Monday, September 3, 2012

Luna Sandals in Singapore / Running the Marathon Almost Barefoot

Updates
  • 5 July 2015: I just finished my second Sundown Marathon after quite a disastrous outing last year due to the IT band issue yet again. This time everything went according to plan, and even the expected cramps did not happen. PB! 5h51m15s.
  •  1 Dec 2013: I just finished the half at the Singapore Marathon. PB! Time: 02:24:48, speed: 8.74 km/h, pace: 6:52 min/km

  • 20 Oct 2013: I had a metatarsal fracture in April on my 165km walk through the Bibbulmun Track and slipping on Mt Cooke. I don't really recommend Lunas for this purpose of walking with a 20kg pack! Six months after that, just did 18km at this year's Newton race. Never felt better nor easier to run!
  • 22 March: Wrote a new blog entry on my experiences with the IT band issue.
  • 26 February: I am back at running 20km. Things look much better now.
  • 10 January 2013: On 30th October 2012, I took part in the 30km Newton race. It went well for the first 20km, and then suddenly, my left knee became numb and shortly after it became painful, so painful that I couldn't walk! I had to walk 10km back to the finishing, my first Did Not Finish (and eventually my first Did Not Start marathon at year's end).  I researched and the doctor came to the same conclusion that it was an IT Band issue, which is itself a frustrating if not fascinating injury to have. In the meantime, the problem seems to be under control and I'm able to run at least 10km again without problems. Will do another blog entry on this.
  • 15 September 2012: Ran 20km, the longest distance so far, and in personal record timing. This thing is going way better than I expected!
  • 8 September 2012: I have my first injury; the left heal is so painful I can only tiptoe. Turns out it's not the dreaded plantar fasciitis, but bruised heel. It's blue black! I must have heel struck too many times. It's not easy to keep form when you're tired!
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This will be one of the few posts I'm going to write that's related to the first marathon I'm running at the end of the year. This story is a bizarre one, and till now, I haven't really gotten my head around it. It is just so strange!

It started a few months ago when I was at a running shop called The Running Lab looking for some 'running food'. I figured I'd be hungry after running for hours so I needed to eat something while running. What's nice about this place is that the salespeople were all runners (at least on that day). The salesperson who attended to me recommended Gu which I bought. I asked her a lot of questions about running the marathon and so on.

We chatted for quite a bit, and she started telling me about how she was in the national soccer team but had to stop due to an injury. Eventually she continued running, but doing it barefoot instead. I was intrigued, you run barefoot?! She started out running very short distances, then gradually increased the mileage. She stopped listening to music because she needed to pay attention to her form, and to hear the sound of her footsteps. Very interesting! I asked her whether she would want to go back to wearing 'normal shoes'. She said no. Sometimes she wore the 'almost barefoot' type of shoes that's sold in the shop and the injuries hadn't returned by running this 'new way'. She mentioned the book Born to Run and suggested I read it.

So the thing was that I could disregard all that she told me because I had ASICS shoes and they had very good cushioning. There was really no good reason for me to do anything 'barefoot'. That is, until one day I felt that I needed to do something different because my left knee started becoming painful after my 10km base runs. There is good pain and there is bad pain. The pain in the knee was bad. I realised it was not reasonable for me to complete a marathon if the pain kept up.

Born to Run
I started reading website articles on running injuries and try to mitigate the pain. I tried self-massaging. It worked for a while, but the pain came back the next time I ran. I remembered the Born to Run book, bought it on my Kindle, and started reading.

It was the most bizarre, and most thrilling book I've read in a long time. Wonderful storytelling, dramatic and over-the-top characters, and a forensic, scientific investigation on the oldest activity man/woman has done: running.

Here's what happens in the book, among other things:
  • Tarahumara Indians are a people known as the 'running men'. They took part in a 100-mile race and beat the best US ultra-marathoners without formal training. They wore home-made sandals; shocking to us, to say the least. A winner one year was too shy to breast the finishing tape as he hadn't seen one before; he ducked by going below it.
  • Scientists entertain the idea that humans are the best runners (long distance) in the animal kingdom, even beating out horses and other animals. The human's secret? The ability to perspire and bring down body temperature at all running speeds.
  • The hypothesis arises from the fact that humans had to hunt for animals thousands of years before weapons were invented, how could they have done this without running?
  • That's how persistence hunting works; running after prey for hours, until the animal collapses due to heat exhaustion.
  • If we are 'born to run' how come there are so many injuries? Dogs don't go to the doctor because of foot injuries, neither do fish nor any other animal.
  • Is there something about 'modern' shoes invented less than 50 years ago that we need to look into?
  • New research shoes that cushioned shoes may have indeed made it easier for people to run 'wrongly' (heal strike), thus contributing to excess stress to the knees and back.
  • The correct and natural way to run seems to be midfoot and forefoot strike. The balls of our feet look like cantilever bridges, and they can help spread the impact. The heal has no such cushioning whatsoever.
  • The 'barefoot' movement is thus born! (Second time in history!)
One central character in the book is "Barefoot" Ted McDonald who couldn't run due to injuries. He tried everything, eventually throwing his shoes away and ran home barefoot. Surprisingly, there was no pain! He later started Luna Sandals based on what he learnt when he took part in an ultramarathon held at Copper Canyon where the Tarahumara Indians lived.

