181km barefoot in 24 hours: Gait lesson #2

Discussion in 'Front Page News' started by DayRunner, Jul 1, 2013.

  1. DayRunner

    DayRunner Barefooters
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    181km barefoot in 24 hours: Gait lesson #2
    By Dayrunner
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    Rob Knowles during the Coburg 24-hour race in Melbourne, Australia
    Before the race:

    After running 166km barefoot in my first 24 hour race last June, emotions were high; I had just run a distance that only a year before had seemed inconceivable. Physically, however, I wasn’t feeling quite so flash. I distinctly recall saying at the end of the race that "I don't currently have any desire to do that again." No bloody wonder, my feet were visibly swollen and bruised, and the inside of my ankles were very sore. I'm not exactly sure how it feels to be a human piñata, but I reckon I was pretty close there for about three days.

    Thankfully I have a poor memory and an excitable nature; within a couple of weeks I had forgotten the physical discomfort and was making noises about wanting to do a similar race again. So in February this year I had another crack at the 100km barefoot record, on a road surface this time, and was able to shave an hour and a half off my previous time. After the 100km race however, I was still feeling the soreness on the inside of the ankles that I got after the 24hr race. It was possible that such soreness was inevitable after running in excess of 9 hours, but I held on to the belief that it could be avoided somehow.


    Adapting my gait in preparation for learning to run barefoot had been my Gait lesson #1; I learned that by not overstriding I could avoid sore hamstrings and run more efficiently. In the back of my mind I thought that a similar lesson could lay in wait to avoid this inner-ankle soreness in long races. I tried remedial massage, self-massage, got an ultrasound and did more strength work in bare feet to try to remedy it, but still it lingered. Not significant enough to interfere with my training and racing schedule, but certainly enough to make me think that I was getting feedback from my body that I needed to respond to somehow.

    Then this April, about 2 weeks before the Coburg 24hr (my next target race, and host race for the Australian 24-hour championships), I got the breakthrough I was hoping for. I was doing a 2 hour session on the track and decided to try something which I have been instructed to do in yoga classes over the years whilst static, but haven’t really thought to try whilst running before: I scanned my body for tightness and focused my attention on relaxing any areas that seemed tense. There’s nothing too technical about this, it’s really just another form of proprioception over and above the stuff us barefooters are familiar doing with the feet. I scanned through my gait and it was apparent that I could relax my quads somewhat, whilst still maintaining my running form. Furthermore, this seemed to reduce the load on my inner-ankle tendon (the Posterior Tibial Tendon to be precise). This came as a surprise as I had been under the impression that the adaptation to barefoot running had “fixed” my gait. The reality was in fact a little more complex: I had consciously improved my gait in order to be able to run barefoot; the (proprioceptive) sensations from my bare feet had further refined this gait, but it wasn't enough for me to just sit back and enjoy the ride from hereon in. There was valuable feedback that my body was broadcasting to me from areas other than my feet, and whilst out on the track that day I had just managed to tune in to a bit more of it.

    At the time it felt a little risky taking a gait change with only limited testing into a 24-hour race, but with only of two of these 24-hour track races a year in Australia I felt it was worth a shot…

    During the race:

    The first half of the race was all as expected really. It might sound flippant to say that the first 11 hours felt like the warm up, but if you want to get through a whole 24 hours of running then it really helps to be able to trivialise large chunks of time like this in your head.

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    There’s always one joker who’ll tell you your shoelace is undone…
    The twelfth hour however was straight out of the warm-up, bypass the frying pan and straight into the fire. It was my worst hour, psychologically, of the whole 24. I had started losing my pace, in fact I was now behind the pace at the same point in my previous 24 hour race, and my mate who was also racing had overtaken me. I felt like I was going backwards, yet I still had 12+ hours to go. I am an optimistic person, but within the in the highs and lows of a 24-hour cycle there’s just too much opportunity for the wheels to come off at some point. And when it comes, if quitting isn’t an option then all you can do is endure the low whilst you try and find a solution, like some wretched soul scratching around in the dirt, looking for a lost key.

