Almost Barefoot

xeroshoesMaybe I drank the Kool-Aid or hopped the bandwagon when it comes to barefoot running after reading Born to Run by Christopher McDougall. There is a lengthy and interesting discussion of why to run barefoot over the science behind those high priced Nike, Asiacs, Brooks and other running shoes people cram their feet into. I found the words very interesting and looked at how I could incorporate barefoot running or almost barefoot running into my regime.

As I found out the hard way, it takes time to transition from high dollar running shoes to barefoot running. After a 5 mile run a few weeks back I decided to take my shoes and socks off and jog home, the distance was less than a mile. I didn’t take into consider the temperature of the sidewalk and street. By the time I got home I had 6 blisters on my feet. Stupid!

I continued to read about barefoot running and the Tarahumara of the northwestern Mexico and found a few companies who sold huaraches similar to what theses native American used. While I couldn’t justify the price, which was actually quite affordable, I wondered what material I had at home I could use to make my own. After a few weeks of playing around I decided to purchase my first pair of Xero Shoes.

My sandals arrived on Wednesday, sat down and removed my flip flops and got ready to lace and tie my new Xero Shoes. I ordered the Do-It-Yourself Xero Shoes Kit that came complete with sole, laces and a hole punch. I decided on black soles with black laces and the only hole you were required to punch was between the toes depending on how your foot fit. Thankfully I did not have to trim my soles, they fit my foot nearly perfect.

Next it was to push the laces through the out heel hole in preparation to tie the shoes around the foot. Thanks to the You Tube videos on how to accomplish this, it took me about 5 minutes to get the right sandal tied onto my foot. I quickly followed with the left foot and was ready to run…almost barefoot. There are numerous ways to accomplish the tying, I went with a minimalist style that remains on the foot and doesn’t climb the ankle.

It would be another day before I ran in the sandals. I did however take a quick run up and down the street, but it really didn’t prepare for my first run. I wore the sandals the rest of the day in order for my feet to comfortable on these 6mm thick rubber soles. Overall they felt good, but the rubbing was causing some pre-existing blisters to hurt.

Thursday came and I was anxious to get out the run…almost barefoot. Then again getting out and running anytime is always enjoyable. Today was going to be something special or so I thought. I walked out the front door was was planning on 5 miles, but settled on 2 miles in the end. These sandals require a transition period. I had started working around the house in flip flops and barefeet in order to toughen my feet for just this day. Unfortunately it was not enough. I started off at an 8 min/mile pace, the temperature was in the high 80s and we had a breeze blowing east.

It’s a completely different feeling running almost barefoot, I didn’t know what to expect. During a previous reading session I read about trying to land on your forefoot instead of your heal because of all the pressure put on your knees. Having 2 knee surgeries I hoped to avoid any further complications. So one day I took off at a moderate pace running on my toes (or forefoot). The next day I could hardly walk. My calves were burning and in pain from the shock treatment they had undergone for 3 miles. Yesterday was a similar experience, although I did not expect this sort of pain. I figured I was past this pain stage as I favor running on forefoot and had not experienced any since the first week I ran this way, which was a few months ago.

I will have another period in which to break in the sandals and acclimate my feet to running almost barefoot. I won’t be able to break out and do 10 miles on the weekend. The calf pain I can deal with, but its the blisters I must  work to keep under control. Right now I will cover them with a band-aid or pad in order to prevent them further irritation. Not sure I will have much luck as these blisters are on the lower pads of my toes (2 on each foot). These were originally caused by my $120 pair of Brooks Ghost 5 I bought as my first pair of running shoes. They have never gone away.

I received quite a few comments on Facebook about my “new shoes” from friends and family. The comments varied from “Those are awesome!” to “Why is Steve wearing girl shoes???” Not to mention comments about Jesus (if I would have kept the long hair) and parting the Red Sea. Sure it’s unique maybe really out there, especially if you don’t run to see an individual with sandals laced up running. While I can’t swear by it…yet…I plan on running with these sandals instead of investing in another pair of running shoes. Hopefully over the next few months I am strengthen my legs and feet and get to a point where I reap the rewards of running almost barefoot.

Shepard’s Pie

3 potatoes, boiled and mashed
12 oz bag of frozen mirepoix
16 oz bag of frozen vegetables (my bag contained 7 veggies)
3 cloves of garlic
1 zucchini, chopped
1 cup vegetable broth
2 tablespoons whole wheat flour
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 teaspoon Worcestershire Sauce
2 teaspoons rosemary
1 teaspoon thyme

Heat water and boil chopped potatoes until soft. While potatoes are boiling heat mirepoix mixture, add frozen vegetables and zucchini. Pour vegetable broth into the vegetables and stir in whole wheat flour, tomato paste and Worcester Sauce. Once you have your sauce mixed into the vegetables add the rosemary and thyme.

Drain boiled potatoes and mash. Stir in some unflavored soy milk, 1 tablespoon of garlic, 1 tablespoon of nutritional yeast and pepper. NOTE: I used a mixer to get a nice, smooth consistency in the potatoes. I also left the skins on.

