Saturday, April 21, 2012

double helix dash 5k + running in vibram five fingers


So one Tuesday after work a couple of weeks ago I ran what is probably the geekiest 5K I have ever been in- the Double Helix Dash sponsored by local biology research complex Hudson Alpha. And, yes, as you can see in the photo above, part of the course was indeed shaped like a double helix! In fact, the race theme was "Huntsville Runs On DNA." Ha. Ha.

That double helix path is actually part of a community green space that Hudson Alpha built on their main campus- people have picnics, bike, and, of course, run over there all the time. It was a very cool thing for them to do for the city.

Oh, and it gets better, because at intervals along the course you see signs like this one:


Like I said, very geeky. :)

So, here I am pre-race, and if you think I look tired it's because I was!!! Since it was an evening race I ran it after work, and I'm usually completely worn out after a day at the office. I don't normally run very well when I'm tired (my worst 5K time ever was in a night race that started at 7pm), so I was a little worried about how I was going to do. That, and it was my first 5K since I'd recovered from a partial achilles tendon tear last winter.


My friend Holly from the gym (she and I are both BodyPump addicts) was supposed to run, but after an injury and surgery she ended up watching from the best seat in the house- the bucket of the fire truck! She was the event photographer, but Darren managed to get a couple of photos of her, as well, since he handled the camera for me while I ran.


I would have so freaked out up there!


Of course all the really fast people started right up front. This is a place you will not find me. :)


Instead, I'm usually about a quarter of the way back in the pack. I found myself passing lots of people (and at times fighting to get around them in a small space) though, so I might start edging my way closer to the front from now on.



The course made a u-turn instead of looping around, so instead of chasing me all over the place, Darren waited for me to come back so he could photograph the finish (when I run Cotton Row he can usually catch me at 2-3 places along the course).

If I look at the end, it's because as I came into the home stretch and saw the clock, I realized I had a chance of coming in under 27:00 (my previous fastest time ever was 27:24). That's when I kicked it into high gear and sprinted the last 200 yards or so- and they were an evil 200 yards since the course finished uphill! Also, yes, this is horrible running form for running in Vibram Five Fingers- my excuse is that I only did it on the final sprint. I'm normally very careful about form since I've had my fair share of running injuries. 

Oh, and remember those chromosome signs I pointed out on the course earlier? You can bet that I was counting down every. single. one. at the end of this run! At one point I looked over at a guy running next to me and said, "only five chromosomes to go!" I'm sure he thought I was insane.


I didn't quite finish under 27:00, but I did clock in another personal best at 27:07. I was equally happy and mad about it at the same time. I really wanted in the 26 range!


Then it was my turn to take the camera while Darren ran the 1 mile race. One of his professors told his class that anyone who ran either the 5K or 1 mile could get out of writing one of their research papers, which sounded like a great deal to me! Darren tried to sign up for the 5K, but by the time he got to it the course was full, so he had to settle for the shorter run.


There were lots of kids in this one, though I was surprised that there were also several in the 5K!


And then here's Darren on the way back in. He finished either 5th or 6th overall, which is awesome!



So, a bit about running in Vibram Five Fingers shoes (since when I blogged about buying them in January I had a couple of readers who wanted to know what I thought about them). In a nutshell, I love them to pieces. I could never go back to my old running shoes (and I used to run in very nice Mizunos). My feet never hurt any more, and I have had zero problems with my achilles since switching over. My knees (I've had two surgeries on the left one) have also been completely pain and problem free.

That being said, there are a few things about them that you probably want to think about before deciding if switching over is right for you (and please remember that I am not a doctor!!):

  • If you have calf problems, I would be very cautious about changing over. Weak calves are fine, but if you have or have had torn calf muscles, just be aware that the Vibram running style is very different from the heel-toe style of conventional running shoes. Instead of heel strikes, you land on the balls of your feet, and your heel just barely kisses the ground (unless you're like me in that last stretch and have horrible form, which is a bad idea). It puts more pressure on your calf muscles, but they will and do get stronger over time. I admit I had a bit of a head start in this since I was in martial arts for years, constantly bouncing around barefoot on the balls of my feet while sparring or doing drills. I'm convinced that helped me have a shorter break-in period.
  • When changing over to these shoes, do take it slow. You won't be running your normal distances in them right off the bat, but eventually you'll work up to it. Part of the reason for the slow transition is to give your calf muscles time to adjust, but your feet and ankles need some time, too. My ankles were not happy with me for the first 2-3 weeks running in them, but they eventually settled down. My big toes also blistered just a bit on the sides at first (not too badly), but I expected that since I had those same blisters and callouses throughout my taekwondo career, as well- it's just part of being barefoot or in barefoot shoes. That's all settled out now, too.
  • Do try them on at the store. The sizing for Vibrams is completely different from normal shoes, and even between styles it changes (for instance, I wear a 37 in my running shoes but a 38 in my hiking shoes). Ordering your first pair online is probably not a good idea.
If you do decide to try running in toe shoes, I really recommend Vibram Five Fingers Bikilas. They're specifically designed for running and have very flexible soles, but are great for other activities, too. I wear mine weightlifting, and I find that I have much better balance in them than in normal shoes. I also picked up a pair of Vibram TrekSports for hiking and general out-and-about type activities, and I've found that they're awesome to wear while doing yard work. Vibram shoes are also super easy to clean- you literally just throw them in the washer and then let them air dry. 

The Double Helix Dash was actually my first race running in these shoes, and I had a lot of runners ask me if I like them. I'll tell you guys the same thing I told them- I love them and will never go back to conventional running shoes! They may look funky, but they're super comfortable and work great for me.