Saturday, August 27, 2011

Minimalist/Barefoot Running and the Hike

[Plenipotentiary and general admin monkey's Note: This post was sent to us by Lars, a.k.a Fungrim from Sweden.  More can be found on his blog:

I love the fact that this collective is growing world-wide.  We have had post submissions from people in such diverse places.  It's nice to see that Running Smiley is a universal phenomenon.]

Some years back, the gang and I started to get interested in light-weight hiking. A small but persistent group of Swedish hikers started moaning about the weight that you traditionally carry around: heavy back pack, heavy tents, and relevant for this post, heavy boots. That’s when I first came into contact with minimalist running, and the ideas that our feet might be best left alone, and unencumbered.
You see, hiking in the Swedish mountains is traditionally done in boots. Rather heavy ones. Preferably with extremely hard and inflexible soles. And Gore Text lining. But more and more people started to point out that 1) it’s dubious that big boots actually prevents injuries; 2) boots can protect you from becoming wet for a while, but once drenched, they stay wet for a very long time; and 3) carrying 800 grams or more per foot isn’t very cost effective, it’s going to drain a lot of energy from you.
And so it goes. We scaled back on our equipment. I went from a pack weighting in on something like 13-14 kilos (excluding food) to 11 kilos last year, and this year I scaled back further, landing on a comfortable 8.5 kilos. But my boots stayed on.
At least until now.
I read “Born to Run”. I discovered Barefoot University. I started following various blogs. In short, I discovered the barefoot/minimalist trend. And there was something that allured to me. These guys and girls seemed to have genuinely fun when running, something that I had lost a few years back. I’ve always had bad knees and stiff ligaments and tendons, but have been running nevertheless the last 12 years or so. But it wasn’t fun anymore. My last longer run, on one of the beaches of Malaga should have been great: sea, sand and sun, what’s not to like? But it wasn’t.
And so I went immediately and bought a pair of Merrel Trail Gloves. I had read up enough to realize that learning barefoot would probably be done best with actual bare feet, but being a barefoot sissy, and running  on trails 75% of the time I went minimalist instead. There was also this: I realized there would be an adjustment period, and I figured a pair of shoes that actually looks like ordinary trainers (in contrast to Vibram FiveFingers) could comfortably be used daily, hence giving my feet some needed extra practise.
Obviously I went straight for the beginners most common mistake instead: too far too fast. It felt great! It was fun! I wanted more! And almost immediately I had a sprained Achilles tendon to deal with. Ah well, I’ve always said stupidity is supposed to pay off, so this one’s on me.
And now? Well, today I ran 6 kilometers, which is a the longest so far. Perhaps a bit too long, and I figure my ankles and Achilles will tell me so tomorrow. But damn, it felt great! Two laps around the “block”, where the block being a patch of wood at my mothers cottage in the Swedish woods, and then straight down to the small forest lake for a dip, and it felt like I want running to feel: light, smooth, easy and fun. Lovely stuff!
And next week I’ll head up to the mountains for a 4 day solo hike.
See where this is going? Well, much as I love my boots, and I do, I think they’ll be left home this time. On the other hand, much as I love my Merrels, I don’t think they’ll make it either. Although I’m sorely tempted. The reason being I’m a bit of a chicken again: The mountains I’m going to (for reference, Grövelsjön) are… stony. All Swedish mountains are (as the last ice age reduced our mountains to rubble), and my feet recoil a bit at the thought of walking 5+ hours a day in thin soles with a fair few kilos on my back. But I will go with a pair of Salamon Techamphibian (or similar). They’re fairly light, have a good grip on slippery surfaces, and dry out quickly. That will bring the full weight of my equipment down under 10 kilos. Not bad, not bad.
Also, I think my feet will love me for it.

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