This is the story of how I got into running and what happened then. When I was a kid I loved to play football (soccer). I practically spend, I guess, 15 years or what seemes like all my youth playing football. Playing football entails quite a lot of running, but when I was playing it didn’t feel like running it felt more like a flow or a game. That was a really good thing because I really didn’t enjoy running in it self as an independent activity.
The reason for this was that the only time during a season we would do running as a fitness element was preseason training during the dark and cold winter months and the wet and cold spring months. And that dark, cold and wet feeling when I came to running kinda stuck with me, and the fact that I was slow didn’t really help either. So when I became an adult, taking up running wasn’t really anything I considered at all.
In January of 2004 I quit smoking (haven’t smoked since) and I knew that if I didn’t find some sort of sport or other fitness activity to do on a regular basis I would soon end up 20 pound heavier. I contemplated a whole series of activities but always ended up back at running because it met all the criteria I had set up; no fancy or expensive equipment, no need to join a club, no set schedules and easy to transport and do while traveling. So with a little help to change my mental images of what running was I got started and I actually began to enjoy it.
Four years later in 2008 I ran my first half marathon, the year after that I ran my first Copenhagen Marathon and that same year I also ran the 40th version of the New York City Marathon, an absolutely amazing experience. But it all came at a cost. During my preparation for the Copenhagen Marathon I got a case of runners knee and only barely recovered before the race. In preparation for the NYC Marathon I had started looking into how to run more efficiently and run faster, because I wanted to become a faster runner, so at this point I had read a little about chi and pose running but not really started transitioning yet. Mind you, I ran in regular running shoes at this point and I was a poster child for heel striking. The day after the NYC Marathon I could hardly walk because of a blinding pain in my left heel. I had had that same injury before but in a much milder version. This time I knew, that if I did not change the way I was running I would probably not be able to finish another Marathon.
A friend of mine recommend that I read the book Born to Run by Christopher McDougall and so I did and I had the same experience I guess most other people who reads that book have – a kinda of epiphany – it made sense in a very simple and straight forward way. So I got my first pair of Vibram Five Finger shoes and started transitioning (wouldn’t recommend this today) between VFF’s and regular running shoes. I had about 3 month before my next Marathon in Barcelona and I hoped to run in my VFFs. But like a lot of other minimalist and barefoot runners I know, I ended up doing too much too fast and strained my right big toe, so there was no way I would be able to run the BCN Marathon in my VFFs, what to do? I decide to run in my regular running shoes, but at this point the raised heel had become a very annoying and unnatural element, so I decided to get rid of the heels of the shoe. I took a kitchen nife and sawed of both heel and ran my fasted Marathon in shoes with no heels. That was the last time I wore regular running shoes. The following 2 ½ years I ran 5 more marathons, 2 in VFFs, 2 in Huarache sandals and one barefooted.
I ran my fastest half marathon in bare feet in 2010 and that same year had my fist attempt at a full barefoot marathon but ended up doing only half because of poor form on a rough and hilly course that ended up turning my feet into bloody peaces of meat, so I DNF (did not finish).
If I was to start barefoot or natural running today I would start by going all barefoot right away. There simply is no better way of teaching correct running form than the sensory feedback you get from your bare feet. Whenever you ad protection to the soles of your feet you also ad the ability to make “mistakes” without feeling or receiving the injury (right away that is). So what I have described so far is basically the same story most other born again barefoot runners will tell you ….. the next part of my running journey is much more interesting I think.
Just a short recap: I am no different than everybody else, I started running and motivated my self by setting goals in the form of future races and by constantly timing my runs, checking my speed and progress and pushing all this information to as many people as possible via Facebook, Daily Mile ect ….. the basic premise was, if it wasn’t timed and shared it never happened. This approach to running kinda worked okay for a year and a half and then it slowly started to come apart. My 2011 season started with a list of 10 marathons I had plotted into my calendar. By end May I had finished 3 and only skipped one. So far it all went according to my plan, but at the same time I started getting a feeling that something wasn’t quite right.
Right after finishing my third Copenhagen Marathon (barefooted) I had an accident, I crashed on my bike and broke a bone in my shoulder. This gave me an involuntary brake from running for quite some time, in fact it ended up so that I didn’t really run much for the rest of that year. December came and I was beginning to feel ready to take up serious and regular running again, I started slow and it felt okay but still not great. I still had most of my speed left, so it didn’t feel like I had lost that much from the long brake. But what worried me was that I felt like I was running with the hand bake pulled, like I was running against my self in a way. Then from one day to the next I lost all my speed, just like that, it was like starting all over again, building up form. Normally when I go for a run I run between 10-20K, I almost never run less than 10k. This day I started out on a 14k run and after about 1.5k I wanted to quit and go home. I ended up dragging myself through 5k – the worst run ever. All the time during that 30 minute run I kept checking my watch in disbelief of how slow I was running. Two days later I went for another run and the same thing happened. I was baffled, I had no idea what was going on.
What I did find out in my total confusion was that running and checking my watch all the time just to find out that I wasn’t running as fast as I wanted to, was total idiocy and counter productive to my goal of getting back into shape an motivated. And if there is some thing I have learned from the marathons I have run it is this; it doesn’t matter what plans you have for the race, your body will run the race your body is capable of. So the more realistic your plan is the better the race. I decided then and there to stop timing my training runs and only to time my runs when in a race.
The next thing that happened maybe goes to explain the sudden loss of running capacity or the resetting of my running if you will. It takes a bit of explaining; I have all my life been what you would call barrel legged, and quite a bit at that. One day, standing I front of the mirror after a morning shower I noticed that the gap between my knees seem to be much smaller than I remembered. I used to be able to put a fist between my knees with room to spare on both sides. Now the space was only about an inch. And on further inspection I also found that my right shoulder seemed lower than my left. To make a long story short, at the age of 41 I discovered that my left leg was longer than my right and that it had straightened out during a period of maybe 2 years, almost eliminating by barreled legged ness. In addition to this my entire posture has realigned so that I now can stand straight for long periods of time on the balls of my feet with no effort, problem or pain. Basically my entire body has reset it self. Going back to my sudden loss of running ability, this makes a lot of sense, it is as if I am starting to learn how to run all over again.
All of these experiences has changed my view on running and why I run. Running is supposed to be fun, most of the time anyway. The same goes for life. If your only goal is to reach the finish line fast, then you miss the entire race … and what’s fun about that?! So to celebrate my new found joy of running I decided to run my first ultra marathon, the Copenhagen Ultra Marathon, 50k on 14th April. The first 30k were probably the best 30k I have ever run, in terms of how it felt and the flow of it. It almost felt like I was a passenger in my own body – and like my body told my “hey relax and lean back dude, I got this one”. The next 10 was back to reality and the last ten was a bitch – but a very nice bitch. All in all a great race.
So now I only run when I feel like it, I don’t have a set program that I follow, I run the distance I feel like at the speed that seems most natural and I always listen to my body. The same goes for everything else I do in life – it’s so simple – do what makes you happy and do lost of it!!! Run Free!