Globe correspondent Elizabeth Cooney is writing about the Boston Marathon in the series "Going the Distance," which appears in the Globe's G Health section. She's also training for it, and hopes you'll check in with her along the way.
It was time for the rubber to meet the road.
Maybe you've seen runners wearing next to nothing on their feet. I confess I looked askance at a guy wearing new shoes on Jan. 2 that didn't seem like shoes at all. They seemed more like red gelatin poured around his toes, a thin barrier against the day's icy cold. Of course, he was also wearing shorts. It was snowing. It was 11 degrees. I thought he was nuts.
But when I learned that scientists from Harvard were looking at barefoot runners in the United States and Kenya, it seemed like a good idea to test a pair of "minimal" shoes for myself. Their paper appears today in Nature and the Globe's Carolyn Y. Johnson reports on their findings here.
Barefoot running -- or "forefoot" running, as the salesperson in City Sports corrected me -- is based on the idea that we aren't meant to land on our heels every time we stride. Those cushiony sneakers we've grown used to just aren't natural, the theory goes, and contribute to the repetitive stress heels take from pounding out the miles. The forefoot is springier, avoiding jarring collisions that are so bad for our feet.
It can also be bad for your feet, muscles, and the rest of your body to suddenly change the way you run, even for a test like mine this morning. So I was cautious, going only a mile or so in my new Vibram FiveFingers, which have been around since 2007.
The hardest thing may be getting your toes to fit into their slots. I laughed at myself in the store last night when I had to count my toes as I pushed them into their rubber-soled "fingers." The whole shoe makes me think of water shoes, with their slim, slick look punctuated by separate toes.
This morning I was a little better at it putting them on. The mesh upper slid on smoothly and the Velcro strap seemed unnecessary to secure the snug fit. They felt pretty good
around the house, but when I hit outdoors, my feet were a little chilly until I warmed up -- like everything else about winter training.
I started to run, gingerly at first, hyperaware of where my foot was striking the pavement. It felt familiar. Not from barefoot running, but from the gait I use when I'm running on ice or snow, mincing my way over suspect surfaces.
This was different. I felt like I was running taller, my back straighter. I thought about running on the beach when I hit a stretch of sand at the side of the road. The glint of broken glass took care of that image. I dodged the shards, pretty sure I would do that in sneakers, too.
Were my knees tighter? Was that twinge in my calf a sign of the changed dynamics I was forcing on myself? Were they just the kinks of my first mile out today?
I can't say for sure, but I didn't want to push my luck. I also felt like I couldn't really push to run harder -- or just didn't know how. Today I wanted to do some quick bursts followed by slower intervals, but I waited until I switched to my old trail-running sneakers, my winter standbys.
I'm intrigued by the idea that barefoot running might reduce wear and tear over the long haul, but I'll think long and hard about making such a change with the marathon 12 weeks away. I'll seek some advice, too. If I didn't, I'd be nuts.
Barefoot runners: Care to weigh in?
Running experts: What's your take?