Pour vegetable mix into 9×13 Pyrex pan and spread evenly. Scoop mashed potatoes into pan, smoothing as you go. Top with a sprinkling of paprika. Heat the oven to 400 and cook for 15 minutes.

SOURCE: Inspired by Sharon Basner Oliver from the McDougall Group on Facebook


afscme_logoI am never been a staunch supporter of unions prior to this year. When I was hired at United Airlines I was thrust into the International Association of Machinists & Aerospace Workers (IAMAW), Local 1932. During my tenure on the ramp I never used of the services provided at the local level, went to one union meet (because they were serving El Pollo Loco) and never voted. Being a model employee I never had need to use the grievance process because of a management infringement on my union rights.

When hired at BART, I signed my card and paid my dues to the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME). One of the smaller groups governed by a union, with SEIU 1021 and ATU 1555 drawing a majority of the membership. Our membership is quite diverse in terms of job titles as covered in Section 3.2 of our contract.

Recently, with contract negotiations raging, fueled by a 4 day strike at the beginning of July 4, the Train Controllers have been very vocal towards officers and executive board members. In a closed door session with (now) past president, the controllers were appalled and upset (as was much of the general membership) with the actions of the board, including the president. Our meeting led to her downfall and eventually resignation when charges were brought forth against her.

Since that time we have taken a liking to the Business Agent at Council 57 and her thoughts and comments as it pertains to our situation. She has provided us with strong words and brought our group in the Operations Control Center (Train Controllers & Vehicle Maintenance Supervisors) closer as a group. We were also the group that brought charges forward against (now) past president. None of us in the OCC accepted the temporary agreement and in a statement made to the press, supported the strike of ATU and SEIU workers at BART, even when we were told we could return to work.

Now as we approach the Sunday, August 4th midnight deadline there is little movement in contract negotiations, depending on what source you consider reliable. A strike is imminent, the duration, unknown. Unions continue to organize in order to strike and walk the picket line until we receive a fair and just contract, considering the $100 million we gave in concessions just 4 years ago.

I was contacted by our Council 57 Business Agent to determine my interest in being the strike captain at Pittsburg/Bay Point Station. She detailed what the position would require and agreed to take on the roll. This is hopefully the first step in further union involvement with AFSCME, as I am going to consider a position in the local when elections come up in September.

We seem to have a very strong and vocal group in the control center, but no one seems to have the time to put into the union effort. We are united and continue to push for change in our contract. Hopefully with the support of the membership, especially those in the control center and our Business Agent I can make the right moves and gain a seat on the union board.

11 Dates & Raw Nipples or How I Accomplished My First Half Marathon

half-marathon-mapToday was race day in San Leandro, a date I had committed to prior to starting my running adventure. I took the first ‘couch to half marathon’ plan I found on the Internet and looked it over. It seemed feasible, so without hesitation and without starting out walking, power walking or jogging I hit the ground running…literally.

I didn’t really know what to expect in my first race. I had spoke to others who had ran and the main point seemed to be the same, run your race and don’t get caught up in the hype and excitement of race day. It seemed easy enough to do and I had no doubts I would finish the race. The burning question was how well would I finish.

I didn’t want to get caught up on a finish time, as it could spell disaster. The numbers I had worked out based off on previous long runs, including a 13.1 mile training run would see me run a 10:30 min/mile with a finish time around 2:20. Strangely enough I never saw either one of those numbers during the time I was on the course today.

There were a few factors that made a big difference today then during my long training runs. First I decided to run with 11 dates in my pocket to use as fuel on the course. I am not a goo or gel type guy, tried peanut butter, hummus, honey, potatoes and a few other odd snacks, but dates seemed to have what I needed in order to maintain my fuel. Second the temperature. In nearly 4 months of running I have NEVER run with the temperature at 59 degrees. Most all of my training took place during 90-95 degree heat with a few runs exceeding 105 degrees! You would think I was training for Badwater 135!

Those two factors were key to my run today. One thing I tried to avoid, raw nipples. Much of my training was also accomplished without a shirt (had to get my Vitamin D while training, right?) so this never even occurred to me, until I had my first long run in which I wore a shirt and my Camelbak.

Holy hell! Never thought I would get raw nipples from the my shirt rubbing for 2+ hours, but it happened. I thought I had it whipped today when I covered my nipples with band-aids. Guess I should have used waterproof band-aids as I lost them somewhere on the course, but didn’t realize it until about mile 9 when the soreness started to creep into my chest. I’ll be glad I had an orange shirt or I would have ended up like this guy. If there is a next race I will be sure to take this advice and use Transpore medical tape.

