Running Five Miles & Lessons From A Hawk

The foot feels the foot when it feels the ground~

Buddha

 I’ve been slowly but surely, increasing my mileage running in my minimalist shoes.

I intended to run about 4.5 miles tonight.  I’m being conservative in building up mileage running this way. I went after work and it was just perfect running weather.  Late summer- dusk.  It wasn’t too hot or too cool.

I started off on the route I’m really liking. It starts as pavement, but I can run on grass on and off for a mile.  Then it’s more pavement and grass, and turns off on a trail, where I can run on pavement or trail.

I ran on the grass and pavement as much as I could.  I am noticing so much, how my feet just naturally know what to do and how to maneuver around any terrain, running this way.  There is really something to having your feet “feel” the ground.  It’s like I’m not just running- I’m connecting with everything around me by my feet.  I don’t feel everything of course, but so much more than I ever have.

I notice my toes shifting constantly too.  I’m not even thinking about moving them, but they do.  They will spread out on grass or trail more, compared to pavement. I would guess because they need to sense what is coming on uneven terrain like a trail, versus a smooth surface like pavement.

It’s like my toes are milseconds ahead of the rest of me. Tonight I *almost* fell in two holes I didn’t see in the grass.  But my toes instantly felt the difference and adjusted- that quickly. One hole, it was deep. My ankle turned slighty, but my toes were already grasping at the top of the hole, and even though I felt a little twitch in my ankle, I was able to straighten it out in milliseconds.  It was fine. I didn’t even miss a step.

I just couldn’t help but think, as I ran on, if that had happened in my regular shoes, I likely would have twisted my ankle. By the time my toes and foot would have realized what was happening, my ankle would have been turned too far in the wrong direction.  There is just no way in regular shoes, my toes could feel ahead of what was coming. They couldn’t- too much padding.  The shoes cut off that feeling from the feet and toes.

I feel like my toes are almost like antennas now- effortlessly sending messages every second to my body on what to do, how to step, how to maneuver, how to strike, how to land.  In almost 3,000 miles of running I’ve done in traditionalist shoes, I just never experienced that foot, ground, body connection.  I’ve experienced it now almost every time I’ve ran, and I’m only 12 miles into running this way.  It’s quite amazing to me!

I just kept running tonight.  It felt freeing and I had some things on my mind, but when I was running, I was just enjoying it all.  The sunset, the terrain, the marvel at my body, every last cell working together- even in advance of myself.

Pretty soon, I realized I had already 2.5 mi.  It felt easy. I was even wondering if I had really only ran 1.5 miles, but the Garmin confirmed what I had ran.

I headed back, knowing I’d have 5 miles if I ran the entire time. I hadn’t set out to do 5 miles, but it was the distance that I did, and felt good running tonight.

On the way home, I saw a hawk- it was soaring above me.  There was a lot of beauty in that- that hawk was just as free as I was soaring in the sky- he wasn’t thinking about wing span or flight times- he was just doing his thing, and letting the wind carry him.

That is how I’m trying to run.  And I’m getting better and better at it, with every run. Just letting my body take over, instead of thinking about it.

And I love it. As I finished my run, at 5.06 miles, it kind of dawned on me that I’m a minimalist runner now. I just ran 5 miles like it was nothing. I could have gone 10. I felt that good. That was the longest I had ever run minimalist, and I’ve ran “harder” miles at 2 miles before, than what the 5 miles had just felt.  I didn’t want to push it though, as I’m still transitioning to building up the mileage.

My calves are getting stronger and taking the brunt off my shins.  But it’s still a process and they need to build up to 10 miles steadily and regularly- not all in one night.

The most drastic change I noticed from running this way so far, was the morning after. I was kind of dreading it, truth be told.  I can’t remember the last time I’ve ran 5 miles and didn’t have something if not many something’s aching, hurting, tweaked, or sore.  The last time I ran 5 miles, I could barely walk the next day- I felt like I was crippled.

So I was a little nervous seeing what the next morning would bring- especially w my ankle- was that going to balloon up into a swollen ankle over night? Would my hip pain I’ve been battling since March come back? It’s come back when I’ve ran 3 miles.  I felt good, but I felt the uncertainly- maybe this would be my last 5 miles for a while- I could only hope I had no injuries lurking on the horizon.

I woke up early as I had my boys for the weekend. I didn’t even think about it as I got out of bed, and started my morning stuff. It was about 30 minutes of me walking around, doing things before I just stopped and thought “I have zero pain- nothing hurts.” I almost couldn’t believe it.  Where as I could barely walk before, after my last 5 mile run- not only did I not have any aches and pains, I felt like I hadn’t even ran!  My ankle didn’t even hurt!

I just had to stop for a minute and marvel and appreciate how wonderful our bodies are made. They know what to do.  My body can do this- I can do this.  I feel 20 years younger running this way!  The only thing I noticed later was one of my calves was just a little sore, but not in a bad way, just in a way like when you have a good work out and you feel it has been stretched a bit.  By the next day, that bit of soreness was gone.

So it was good I didn’t just abandon my training plan of “slow and steady” as my calf really would have suffered.  Before all this, I would have. I would have thought it would have made me stronger, and tougher.

I’m learning, sometimes taking it slow and respecting your body- that makes you stronger and tougher. It’s easy to just push your body to the max at times.  It takes patience, discipline, and mental forethought to respect your body and push it yes, but not punish it.

Just like the hawk I saw soaring. They don’t suffer through flying, really no animal in nature does.  A cheetah, doesn’t suffer through a run. A dolphin doesn’t suffer through swimming among the waves. A dog doesn’t suffer chasing its ball or tail- it effortless, and probably why humans love animals so much, because we recognize that pure joy in them. Shouldn’t we be able to do that too? Not focusing on results, but just on the pure joy we get from an activity we love?

I think we have lost some of those feelings in our society today. It’s more about results and winning versus the joy and fun in just doing something you love.

Many times I did push myself too far. I wanted to be good, I wanted to be fast. I wanted to beat my own times.  But I failed to see, by training this way, I wasn’t trusting the process- I wasn’t training and letting my body accumulate. It was “all or nothing” with me, and I paid the price with constant injuries and pain.

Running shouldn’t hurt.  No activity should.  It should be fun and your body should feel good after it- not like it aged you 20 years.

I’m learning the joy for me now isn’t beating my last time, but letting my body just run- and it is.  It’s been amazing.

I was happy to see when I downloaded my stats, my best pace for this run was 7 minutes. I’ve not disabled the timing on my Garmin. I do like seeing it after the run, but not during.  I don’t even see the pace I’m running during the run, only after.  I could NEVER run a 7 minute pace (I didn’t run that the entire run- it was just my fastest pacing) for any distance over 5 miles, and not have pain the next few days.

So I’m seeing the progress.  I started out thinking if I could run 5 miles this way, I’m on my way to running a marathon for real.  I just did that.  Next stop: 10 miles, injury free.  But for now, I’m savoring the 5 miles.  In some ways I wasn’t even sure if I could ever run 5 miles again and not have an injury or pain, but I just proved to myself I could.  I’m respecting my body and running and it is respecting me.  It is all flowing!

A marathon is 26.2 miles.  I just did 5.06 easy and injury free miles.  Only 21.14 miles to go!

(Note: While I was designing Running Free Blog, I was writing blog posts too as I started this process, but had no place to post them.  So for a while the blog posts will be a few weeks “retro,” until I run out of content and start writing “live” every week. This post was written August 28th.)

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