Archives for the month of: April, 2013

My 24 year old daughter and I are very close to finalizing our plans to do a series of long, back to back runs in the central USA this summer beginning June 1st. But first I have got to get an injury behind me; or at least get the problem more clearly understood.

My Achilles Tendinitis flared back up yesterday after a 2.5 hour run and I spent all this morning hobbling around because the damn thing hurt so much. I had thought that the icing and the Arnica tea were doing the trick but I think I discovered in this very short video www.youtube.com/watch?v=DgHoePuZaPw that I might have been only treating the symptom (the painful spot in my heel where the Achilles tendon connects to the bone) and not the cause. It is always humbling to realize that you’re not as damn smart as you thought you were.

So if this video is right then the cause of the pain is from an overly tight calf muscle called the Soleus. The Achilles is being strained from being too tightly pulled by the over tight Soleus. The solution is to loosen the Soleus and its fascia by doing the ‘rolling pin’ exercise as shown in the video. Supposedly doing the exercise 3 times a day for 2 minutes does the job. And I sure hope so.

My first stop before going to language classes was to pick up a rolling pin in the Mercado. And the first thing that I did when I got home this morning was to do the exercise. And just like the video suggested, the rolling pin would find that tight ‘hot spot’ in the muscle, and it sure enough did.

I would have never believed it. My calf muscle didn’t and doesn’t feel tight but tight it was. I guess what made it deceiving was that you would expect the entire muscle to feel tight. And I had never heard of a ‘hot spot’ in a muscle before.

Other than the betrayal from that single miserable tendon I feel tip top. The cardio is good. The bottoms of my feet are finally healed from all the brutal punishment that they took running the rocks through the Calzonuda; the hills called the Big Panties.

So I am ready. I just need to get this Achilles problem fixed.

But truly, when I think about it, I see what a pussy I am. Marshall Ulrich in ‘Running on Empty’ chronicles how he cut slits in the back of his running shoes to accommodate his swollen tendons all the meanwhile running 52 straight days and the 3000 miles across the United States. He sucked it up and ran with the pain and he was my age (57) when he did it 5 years ago.

And what about Scott Jurek? In ‘Eat and Run’ he tells stories of running ultra-marathons with things like a twisted ankle, another race (150 miles) with a broken toe, and then I think it was the Hardrock 100 that he ran the entire 100 miles with torn ankle tendons. And oh, yeah he won all those races.

Well, it would be very easy to rationalize that those two men were top athletes and I comparatively speaking, am only a mere dilettante. So why would someone like myself, a former office slave, want to subject himself to a month of what could be endless pain and suffering?

Three reasons: One – This might be the last time that I get to spend an entire month with my favorite person in the world. Two – Nobody is buying my damn running sandals and it is time for someone other than myself to see how truly awesome they are. And three – I’ve really got nothing better to do (and I like to run).

And who doesn’t like a road trip anyway?

Although Raoul and I have several things in common, I know we’ll never be friends. Like, we are more than just next door neighbors; we share a wall.

And Raoul and I have the same landlord; a very nice couple by the name of Jaime and Alicia own the houses we live in.

Both Raoul and his wife, Lupita are employed by Sergio making shoes and sandals for a living. I see Raoul every time I visit Sergio at his small factory.

Raoul likes the El Cito Cantina and so do I.

Raoul drinks beer and tequila and so do I.

Unfortunately Raoul and I have some irreconcilable differences in the way of personal views.

For instance Raoul and I look at things like personal property, crime, basketball, and loud Banda music in much (much) different ways.

For example I like basketball but Raoul doesn’t (and I am okay with that).

Raoul appears to be much more tolerant on the subject of crime; that is if you were to judge his criminal masterminded attempt of the break-in of my house last December as a key indicator.

Raoul and his family like loud Banda music and I don’t. And here is where our opposing views on basketball comes in.

Whenever I hear the volume go up I immediately take a break from whatever I happen to be doing at the time. I put my earplugs in then go down to my mostly empty second floor and fetch the basketball from under the stairwell.

