Free At Last

I paced around my kitchen, then took off running laps around the inside of my house.  On my feet, at long last, were the Nike Free running shoes I had been waiting to try.  I have to confess something right here at the start.  For some strange reason, the color of my running shoe matters to me.  Running shoes come in an insane selection of wild colors and color combos.  But me?  I want black.  I want brown.  White.  Plain, plain, plain.  I know it’s important that the shoe fit the foot, but I once purchased a pair of black  Brooks running shoes.   I tried them out at the running store, but forgot to notice the fit because it was the only pair in the store that came in black.  When I wore them running, they were not only uncomfortable, but actually hurt my toes.   I kept them for kicking around, but promised myself I would never again ignore how a shoe felt on my foot in order to be pleased by a color.

The Nike Free shoes I ordered were only available in my size in fluorescent fuchsia with navy trim.  But they glided onto my feet like brilliant butterflies when I slid into them; they felt like slippers— comfy, soft, like they had been made expressly for my foot alone.  I barely noticed the blinding flash of my feet as I zipped through my living room, up the main staircase, down the hall, and into my bedroom.  I couldn’t wait to hit the street with them on— no orthotics, just me and my shoes.  My fuchsia and navy blue shoes.

This morning I geared up.  It was cold and windy, and any other morning I might have considered an inside work out. The weekend forecast looked so promising that I could definitely combine three days of running into two.  But my feet were just itching for a try outdoors in those soft, almost weightless not-really-barefoot-but-just-like-it-and-it seems-true-so-far Frees.  I was going.  I owe myself a second long run this week, but decided to take this morning’s run as it came.  I didn’t want to nor did I expect to be disappointed, but was in no mood to set myself up.  I pulled my thick fleece powder blue hat over my head, stuffed my ear buds into my ears, and waved goodbye to my hubby.  He raised his hand.

“Should I make the oatmeal?”

“Don’t know how long I’ll be.  Let’s wait ’til I get back!”

Out I strode, down the snow-covered flagstones and onto the road.

I started out easy, focusing on the way the shoe felt as my foot hit the pavement.  My feet were pretty comfortable, the soft material and thin soles kept my foot aware of what was going on underneath them.  The street boasted a fresh, light coating of snow.  It was an early spring snow, thin and crisp, not slippery sloppy and I felt the bottom of the shoe grip its surface.  I saw no ice; small damp areas where the snow was starting to melt increased as I ran closer to the water.

I kept to the sidewalk on the main road, wondering if my tracks were different in the new shoes.  I made a mental note to check on the return loop and, feeling comfortable with my stride and the feel of the Nike Free on my foot, kicked it into high gear and headed down to Pebble Beach.  I slowed down on the steep curving corner, ignoring the Do Not Enter sign blocking the road entrance.  I knew it was for vehicles only; the other day when I ran this route, the road had been washed out completely.  I had pounded through deep sand where the road had been before the storm.  The town’s public works department had since plowed a path on the street and so today I ran through a narrow tunnel of waist-high sand, the path only about three feet wide.  I could feel the stones I ran over through the shoes, but because I could feel them, my stride became quick and light and I barely touched down over the rockiest spots.

As I left the beach and headed toward the marshes, I did a little body inventory to see what might feel different.  Did any of my more recent little plagues nettle anywhere?  How was the top of that tibia?  Fine.  What about the two middle toes of my left foot?  The ones that go numb at around mile 4?  Not numb today.  I kept going.  How about the cramp that starts in the ball of my foot around mile 5?  It did not happen today.

I turned back onto South Street and remembered to check out my tracks.  I stopped and looked at the sole of my shoe, then turned around and examined all the tracks in the snow on the sidewalk.  Only one set like mine.  And there was definitely no heel strike.   Just a soft mid-foot landing and toe push-off.  I checked my tracks for about 10 strides.  They were all the same.

I turned onto Marmion Way, the longer loop, and continued with my inventory.  I did notice my quadriceps were feeling like they were working harder than usual, which was not necessarily a problem, as the shoes were helping me to maintain a more natural gait and my body would need to make some adjustments.  After all, I have been running in shoes that made me land hard on my heels thousands and thousands of times over a period of years.  Actually, I acknowledged to myself that today’s run had been great.  But I had been running against the wind for quite a while, and despite the sweat running down my face and into my eyes, was cold.  I decided to stop when I got home.  Save a little for tomorrow.

I pulled my Nike+iPod out of my vest pocket to see how long my 6+ mile loop had taken in my new shoes.  I was pretty shocked to see the time.  I looked twice, just to be sure, because I had been running against strong winds most of the time this morning.  I had run not only on the rocky, sandy, wrecked Penzance loop, but also on pot-holed, pit-fall-strewn Eden Road.   I had stopped to identify and assess my tracks on the sidewalk.  Still, my time for 6.25 miles was 50 minutes.  That averages to 8’07” min/miles, the fastest I have run that distance ever.  And my body was happy all over.

I love fuchsia sneakers.

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