Monday, August 12, 2013

Proving why I don't... ow!... DO need shoes.

A fellow angry barefooter.

That Barefoot Guy
You know that guy.
The one weirdo who shows up to the 5K and runs with no shoes on. There are many of them actually, but at any given race there will only be one.

He talks about running "natural", and "feeling the ground", and how it cured all his injuries. He thinks he is proving that we don't need shoes to run.

But secretly he does it because he likes the attention. He likes it when he hears "hey that guy's got no shoes on!". Or when people curse under their breath when he passes them. Or when they mention him in a blog post like this one (thanks Ash).

Well, I am that guy.

Ash of "Another Fn Runner" wins his age group,
in only his second 5K.

What happens if you step on something?
As "That Barefoot Guy" I get this question all the time.
"Uh, I don't know," I shrug, because usually I'm more concerned about how fast or slow I ran, and not worried about my feet. But the truth is I step on things all the time. Rocks, sticks, glass, acorns, bugs, poo, nails, and other things I don't want to know.

When I run the 10 or so miles a week on my local greenway, I am totally focused on scanning the ground ahead of me to avoid such things; but sometimes you just can't see them or avoid them. So when I do step on that little invisible rock or pointy acorn shell, I'll say "ow!" It'll sting for a minute, and then it's forgotten.

The Lump
Probably the worst thing I ever stepped on was a rock on Company Mill trail in Umstead.
This was back in 2008 and I was wearing some pretty hefty Saucony road shoes at the time.

This is an actual photo of my foot,
with the sixth toe right in the middle.
I was stomping recklessly down a hill (you know that rocky one near the start) and a perfectly aimed and rather sharp rock punched its way through my left shoe. Right at the center of the ball of my foot.

It felt like I an electric shock (worse than 110V, maybe 220V), and I let out a screaming curse that is still echoing in outer space somewhere. It took months to heal, and there has been a lump there ever since. I assume that I broke it and there is a little bone spur or something.

It still hurts till this day, and it's the main reason I don't barefoot more. After about 10-15 miles a week it swells up and aches and it's back to the cushy shoes.

"Whew! You been drinking buddy?"

Another Appearance
A week ago Shannon and I headed to the Dog Days of Summer 5K.
It had "Dog" in the title and supported two local animal rescue groups, so naturally we had to run it.

It was an unbearably hot morning, and my head was pounding with a hangover from Shannon's birthday party the night before. The lump on my left foot was also throbbing and tender but it didn't stop me from resuming my role as "That Barefoot Guy", for maybe the 8th or 9th time.

The road was soft, smooth, and clear blacktop. No need to be careful.
Safe and Smooth
The first mile of the race went down a street in downtown Raleigh that was paved with smooth blacktop. The kind of surface that makes barefoot runners drool. It was clean and clear, and almost spongy soft from the warm weather. It felt better than a rubber track.

After a groggy and slightly nauseating start, I started to feel better and the smooth surface lulled me into running faster. The first turn was coming up, which was downhill and banked to the right. I took my eyes off the road to merge into the other runners and accelerate around the corner. My stride was stretched way out into a sprint. And that's when it happened...

I stepped on something.

That's the bastard that got me.
The Rock
The pain reflex sent my knee shooting up, almost up to my chin.
It felt like I had been punched in the solar plexus; the wind was knocked out of me, and I was seeing stars. Only my momentum kept me from collapsing to the ground.

In the smooth and clear road had been a solitary rock, the size of a quarter and the shape of a pyramid.
The thing that made this rock really special, placing it in the "Hall of Fame of Things I Stepped On", is that it managed an absolute bullseye strike right into "The Lump" on my left foot.

If it had hit anywhere on my right foot, or my heel, my big toe, or even my soft arch; it would have hurt, sure. But I would have blamed myself and taken it as a stern reminder to run gently.

But this rock was sentient and full of malice. What was a rock like this doing on a downtown street? It had set up an ambush on this velvety blacktop on the corner of fast 5K course, waiting for me. It had perfectly targeted the tiny 1 cm diameter weak spot of my left foot. 

Just like Luke Skywalker hitting the exhaust vent and blowing up the Death Star, or Bard the Bowman shooting the arrow into Smaug's tiny bare patch, this little rock had made the million to one shot and felled "That Barefoot Guy". 

Though with those analogies, the rock would be the hero, and I am the villain. Hmmmm... 

Take note of the sensible protective foot coverings.

I continued to limp, stunned, for a short way, with "The Lump" ballooning up into what felt like golfball size. 
Finally I stopped to examine it. No blood was coming out. I could still flex my foot without any problem.

Still, considering the way pain was radiating from it like a nuclear reactor melting down, it could have been a broken bone. I broke my arm twice, and that hurt less. The sensible thing would be to drop out and walk gingerly back to the start.

But how would that look? 
"That Barefoot Guy" limping back to the start because he "stepped on something"? 
All those shod runners shaking their heads saying, "Knew that would happen!"

I was only a quarter mile from the turn-around. I couldn't let the Brotherhood of Barefoot Guys down. 
I had to continue. 

As great as the pain was, my anger was equal.
"Really!!?? It had to hit me right there?"

I ran on, only using the side of my foot. Or up on my toes. Still, the lump grew larger. 
As I returned to the ill-fated corner again, I scanned the ground carefully for the evil little rock.

I found one stone in the gutter, but the location wasn't right, so I dropped it. 
Then I saw it, the little chunk of granite that had assaulted me. I picked it up and carried it through the finish line, plotting my revenge upon it.

Turns out that my foot probably is not broken, just badly bruised.
Eight days later, I am still having to walk around the house in cushy slippers to take the pressure off "The Lump". The swelling has gone down some, and I have been able to continue to run in cushy shoes. Though even in those I have to avoid gravel. Barefoot running is weeks away, I think.

Not sure what the lesson is to all of this, other than I can hurt myself with or without shoes, and that rocks are out to get me. Or maybe it is just another reminder that running gently is good for us, and running fast and reckless isn't.

Whatever the case, I'm certainly not giving up being "That Barefoot Guy". There can't be many more rocks out there.

Louise Guardino, Godiva's 70+ age group superstar