Thrown for a loop by darkness or how I found spring just before fall

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September 11, 2013 by scratchtype1

I dripped sweat. I looked at the watch that I had bought with winnings from the summer bowling league and saw it display 10:53.78. Not that it’s any spectacular time for someone to run 1.22 miles in that time, but I’m not thinking in terms of a general population of runners, but on my own terms. How did I get here, this late and hot and humid September afternoon?

There are actually many starting points I could use. The first would be the first marker by the loop in the park. That’s where I hit the start button on the watch. A more distant starting point would lead back to a day I was put on a train and sent away forever from someone. More distant than that would be the evening I sliced open a wound at the base of my thumb that needed 8 stitches and led me to meeting a doctor who got me started on how I handle being a type 1 diabetic and which opened up the possibility of doing endurance athletics. Even farther back would be the day an old friend called and we went out golfing. Maybe the point is that there are no real clear starting points, it all blends together. I don’t know.

I’ll tell you this. It’s September and that means I’ve pretty much run out of time with light in the mornings to run, and get showered and ready for work. And where I live, I’m not running in the dark on the roads and I have no nearby place that I could run safely. So that’s where this little township park comes in to my running history. It’s close to where I work, so when work is done, I can change into running clothes, go over to the park and run loops on the path with no worries about afternoon traffic. I’ve run there lots of times. I even ran my last big training run for the 2009 Philadelphia Marathon there on Halloween. Did 20.5 miles that morning.

The loop is about .82 miles long. They’ve got posts to mark off tenths of a mile. My basic routine when running there has been to click the split button each time I pass the starting post. Traditionally, when I’ve been in my better running shape, easy runs there would see me doing loops at or somewhere above 8 minutes per. On better days, I’d start going under 8 minute loops. If I ran a loop under 7:30, I would feel like I was working pretty good. Those would usually only happen when I wanted to finish a run fast, it would be the final loop. My fastest loop ever was one that just tucked in under 7 minutes. It was run hard on the 4th loop around.

My best run ever in the park was a 10 miler I did in February 2008. I hadn’t planned to run 10 miles, it just happened. It was kind of like that one run Christopher McDougall describes in Born to Run, where he just kept going and going because it felt so good. This is the record of my splits that evening:

loop 1 — 8:43
loop 2 — 8:39
loop 3 — 8:35
loop 4 — 8:43
loop 5 — 8:37
loop 6 — 8:42
loop 7 — 8:40
loop 8 — 8:33, 1:09:12
loop 9 — 8:39
loop 10 — 8:23
loop 11 — 7:56
loop 12 — 7:44
.16 mi — 1:22

Pretty darn consistent, then you can see where I picked it up over the last 2 and 3/4 miles. For me then, I was in pretty good shape. Later on in April I would run my 5K PR, 27:06, and in May I ran Broad Street, in 1:39:39.

Yesterday, in my return to that park, with no large amount of mileage in my legs, I ran the first loop in 7:21.75. Other than the dreadful heat, it felt easy. I wasn’t straining. I was running. It felt like had it been 20 degrees cooler and dry air, I could have easily run 4 loops at 7:30 per.

Obviously, something has changed. I don’t know if all that change is because of the influence of form by running barefoot, but it’s a big factor, I’m sure. Another factor may be the fact that since February, I pretty much get in at least 10,000 steps a day and average around 16,000. I also think the fact that earlier in the year I had been doing weightlifting, squats and deadlifts, barefooted. Also believe that the time of barefoot or minimalist hiking before running may have helped to strengthen the muscles and structures of the feet and ankles.

But the big thing is the form. When I run now, I feel a spring effect. Gone are the plodding runs in shoes, where my feet would land like sacks of cement, stick to the ground, then get peeled up, thrown forward and repeated. I found the spring. The spring. That’s what Dr. Mark Cucuzzella calls it, feeling the spring. Running barefoot teaches it well. I’m sure you can learn it in shoes too, but it’s harder to feel. The cushioning of shoes makes it harder to feel. It’s harder to feel when I wear the Xeros, just 4 mm of thin rubber.

Now here’s something else that I thought about while taking a walk. I’m not going to say I didn’t have some good runs in shoes. There were some that made me feel quite happy — the 1st half-marathon in 2007, that 10 mile run in the park, Broad Street 2008, a 10 miler on Île Bizard near Montréal, the Philadelphia half-marathon 2009. But I’m not sure just how much I ever really loved them and felt happy because I was running. I was happy because I accomplished something or felt wonderfully connected to another in my life then and on that run.

But I was never really feeling the spring on those runs. And that’s what it is. It’s the spring. I’m beginning to wonder if our brains are preset to wanting to feel that spring when we run. The spring makes us feel good. It tickles the nervous system. It’s not impossible to feel that in shoes, but it’s more difficult.

Feel the spring. Be happy. Run light, run faster. Feel the spring.

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