Monday, February 21, 2011

Barefoot Running

Every spring I get the urge to become a runner. I come off of nasty seasonal depression where I eat way too much cheese and bread and I take stock of all my athlete friends that go out jogging every day and talk about their runner's high and their awesome endurance and I feel a push to do the spring-dance that is running. It never lasts.

I'm not some lazy butt that just sits around and fantasizes about being athletic. I'm a very healthy person and I've always played sports. I swam competitively from the ages of 7-18, I played high school lacrosse for five years, I rowed crew in college for four and I am a champ at intramural and recreational sports. I can wakeboard, kayak, canoe, usually catch whatever is thrown at me. But I cannot run. When I played lacrosse I became the goalie during middle school try-outs so that I could get out of doing indian runs. (What is the PC term for indian runs these days? I don't mean to be offensive, I just really don't know what to call it.)

My problem is that I have screwy legs. Terrible knees, weak ankles, wobbly hips, I'm making it sound worse than it probably is, but they're unreliable enough that running has never been fun for me. After years of perpetually sprained ankles, torn ligaments in both knees, clicking and achy hips, there is too much evidence toward the fact that I am not made out to be a runner.

<shocking discovery>


</shocking discovery>

I'm jumping on the barefoot running bandwagon. Yesterday was day one. A beautiful day here in Brooklyn, temperature in the high fifties, sunny, windless, and the day after trash pickup so there was less than usual to dodge.

As part of my springtime -jogging-dance-plea to the gods I bought a pair of the Vibram Five Fingers running shoes.

They protect your feet from any rocks/glass/dog poo that might be around, but allow your body to run naturally which, I've learned recently, is actually something that traditional running shoes impairs. Sneakers (I'm from NY, they're not running shoes or tennis shoes or whatever else, they're sneakers) force your feet and ankles to remain relatively stiff, so when you run, you land with the majority of the impact on your heel, just like when you walk. The problem with this is that, (if you're doing it wrong, like I'm apt to and like a lot of amateur runners do) it sends all the force of your impact up through your weak ankles, bad knees and into your clicky hips, making everything just HURT.

The idea behind the barefoot running movement is that you do NOT need sneakers to run. This is a nike-brand misconception; millions of years of human evolution did not lead to a foot that can't run without artificial support. And, opposed to running form with sneakers, barefoot running is more natural, allowing your body to lean forward and take more of the impact on the ball of your foot instead of your heel. Where your foot is "stabilized" while in sneakers, barefoot running forces your body to work.

I have a friend who is a podiatry med student and also a runner who explained all of this science to me, so I should insert the disclaimer here that up until now, what I've written is all word of mouth, and personal opinion. There is tons of research, clinical studies, professional substantiation available online, but I'm just going to talk about my personal experience with them so far.

It hurt. Maaaan, but it was one of those good hurts, one of those "I can feel my body working and I LOVE it" hurts as opposed to the "ow, ow, ow" with every step that I feel when I run with sneakers. I'd been told that you have to start out slow with barefoot running; you're calling in to play muscles that have been coddled and underused from a lifetime of wearing shoes, you are drastically changing your form and you have...stuff... between your toes.

So my run yesterday was about 30 minutes long, but only about ten of that was actual running. I tend to do a kind of warm up, run for a song, walk for a song, style workout when I run with music (which makes it so much more fun). At first I was really feeling tight in my Achilles, but that loosed up after a few minutes. I definitely felt less stable than in sneakers, but the actual motion of running was infinitely more smooth- something I had never felt before. Usually when I run, I do a very painful death trot, yesterday everything was flowing and calm. I felt faster. It was nice.

Today I am definitely sore and part of that is the fact that I sat around and did very little exercise all winter, but part of it is definitely from previously under-used muscles being called on yesterday. I can feel it in my abs, lower back, a LOT in my calves, my hips and the arches of my feet. Everything feels nicely stretched out, especially my feet.

So as of day one, I am a convert. I don't have a bad thing to say about them except that they did feel weird at first, but I got used to it quickly, and they took some of the nail polish off my toes, but it was cheap stuff anyway.  So now I can be, not only "white girl out jogging in Bushwick", but "white girl out jogging in Bushwick with what the HELL is on her feet?!" I highly recommend.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Adventures In Sketch

I've been in the city for about six months now and everyone I know from "home" thinks it's awesome, wow, so cool, good for you. But I also get a lot of the "ooh, have you seen anybody get shot yet?" NO! I have not witnessed a homicide. ಠ_ಠ Don't jinx it. As a matter of fact, there has only been one occasion where I have felt distinctly unsafe in the city here, and I blame Queens. I also blame myself, because it was pure idiocy that popped me in to that situation.