Even with sore chaffed nipples that did not hinder my performance. When the gun went off at 8AM my position was in the middle of starting pack and took a few miles before runners spread out on the course. Yet after the first two miles I kept telling myself I was “too fast” with a 9:15 and 9:16 mile. That was 1:15 off the pace I wanted to run, but I tried to slow the next few miles, but that resulted in nothing slower than a 9:30 for miles 4 and 5.

spiltsJust past 6 miles was the third aid station. I brought no water for this race figuring I could get by on the aid stations at miles 1.55, 3.0, 6.55, 10.1, 11.45. I found it odd to have two so close together, but it did help on the home stretch. I only took a single cup of water at each aid station and attempted not to slow and lose time. Overall it seemed to work well. I made the turn just past mile 6 and started back towards the finish.

Just past mile 7 I glanced at my watch and did a few quick calculations. A sub 2 hour half marathon was possible. I would have to quicken my pace just about 25-30 seconds in order to come in under 2 hours. Miles 7, 8 and 9 were my best 3 miles of the day. I  posted 8:56, 8:40 and 8:54, which helped put in a strong position by the time I hit mile 10, with the aid station on my mind.

I dug into my pocket and pulled a date out popping in my mouth. The race was nearly done as I only had a single date remaining for the next mile. I was hoping to pick up the pace a bit more at mile 11, posting 9:04. I had gained another :06 seconds at mile 12 as I came across the last bridge and the park was now in sight.

I probably started my sprint a half mile too soon. I had one woman who had been pacing me for the last 4 miles and I pulled ahead figuring “this is it, I can make it.” With about a quarter of a mile I could see the finish line. The pathway we were running on was crowded, as I past a black woman trying to control 5 dogs on leashes. I also passed up some slower runners, probably from the 10k. I hit the grass with just yards remaining and started to run out of gas. I got passed within a few steps of the finish, but crossed with a big smile on my face as the race clock recorded a time of 1:58!

Within a few yards of the finished a co-worker of mine, who had run the 10k was there to great me with a handshake and words of congratulations. I was still surprised I pulled in nearly :22 minutes off my goal and nearly :31 minutes off my training run of 13.1 miles.

topSo what did I learn? I probably pushed myself a bit harder today than I did on my training runs. Then again, those long runs were not set up to see how fast I could run them, but to get the longer miles in. In the heat a 10-11 minute mile seemed to be a good time to shoot for, but it didn’t really correlate on race day. Who knows I might have been stronger if I had run a 10 or 10:30 mile for much of the race.

Looking over my entire race, mile by mile I was consistent. Actually I was stronger starting with mile 6, so that’s a big confidence booster. I also learned to stay within myself, but to use other runners to set your pace. I picked up a guy who had a good pace going at about mile 9.5, we were stride for stride for the next 2 miles. Although I think I got the better of him as he seemed to be struggling, not that I was but I was still running at my 9 min/mile pace.

In the end I finished 184 out of 511 runners overall and 14 out of 23 in my age group. No shame in that at all. I was very pleased with my effort and all the long hours and miles I had put in to get me over that finish line. Never during my training did I think that a sub 2 hour half was possible, especially in my first half marathon. I did set some PRs during the run, on the 10k (55:20), 10 miles (1:30:41) and of course the half marathon. Now to relax and reflect.

First Half Marathon

half_marathon_551On the eve of my first half marathon, an event I never pictured myself participating in. It’s been nearly 15 weeks since I started my training program back in late April (read Run Forest! Run!) with the goal of finishing a 13.1 mile run at the Summer Breeze Half Marathon. It’s been a wonderful adventure to this point, while most all of my training and been limited to concrete and paved roads, I still have a desire to get into trail running soon.

As mileage started to increase in my training program, I had to decrease the amount of weight training I was doing using the Stronglifts method. I feel there is a balance in both forms of exercise, but I have not quite found the proper levels of each to maximize the level of activity and be able to get enough rest and food in for muscle and cardiovascular development. Through all the training, I am ready to run my first half marathon.

As I told a co-worker and Tough Mudder teammate earlier this week, I am not all that excited to run my first half marathon. He said that will change when I cross the starting line. I have no doubts I will finish. I have trained well, including long runs on the weekend and continued to push myself, increasing my speed and endurance. I even put in a 13.1 mile training run to finish up week 14 of my training program.

I have been training in 90+ degree heat most days I run. Those long, hot runs should work to my advantage on Saturday as the gun goes off at 8AM and temperatures will be in the high 50s with light winds out of the northwest. Hydration was a concern in my 13.1 training run as I ran out of water approach 11 miles and felt completely defeated. Craps were beginning to make their presence known in my calves, I lost my appetite for the snacks I bought and split time running for 3-4 minutes while walking 1 minute. The last few miles were the worst. I pulled in at 2:29 but believe I can knock a substantial amount of time off that.

Tomorrow I won’t bring any water, relying only on the aid stations, the longest stretch being 3.5 miles. However I am going to bring dates and sunflower seeds, which should provide me the needed nourishment while running. Probably going to dip into the snacks before mile 3 in order to keep the energy up. Unlike my longest training run I don’t want to bonk, so might as well start early.

Overall I am looking forward to the experience, which will dictate my interest in a second half marathon (R&R San Jose) and the possibility of adding another 18 weeks of training to run in my first marathon, the California International Marathon in December. See you after I cross the finish line.