Hi, my name is Kevin and I'm a minimalist / barefoot runner...

One day, I stepped on the scale, failed to put on some pants and got winded playing with my kids and thought, "Something's gotta change..." (Okay, maybe it wasn't one day, maybe it was over a few).  My first love was road bicycle riding, but I have a nutty schedule (not a big fan of riding at night) and San Antonio isn't the most bike friendly city. I finally realized, the most efficient, flexible exercise for me was going to be running.

However, running and I had a checkered past.  I ran as a kid, but didn't do much more until the Army made me.  I fought injuries (shin splints, hip pain, knee pain) for years and spent untold sums on increasingly complex (and heavy) shoes.  Brooks Beast, anyone?  I continued to ensconce my feet in cushy shoes and began to develop weird pains when I walked, especially at work.  During a typical shift, I usually walk about three miles. I started to develop this really weird hip flexor pain.  Anyway, I started to wonder if perhaps my shoes were the problem.  I came across an article written by Dr. Mark Cucuzzella listing the advantages of barefoot running.  After reviewing a myriad of sites (I'll cover my sources in my next article on barefoot running, "How to get started barefoot running"), I decided to dip the proverbial toe in the barefoot pool.  

After reading the story of "Barefoot" Ken Bob Saxton, in which he details how he spends virtually ALL his time barefoot, I made what I thought was a key decision: start by transitioning all my footwear to minimalist so I could walk "barefoot" before I started to run. Barefoot Ken Bob urges those who try barefoot to do so as often as possible throughout the day, not just when exercising. He's such a strong believer in the barefoot movement that when he was being recruited for a new job, one stipulation was that he be allowed at work without shoes. 

After a lifetime in soft, supportive shoes, our feet have become weak and need some time to adjust and strengthen in order to enjoy barefoot bliss.  As I really can't wander around my job barefoot, I needed the next best thing: minimalist shoes.  As I have largish feet (size 14B) I went with some Merrell Trail Gloves and started wearing them as much as possible.  I grabbed some dressy minimalist shoes, also from Merrell, and stopped wearing any shoes at had any sort of padding.  

I did not run for nearly six months.  While initially my feet were a little sore, over the next several weeks, the pain in my knees, hips and back slowly started to fade. I felt connected to the surfaces I stood on and was able to perceive nuanced changes in the surfaces upon which we walk.  I could feel the subtle irregularities in the floor, the small cracks and dips in the sidewalk and I felt my feet and legs automatically adjust.  I propose that because my feet could feel what they were walking on, the pressure and proprioceptors in my feet and legs were finally able to do their job and maintain my body in a functional, less painful alignment.  Several weeks in, my shoes got wet and I had to go back to my cushy shoes during a shift at work.  It was like walking on marshmallows.  I could feel the instability return to my feet, ankles and knees.  I got sore in all the wrong places.  It was a remarkable control trial for my little experiment.  

"BAREFOOT MARINE" -- THE ONLY BAREFOOT RUNNER IN A TRIATHLON.  PHOTO BY  CHRIS HUNKELER  USED UNDER  LICENSE

"BAREFOOT MARINE" -- THE ONLY BAREFOOT RUNNER IN A TRIATHLON.  PHOTO BY CHRIS HUNKELER USED UNDER LICENSE

After about six months, I decided to start running.  Why so long?  It really had little to do with any purposeful intention other than raw procrastination.  Regardless, I decided to start running barefoot.  As I was, at the time,  not running at all, I decided to go with the ole run / walk method. I strapped on my trusty Trail Gloves and started walking.  The first week, I just walked about 3 miles, three times a week.  The second week, I stopped 1/4 mile from my house and took my shoes off and ran home barefoot.  Before I go any further, there is a technique to running without shoes that you need to focus on -- so don't just go out an try this -- read about proper form in my next article in this series before you put your shoes by the wayside.  The third week, I added 1/4 mile to my run (so I ran 1/2 mile) and continued adding mileage over subsequent weeks.  In three months, I was running 3 miles, three times a week without a stitch of shoe on my feet.  It felt great.

Why didn't I just run in my minimalist Trail Gloves?  Well, Barefoot Bob, Dr. Cucuzzella and other experts recommend learning the proper form while unshod and then, if desired, transition back to shoes once your new, barefoot running stride is perfected.  I experimented with leaving my shoes on early in my training, but found that I immediately lost my fore-foot landing barefoot form in favor of a heel strike stride. I guess the sensation of any shoe on my foot fooled my brain into bad form.

