Catching up, part 1: The Running Man

It’s been a while since I have written for the blog, and I feel this sense of guilt as I realize exactly how long it’s been: 71 days. What? Yes, and one thing I should not do is let this blog go more than a single month without a post. I said to myself, “Rob, don’t let it go 72 days without a post, because you understand the significance of the number 72.” Sigh. So what have I been up to?

Working and living – that’s right, same old thing as I’m always up to, but with some interesting twists. That’s how summer should be, especially when you’re sandwiching free time in between semesters at school. I’ve been enjoying the good weather, getting things done, establishing new habits, and trying to figure myself out a little bit more. Everyone should do that; being reflective is what allows us to adapt and evolve. So, here’s the first in a list of the things I have been actively engaged in for the past two months.

    1. Running
      That’s right, I’ve been running . . . a lot. Anyone who has seen my Twitter feed or Facebook posts knows that I have been running nearly every day, and I’ve seen my distances increase to as much as 15k, or about 10 miles, at one time. I even got a brand new pair of New Balance running shoes to replace the Adidas that finally began to wear beyond what I considered to be acceptability; my feet are wide enough that my left pinkie toe had worn right through the side of the shoe.     I was really proud of these new shoes because they were made in the USA, I got them on clearance, and they were the exact right size – 9EE. That’s a wide size, guys. But a week later, I discovered religion in the form of barefoot running, and I haven’t worn the New Balance shoes since. I feel like I threw away that money, which was still twice as much as a cheap pair of running shoes. But I think I’ll still hold on to the shoes for the time being, at least until I feel okay with donating them to the Dakota Boys’ Ranch.     I read an inspiring book called Born To Run, by Christopher McDougall which explains how everything we know about running may or may not be misinformed or just completely wrong. I realized that with a bare minimum of (good) protection for the soles, I could train to be stronger, faster, and to have more endurance than I ever could with fancy, cushy running shoes that offer arch and heel support, motion control, and everything else. I recommend it to anyone, however, who has even the slightest inclination to be inspired by the strength of the human spirit.

      I started out actually running barefoot, but then I got a blister that became kind of an open wound on the bottom of my foot, and Karisa told me it would be stupid to run like that. With the incentive of proving my high level of intelligence, I went out and purchased a pair of Vibram Five Fingers Sprints. Thanks be to the almighty credit card! These are a newer breed of running shoes, designed to protect your feet from damage while allowing most of the tactile and prehensile properties of the foot to function, and are part of a category called “minimalist shoes” that put less distance between the foot and the ground. The rule of thumb is, for minimalist running, the sole should be flat – meaning no raised heel – and thin. For minimalist / barefoot running, the shoe ought to be able to pass the “twist test.” Grab the shoe at each end, and twist as though you’re wringing out a towel. If it twists easily into a helical spiral, then the shoe will allow your foot to do what it does without much resistance, and that’s a good thing.

      The real challenge here is adaptation. Running without a raised heel allows the calf and achilles tendon to lengthen over time, which results in some pain. Pain I can handle – it’s the recovery that kills me. The longer I have to go without running, the more antsy I get, the more I just want to fling open the door and just go. Is that bad? I don’t think so. Running is free, and I’m a go-getter for free stuff that I will use. Another adaptation is my gait. Running shoes were invented just a few decades ago in the interest of lengthening a runner’s stride by allowing them to comfortably reach out and hit the ground heel first, thereby giving them a distinct advantage over the runners who were still wearing Converse, who ran with an upright, shorter, quicker gait. This paradigm shift has translated in the ensuing forty-ish years into cases of knee and foot injuries, plantar fasciitis, and achilles injuries that would not have happened otherwise, resulting in runners being put out to pasture by their doctors.

      I had gotten used to the “running shoe” gait, and have spent a great deal of mindfulness developing the barefoot gait instead – back straight, feet under hips, head up, gaze straight forward, arms loose and still. Some barefoot bloggers say not to over-think it, while others describe it in such incredible detail that it’s hard not to focus on the gait. But I think I finally got it when I started running to work and back home earlier this week. I’ve got my work clothes there, and I decided that I’ll take them there every Monday and bring them home to wash every Friday. The shoes, watch, knife, and water bottle can stay there, but the shirt and pants have to be washed (“once a week,” you say? “Good lord!” Well, I’m not stinky, sweaty, dirty, or particularly given to B.O. so I have a leg-up in that department. I still look great at work, even when my clothes are box-dusty.)

      So, long story short, running is one thing that I have been doing this summer, and I have been doing it with a great deal of zest and mindfulness. I plan to do 15k tomorrow morning, and next weekend I’ll be participating in the Subway 10k roadrace around the Bismarck State College campus. Life is good!

So tell me, what’s been keeping you bees buzzing about all summer? Let me know in the comments.

Now, I’ve literally got to run!

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