The noise a basketball makes when it is thrown against a concrete wall in confined space is literally deafening.  I can’t begin to imagine how loud it sounds on the other side of the wall.

But Raoul knows.

I had a great run yesterday. It was the best run in 2 months. Everything once again was working in perfect synchronicity: breathing, arms, hips, legs and feet.

I was finally over the Achilles Tendonitis problem and my feet, because I got the sandal midsole finally dialed in, were now impervious to all the nasty sharp rocks that blanket my running circuit through the devil’s playground here in northwest Michoacán.

I went out for a planned 2 hour run but ended up doing closer to 3 hours. I had a minor epiphany midway through my run and it started with ‘let your feet be your feet – let them move like feet [should move]’.

The moment of clarity was preceded by reminding myself that my right foot was healed and that I needn’t run in protective mode anymore. And so I opened my run up and let my feet play over the ground. Over the next couple of minutes the run opened up further and became more loose and carefree in a way that I had seemingly forgotten all about. I thought about the why of this as my feet began touching the trail now mindfully unconscious and without hesitation.

When I was running while recovering from the Achilles problem I reverted to a more tentative and heavier running style much like what I did before I switched from wearing shoes to sandals. And that got me thinking about the fundamentals.

The foot approaches something in the mechanical world that implies full articulation whereby its parts can have motions and movements that are independent of each other. And with its vast array of sensors the feet are fully capable of maintaining a light dance across any terrain and do so independently; meaning, without any conscious effort from the runner.

I am going to use a computer analogy with an example that I apologize in advance for. When you are in the zone – running – forward movement becomes effortless; all of the different operations between the various body systems are carried out on the back channel whereby during that time the sensors talk directly to the subconscious. This continues to happen until either pain injects a system interrupt or sensors malfunction; then and only then does the conscious mind have to switch back on to do an over-ride and start running systems checks.

So I wondered if it was possible that when we wrapped our feet in shoes if we were in effect blinding them spatially by what amounted to disrupting some of the sensory inputs? Could it be that those sensors responded to being covered up by sending an ‘I can’t feel (see)’ message to the brain? I say that because after having run in sandals for a few months I know unquestionably that I run different when I lace on a pair of shoes.

So the more I thought about that the more it sounded possible that shoes could affect the rotational and articulated aspect of foot movement.

This is probably a gross over simplification, but looking back, it seemed like whenever I went running in shoes that some informational exchange must have happened between my feet and my brain. Just the simple act of putting on shoes made my feet act differently. This was in part due to an old foot injury that I was working through at the time but it was also that self same foot injury that made me aware of how tricky feet can be when it came to protecting themselves. I’ve personally witnessed that they will scream and lie like little girls just to pass the pain on to somewhere else. They don’t care if your hip hurts or if you walk funny as a result; they just want the hurt to go elsewhere. And they’ll relay any number of false signals to the brain just to shut down their pain channel.

I’ve read that your feet have as many nerve endings as your genitals (and you can’t tell me that those things have never lied to you).

So keeping with these same cross-pollinated analogies – the feet, when they sense the wombness of shoes, fire off 2 messages to the brain – ‘we’re protected (because we’re surrounded)’ and ‘we must restrict our motions to up and down/front to back because we’ve lost the sensory input to activate a fuller articulation’.

I reckon that the brain isn’t enormously interested in the feet to begin with (unless its actions directly imperil the head) so it probably responds with something very casual like ‘Okay. Restrict your movements as needed but know that you are not protected so be careful’. So the foot quits being a foot and becomes more of a stump like appendage. And so the running dance never gets activated and instead the running becomes more of a pounding like movement.

Think about it. Don’t you ever wonder why on your runs – especially in minimalist shoes – you have to pay almost complete attention to every single footfall? That you have to consciously manage individual foot strikes? I know that I did. Running in minimalist shoes, especially on hard surfaces, became all about pain management.

I transitioned to minimalist running a couple of years ago while living on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC and I did it in the New Balance Minimus Trail shoe. I loved them and my feet responded well to them and it wasn’t until I started to up my mileage that I realized that I needed to look for another solution; my runs, as I said a moment ago, started to become more about pain management.

