brilliant mistake

it was a fine idea at the time, now it’s a brilliant mistake

- elvis costello

a couple of years back, mark, over at started up a barefoot running program as part of his p0se running training.  he blogged long and often about his experience and how much he enjoyed the freedom.  a small seed was planted back in those days.

since i’ve basically cleared my calendar of races and most of what i do these days is trail running, i thought it might be fun to start up a barefoot running program, too.  and, after building up my endurance, i thought it might be even more entertaining to grab a pair of those vibram 5 finger socks and see if i could run trails “barefoot”.

so, with mooseman a memory, i picked last week as the time to start out on my maiden barefoot journey.  like virtually every physical challenge that has come before, i blindly jumped in without doing much research beforehand [because, really, if you can’t learn the lessons on your own, are you really LIVING the experience? [i say that tongue in cheek, because, if you haven’t guessed, i’m an idiot sometimes]].

repete and i have a weekly speedwork date at the uci track on thursdays and i thought to myself, “self, what a brilliant idea it would be to get your first taste of barefoot running on a RUBBER track!”  think about it…running the track keeps me from being stranded someplace if things go awry, i wouldn’t have to carry my shoes while running AND, rubber!  rubber is easy on the feet!  not like that nasty asphalt!  score!  brilliant!

so, repete and i head out on thursday for our 2.5mi warm-up to the uci track and i proclaimed proudly that today was the day i was going to start running barefoot.  repete, in his wisdom, opted to watch and learn.  we hit the track and i did a couple of mile intervals to start out and then headed to the side of the track, shed the shoes and strode bravely to the lap starting point.

the first thing i noticed was that the track was a bit warm.  it’s a faded dark blue rubber and it attracts the sun’s heat.  it wasn’t so hot that i couldn’t stand on it, but i did notice that it was on the hot side of warm.  the second thing i noticed was that the rubber isn’t smooth.  i guess i just never realized that, since i’d always worn shoes on it.  i commented to repete, “this is rougher than i thought it would be”.  but, c’mon, it’s RUBBER.  rubber is bouncy and soft and forgiving, right?


so, off i went on my merry way.  i focused on landing on the balls of my feet and running light.  after one lap, the balls of my feet were burning.  not, “holy cow i’m on fire and gotta stop!” burning, but more of a “oh, this cumulative heat from the track is making my feet uncomfortable”.  so, i transitioned over to the grass on the inside of the track to take some of the “heat” off my feet.  running on the grass felt wonderful.  it felt like it was cooling my feet back down and by the time i’d run the straight-away, i figured i should transition back to the track to work on a more firm surface again.  i did this for the next two laps…run the straights on the grass, the curves on the track. 

it was going great, but, boy did my feet feel warm.  after the third lap, i was coming around the first turn and as soon as i hit the grass i felt like something was dangling from my left foot.  “oh, i picked up some grass clippings” i though, and i brushed off my foot.  half way down the straight, the sensation of something dangling from my foot was still there, so i stopped to take a look at my foot.

what i saw surprised me.  the ball of my foot was a sack of bloody skin.  it wasn’t dangling free, but it looked like a clear plastic bag of meat on the bottom of my foot.  i sat down and looked at the other foot.  it was worse.  my toes were shredded, too.  i was shocked.  i had NO idea that the sensation i had been feeling was me turning my feet into ground beef. 

i tenderly walked back to my shoes, wiped off my feet as best i could and put my socks and shoes back on.  my feet hurt now.  funny how i could have probably kept running, but the second i saw the damage i was doing, the pain set in.  i let repete know that i’d messed up my feet and began the long walk back to the ymca.

repete, being the class act that he is, caught up to me shortly after and told me he’d run on ahead and pick me up.  i walked the mile up to jamboree and waited for him there.  as i sat in the shade of a tree waiting for him, the pain began to transition into intense throbbing.  i could feel my feet beginning to swell.  brilliant me, too, had opted to wear my shoes rigged for triathlon [tight elastic laces with the only way to loosen them is to take out the laces].  repete showed up shortly after i sat down and performed the heroic task of driving me back to the gym.

