The FiveFingers Treks & Running the Harriman Trails, November 2009

Its been sometime since I have been on the trails running and to be doing so again has given me a certain energy that running trails can only bring. As the legs get stronger, the adventures go deeper, it becomes addicting. My adventurous curiosity has taken me many places and wanting to know what lies around each bend pushes me to explore farther than before.

My MTB and Road cycling season is over in which I have been able to rest a bit the last 5-6 weeks. I still kept moving during this time, which is needed. I feel rested, strong and focused so on the Vibram Five Fingers go. I headed out to the trails a few times on my own to get use to the feel of the VFF's, begin the adaptation, build a base, and begin to understand what I would be capable of in the VFF's before I was going to join Elizabeth on a run.

Leading up to my first run in the FiveFingers I spent a lot of time conditioning and strengthening my ability to dynamically stabilize movement, produce and reduce force. I did this by performing movements such as single leg reaches, single leg squats, gluteal bridging work, KB swings, deadlifts, squats and a host of other important movements. It's training the body as a functional whole and returning it to its original state of being. Do to all of the sitting many of us are required to do, the body begins to demobilize and its functional freedom becomes limited so a proper strength & conditioning program becomes paramount.

If you're interested in experiencing what it is like to run barefoot or in the VFF's, you should feel free to do so but be sure to do it in a progressive and adaptive approach. Your training will need to focus on the conditioning of your core and functional strength, which in time, will give you the foundation that is needed to safely negotiate your way about. Quickness & agility training will also be important components of your fitness. I am doing most of the conditioning and training barefoot or in the VFF's. This is to help harden the feet and better adapt to running barefoot.

I'm an advocate of natural movement in its purest form. Day to day I am usually in sandals or barefoot, even in the colder times. I don't like to wear shoes because of the constricted and suffocating feel that I get from them so was looking for something that gave me minimum protection for out on the trails, I purchased a pair of Vibram Five Finger FLOWS.

Some say that they are not designed for the type of rugged trails that we mostly train within (Ramapo Mountains, Harriman State Park, the Catskills and ADK) but that just had me more intrigued. I figured as long as they had somewhat of a sole (2mm in the flows) and fit pretty snug without getting loose or sloppy as they got wet or stretched (Flows have a 1.2mm Neoprene lining, which is great for the colder outings), that they would be fine for any terrain with a bit of practice.

I started wearing the VFF Flows in October. To this date I have only ran in the VFF's about 25 times but I quickly was able to build up to 2 hour runs in Harriman State Park. The 2mm sole of the Flows is quite minimal and I would not recommend these to start off with, but they were the only one's I was able to get at the time. The lack of a thicker sole increases the sensitivity of each foot strike out on the trails. I felt just about every rock, root, acorn, stick, etc...as I ran along and it didn't take me to long to become ever more aware of each step.

I learned to make quick and decisive foot placements to avoid beating my feet up to much right from the start. However, I have found these to offer good traction on rocks, even when wet. I noticed this because as my feet got a bit tender toward the latter part of a run, I purposely began jumping from rock to rock to avoid small objects. It’s very easy to not touch the ground much on the trails around here.

Once the Vibram FiveFinger Treks became available, I placed an order and they came the next day. I used Vibrams sizing charts and they do fit a bit snug at first; mainly do to my big, big toe but after a few runs, they loosened up just enough and now fit perfectly. I may still pick up a pair a size bigger so that it can accommodate an injinji sock. This will give me a little more warmth going into the colder days ahead and also protect me from blisters in which I received my first one Sunday near the front of the arch on the medial side. The thicker 4mm sole and added traction and protection are a welcomed addition for the technical nature of the trails around here.

Some of the things that I have enjoyed while running in the VFF's is that when I negotiate technical terrain my foot placement becomes quick and decisive and my hip flexion is increased to avoid stubbing my toes or getting tripped up on a rock or other. You learn to become light on your feet.  As my time spent in the VFF Treks on the trails grows, I less often make a mistake and can now comfortably run with my eyes confidently moving from the ground up, which helps me to stay on the intended trail. I have been able to really push the pace on the trails and I am close to being able to run at my normal trail speed, as if I were wearing a pair of trail shoes, which is a very solid feeling.

Descending has been a little trickier, especially since its November and the layer of leaves on the trails. One note of caution, be careful when walking around on technical terrain, you will be better off running instead, as I have done most of my toe stubbing while casually moving about. I have grown very comfortable in the VFF's and have now included a few night trail runs while wearing them. I am beginning to feel just as confident in them as if I were wearing traditional trail shoes.

Our Route for the runs

Elizabeth and I ran a solid loop of 8 miles around the Silvermine Lake area on 11/15/09. We started off on the yellow trail and headed South to the Appalachian and Ramapo-Dunderberg trail. Then we broke off to the AT alone heading NW. It was a beautiful day, with a strong fog atop the ridges. After about 1 & 1/2 miles we bushwhacked 1/4 mile to meet up with the Long Path to hippo rock and then down the yellow trail back to Silvermine Lake. We were out there for about 2:30 minutes with a run time of 2 hours. It was the strongest I have felt in years running and all the running I have been doing is in the VFF's. I have run a couple of times in my regular trail shoes and have notice a pleasant difference in my gait when I do so. I feel much stronger from the ground up and my feet feel like they are doing what they are suppose to be doing with the 33 joints that they have.

Yesterday, the 21st of Nov. Elizabeth and I set out for a run into the night on the trails of Harriman. We started from the visitor center on the south side of the park and made our way along the stream on the orange trail. We started our climb up to Seven Hills by taking the new trail linking back up to the red just above the stream and about a mile in from the visitor center. We then made our way back onto orange and headed up to black. This is a solid climb from the stream to the top. We went north on black and made our way up and down to Pine Meadow Lake.

There was a beautiful light the entire way as the sun was setting in the south. The skies colors caused for a few rock sitting moments as we made our way. We past a few hikers that were still pretty far out and we were a bit worried about them getting caught out in the dark. We checked that they were prepared for the night and knew where they were going, reassuring them that they will enjoy the next couple of hours, as they were originally planning to. As we ran along Pine Meadow lake the sun was set and the moon was now very present. We finished off the run, circling back to the red and after about 2:20 we slowed our pace to a walk and just slowly made our way to the road.

I'm restless and can wait to get out there again, all I want to do is run but I am being smart and training right. I am building up a solid base and understanding just what it takes both physically and mentally to be able to adapt and embrace the idea of running the trails barefoot. Today we will ride but who knows what the night will bring, perhaps another night run?