Sunday, October 25, 2009

Barefoot Running Fantasy

I’ve been reading a lot about barefoot running, as in running without shoes. It’s the kind of concept that frightens the uninitiated. The first time I saw a man running the LA Marathon sans shoes, I was appalled – 26.2 miles of dirty Los Angeles streets without the comfort or protection of shoes – yikes!

But if you believe some of the new research, it could be that those high-priced, name-brand running shoes are not quite as much protection as you might think.

There is a growing body of runners who adhere to research suggesting running shoes actually increase injuries -- knee injuries, twisted ankles, etc. For one thing, some researchers think that the heavily padded running shoe encourages a heel strike, putting more stress on the knees and other joints. At least one study seems to indicate that the more you pay for your running shoes, the more likely you are to experience injuries. I can think of some good counter arguments to this one, but I won’t bore you.

After I saw Chris McDougall at his book signing, I decided to try running barefoot around my neighborhood park. I ran a couple times around with shoes, just to make sure there were no visible pieces of trash or doggy droppings.

After a couple loops around the park I ditched the shoes and socks and ventured into the cool, muddy path. Regular park walkers who typically don’t make eye contact with me stared and shouted out comments as I passed.

“Aren’t you afraid you’re gonna catch a cold?”

Uh, no. I think colds are caused by viruses.

“YOU are a brave woman!”

Not really, I sleep with the light on when Kip is out of town.

“Does it feel good?”

Oh Yeah!

It was the most fun I have had on a run in a long time. It felt great. My feet actually felt massaged, certainly exfoliated. I felt light and I ran fast.

I could totally be a convert, except that the rest of LA is covered in asphalt, concrete and God-knows-what toxic grime. Our streets and pavements are so gross, that when it rains, everything flushes into the ocean and surfers don’t venture into the water for days.

I’d love to try the new Vibram Five Fingers, a brand of sports slipper shoe that provides protection for the bottom of the feet. But they are kind of expensive for feet gloves.

I told a couple of my best running buddies about my experience and they discouraged me from making any drastic lifestyle changes. One told me to forget about my “barefoot running fantasy” while I’m training for the marathon. He went into father-like detail about all the things I could step on.

I knew my friends were right, at least about the marathon. It would be foolish to transition into barefoot running with a long race on the horizon. So I reluctantly replaced my old marathon shoes which were decidedly “flat.”

I stopped by our local running store and dropped $100 on a new pair of Brooks. That is more than I have spent on any shoes in my life, except the last two pairs of running shoes which were about the same amount.

And if I follow manufacturers’ recommendations, I’ll be stopping back for another pair before the end of the year. It’s enough to make me wonder if barefoot running is better.

On the other hand – or foot I should say – I ran 20 miles Saturday on my new shoes. And they felt better than my old ones. I had been experiencing pain on the outside of my right foot, due to rolling it a couple weeks ago. And that seemed to disappear with the new shoes.

So maybe it is helpful to buy new shoes.

I don’t know.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Out to Sea .. You and Me and the kids

I have dozens of pictures from this weekend’s sail to Catalina. I’m feeling too lazy to write much tonight, but the pictures need few words. The Island is every bit as magical as it looks. The trip in our little seaworthy sailboat took about six hours, and other than a little boredom at times, it wasn’t too bad. It was a lot like camping in a 70s family station wagon. But like any good camping/road trip adventure, whatever the trip was lacking in comfort and practicality is being rapidly replaced by nostalgic memories.

So I’ll just narrate and let the pictures talk.

Leaving Marina del Rey Friday morning around 10 a.m.

This was Kip's one birthday wish, to take the family on a sailing trip to Catalina Island.

At the onset of the journey we were worried that our son might be miserable. In the past he had been extremely anxious on the sailboat, screaming so much that we renamed the horizontal level, which measures the boat's tilt angle, the "scream-o-meter," because almost religiously, when the meter crossed 15 degrees tilt, the poor little boy would scream hysterically.

So much so that I refused to take a family trip to Catalina until he was more comfortable.

About an hour into the trip we passed the seals hanging out on the red buoy near the Chevron oil tanker off Dockweiler Beach. We have been this far several times before. We bark at the seals. They bark back. It's what we do.

BTW -- Notice the smog we are leaving behind in LA, and not the dragon from Hobbit, as our son pointed out.

This was Kip's biggest fear -- crossing the shipping lines. I had never thought about this danger, but it makes sense. Boats don't really have brakes, they just swerve out of each other's paths.

This little sailboat was not so worried. We held our breath while we watched. He made it.

Playing Authors, somewhere between the coast of Palos Verde and Catalina Island. At this point we can't see land. "Ahh ... do you have the Song of Hiawatha by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow?"

Yeah! Land Ho! We aim for the little indent in the middle of the island -- Twin Harbors.

Our son got frightened for a few minutes early in the trip, but was able to calm himself and actually really enjoyed the ride.

