2012-02-10

First 5 miler with Huaraches

Today I decided to give it a try and do my assigned 5 recovery miles  in huaraches.
It should be my first attempt at a serious distance in huaraches and in less than ideal conditions. I write this down mostly for my personal records and for anybody interested in knowing about the performance of the huaraches and the socks and also about a first experience in minimalist running from an average runner.

Preparations

As a safety consideration I decided that I was going to stop at the very first signal that something was going wrong, such as pain or excess cold, walk back home and finish the day on the elliptical.



My previous experience on the trail was limited to two one-milers on the huaraches and ten minutes barefoot. Besides of running I do a lot of exercises that are either directly targeted at the toes and feet or recruit the muscles in them, and that since a lot of time ago, even before starting to run. I do also walk barefoot and in flip-flops a lot since I was a child. I have a Morton's Toe but I have never had any issue with that (more on that in another story).

I have always had a natural mid-foot strike and I have trained the fore-foot strike somewhat. I assume that my running form is good as I have had no injuries in more than a year. 

My gear was composed of three layers on the trunk: A sleeveless base layer, soft shell and a wind-proof jacked. Running gloves, beany and a motorcycle mask. I use the latter to cover my mouth and nose to pre-heat the air. It seems silly but it really works as it saves heat that can be pumped with the blood to other parts of your body.  

Concerns and conditions


  • Weather: -3C (26.6F), but sunny and no wind.
  • Route: My usual route goes through my street to the woods outside the town, the substrate is concrete, some asphalt and brick pavement inside the town and packed dirt and wood trail outside (the longest part). The route is largely covered in packed snow molten and frozen again to ice in an extremely irregular way due to traffic and footsteps. It had already proven to be extremely hard during my last (shod) trainings.
  • Shoes: One of the most interesting things to test was if the laces of my Invisibleshoes held for the whole run and if not how often I needed to re-lace them. Other points of interest were the grip of the sole to the road, specially the ice and if the soles protected my feet against the irregularities of the surface. 
  • Socks: I wanted to test if these Injinji socks where enough to keep my feet from freezing.
  • Legs and feet: I wanted to experience by myself a direct transition to minimalistic running keeping an eye on pain, stress, form, pace and all the other running related variables. 

Snow with footsteps molten by the sun and frozen again. This example is my backyard but it depicts the situation on the better parts of the route. On the streets this stuff is hard as stone.

The Run

The socks resulted to be clearly enough to keep my feet from freezing. I did in fact end the run with rather warm feet. I assume that the impact of the feet with the ground worked heating them up. I don't know the name of the effect but under cold conditions the body withdraws blood from the limbs to avoid wasting heat. When shod with normal trainers it takes me a few minutes to get my toes warm even with thick sheep-wool socks and despite all the shock absorbing rubber of the soles. I would say that running without socks wouldn't be an issue either.

The grip of the huaraches (the FeelTrue soles) was exceptionally good. It's true that I have developed a good form for running on ice and slippery surfaces but the feeling and technique is quite different than with normal trainers. With trainers the profile and hardness of the soles plays a big role and you have to adapt your form and style to the shoes; with trail running shoes you get more grip and with road running shoes you have to adopt a 'softer' landing and keeping a shorter mid-foot strike. I will come back to the form later, but I will confirm that the performance was exceptional. The internal contact surface did also provide a good adherence to my feet even with the socks. IMO this is an important plus of the design of the Contact soles compared to other solutions.

The 6mm soles proved enough to avoid pain from the rough and hard surface but allowing at the same time to feel the smallest changes. Note that I am not saying that the soles protected me by themselves, they are not meant for that; I was able to adapt my strike to the different obstacles or just jumping over them if required.

I was curious to know how long it would take for the laces to untie or loose tension. One of my intentions was to see how much it took to lace them again correctly. They did neither untie nor did they slip or loose any tension. Here I have say that I am glad to have chosen the Invisibleshoe huaraches instead of any others as anything but synthetic laces would have caused problems in this conditions.

As expected (and already tested earlier) there was no cushioning. I am not sure if I can say that "my feet knew what to do" as I always pay a lot of attention to what I do with my feet. I have read that the body itself adapts the strength of the strike automatically, as this is an unconscious arc-reflex I can't say, but I can confirm that I felt and feel no pain at all. I can feel some slight burn on some spots, exactly in the same way I experience after a strength workout, but not even the tension that I feel after running with some of my trainers.

With regard to pace, I was perfectly able to keep the same pace that I would have kept during a normal recovery run with an average of 8:27. I don't think that I should have any difficulty in running at a higher pace such as 8:00 at least under better conditions. Note again that the route is mostly trail, partly because it is actually trail and dirt road and partly because the snow has transformed the roads into an irregular ice surface more similar to running on rocks and rubble than on a proper road. 

Finally the most amazing part was the ability of adapting my strike instantaneously to the terrain: I have already stated that I am a mid-foot striker who uses neutral shoes. I do also train a forefoot strike and I often switch from one to the other. My favourite shoes are a pair of K-Swiss Natural Running II: what makes them different is that they have grooves running left to right on the sole under the toe box. This make them bendable and allows a better transition from mid-foot strike to forefoot strike. Making it possible to adopt the best strike and form on each part of the course.

The huaraches are however light years away: You are able to change the way of striking from step to step! This means that you can strike with your left forefoot and in the same step with your right mid-foot if required.
But that's is not all: It's in fact your entire foot which can change the way it lands on the ground. Including the frontal and lateral inclination and many other factors. It is just amazing how much control you have over your feet. Our hands and feet ave more nervous sensors than any other part of our body. In our hand this is quite obvious... and now I know what the ones on my feet are meant for.

Results

I consider this test a complete success. Pete Pfizinger defined a recovery run as "A run that makes you feel more energetic while you are running it", I would say that this run perfectly fits into this description as I do feel energized and I did not have to use band-aids on my toes, black from my new pair of MR620. And there is of also the faces of the people which I met on the streets looking at my weird footwear ;)









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