ironically, I felt more supported by the spectators then than I’ve ever felt before. I really needed them to keep my chin up at times, to finish. I guess I’m trying to say that I learned a lot from a seemingly unsuccessful race.

Now, training will change significantly, as I focus on the Lean Horse 50-miler. Marathon training philosophy and practice is out the window. I wonder how I’ll adjust to the shift. I wonder what I’ll put on my feet (I’m now even more convinced that minimalist is for me…at this point I’m planning to transition to full-time in my Vibrams). I wonder how I’ll deal with the increasing mental challenges.

I’m looking forward to the adventure. I hope you’re enjoying yours, friends.

Posted by: Steven Hammer | June 6, 2010

Still bouncing back, approaching Grandma’s

After “zero week,” I’ve been impatiently waiting for my body to feel 100%. Maybe 100% doesn’t exist. Nothing terrible, but my sciatic nerve (both sides now) has been a constant issue and I’m still a bit achy in general.

Today I went for a two-hour run. The first hour-and-a-half was great, the last bit was a bit uncomfortable. Just aches and pains, feeling creaky… Anyway, I think that’s normal. The great news is that I don’t think I’m losing fitness/cardio. The run today involved neither fatigue nor hard breathing. This has me hopeful that I’ll be ready for Grandma’s marathon in just two weeks. I’m looking forward to another wonderful marathon experience.

So, just icing and being patient now. Still loving the new Vibrams, working them more gradually into the lineup, up to about 5 or 6 miles with them.  Fall marathon in VFFs?

Hope you’re well.

Posted by: Steven Hammer | May 31, 2010

My first “zero week”

This week has been what Hal Higdon calls “zero week,” one in which recovery is to take place. Short runs, low intensity, etc…

I can now see why this is a good idea. I was pretty sore for a few days this week, and finally got out yesterday for an 8-miler with hills. It felt great to be back out there, and my confidence after the Fargo Marathon is soaring. I’m excited to drive up to Duluth and run my second 26.2.

Injury report: I found out that my longtime hamstring/glute/insertion point injury has little to do with muscle: it’s apparently my sciatic nerve. I’m not sure if this makes me feel better or worse…anyway, I’ll try some new exercises and stretches to alleviate that issue.

Still working the Vibrams into the weekly running, up to about 15% of total miles now spent “barefooting,” and despite  some soreness (the good kind of soreness) in my calves and feet, I still have a crush on the practice.

Yeah, nothing much happening this week.

Posted by: Steven Hammer | May 24, 2010

Vibram Fivefingers Bikila: First Impressions

After pestering my local Vibram dealer for a week or so, they had good news today: They received a few pairs of the new Vibram Fivefingers Bikilas. I left work to get there and make sure my size didn’t disappear.

Upon arrival home, I laced, er, velcro-ed up, leashed up Bruno, and set out for a test run. The fit is quite snug, yet very comfortable. The velcro strap allows a bit of control in terms of what part of the shoe tightens, which I figured out a few blocks into my run, as my heel (irritated after a poor sock selection in the Fargo Marathon on Saturday) was slipping a bit. After a little adjustment, however, they felt really great. And fast. The rubber is thicker than the KSO, apparently to provide more protection to runners on various surfaces. I thought it was a good balance of feel (I could make out the cracks in the bike path I ran upon) and protection (no discomfort from objects on the ground…then again I’m not sure I landed on anything notable).

So far, I’m buying the hype: running-shoe upper, Fivefingers feel and minimalist design. I’m anxious to work them into the rotation.

Posted by: Steven Hammer | May 23, 2010

One year smoke-free, my marathon debut, and soreness

Yesterday I accomplished a goal I’ve been working toward for this past year: I finished the Fargo Marathon. A year ago I struggled through only 3 miles, smoked like a stack, and ate mostly processed junk. Things have certainly changed.

What a wonderful experience. I ran with the 3:20 pace group, a bunch of men and women working together, sharing gels and jolly ranchers as well as words of encouragement and occasional small talk. With about 3 miles to go, another man and I felt good enough to speed up a bit to the finish. I finished at 3:18:01, which I’m proud of. I wasn’t sure how I would perform after taking a week or two off, but when I made my goal “to have fun” rather than some number, I immediately removed disappointment from the equation. And I did have fun. Spectators and other runners were so enthusiastic, even despite the rain. My partner, Erin and my daughter, Lily were out on the course to cheer. I was able to stop and give my biggest supporters kisses and thanks.

I crossed the finish line and felt a swell of emotion, or endorphins, or something. A runner’s high unlike any other I’ve experienced. I removed my socks and shoes (heels bloody from rubbing on socks/shoes, blister on my right foot) and limped to the massage station to help with my ongoing glute/hamstring injury. What a wonderful day. We threw some massive steaks on the grill that night, drank some Coca-Cola, and I fell asleep by 9pm, happy as a clam.

