Running in Circles

For my Thursday lunch-hour run, I decided to try out the brand-new track a the McComb’s Dam Park over by Yankee Stadium.  I’ve never run on a track before, at least, not since some point in high school for gym, and I’m pretty sure I’ve repressed any memories associated with that.  As I’ve pointed out a few times, I’m not really the speed-work, lap-split type.  I run for the exercise and the pleasure; I run out of passion and philosophy, not to shave seconds of 400 meter sprints.  Besides, I care more about increasing my distance, not my speed, and the only thing a track is really good for is giving you a short, perfectly measured distance so you can work on speed.  I want to push how far I can go, and when I do want to go fast, I just run faster.  Pretty simple.  I’ve started tossing in some fartlek into my mid-range runs for that purpose (#youknowyourearunnerwhen you can use the work “fartlek” with a straight face) but that’s about it.

So why was I heading over to the track?  Contradicting everything I wrote in the preceding paragraph I have decided I might want to start doing speed-work once a week, because as much as I love distance, speed is a factor of running, and I think I shouldn’t neglect it entirely.  In fact, my reluctance towards working on speed is one reason that I should work on it; if I want to avoid it, it is most likely because it doesn’t come easy to me, and that means its a weakness to be improved.  The part of me that has always been drawn towards asceticism has a slight masocistic  streak, of the puritain variety.  Besides, nearly every running book or training guide I’ve read stresses that speed-work yields benefits no matter what your goal in running is, and it’s probably high time I heeded their advice.

*****

All of this to set-up the fact that I did NOT end up doing speed-work on the track.  I ran Monday and Tuesday, and was running on both Friday and Saturday (one of which would be a long-run), so if Thursday wasn’t going to be a rest day, it also shouldn’t be a super taxing bout of speed-work.  Instead, I decided to run barefoot.

I’ve been running in my Vibram Bikala’s once a week, but  I’ve read that to really develop good barefoot form you should run fully barefoot, not just in “barefoot” shoes, and that one of the best places to do that is a track.  I won’t go into all the reasons behind why I’m interested in some barefoot running (there are a lot of sites dedicated just to that.  Try here or here if you want to know more), but there seems to be some evidence that running barefoot is better on your knees, and at the very least helps you improve your form.  Dedicated barefooters tend to be a bit cult-like, and I don’t fully trust anyone in a cult.  All this to say that I’m trying out some barefoot running and would like to work a pair of minimalist running shoes into my wardrobe, but I haven’t drunk the cool-aide yet.

*****

Anyway, I jogged the six-tenths of a mile over to the track, and pulled off my Bikalas, and did two and a half miles actually barefoot.  In part, running on a track was as inane as I had feared — sort of like a treadmill, only you’re going somewhere — but there was its own appeal.  Perhaps it was just because it was an absolutely gorgeous day, with soft strands of white clouds sketched across an impossibly blue sky, but there was something oddly soothing about the repetition of tracing the same quarter-mile path again and again.  The nature of the track also freed my mind to focus purely on my running form,the cadence of my strides, the landing of my feet, my breath, as there were no pedestrians to avoid, curbs to clear, roads to follow: I just had to run.  The track stripped running down to a merely mechanical act, lacking some of the philosophy of my ideal run, but lending itself focused introspection.  It is not what draws me to running, but something I could do from time to time.

What surprised me was how much I loved running fully barefoot.  Not only did my feet and legs feel light, but the feeling of the rough track on my bare feet was invigorating.  I suppose this shouldn’t be a complete shock, given how many nerve-endings are on one’s feet, and that I do try to be barefoot as often as possible, but I’m just not used to the soles of my feet being part of my running experience.  My feet, yes, but merely as platforms for movement and propulsion, not as part of the experience themselves.  It just felt good.  In fact, it was a bit of a shock to transition back to my Bikalas, as while they had felt light and freeing before, after running truly barefoot they seemed thick and constricting. I can definitely see how people get hooked on running barefoot . . .

*****

Am I going to throw out my shoes and be a barefoot nut? No, but I’ll definitely keep working barefoot running sessions into my training.  Am I going to head over to the track twice a week?  Definitely not, but a weekly bout of either speed-work or barefoot running there doesn’t sound too bad.

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About Chris Van Dyke

I am a 33 year-old high school English teacher and long-distance runner. I live in Brooklyn with my partner, our 3 year-old son and 1 year-old daughter and a growing collection of muppets and trains. Besides running and teaching I like to draw, read, write, cook, and play the harmonica. While I didn't get to run my first ultra-marathon on my birthday, I've got a few more I've set my sights on. You can follow my (seldom updated) twitter feed @aboutrunning. I also blog as part of the Run Smiley Collective.
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