Around this time last year, I had participated in the TCS 10k.
The thought happenned sometime last year. Can’t remember the date or circumstance. A few of my friends had acquired the Vibrams *barefoot* shoe. And somewhere along the line, Sharath Raju started his business of high end sport retail. Then I started hearing the name of Vivo barefoot shoes. And somewhere along the line, ( don’t recall exactly when) I met Anil Kadsur, most probably during a bicycling trip. Dang I don’t even remember when met him, I can go through my email archives but trust he’d remember and just post it. But he’s probably the only *real* barefoot runner I met.I caught him barefoot once in Lalbagh, and remember reading about his barefoot run up Nandi, at a speed in which some of our cyclists might falter.
I had run 25km in the Bangalore ultra event, Nov 2010 . At the end of 20km I was just limping, and just dragged my left foot for the rest of the course. Of course I had a slightly sore left knee at that time, the knee having picked up an injury sometime in 2009. While I was sure I would finish a marathon, I wanted to more than finish one, were I to take part in one.More than the timings, it felt important to be able to run a distance steadily at a good pace. Somewhere, sometime, I had a discussion with Anil Kadsur, he opined that he was relatively free of injuries ever since he started running barefoot. I figured that in any case I was not running well, so had nothing to lose. The last event that I ran was the TCS 10k in May 2011. I finished in about 01:02:31. I had trained a bit for this event, and it was the only the 1st time I practiced regularly and had anticipated and actually expected a sub 60 finish. The previous year (2010), I had to take a loo break in the middle and still finished in 1:00:52. Disappointments don’t come any bigger than this.
I could never figure out how folks could run regularly, while I would take at least a week to recover from a 5k run , forget 10k. So when during a chance discussion with Anil Kadsur , he talked in detail about his barefoot experiences, I decided to try it out.
A gist of the conversation, as I remember it.
(me) : Doesn’t it hurt? I tried running for a while, it felt a little painful
(AK) : Well yes, you need to give it time, to get used to it.
(me) : But what about glass pieces?
(AK) : Actually I was cut by a shard of glass once, so yes that’s a possibility. But isn’t it better than a joint injury
(me) : So very true. Musculo-skeletal injuries never seem to go away.
I suffered a knee injury on my left knee sometime in 2008. It took me two years to set it right. I suffered another injury on my right knee , thankfully after the left got fixed. At the time of writing of this post, I still have an injured right knee. So given the tradeoff between a surface wound and a joint injury, I’d grab the former anyday. Most of my friends, relatives and readers of my FB posts would know that I don’t get too scared by infectious diseases or Tetanus.
With many of my friends taking up running and easily hitting the sub-60 barrier, I decided to try barefoot. And I had a very relaxed goal. I wanted to run the 10k in May 2012. This was sometime in August. So I had a good 10 months to get used to runnning barefoot. And I had set myself a goal of running the distance in 55 minutes. So with a low enough goal and a relaxed enough schedule, I figured , I could at least try and see if barefoot worked for me.
I stay in an apartment complex which has a loop of about 910 meters (give or take a few meters). 11 rounds of this makes up about 10km, good enough distance to measure my timings. Replicates a real world scenario of running where you have to manoeuvre around people, dogs and children. I started running around this, slowly increasing the distance. But I strictly decided not to log or measure any of my runs, to avoid putting any pressure on myself to try and measure my timings. The flip side is that I have no idea how much I ran from September to December. I do remember running one 10k and a few 5-8k distances, all at relaxed pace, ensuring that I didn’t push myself. One thing that I did notice was that my knee and ankle were no longer hurting after regular running, there were times I ran 3-4 days a week. But of course, I could be taking things too easy.
So, come mid-January , after feasting on Pongal, I decided to test myself for a 5 round course. ( a distance of approximately 4.55 km). 15th Jan 2012, I ran this run.
Barefoot Exhibit 1 : 5 rounds ( 4.55km) at 25:40.50,
And went and looked up comparable runs with shoes the previous year, I had only one faster run that I had completed on
19 Jan 11,
Shoes Exhibit 1: 6 rounds ( 5.46km at 30:04.40),breakup of the 6 rounds
Not convincing enough but in general I was feeling okay after runs, not to mention that I did not really push myself on the run. After I did a few runs for the month, slowly pushing myself, I decided to now check my timing. Ran 7 rounds
Barefoot Exhibit 2: 2 Feb 12,7,rounds ( 6.37km) at 33:33.00 , breakup
This was better than my timings for “Shoes Exhibit 1”. And again, I had taken care, not to run too hard. So was very happy with my timings. I soon decided to test distance
12 Feb 12, 14 rounds ( 12.74km) at 69:00.79
Not only was my timing very good, but I managed to save energy for a burst at the end ( I was hydrated by about a liter of juice on the way,that I could place on the way, since I was running inside my compound)
I ran 2.73 km in 12:39.93 on 21st Feb, and that was my 1st brush with calf pain, something that I had not experienced during runs with shoes. Our resident barefoot fanatic, Anil opined that either I had increased intensity or distance too suddenly, I figured maybe he’s right.