    As I entertained bleak thoughts about the race over that hour, a “key” eventually was forthcoming when I made an executive decision. Rather than plough on stoically like I had done in the previous 24 hour race, I was instead going to invest some time in sorting myself out. I took an ibuprofen (the only one I took in the race), a large helping of microwave noodles and a cup of sugary Earl Grey tea. I then sought some release for my hip flexors, which were accumulating tightness. This probably took about half an hour all up, the thought of which wasn't exactly encouraging to my chances of improving on my PB. What happened next, however, changed all that: I got back out onto the track and the world seemed a much better place. I actually ran 10km in that next hour, which at this stage of the race was a pretty darn healthy pace. I was sitting on the shoulder of the race leader for a couple of laps before he stepped to one side to let me pass, the “low” was officially over!

    As soon as that speedy hour was up I had to ease back a bit; I had been proving a point to myself but it had worked. The realisation that I could feel as crap as I did in the previous hour and then come back like that was all I needed to get me through the next 11 hours. It was as simple as that. To feel that good after having felt so bad meant that I didn’t have to worry anymore about any low spots that might be waiting. And so it was, I continued through the night in a positive mood; my run was ground down to a walk in the last couple of hours, but my self-imposed target of 180km was in sight and after 24 hours I finished up with a total of 454 laps and 1m, equal to 181.601km. The gait change had worked, there was no soreness on the inner ankles and my feet weren’t swollen and bruised like after the previous 24-hour race. In fact I felt pretty darn good by comparison:

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    24hours and 5 minutes later…
    After the race:

    Alongside the personal challenge and the sensory experience, the other joy us barefoot runners get to experience is in the “representing”. To this end I was stoked to receive the Race Directors’ Endurance Award, and with it the following positive recognition for barefoot running in the Race Directors’ Report:

    “And all through this unfolding drama, barefoot runner Rob Knowles just kept at it, padding along lightly with his economical and relaxed technique - his final distance of 181.601km saw him break his own Guinness Book of Records 24 Hour distance by 15km. Interestingly, of all the competitors, he was by far the freshest at the presentations with no signs of blisters or sore feet or any obvious discomfort. Food for thought indeed!

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    Collecting the Race Directors’ award at the post-race ceremony
    The barefoot journey is proving a very rewarding experience, but there’s still a long way to go. Gait lesson #3 is waiting for me, and I’ve worked out what it is I need to fix – my hips. I’m still running with a slight anterior pelvic tilt (i.e. my pelvis dips forward slightly). I haven’t figured out the solution yet, but I know if I can then I’ll be better able to absorb the loading of these longer races and go farther & faster.

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    How to run 180km without blisters, Step 1: Take your bloody shoes off!


    Pictures courtesy of the Coburg 24-Hour Race Directors
     

  2. Darkand

    Darkand Chapter Presidents
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    Wow! Brilliant race report mate. That's an incredible distance in 24hrs! In the Guinness book of records too!! (Again).
    Congratulations mate. Glad you got recognition from the race director for the barefoot too! Great work, and way to represent! :)
     
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  3. fredvp71

    fredvp71 Barefooters
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    Amazing! Was the surface a typical running track surface - sort of springy, but can give you blisters if you're not careful?
     

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  4. BarefootDevilDog

    BarefootDevilDog Chapter Presidents
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    That's just awesome. Outstanding!
     

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  5. nisto

    nisto Barefooters
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    Wow. Just wow. And truly inspirational!
     
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  6. Bare Lee

    Bare Lee Chapter Presidents
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    Way to represent Rob! And it was very cool that you opened the race director's mind up to the benefits of barefoot running.

    For your hips, I might suggest trying deadlifts, power cleans, squats, and mobility exercises with ankle weights--stuff like hip ad-/abduction, donkey kicks, clam shells, and the like.
     
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  7. murls

    murls Barefooters
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    A privilege just to read that Rob. Did anyone else notice the hat! Did you run in that awesome hat the whole way? :)
     

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  8. DayRunner

    DayRunner Barefooters
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    Thanks for the positive comments folks, just happy to be out there spending time on my feet as I'm sure you all do.

    Just the regular kind Fred, actually this one was due for resurfacing (which it currently is being), there was a "ruffle" on the far bend which caught me unawares once or twice!

