My barefoot running journey: the streets of Ottawa

This is the third entry in my barefoot running journal. Head over here to start at the beginning.

Today was the day. I ran in my minimalist shoes. I didn’t run far, but I ran. In my New Balance Minimus Trail shoes. At 3.5 ounces, they really are minimal. Although I realized when I got home that I don’t really know what 3.5 ounces means (aren’t ounces supposed to be a liquid measure?), so I put a shoe on my kitchen scale to see: 100 grams. A bit more meaningful. Then for fun, I measured a few other kitchen items to see if I could find a good comparison: 2 eggs. Next time you go into the fridge, pull 2 eggs out of the carton – that’s how heavy one of my shoes is. Minimalism indeed!

I ran to work in them. In keeping with my run-don’t-train philosophy, I did not dress the part. Other than the shoes that is. I had been wearing jeans all day, so I wore jeans while I ran. And a thin down jacket, toque (that’s Canadian for winter hat), and gloves. And I carried a backpack. This was a special purchase so that I won’t choose whether to run to work based on what I have to carry.

I walked out the door, and down the driveway. It was chilly, which I could really feel through the shoes. I started to run when I got to the sidewalk and it only took a few steps for me to realize how different it felt to run in these shoes. Interesting! The most obvious difference from what I was used to, was how heavy my feet sounded. It only took a few steps to stop landing on my heels, but the loud slap-slapping of my feet suggested I didn’t quite have the hang of it yet. In fact my steps were so heavy that I decided to turn this into a walk-run as I was worried that running the whole 1.5km to work would be too much impact. So I ran a block then walked a block. I tried to lean forward as I ran to get that child-like feel, which I had assumed would just come naturally. I mean, I’m childish at times. Not childish enough I guess, as it really didn’t just happen. By the last block the sound of my feet on the ground was almost normal, which was reassuring.

As I ran, I also noticed my calves and ankles. Now I suspect I was overly sensitive to changes – I mean I was experimenting after all. There was one step early on where something a little bit off, but it didn’t repeat. Other than that, there was no pain. It was just a feeling that this was different; and that I was using the muscles in my calves more than I am used to.

When I got to the gym, I took the shoes off (I almost forgot to but I force my clients to leave outdoor shoes at the door, so I figured I should do the same) and walked around in socks for the next few hours as I trained clients, then put the shoes back on and ran/walked back home. It only took about a block to lose that slap-slap sound on the way home – progress! There is a bridge on the commute, which means I get a bit of uphill and downhill. It felt easier to maintain what I think is proper minimalist running posture when I ran uphill, and it felt harder running downhill. I suppose that makes sense: running uphill basically forces you into that forward lean position, whereas running downhill tends to encourage your body to lean backwards into a more heel initiated stride. Mental note: get some tips on running down hills minimalist style.

I felt just fine by the time I got home. I would say that I didn’t feel much different than I had felt on recent commutes running in my funky Adidas, with the exception that my calves felt like they had worked a bit more, but nothing major. The next morning I had some very minor muscle soreness in my calves. Nothing to be even remotely concerned about, but a reminder that this is in fact working the calves more than running in my old running shoes did.

The extra calf work made me think back to a running presentation I attended in the fall.  It was a presentation for sports medicine practitioners that I got to attend (I was working at a sports therapy clinic at the time) by a local sports medicine doctor and a physiotherapist who specializes in running gait assessments. The presenters talked about running injuries, running gait, and the various running styles.  The reason I thought of that presentation, is that one of the points they made was that they were seeing decreases in some overuse running injuries with minimalist shoe runners, they were also seeing an increase in Achilles injuries. I’ll provide a proper summary of what I learned in that presentation (and a bit of context about that comment) in my next blog entry.

One final observation that I had with my first minimalist shoe running experience is that this style of running seems to make it easier to run faster. Now consider that I’ve always been something of a plodder when I run (distance that is! Not on the field. I had to note that as I feel like I’m setting myself up for ribbing from my ultimate player friends otherwise ). In other words, when I strap my running shoes on and head out the door, I’m not going to beat any records. I used to run the 10 km event every year as part of National Capital Race Weekend, and I was very comfortably a 55 minute finisher. So far I feel that the few blocks I’ve run in these shoes have been faster. Now that could also be a reflection of my being stronger now than I used to be back in my old  running days, or that I’m only running a block at a time, so fatigue is not setting in. But I suspect the posture that I’m using with these shoes encourages a bit more speed.

More entries to come as I continue this minimalist running journey!

The next entry in my barefoot running journal is up. Click the link to read it.

 

Elsbeth Vaino, B.Sc., CSCS, is a geek masquerading as a personal trainer in Ottawa, Canada. 

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