That year, I continued to run, but then my wife challenged me to run the Disneyworld Half Marathon, so I picked up on my mileage.  Ultimately, I ran a 10K completely barefoot.  Got a lot of comments and stares on that run.  However, shortly afterwards I got ambitious and decided to add some speed work and add more mileage, without giving my body time to recover.  I ended up with a stress fracture in my foot.  I don't think it was because of my lack of shoes, rather a lack of a good training plan.  I healed after about four weeks.  During my down time, I contemplated my next move.  I really did enjoy running with no shoes and it really didn't hurt as much.  But my wife hated it.  She really wanted something on my feet.  I also realized that during every run I would inevitably step on some small, sharp piece of debris.  I never cut the bottom of my foot, but for whatever reason, I always seemed to hit the exact same place and could be rather painful..  I decided to try the most minimalist shoes I could find.  I grabbed a pair of Merrell Vapor Gloves.

MY VAPOR GLOVES AFTER A HALF MARATHON.  THEY DEVELOPED HOLES OVER MY BIG TOE EARLY ON, BUT NEVERTHELESS LASTED QUITE A WHILE!

MY VAPOR GLOVES AFTER A HALF MARATHON.  THEY DEVELOPED HOLES OVER MY BIG TOE EARLY ON, BUT NEVERTHELESS LASTED QUITE A WHILE!

These beauties weighed about 3oz each and the stack height (from the sole of my foot to the ground) was 5.5mm with zero drop (the heel and toe are the same height -- most running shoes have a 14mm or so drop).  I could still easily feel those small pebbles, cracks in the sidewalk and the variations in the ground, but without the pain of having little sharp objects poking the underside of my foot.  

I put about 500 miles on those shoes, including two half marathons.  They finally wore out last week and I immediately pulled out a pair of Vapor Gloves I bought on sale last year.  

Running barefoot / minimalist has absolutely changed my life. I enjoy running. It doesn't hurt.  I don't injure myself like I did in shoes. Is it for everyone? No. The 'net is replete with stories of folks who tried barefoot and minimalist and got hurt.  My advice:  if you're happy with your current running performance, stick with what you've got.  If you are getting injured and are tired of plantar fasciitis, knee pain, ankle pain, shin splints or whatever, consider giving barefoot / minimalist a shot.  

How to get started?  That's the next article...


Are you are barefoot or minimalist runner?  You thinking about it?  Leave a comment below!



Great event on November 15th here in San Antonio!

I just registered for this 20 miler along the scenic Leon Creek greenbelt.  Fully supported with a promise of good swag and great beer.  Put on by Scallywompus Events and sponsored by San Antonio's very own Alamo Beer, this promises to be a great preparatory event for the San Antonio Rock 'n' Roll Marathon.  The event also has a 20K and 5K run, so there's something for all levels!  Check it out at: http://www.scallywompus.com/site/events/223-alamorace4-2014


Doing the laundry

I live in a rather warm part of the US (thanks, Texas) and as a consequence, I tend to sweat when I run.  Bunches.  Mix that with some other, individual nuances and you get rather fragrant running laundry.  

I've struggled with trying to get all the smells out.  Over this past summer, it seemed inescapable that once I put a freshly laundered running shirt on and it warmed to my body temperature, I could perceive olfactory shadows of my last run.  Not much fun.

So I scoured the internet and began to experiment.  I think I've come up with a terrific solution:  vinegar and baking soda. For those of you who just flashed back to your elementary school volcano science fair project, never fear, you don't mix them.  But you do use both on your laundry.

Step 1:

Go grab some baking soda, white vinegar and your fragrant running laundry and head to your washing machine.

Step 2:

Put your clothes in the machine.  Put about a 1/4 cup of baking soda in the "Pre Wash" area of your laundry dispenser and your favorite laundry detergent in the "Detergent" area.  If you don't have a fancy-schmancy machine, just toss both the detergent and the baking soda into the drum. Mixing them won't hurt.  If you do have the option of running a pre-wash with baking soda and the main cycle with detergent, do that.  Fill the "Fabric Softener" dispenser with the white vinegar. 

Counter-clockwise from the left lower:  detergent, baking soda and vinegar (it's there, just can't see it).

Counter-clockwise from the left lower:  detergent, baking soda and vinegar (it's there, just can't see it).

Step 3:

Set your machine to "Pre-Wash" and then run the normal cycle.  No need for an extra rinse. You won't smell the vinegar.  Promise.

Step 4:

Finish your laundry the way you normally do.  If you are a liquid fabric softener person, you'll need to use dryer sheets instead.  You really can't put vinegar and fabric softener in the same dispenser and the vinegar is pretty key to ridding your clothes of those lingering odors.

So there you have it!  A quick and easy way to (cheaply and gently) rid your clothes of those funky running smells.  Did this work for you?  Leave your comments below!

Why I RunDisney

We love Disney.  

A lot.

Like a lot, a lot.  

My family and I head to either Florida or California to see Walt's legacy about every 12-18 months or so.  So, when my wife suggested I run the Disney Half Marathon in January 2015, it seemed like a great idea to combine my first half marathon with a cool family vacation.  I was not disappointed. 