After a long look around I decided that I needed to take a less conventional path. And sometimes it is best to throw out all of the assumptions and start from scratch. After all, shoes are shoes and feet are feet so how hard could it be?

Three young guys were sitting at the bar. They were all drinking tequila. One of them asked me about running.  Pancho stepped over to help out with the translation. My Spanish is still so bad that I only get about half the words.

Pancho smiled, ‘They’ve seen you running out on the canal.’ He nodded towards the east. ‘They live out there’.

‘Where? Los Flamingos?’  You’d have to see the tiny puebla to understand just how totally inappropriately named it was.

‘Yeah.’ He smiled again, ‘They’ve seen you out there in the heat of the day, running without a shirt’.

‘I only have the afternoon to run in and it’s a lot cooler that way.’

Pancho handed me a Corona. The guy said something else and then Pancho said, ‘But you wear something on your head.’

‘A bandana to keep the sweat out of my eyes.’

Pancho laughed, ‘They think you’re crazy.’

Some people have literally stopped their vehicles and gawked like I was some bizarre species of alien that crash landed in one of their fields.

I don’t take it personally. There isn’t a whole lot of people or traffic out in the valley east of town so an old gringo out there running in shorts, sandals, and a rag tied around his head would be a most curious sight, especially to farmers and ranchers.

‘Why? Because I’m a sweaty old man out there running the canal without a shirt? Or is it because I wear a bandana?’

‘No. Because you’re wearing sandals’.

‘Yeah’, I agreed. ‘That is crazy’.

Pancho’s diminutive waiter arrived with 4 small plates of food. I looked at the kid out of the corner of my eye as he laid out the plates. He didn’t look old enough to shave and he was just so short; it almost made me wince to look at him. I thought, ‘Nobody should have to go through life that short’.

There was some pepeno and jicama; garnished with thin slices of fresh chilies and covered with a generous squeeze of lime juice and a dash of salt. And a dish of something called Requeson which was ricotta cheese with tomato, onion and jalepeno. My favorite was the pickled pig’s feet. My mother introduced me to pickled pigs feet when I was just a little kid and the flavor and texture transports me back in time like no other food. I found it pretty remarkable that Pancho’s pickled pig’s feet tasted exactly like the one’s I ate as a child; the recipes were exactly the same although separated by 50 years and 5000 miles. I was not however overly fond of the botana called cueritos. I like pig skin but not after it’s soaked up a bunch of lime juice and vinegar. I guess it’s a texture thing; for me it’s like eating a sour sponge.

One of the young guys insisted on buying me a tequila which I accepted with the usual trepidation thinking, ‘Oh shit, here we go again.’ I like tequila and tequila likes me and some of these Mexican guys are sometimes too friendly and too generous for their own good. But I got the sense that it would have been extremely impolite to have said no.

Thankfully they were more or less on their way out when I got there so I could plan on sticking with beer after they left.

Pancho arched his right eyebrow, leaned across the bar and said, ‘Those guys are associated with bad guys’. Meaning they weren’t bad guys themselves but that they knew the bad guys. And bad guys is the polite euphemism for the cartels.

Pancho went on, ’And there is a very strong rumor that something bad is going to happen this weekend.’ He shrugged, ‘Or maybe Monday.’

In the last 2 days the Federales had been working over time stopping people, checking IDs, asking questions, upping their patrols. The 3 young guys that just left had also alluded to the rumor that something was up.

Pancho went and barred the door after they left. He said, ‘People will telephone if they want to come in tonight’. I texted Layla and told her to rap on the door when she arrived because the cantina would look closed.

Pancho suggested that I might want to make it an early night and maybe not run the canal for a day or two. I was thinking, ‘that’s kind of creeping me out’. Not run the canal? Pancho said that the bad guys used the roads through the valley. Of course I had to ask why and the answer was because the roads are back roads; meaning unpatrolled.