    Thanks for the tips Bare Lee, I'm actually about to change my training to focus on 10km, 1km, 100 meter and 60 meter barefoot target times over the next 6 or so months, so there will be some more strength training like you suggested and squats in particular were already on my radar. The other half of the equation I think is visualization/activation when I am running to ensure I am not letting my pelvis dip too much. This is a work in progress but I think I am making headway so will eventually report back in case it helps anyone else who is seeking a similar remedy.

    Sure did. Akubras are very functional for ultras (or indeed any outdoor strenuous activity, as they were designed for) - shade in the sun and warmth at night. People only notice the hat when I'm not barefoot, go figure!
     

  9. NickW

    NickW Guest

    I finally got around to reading this. Awesome report and way to go! Very inspiring indeed!
     
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  10. Barefoot Terry

    Barefoot Terry Chapter Presidents
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    Dayrunner,
    Amazing!!! I had recently completed a 50mile trail race (mostly barefoot) and was curious how many people had gone further truly barefoot. I had been looking at 100k/100mile distances. Thought about doing it in a 24hr track race like you did. Glad to see that you came out the other side healthy and blister free! Congratulations on another record!
     
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  11. DayRunner

    DayRunner Barefooters
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    Good on you Terry, thats a hefty trail distance. I guess there's different challenges to different terrains, courses and distances. Trails are obviously more abrasive so soles are a greater part of the challenge there. Elevation changes can also be a factor too. For track ultras the repetitive identical loading accentuates the impact on the body (not so much on the soles but rather what is above). The repetition is a different challenge for the the mind too - I find I am more internally focused in a track race, which is great when I am feeling good but more intense when I'm not.

    I guess there's only one way to find out what floats your boat! Let me know if I can share any leanings that might help you in longer races, cheers.
     

  12. Tristan

    Tristan Barefooters
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    Awesome race, and congrats on the records! I hope to try one of those 24hr races someday, but that goal seems so far away. I've not crossed the 3hr length yet, and just about succumbing to exhaustion at that point! You made me realize something I find interesting. That you've been able to identify problems with your gait that only become apparent 9hrs or so into it. I'd wager most barefooters here on this site won’t ever see those kind of times, or even half of that, yet may believe their form to be ideal. But I suppose as long as its seemingly good for the distance ran, perhaps it doesn’t matter. And that’s great you were able to use some techniques to figure out what it was and remedy it! As I work towards longer and longer distances I'll have to try and remember the yoga technique you mentioned. I probably should try yoga sometime, so many have good things to say about it, just so hard to fit things in my schedule.
     
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  13. DayRunner

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    Hi Tristan, 3hrs is close to 24 than you might think! I was pleasantly surprised when I found out that a slight drop in speed resulted in seemingly disproportionate longevity (just think how long you can probably walk for; running slower will get you closer to that limit). Try dropping your speed and see how you go. Other than that it's also about giving your mind a period of adjustment to being running for longer periods of time, after which it doesn't feel as long (I found the same thing with driving when I moved to Australia; a 3 hour drive is almost a days expedition in the UK, whereas here you might do that before stopping for breakfast). This adjustment for some people can happen over a period of months if your desire to do a 24 is strong enough and you plan a schedule of races/long training runs to build up over.

    Re: the gait improvements, i found the distance/repetition is good for amplifying what's going on with your body to a level you can "hear" it. Does it matter if you only run shorter distances? Im not sure, but the more media I can experience/view my gait through, the more complete an awareness I will have of it IMO. Distance represents one such medium, video analysis was another, and the scanning I mentioned is a third. It's true that gait changes at faster speeds, but I believe some of what I have learned about my gait through distance running barefoot has helped my form with sprinting barefoot so I think there is some crossover.

    As for finding time for yoga, even once a week is beneficial (at least in terms of developing bodily awareness, you need to do it more often if wanting flexibility gains although I'm wary of how much flexibility is desirable anyhow). You don't need to become a yogi but just spending some time focussing the attention on what's going on inside your body is really good practice IMO and I believe it Is what's enabled me to avoid injury thus far as my training has become increasingly demanding.

    Good luck with your endeavours, I'd be interested to hear how you go!
     

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  14. JosephTree

    JosephTree Barefooters
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    Well done, sir! Well done!
     
  15. Barefoot Dama

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    Very impresive!!! Congrats!!!
     

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