Now, less than 18 months after completing my first half marathon, I've registered for my third RunDisney event: the brand-new Dark Side Half Marathon in April 2016.  So why do I go?  Why do I shell out the cash to fly to Florida or California and run through the House of the Mouse?  Well, here are 6 reasons:

1.  It's Disney!  There isn't anything quite like running through a Disney property in the pre-dawn darkness.  Running down Main Street USA with 20,000+ fellow runners is a unique experience that really cannot be experienced anywhere else.  Furthermore, Disney does a great job with the atmosphere of the runs.  Favorite Disney characters dot the course with enthusiastic school marching bands, DJs and cheerleaders mixed in to motivate and entertain the participants all along the course.  For you what-happens-behind-the-scene types, the course winds through the backstage areas of the parks, providing a rare glimpse of the service areas and parade staging areas. Even in the somewhat dreary City of Anaheim, Disney spiced things up by inviting several hundred car collectors to line the road with all manner of cool autos.  Even Herbie the Love Bug was there beeping at the runners.

Mainstreet USA, Disneyland Half Marathon

Mainstreet USA, Disneyland Half Marathon

2. It's fun!  In many other runs folks are oh-so-serious.  Lots of stretching, grim faces and huge lines at the port-a-potties.  Not so much at Disney.  It's hard to be grim faced when surrounded by people in costumes or when running next to someone dressed like Chewbacca (looked like a seriously warm costume to me).  All along the course, people stop to take their photo -- sometimes with characters that are rarely seen in the parks (like Governor Ratcliffe from Pocahontas.)

3.  It's organized!  No one can manage a crowd like Disney. Yeah, you're going to run with 20,000+ of your closest friends.  But Disney throws a TON of employees and volunteers at these events and everything actually runs smoothly!  Yes you wait.. sometimes upwards of an hour to actually start running from the first gun, but they entertain you the entire time with lively hosts and upbeat music.  There are photographers everywhere and, at the end of the race, you will not wait for your medal, water or food as legions of volunteers distribute the goodies.  At Disneyworld, the buses smoothly transport you to and from your hotel (although if you are running late in the morning, you might get stuck in traffic).  

Mickey and Minnie at the start, Disneyland Half Marathon

Mickey and Minnie at the start, Disneyland Half Marathon

4.  It's very well supported!  The water stations are huge!  Even if you don't slow down it can take 60 seconds or more to run past all the tables and volunteers.  Hint to first timers:  run to the end of the water stations -- the tables are far less crowded.  There are volunteers and staff members everywhere to direct you to your destination, answer your questions and snap a photo of you with your phone.  Importantly, the bathroom facilities (port-a-potties and regular facilities) are plentiful both at the start and throughout the course and lines are reasonable. 

Look at all them port-a-potties!

Look at all them port-a-potties!

5.  Great swag!  The participant shirts and medals are high quality. The shirts are Champion technical shirts -- either long-sleeve or short, depending on the time of year of your event.  The medals are quite detailed and well made.  In 2015, the Disneyland half marathon medal was diamond shaped in honor of Disneyland's 60th anniversary and adorned with small crystal "diamonds."   After an event, you'll see many of your fellow runners wearing their medals in the parks and the cast members all congratulate you as you walk around. Great fun!

The half marathon medal inner part actually spins and has two faces!

The half marathon medal inner part actually spins and has two faces!

6.  It's easy to make it a vacation!  After you run, play in the parks! Bring the kids and/or your partner along and enjoy the parks when you're not running.  While you're in for some early morning starts, it isn't hard to have a great time with your family and friends and run some terrific events.  Plus, RunDisney has events for all skill and fitness levels.  A large portion of the runners in the 5K was enjoyed by adults and kids alike.

Running is great for couples!

Running is great for couples!

So, yeah, RunDisney events are expensive, but worth it. You really do get what you pay for.  We choose to go to Disney parks frequently because the experience is consistent and high-quality.  The RunDisney events are no different.  Between the unique experience of running through Disney parks, the awesome support and organization and great gear, I find these events are well worth the money. 

Why do you RunDisney?  Let me know in the comments below.

Introductions

So, I'm starting a blog.  And I'm inviting you, the reader, to join me.  But first, introductions.

I'm a practicing physician who came to running late in life -- in fact only a few years ago.  As I've tried to learn the Way of the Runner over the last several months, I turned to the internet for information.  While sifting through all in URL-land, I realized that while there are many running sites out there with run reports and product reviews but there aren't a whole lot that focus on providing thoughts on how to make everything work better.  That will be my focus.  Yes, I'll have run reports and product reviews, but I will also provide information on how to make your running easier and perhaps a bit more enjoyable.  

So, sift on, gentle reader and let me know what you think of my site.  Tell me how I can help you make all that goes on in your running life be a bit smoother.

That's me, at Cinderella's Castle at Disneyland

That's me, at Cinderella's Castle at Disneyland