We arrived in Twin Harbors around 4 p.m., making it a solid six hour trip, not too bad for a little boat, calm seas and little wind. Our outboard motor helped quite a bit.

After arriving at the Harbor we were given a mooring spot, where we tied up and then inflated our dingy and rowed to shore. That sounds more simple than I meant for it to be. Let me translate: after sailing six hours on the sea, the only way to step onto land was to inflate another boat and climb into it (without any kind of ladder), avoid knocking any family members out of the little boat and row to shore.

The humble little sailboat watched us row away.

Once on the Island, I had to run just a little. We found a little family restaurant and had a great little dinner and then rowed back in the dark to our sailboat and climbed back on board. Nobody got wet, which was good since we then had to transform the boat into a hotel room.

I'm a little bit too big for this bed in the bow, but, oh well.

This little snuggle bug usually climbs in bed for a morning hug, but this morning he actually came with a different message: I have to pee and the potty is under your bed. So much for trying to sleep.

I have to either stick my head out the bow or walk out to the stern to stand up straight and access the morning. Our son is already singing "Oh What a Beautiful Morning!" And it's hard to be unhappy with that music filling the boat.

The harbor at dawn's early light. If you look carefully you will see there is a man in a Speedo mopping the deck of his yacht. I've never woken up to that sight before. Boat camping is weird.

Breakfast aboard the ship. I think I've become immune to any rocking by this point.

I'm feeling the need to stretch after a night "sleeping" on the boat. Of course I have to balance on the bow to have enough room to stretch.

The kids decide to play in the dingy and Kip and I discuss if we should head back home now that we have successfully made it to Catalina. He is worried that foggy conditions could make Sunday's trip home dangerous. As we discuss it, a heavy white fog descends on the island. The choice has been made for us and we decide to stay another day and hope the fog clears.

I convince Kip to head back to shore for coffee at the restaurant and then a spontaneous four hour hike along the Catalina roads and trails. After about an hour of walking, my daughter said she wanted to run, so we ran ahead of the boys for a mile or two.


By the time we got back to the sailboat, the fog had settled heavily in the cove where we were moored. The neighboring sailor assured me that it was "very unusual." Of course Kip told him this was our first family sailing trip and I think he felt responsible for assuring I'd want to come back.

See the fog bow?

For dinner we were back at the same family restaurant. And then we rowed back to the saiboat, climbed aboard and found it much easier to sleep on the second night. Our trip had definetly taken on that intimate squished in a car/tent/boat feeling of communal peace and togetherness.

By morning the fog was not gone, but we decided to follow another sailor out into the open waters and hope the predictions for a clearer day were true.

By this time Kip was looking a little more salty. Give him a few years and he might look like a sailor.

Our son was feeling completely comfortable on the boat.

I just like to take pictures of her smile. And that is a cool tall ship in the back ground. We think it had been chartered for a private party. Kip and the kids saw people diving off it into the mist.

The trip back was a bit chillier, with cloudy skies and grey water. But we found several "schools" of dolphins who kept us company. Kip got this video while I was holding the tiller. And if you are still reading, here is your treat.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Born to Run

Being just a tad giddy about meeting Born to Run author Christopher McDougall

When I started this blog about six months ago I was considering running my first marathon. It seemed like a ridiculously ambitious goal and I devoted a lot of writing to the experience of training and eventually crossing that finish line. And now May 25th seems like along time ago.

I’ve continued running. Kip and I have been training for the Malibu Marathon in November, but somehow the experience has seemed significantly different. I am sure that the biggest difference is that subconsciously I believe that I can do it. And my body is more prepared.

The long weekend runs are still intense, sometimes painful. But nothing like last April when I’d come home from a long run, shower, eat and sleep for two hours. Once after running 18 miles I came home and slept for 12 hours.

This time I feel like I’m squeezing marathon training into the rest of our life. I don’t get Saturday afternoon to recover. I have to be at the soccer field, so I’ve adapted and my body has learned that it can do that just fine.

I’ve also spent less time running during the week in between long runs. I don’t know if that is a good thing or not. I’m trying to reduce the risk of overtraining injuries, but the truth is I have made it less of a priority. If I have difficulty sleeping or have to be out the door early in the morning, I’m apt to skip the morning run. Some weeks I have run as little as 9 miles during the week – maybe this is why I’m still carrying the extra weight I gained this summer over our fabulous vacations.

But I got some new inspiration today.

My friend Kathleen told me that Chris McDougall, author of Born to Run was going to be at a local bookstore this evening. Kip’s band practice was canceled, so I was free to go to the book reading/signing.

Giddy about having a night out with other adults, I dressed up a little and enjoyed being surrounded by books and people who actually enjoyed reading one of the best books I've read this year. I stuck around after the reading and talked to both the author and Micah True, the “star” of the book, a.k.a Caballo Blanco, who just happened to be in the crowd tonight.

