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Ultramarathons and Barefoot Running… the Contradictions

Posted by on Apr 10, 2010 | 10 Comments

I’m torn. I exist in two very different worlds.  Those worlds are crashing together this morning.

I’m preparing to head out for the second of my back-to-back long runs.  I ran 21 miles yesterday.  I’m planning another 20+ mile run today.  So far this year, I’ve only managed on other 20 mile run.  The next longest run was about 12 miles. 
As a barefoot runner, I am constantly preaching about the need to exercise patience and restraint.  The best way to avoid injury is to be aware of the signals your body sends.  At the slightest twinge, tweak, or strain, you should stop.  Take a day or two off.  Assess the problem.  Be smart.
As an ultrarunner, I am conditioned to push through pain.  I practice the finely-honed skills of dissociation and acceptance.  Pain becomes a reliable friend that hitches a ride towards the end of the long runs.  It’s part of the game.  It is what makes the game fun.  
Therein lies the incongruity.  Yesterday’s run wasn’t bad, but I did have a few issues.  There was a sharp pain in my left lower leg.  There were a few early signs of mild “top of the foot pain” in my right foot.  My soles are still sensitive.  I’m tired.  I’m physically fatigued.  My barefoot runner persona tells me to rest; you need to exercise some restraint.  My ultrarunner persona tells me to run; you’re finally pushing the envelope.  This is how you prepare.
Of course the ultrarunner persona always wins.  Luckily I have enough experience to know when the pain is serious.  I also know what it takes to train your body for the long races.  I know bitter taste of regret and longing when you’re sidelined with injury.  I also know the painfully humbling emotions that come from failing to reach your goals because you are under-trained.
Knowing what type of pain is adaptive and what pain is injurious is critical.  Every training run has two possible outcomes: you will become a better runner OR get hurt and be sidelined for a period of time.  Creeping as close to that line as possible is the key to reaching your goals.

This morning I’ll be taking my first steps toward those goals.

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10 Comments

  1. Aaron
    April 16, 2010

    I'm definitely for pushing the envelope. That's the only way to build up tolerance for high volume weeks and long races. Pushing my limits for about 4 weeks and then easing back a lot for 2 seems to do wonders for me.

    When I'm pushing it I try my best to make time in the mornings for plenty of calisthenics, kettlebell sets, and foam roller massage. The difference when I hit the trail in the afternoon is huge. Instead of shuffling along waiting for my legs to loosen up, I can immediately relax into a smooth stride.

  2. Chris Barber, SeriousRunning.com
    April 15, 2010

    You've got to know when to hold them and know when to fold them. I've had this trouble too. As a long distance runner I was always told to run through pain. Not until I got an injury about a year ago did I realize that I need to listen to my body more. My injury was an overuse injury and it has been a lot longer to get back to where I was in my training than if I had just taken more rest days. Good post.

  3. gobarefooting
    April 14, 2010

    my meaning was more that we as runners know ourselves and our bodies. the self doubt, the fear, the wondering if we are up to it or can do it. sometimes little pangs and muscle "squeaks" cause all of those things when really it's just all part of running, or living for that matter. so by saying that runners run, i just meant that some of that stuff goes with the territory. as long as you listen and know what your body is saying you'll be fine.

  4. Michael Shane Helton
    April 14, 2010

    Runners run…except the 70% each year who are injured and cannot run.

    Motivation is important, but being able to physically run is vital.

  5. gobarefooting
    April 14, 2010

    Runners run. That has long ben my motto when it comes to running. All the questions of too much too soon, can I safely run through this pain, and anything else that comes to mind while running can be answered with one phrase. Runners run. Listen to your body, use what you know, and run.

  6. Michael Shane Helton
    April 13, 2010

    Dont be a TMTS victim bro. Train hard, but injury = no training.

  7. Adam Gentile
    April 12, 2010

    I enjoyed this post and it really put me at ease for some reason. Getting injured one month before my first marathon has definitely made me feel the emotions of biter taste of regret. Being injured has been driving me crazy emotionally, but finally coming to terms. It happens to all of us, and when, we don't know. Very impressive with the back to back runs of 20+

  8. J.P.
    April 12, 2010

    What the hell is that "top of the foot pain"? I've got it in my left foot and it won't go away. Everything else I can get rid of with a good stretching regimen, but not this. I've been pushing my limits lately, as well. But doing that in '07 cost me a year of no running. So, I am wondering if I should slow down.

  9. Abbie
    April 10, 2010

    I think you know the answer already and know when to listen to your body and when to ignore it :)

  10. shel
    April 10, 2010

    go get it. i was suffering this morning too, but there is no room for whining. the Mind The Ducks course was looking gorgeous this morning.. the willow trees are blooming, the geese were minding their own business. ya gotta be ready for it… only a few more weeks to prepare!