I continued running regularly.
Late March I moved to Mysore and started running on the road. At first my soles hurt running on the dimpled road. Running on Concrete was easy, running on tar now pushed it to another level. But miraculously enough, after sometime , I got used to this. I managed a 5km run in 26:13 minutes in mild hilly terrain. This was on 12th April. From there to the race, it was 50 days or so. I managed to continue running regularly and also ate regularly, with the result that my weight that was hovering around 72 during the 1st week of April went upto 75 a few days before the TCS run.
On 18th May, we played a game of cricket and I played it barefoot.Big,big mistake.During regular runs, I am convinced that my feet landed right on its paws, but there is no way to control things in cricket. There were huge pebbles all along the ground, and in the middle of the pitch. Even though i was running right, my sole would hit pebbles. The pain was quite bad (and actually hasn’t yet healed, at the time of writing of this post)
I looked up the condition, and here it is, a condition called Plantar Fascitis.
Here is some detail Plantar Fascitis
That means that I stopped running for a few days. Unfortunately that means no last minute pushes. But I managed a run on 24th just to reassure myself. An intense game of football on 25th, some intense cycling in the evening of 25th and swimming on 26th meant on race day morning, my left harmstring, right calf and lower back were extremely stiff.
I also spent a good part of Saturday evening figuring out how to fix the RFID on my foot. Tying around my ankle was an option suggested by a few guys in the know. I tried it but didn’t like it. Finally settled on putting a cloth medical tape on my leg and sandwiching the id between this tape and another on top. As an added safety measure, would wear a pair of socks.
As I went to the venue,looking at Junta, I felt a little lighter. But in the past, having being at the receiving end of back spasms , was paranoid. So kept stretching my back and promised myself not to push for the 1st km or two. Met Sudhir at the enclosure and somehow the topic of discuussion veered towards barefoot running, with him and with a few other strangers.
Knowing that Sudhir was a good runner, I figured I’ll pick a strategy of just keeping him in sight and pacing myself. This time I was armed with a phone that i intended to use as a stop-watch. So soon after the start, i started my stop watch. Tried running at a steady pace, and straightaway it was obvious that I was not at my best. At around the 1km mark, it showed around 6 mins and I pressed the split button. Further down as we took a right at MG road, I checked the timing. and was surprised to see that i had stopped the clock. So at the 2 km mark again, i tried starting it. Around the 3km mark, i had hit some steady pace and was trundling at some comfort level. Around the 5 km mark I hit a puddle of water, and my socks felt uncomfortable. I stopped and chucked the socks and continued running. I kept watching my foot to ensure the Rfid didn’t fall off. The oranges along the way really helped in hydration and delta nutrition. At the 8km mark I decided to push it. God my lungs felt it. I wonder how some of my friends can smile when they can run. Looking good is not one of the goals of running. Feeling good is. Albeit, after the run. I kept pushing that little extra till the end, and took off on a sprint just meters before the turn into the stadium. And found to my dismay that the end-mat was at the entrance to the stadium area. Missed a good 30meters of sprint, and possibly a few seconds. As I was waiting at the finish, Sudhir showed up. I realized that I had beaten someone who was miles ahead of me a year back. His timing was about 56.xx minutes, so I expected mine to be around 55.
The RFID was still intact, I took out the plaster .
As I waited for Rohini, an elderly gentleman accidentally stepped on my feet, and looked back as he told me sorry. He realized that I was barefoot and fell on my feet, got up and hugged me. I was stunned but guess this was his way of congratulating me on running barefoot.
The timings came out by the end of the day, I looked up mine. It was 52:26. I was happy, extremely happy if I may add. Even though a month before the run, I felt that I could try for 50 with some training, with my weight gain and lack of sufficient training and race day stiffness, this was more than a happy outcome for me.
I’ve been hearing more than a few friends who feel that running barefoot is a risk, or something commendable. For me, this was the only way I managed to get into rhythm and run consistently. In a sense I’ve actually discovered running after I chucked my shoes.