As a writer and a runner, if I dare hold those claims, I enjoyed hearing McDougall describe his experience, his inspirations and what he has done since his race with the Tarahumara. But talking to Caballo was the real treat. How often do you read a story about a nearly mythical recluse who lives off the land in a Mexican canyon and then get to chat with him in an LA bookstore?

It really made me want to go to the Copper Canyons in Mexico. Wouldn’t it be an awesome road trip to run in the Cooper Canyon Ultra Marathon? Maybe I should start learning Spanish.

Caballo Blanco, drifting through LA on his way back to the canyons. This guy runs 100s of miles a week for the fun of it.

Chris McDougall answering questions at the book signing, which was at a very cute little book store on West 3rd Street, The Traveler's Bookcase. I could have spent an hour there just looking at the shelves.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Balancing Life

Never blog about being busy. It’s bad luck.

I don’t believe in luck, but if I did, I’d say boasting about being busy only tempts Fate to throw one wrench into the dancing chaos and stop the music. The juggling act is over. Things fall down.

When it comes to homeschooling, I have at least a couple self-destructive habits. One of them is asking too many people’s advice and trying to do what works for them, instead of being confident of what I’m doing and the things I have already found to be true.

It’s like drastically changing your running pattern because you read an article about a new injury-free stride. Sometimes you just have to run the way that works naturally and let your own body over time “learn” how to run.

About a week ago, just as the reality of our family commitments was beginning to sink in, I talked to a veteran homeschooler about how she balances academic school work with homeschooling activities – sports, scouting, clubs, volunteer work, music lessons, not to mention play dates and park time.

She said, “I don’t drive them anywhere until they do their work.”

Ok. No dessert until veggies.

I can do that.

I tried this hard-nosed approach and discovered that it made all of us miserable.

For one thing, I often have unrealistic expectations about what we “should” do and so when I hold the rest of our life hostage as incentive to complete math lessons and handwriting work, we don’t do anything but math lessons and handwriting work.

And I become a drill sergeant instead of a coach and facilitator. It makes me hate homeschooling.

After missing our weekly date with homeschoolers at the park last Monday, I mentioned how I was feeling to a friend who immediately offered to take the kids to the zoo the next day.

I went through the whole quandary of “should I let them go since I had already made a personal commitment to push through the curriculum this week?” or should I let them go to the zoo.

It should have been a no brainer. A trusted friend was offering an uncommon “day off” for me, and the kids were going to go to the zoo with the one homeschooling mom who knows more about animals than just about anyone I know.

Ok. Just go.

I took the day off and after getting a new pair of black heels at the brand new Target that just opened up around the block (I know … perhaps I am a little superficial and materialistic), had a lot of time to consider my expectations, our time commitments and why we are homeschooling.

I’m not particularly clear on what is the best balance for us with academics, social interactions and all of the natural learning opportunities around us. I come to this internal dialogue having been a homeschooled kid myself, knowing how much I would have enjoyed being a part of a homeschooling community. (We lived in rural Alabama when I was in 7th and 8th grade, and homeschooling was rare).

But I also expect my kids to be proficient enough in reading, writing, math and science to be able to go to college and pursue any life path they want. I want them to know and love history. I believe art and music is essential. Spending time reading and studying the Bible is also a huge part of our family life. So how to do it all?

I am not sure where the balance is. I’ll probably read this blog ten years from now and laugh and I’ll have lots of advice for younger moms with little kids.

But for now, here are a couple thoughts I have come up with this week.

1). It is very easy to push math and reading on a young child who is not ready. Allowing math and reading instruction to flow naturally out of everyday life is much more inspiring for kids. Delaying academics is in no way being "lazy."

2). As kids get older, if they are not squelched by all the “have-to-dos” in school life, they will find subjects, topics, projects, etc., that challenge them. They will rise to the occasion and learn more than you could have predicted.

These two thoughts probably reflect my DeMillian influence. But they do seem to be true in our house. I’m sure I’ll have more thoughts on this.

Speaking of the power of kids performing well when inspired and challenged .....

This is the hill she wanted to run. It took us ten minutes to gingerly walk down the steep steps.

And five and a half to run up! Ok, six for her. But she was a little mountain goat.

We reached the top of the hill, just in time to see the sun set into the Pacific and reflect on the city from downtown and Hollywood to the Santa Monica mountains. She loves going for a run with me these days.

How it all works

On Sunday Kip decided to give me a real lesson, white-board diagram and all, on how our camera works. Our "good" camera has been out of commission since August, and I was anxious to see how the new lens works. I love taking pictures, but the physics of how it works is challenging for me. So it was a good opportunity for me to model learning something difficult. (That is another Thomas Jefferson Education key point.)

So while I was learning how to use the camera, Kip was taking apart the sewing machine to figure out why it wasn't working. He and our son figured it out and here our son is explaining the inner workings to his sister, who is on the phone with a friend. It's a nice slice of life at our house, and if in a small way, it demonstrates how learning best works, each person challenging themselves to do something that is personally gratifying and even helpful to the family. We all learn from each other.