I’m sore as hell today, but on top of the world. Can’t wait for Grandma’s in 4 weeks.

Posted by: Steven Hammer | May 15, 2010

One week before Fargo Marathon

It was a good week off. I’ve been back running this week, and today really tested myself with a 2 hour (unknown distance/pace, I’d guess 8 minute miles) run. I felt good, although I can still feel the injury in my glute/hamstring. I’m icing awkwardly as I write. Anyway, I’m now confident I’ll at least finish without catastrophe. Maybe.

Next Saturday I’ll run my first marathon. I’m not really sure how I feel yet. Sometimes I’m excited, sometimes nervous, sometimes I just forget about it. In any case, I think that as the day approaches I’ll really become giddy. I do love race days. They seem to bring out the best in people–in me, anyway. I mostly admire the spectators and wonder what their motivation is for such high-spirited support. Maybe they also enjoy the camaraderie of the event. Anyway, I love waving and yelling back, “Thanks!” Maybe it sucks some energy to interact with spectators, but I suspect it is far less than they give to the runners. What a fun time.

Going to pick up a pair of five fingers on Tuesday and continue dabbling in “barefoot” running. So far I can really notice a difference in my gait, upper-body positioning/tension, and work performed by my calves. It’s a different animal…
Enjoy the week, friends.

Posted by: Steven Hammer | May 11, 2010

A good book and a return to the road

My daughter, Lily, and I out for a walk.

I ran 3 miles on Monday. A very cautious 3 miles. I wore my racing flats and happily struck the ground with my forefoot, remaining hypersensitive to even the slightest twinge of pain or “oh-that’s not right…” Good news: groin injury is gone. Bad news: left glute injury still alive and well. But the latter is a manageable injury in terms of speed and posture.

Speaking of posture, since I shelved my iPod and ultrapadded trainers, I’ve really had time to pay attention to my posture and its effects on pains. Most notably, I’m finding that my best-case scenario requires me to straighten my back and lift the crown of my head (think a seated meditation yoga pose). I think there’s something to this, although it truly feels as though I’m learning to run again.

Speaking of new and learning experiences, I ran a mile barefoot this morning. What an odd thing. And fun. I started Born to Run yesterday, read it late into the night. What a wonderful and interesting read. If my barefoot excursion, sans watch/gps/iPod, doesn’t illustrate it, I’m becoming quite enamored with this stuff. I’m not sure what else to report on this, except that I’m pretty excited about running again.

Off to work now; it’s finals week and some long hours of reading, writing, and grading await me.

Posted by: Steven Hammer | May 9, 2010

A long yet useful week

It’s Sunday night and I’ve not run for a week. It’s been a little nerve-wracking: am I losing fitness and benefits of my hard training? Will it hurt again when I resume training? Why am I injured? Et cetera… Despite the anxiety and racy thoughts, I’ve had some (I think) valuable time to reflect, review, and revise my approach to running.

It started one week ago on my (not so) long run. The pain was awful until I removed my shoes and socks to walk home. My feet felt sensitive, raw, ticklish. But I felt no more pain. I felt silly as I walked through puddles and across the streets barefoot. I even winced a few times as I walked over some sharp gravel. It has been a very long time since my bare feet have touched anything but carpet (aside from the lake, etc.) and it was strangely invigorating.

The next day I stood in front of my arsenal of running footwear. Here sat 5 pairs of shoes, ranging from an old pair of Nike Frees to racing flats to my now-demonized motion control shoes. I laid them in a row and, shaking my head, wondered why I hadn’t seen it before. The more support I have, the more injuries I suffer. I guess I get caught up in the promised safety and security offered by supportive shoes. They just destroy me…

I’m a self-admitted obsessive. I google, and google, and google. So naturally, I’ve been digging into the barefoot running phenomenon. I have a few friends who have at least dabbled in this strange movement, but never felt terribly compelled to follow along. The more I read, though, the more it seemed to make sense and the more it seems to gel with my goals, at least as a runner (if not as a person).

So, I’ve been doing some exploration of barefoot running, it’s practices and theoretical underpinnings. I’ve taken my dogs on daily barefoot walks this week, mostly because it feels good and is another opportunity to practice mindfulness. I’m going to dip my toes into barefoot running and see what happens. But, at the very least, I’m going to begin training full-time in my racing flats to veer back to my forefoot-striking ways.

I’ll begin running (cautiously) again tomorrow, and I’m terrified that injuries await me. But I’m trying–just trying–to stay away from goals that contain numbers, and instead view this as an extension of a journey toward mindfulness. Enjoy the week, friends!

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