I thought about it for a moment and told him no; I was running tomorrow. I said the bad guys are every where. Pancho shrugged and arched his right eyebrow. I told him the bad guys knew who I was and if they wanted to kidnap me – or whatever – they didn’t have to wait until I was out on the canal for one of my runs. They could snatch me right off the street like they did Guadalupe’s 19 year old son a couple of months back. The bad guys were dressed like cops and they snagged the kid on a Saturday afternoon while he shooting hoops with his friends. Guadalupe is one of my two English students so I got to hear that story from her first hand Monday morning. Everything turned out alright and for me to say any more on that particular subject would not just be indiscreet but possibly down right foolish.

And I ran this Sunday morning, a little earlier than usual probably due to the fact that I was slightly hungover from last night drinking with Layla and her friend who finally showed up at Pancho’s. I witnessed nothing out of the usual apart from the 2 big Federale trucks that exited the canal road just as I was entering. I usually ignore them which is sometimes difficult to do as they are pretty scary looking all dressed in black fatigues, wearing full body armor with helmets and face masks carrying automatic weapons in addition to the mounted heavy machine gun in the back of each truck.

It was a good run. I’ve always found something majorly liberating in sport like running where it’s just you in sandals and shorts out doing some serious miles. Life simply doesn’t get any better than that.

I went over to Sergio’s factory to see how he was doing on the sandal project that he had accepted from me a week ago last Friday. I was wearing the new braided pair of my model ‘Colombianos’ that Sebastian (another factory owner) had made for me.

Sergio was all smiles as he welcomed me. He got me to take off my right sandal then he took it around to show a couple of people in his factory. He asked  me a couple of questions about it, pointed  out a couple of flaws (stitching was showing through on the bottom of the sole, the toe thong was too thick). All of this was a general ruse to distract me from the fact that he hadn’t done shit on my project.

He decided we needed to go talk to his designer but of course he didn’t bother to explain why; we just hopped on  his scooter and roared off. He took a left out of his compound, 2 blocks then a right, 4 more blocks then a left. We pulled up in front of a bare concrete building. The dirty office was empty so Sergio stepped into the gloom of the back and shouted up the stairs. After a couple of minutes a gimp legged man limped down the stairs and emerged  from the dark corridor. Sergio didn’t introduce me but instead motioned me to take a seat in a dirty while plastic chair; which I am discovering is office standard for the shoe business. I was asked again to take off my right sandal. The other man accepted it from Sergio and gave it the benefit of his professional eye. He leaned over and fished  through a stack of artificial green feet before selecting the appropriate sized horma. He jammed the dirty green foot into my new sandal and I winced as he stretched the back strap up over the dummy heel.

He grabbed a chewed up 29 cent Bic ballpoint pen and began tracing the strap configuration onto the green foot. This wasn’t going to be text book style design study but a more low-tech approach to what amounted to pirating my sandal design. I silently acquiesced to this new robbery much as I did to Sebastian overcharging me to develop that  specific design from what I effectively borrowed from the Colombian craftsman who made the original. And so I reminded myself that there was some reciprocity at work here. Sebastian also overcharged me for producing a trial run of 16 pairs. This design exchange between factories was really nothing more than an insurance policy against future overcharging; in effect giving me a second supplier. I asked Sergio if they are going to make me a pair and give me a price. When he said yes I told him that I wanted them made with the same leather, in the same color with 1 cuna, 1 guardafungo, and all stitched to airplane tire; in other words, igualamente.

Sergio got up to leave and asked me if I want to stay and watch the design. I said yes. I needed to stay as I had to see how the black ink traced lines on the foot got effected into a reproducible translation of my sandal.

We both ignored the scooter as it started up. The man grabbed a piece of very thin light colored leather and then with a long scalpel like blade took a few educated passes at the leather using his finger as the blade’s guide. What emerged was  a smaller piece with a contour arc at one end. He dipped his right index finger into a jar of what looks like rubber cement and with a practiced movement thinly troweled  it onto the leather.

He then placed the leather evenly glue side down onto the green foot before smoothing it down tightly over it. He then cut away the piece for the thong between the big toe and then next removed the unwanted leather. He motioned for me to raise my foot.