3acyi showered, drove by work to grab my laptop and headed home to work out of the house.  i had one singular thought on my mind and that was to get my feet into some ice.  as i hobbled into the house, smsmh greeted me with a look of horror.  i explained what i had done, expecting her to be upset; an immobile jeff is an immobile dad…one not able to contribute to the chasing around of a highly mobile offspring.  as i finished my story, smsmh did her best to give me a look of concern, but couldn’t contain herself any longer and began laughing.  whew.  at least we were both able to see the humor in the situation.

it’s been a couple days now, and the feet are healing up nicely.  i’m able to walk on them again and i don’t think there’s any long term damage.  the blood-sacks have dried up and don’t feel like they’re going to pop anymore.  mostly, it just feels like i’m walking on really bad bruises now. 

but, with that pain comes a blog post and some valuable lessons:

  1. rubber CAN be hard
  2. rubber tracks have the texture of a meat tenderizer
  3. i have to treat barefoot running as if i’ve never run a day in my life.
  4. sometimes it works to rtfm
soundtrack for this post
The Very Best of Elvis Costello (1 of 2) lick:
Brilliant Mistake
Elvis Costello
The Very Best of Elvis Costello (1 of 2)

13 thoughts on “brilliant mistake

  1. nice!
    yesterday at the nmr, i ran with michael v, who had on the vibram 5 finger socks. he said the worst running environment he’s experienced so far — out of road, trail, and track — is track, for the same reasons you’ve mentioned. who knew?

  2. Oh dear.
    As I recall you were supposed to start off with 100 yards on the grass, Jeff. Egads. Those feet look painful. :(
    As I recall, I never did build up to more than a mile or two before I would get a hot spot on one of my toes. Ofcourse, I did have the sense to stop. :)
    Hope the feet heal up soon, Jeff, so you can get back out there bare-footing again.

  3. Awsome! Those are the kinda memories you’ll hold onto forever…along with poopy diapers and the funny stuff that comes outta your little tricycle engine’s mouth. Back on your feet already? Bad ass.

  4. I’m so glad I’m not the only person who does these sorts of things. ;-)
    OUCH Jeff!
    I hope – after you heal – that you give it another try. It really is awesome stuff …when you work up to it.
    And I wouldn’t go for rubber! :)

  5. Oh my son! It hurts just to see the picture of your feet. My feet are jumpin’ just thinking of that hot rubber. Ouch! Ouch! Owwwww! Yikes! And all of the above.
    I think you get these wild hair-brain ideas from me. I remember when the fad was to wash your hair with egg. So some of my girl friends were going to try it over the weekend and I was the only one who did. Oh man – stupid!! My hair smelled soooooooo wretched and bad because what I didn’t know was that I was only supposed to wash my hair with the white of the egg – not the yolk too!!
    Love you babe, Mamacita :)

  6. lovely picture. my feet started throbbing in sympathy when i saw that. you never know, you may have saved one of us from the same mistake by posting this.

  7. Nice filet of sole right there, brother. You shoulda maybe put like potholders on your feet or something?
    Look at me, being all brave, pretending to laugh at your injuries when in fact, inside, I’m really busting up laughing at the whole thing.
    Not really.
    Take care of your feet. You should have some really good calluses after this experience.
    Try not to burn them off.
    FYI: Other surfaces you should NOT try running on barefoot: Old People’s Lawns (they hate that, be ya barefoot or otherwise); Rusty Roofing Nails; Broken Glass.
    Soundtrack to this comment: Annie Lennox, “Walking On Broken Glass” (in bare feet) (<– that last part’s implied)

  8. you are mr. all or nothin’, heh. aren’t you supposed to ease into barefoot running? good lesson to pass on.

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