A Churl-Free Day of Posting, Part #1

Having struck a sour tone these past few days, it will be all upbeat, all the time, with posts today. That is to say, no politics, public finance, FAA or TSA screwups, Chinese unrest or high-speed train updates, or anything else of that depressing sort.

Instead, let's start with: running!

About a year ago, I was moaning that many decades of distance running had left me with knees and joints that all felt fine but with an increasingly sore, swollen, and unsightly right Achilles tendon. The more I read about "tendinosis," the more it seemed like balancing the federal budget a depressing future reality of life. And if that turned out to be the reality, I would be consigned to a grim (from my POV) future of swimming, "the erg," the elliptical, and similar drudgery.

Therefore when I heard rumors of salvation, in the form of "barefoot" running and the oddball Vibram finger-shoes, I naturally rushed to embrace this hope. That's what I depicted last year, in a trick photo of me with one of my sons just after we'd bought a matching set of Vibram FiveFinger footwear:

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A year's worth of use later, here's how one of the Vibram shoes now looks. The shot below corresponds to the foot-and-shoe second from left in the shot above. (And thanks for asking: the red mark on the big toe isn't blood. I once caught my toe on a track with a red rubbery surface. I haven't washed the red off because it adds that tough-guy look.)


The main happy news from my point of view is: I can now run again, three or four miles at a time, two or three times a week, at a reasonable pace and with the limiting factors being heat, cold, fatigue, decrepitude, and essentially anything other than foot or Achilles pain.

At some point I may do a more complete debugging and description of the experience. Here are some "key take-aways," as they say in the tech world:

 * Part of the miracle cure: taking a three- month break from running altogether, because it was the dead of winter and because I was back in China (and in polluted air) again.

 * Another part of the cure: a session last year with Dr. Stephen Pribut in DC, who prescribed small heel lifts; cautioned that most stretching exercises did as much harm as good; and mainly recommended that I figure out a style of running that didn't hurt so much. This is the philosophy of common-sense doctoring I remember from my own father: "Doctor, it hurts when I do such and such." "Well, try not to do such and such."

* The new running style: shorter strides at a higher rate, with a stance that is more upright than leaning-forward. Overall it feels a little slower and probably is -- but hey, it's a lot faster than not being able to do it. While brings us to

* The barefoot shoes. I don't want to enter the religious wars over this footwear and am not part of the barefoot cult. I know that parts of the Army have outlawed Vibrams, and that Keith Olbermann blames them for his broken foot-bones. They may not be right for anyone else. I don't care. For me, it has worked very well to alternate wearing them and using "real" shoes -- usually two sessions a week with Vibrams, then one with my normal shoes. The alternation, I theorize, avoids too much strain from sticking with one approach or the other. I think I find the Vibrams appealing because, as I explained earlier, they encourage the "forefoot rather than heel" style of running that for me had been natural since days of yore.

And one more tip: through my explorations, I got in touch with an editor for Runner's World named Mark Remy. He has a very funny but also instructive book about the running life called The Runner's Rule Book. Worth checking out. And certainly more uplifting than budget news.