For this story to make any sense, you need to know a little about my physical appearance. I'm blonde. There! It's been said. Judge away.

I never experienced that discrimination before I moved to Brooklyn. I grew up in Webster, NY, also known as SportsTown USA (declared so by ESPN magazine during my senior year of high school, thank you very much).

So, white suburbia plus, well, white suburbia, did a very sheltered blogger make. And there is the blonde. Which is not my fault. That is just what comes out of my head.

Back to Queens. Did you know that if you miss a UPS delivery in Brooklyn, you have to go to Maspeth to get it? I didn't. Trusty explained to me that it only (...) three trains to get to Queens, where I assumed I could then walk to the UPS place (hub? station? warehouse?) grab my box, and hoof it back to Brooklyn. Here is the idiocy: hopstop tried to tell me that the walk from the subway to UPS was over a half an hour long, I bet if it could, hopstop would have tried to tell me that it was about 23°F outside and I was not wearing pants (skirt and tights, woot).

Ah well. Apparently one is supposed to live and learn. Healthy steps. When I got off the train, it was dusk. Dusk in Queens. Sounds romantic, no? False. Queens is a clusterfuck of confusingly named infrastructure with no landmarks and very few street signs. There is no navigating against the Empire State Building in Queens. There is no trusty L line every few blocks in Queens. There are no helpful people in Queens. Naturally, I got lost. Thank god for smartphones.

After about twenty minutes of wandering, dusk fallen fully into evening, I ended up back where I started, now with a general understanding of in which direction I needed to walk. And walk. And walk. And walk. And, wait for it, walk. Did that last sentence read as redundant? It should. I want you to feel it, feel the walking, feel the annoyance...anger...despair...ultimate indifference toward life and death.

Here is where it got sketchy. The UPS (again, hub? What the hell is it called?) is located near some body of water or the other. I would try to figure out which one, but as I never again plan on venturing in to Queens and I have established something of a mental block toward the entire experience, I don't feel bad not caring. 

But the thing is that corpses always seem to be found near docks. Docks are near water, hopeless apparent ditz lost in the dark in Queens, not a soul around, again- not wearing pants. I was pretty sure I was going to be murdered for the seven dollars and iPod I was carrying and left under a UPS truck.

The story winds down from here. I did eventually make it to UPS; the small space heater located there reinstated my will to live and it wasn't until after I had waited over two hours for the nine people ahead of me to get their packages (that is math I could do, but won't for the sake of mental stability), when I was back out in the cold, did my idiocy kick in again. If the walk there had incited such imaginary violence in my head, why would the walk back, now lugging a box of books and shoes, be any more bearable? 

There are also no cabs in Queens.

My phone had long since died.

I made it about a quarter of the way back before I was ready to give up again. Trudging, literally, head bent into the wind, all feeling gone in my fingers and toes, getting honked at and hit on by every third passing car, I somehow saw a bus sign for Williamsburg. My feet stopped and it took perhaps three minutes for my brain to realize that that name was familiar because I lived near Williamsburg. If I could get there... I could get home... I could... bed... warm...

I waited fifteen minutes for that bus. Sitting on someone's stoop. Figuring that at least if I went in to a coma and wasn't found until morning, maybe the stoop would be enough shelter that a hospital could revive me. But the bus came, the glorious bus, and the people on it took pity on me and helped me figure out which stop was the Graham Ave L train stop. Earlier I think I said thank god for smartphones, well thank the FSM for the kindness of strangers on buses, because they may have actually saved my life. 

So never again will I go to Queens and never again will I be without a bus map in New York City. Also, UPS, I <3 FEDEX!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Work In Progress

I'm four weeks in to my second semester as a grad student at New York University. I just started a part-time job that will (fingers crossed) turn in to a full time job this summer. I live with four roommates, two of whom have four legs and purr, and I have decided it is time to start this whole blogging thing for real.
There have been some false starts. A stint in high school, a flirtation in college. But I am supposed to be an adult now, living in the greatest city on the planet (where is the sign for that, again?) fully responsible for my own... everything.
So this blog will be a bit of everything- a bit of whatever I happen to be doing when I get the urge or feel the obligation to write. I have a few hobbies and more than a few interests that I hope to play with here. I'm one of those people that does their best thinking out loud; so begins the experiment to see if that thinking is of any interest to the internet.