Almost-barefoot running
Back to my story. I needed to find a solution to my problems. The science in the book seemed pretty solid. The Youtube videos were convincing. Here are some of them.


There was no harm trying something new, even as radical as 'barefoot shoes'. So I did more research to see what sort of 'barefoot shoes' were good. Eventually I decided on Luna 'Huaranche' Sandals because 1) McDonald seems to be a very funny, down-to-earth person, 2) the website looks very nice, and 3) it's the same sort of 'native, Huaranche' sandals 'found in the book'. Admittedly, all very weak reasons, but still... I ordered the Original Luna and received them around 12 days later. This model is the one with the 'naked footbed', and with elasticised, black leather laces.
Very thin Vibram soles, just 6mm!
You can print the sizes out at the website and decide what size to buy
I ran 2km on my first try. Okay, not too bad. I rested for a day. I shouldn't have done that, but I ran 5km 2 days later. It's probably not advisable as muscles, tendons that I haven't used in 30 years were being called upon. I couldn't really walk for 2 days thereafter. However, I knew that the ache in the calves was the good kind. I gradually increased my mileage. As I repeated the same mileage, it got better. Currently I'm up to 15km, running in these 6mm, no-cushioning, minimalist shoes. And I don't feel that it's difficult at all, which is in itself quite a strange thing. The best thing is that my pain in the knee has gone away! I very much want to attribute this to the placebo effect (where one feels that the 'medicine' has worked just because one has eaten it even if the medicine has nothing in them.) However, it is getting harder to use the placebo explanation. It really has to do with correct form; don't overstride, run gently, like the wind, keep up the 180 per minute cadence, have fun. Some other reasons I'm really enjoying this:
  • At around 65g per foot (!), the 'shoes' are really light. Light shoes make a huge difference because I churn one leg 5000 times an hour; I don't want excess deadweight. It then becomes much easier to turn the legs. Psychologically, that's quite important also.
  • The 'loss in cushioning' seems to very manageable. By running quickly, lightly and striking midfoot, the natural cushioning of the feet and legs come into play. The lost in cushioning at the heal becomes totally irrelevant as the heals are not hit hard if proper form is maintained
  • Running lightly is fun. I visualise it in this way. In order to avoid over-striding, the feet swipes the ground back similar to how a finger does swiping gestures on Apple products.
  • No blisters, as the sandals are almost 'barefoot'.
  • Feet don't become hot as they are not covered
  • They are very comfortable. I cannot explain this easily; it's very counter-intuitive. If this keeps up, I'll always be running in Luna Sandals.
Now that does not mean that one shouldn't take precautions while running this way. I'm still a long way from finishing, who knows what's going to happen as the days go by. This is a very good start, however. What I find very strange is that I, and others doing similar things, are engaging something so basic and 'simple' as running and yet doing it so differently from conventional wisdom. What else or what other theories need revision? Truly boggles the mind!

Update 25 Aug 2015: I just got these traditional Lunas! I need to tie the single nylon straps myself, but this is the surprisingly even more comfortable than the other 'no assembly required' models.


10 comments:

Juncong said...

Good to see another convert to barefoot running! I started using the Vibrams KSO due to heel and toe pains with my asics. After switching to Vibrams, no more such pains! Maybe I'll give Luna Sandals a trial too.

Anonymous said...

you choose elastic straps? do they hurt

jeffyen said...

Anon, yes, it's the elastized half inch leather. I think they're out of stock now.

They hurt initially, but I later made them looser and it's all right now.

Anonymous said...

THanks Jeff.

I don;t like the elasticised laces. They had something in between called the ATS which is slightly better.
But I still prefer the normal laces.

Anonymous said...

Jeff. Thanks for writing this blog,Have you ever thought of going totally barefoot?? Ken saxton in his book has recommended running barefoot..the sensations in foot nervs help avoid stepping hard on sharp objects, he himself has run most of his races on asphalt and concrete road, i am trying it out as of now i am just walking 1 hour a day, hopefully i can start running in a 2-3 weeks..

jeffyen said...

Anon, no I have not entertained that idea because I'm just too chicken. I just want to do something that is representative of what a 'normal' person can do. Running with Luna sandals is way better better than anything I've used before so I'm already very happy with that.

If you start running, start with a VERY LOW mileage first like 1km. Then GRADUALLY increase it. This is a completely different way of running, and I feel the 'initial difficulties' need to be respected.

Anonymous said...

I just ordered the original luna. I kknow a friend here who swears by no shoes.

same reasons knee pains. barefoot. no pain. he did all his marathons barefoot too

Singapore Run Club said...

Dear Sir/Madam,

On behalf of the Singapore Run Club, we would like to know how can we contact you in private as we would like to feature your blog on our website. We also just started a new service which you can open a blog with us too. :) We are looking forward to your contribution.

With regards,
Singapore Run Club
http://sgrunclub.com

jeffyen said...

Sure, you can email me at jeffreyyen@gmail.com

Run Minimal said...

Hi Jeff,

thanks for sharing your insights on wearing LUNA Sandals. If you are interested, LUNA Sandals is now available in Singapore on www.runminimal.com

Feel free to email us at contact@runminimal.com for more info :)