He studied the sandal on my foot for a second then made a tentative cut exposing some of the traced line. He alternately lifted the leather for a peek before making a surgical pass with the blade until all that remained was the outline for my sandal. This escala, or template, was then removed from the green horma and laid over the top of a piece of thin white cardboard like paper where he then made an outline trace of it. He brought the knife to bear on the trace and again using his finger as the blades guide he skillfully removed all of the excess paper. During this process he used a pair of calipers with sharp pointed ends to check and measure thereby providing uniformity and quality to his hand tracing and blade work.

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The sandal bottom was then traced and the toe thong piece position was measured and added to the trace along with the side strap penetrations.

In the end 5 separate pattern pieces called moldes were created.

All 5 moldes were labeled with a number indicating the style. Sergio asked me what I called it and I told him the Colombiano. A dull ache began to spread between my eyes as I realized the triple cross. I knew that this factory was going to attempt to market my sandal and that it would soon end up in a catalog somewhere with that name.

Injuries are not to be taken lightly especially for older runners like myself. The older you are the longer it takes for injuries to heal.

So if you’ve been following this blog at all you’ll know that I am a 57 year old runner who through a combination of overtraining and bad running sandals (prototype #11) severely strained my right Achilles tendon. Please read Healthy Feet Parts 2 and 3 for the background story.

Yesterday I went out and did a second successful comeback run in the last pair (prototype #12) of my running sandals. I ran for an hour and a quarter and was extremely mindful of my form.

ü      Torso leaning forward slightly?

ü      Cadence within spec?

ü      Knees slightly bent?

ü      Soft rapid footstrikes?

ü      Arms held relatively high?

ü      Footstrikes on the forefoot?

ü      Footstrikes landing under the torso?

Every little thing ‘checked’. The run showed me that my form needed no correcting which was a complete relief and the problem was as I originally diagnosed in Healthy Feet Part 2; namely the footware.

The next step for me is to start slowly ratcheting up the miles. I will do this while continually monitoring the pitty-pat sounds of my feet. I’ve learned as a minimalist runner that everything starts with your feet; if they’re happy, everything else is happy.

My personal goal since December has been to get my training to the place where I can comfortably run 4-5 hours a day and do it injury free. After I reach that goal then I’ll revisit where to go from there. But for now the plan is to be able to run for that length of time by June 1st.

I highly recommend ‘Eat and Run’ by Scott Jurek. I am presently enjoying the read at the moment gleaning from it his training advice and his counter-intuitive approach to nutrition which he attributes to his success as one of the greatest ultramarathoners of all time.

I also recommend http://fellrnr.com/wiki/Main_Page for a go to place for running advice and solutions to specific problems that you might be having. 

If you have read a previous post you will remember that I injured my right Achilles Tendon through a combination of over training coupled with a running in a piece of crap running sandal prototype.

I said that I intended to take a few days off while I iced my tendon and drank a tea brewed from the dried herb, Arnica; I also soaked my tendon in a warm Arnica stew made of the leftover steeping from the tea.

I went for an hour long run yesterday and while there were a couple of momentary occasions of tightness (which I walked off), the run went fine and my tendon appears to be right as rain so the therapy worked as intended.

Returning from breakfast in the mercado this morning I came upon a young villager who was selling bundles of fresh Arnica –

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I bought these 2 bundles for 10 pesos. The fresh herb is surprisingly sticky and much more aromatic than the dried version.

I decided to brew a cup of it; it was that or make myself the usual 2nd cup of coffee. I said earlier that it tastes something like Camomile tea but I will add, with a more pine flavored  twist.

Read my earlier post – Healthy Feet Part 2 – Acute Tendinitis – for more information, especially if you decide to use the herb to treat an inflammation.

I will add that I learned that local folk lore says to limit your use to 7 days – that’s drinking the tea. 

 

 

 

I’ve been in Mexico for some time now and while I am a long way from being an expert on the subject of tequila I still feel somewhat duty bound to weigh in with an opinion. And being a gringo doesn’t disqualify me from having an opinion on the matter; in fact if you ask any Mexican you’ll only find the best he can offer is just another opinion too.

Cultural backgrounds and personal preferences aside, there are some still some generally agreed upon standards of what constitutes great tequila.

For instance most of my local cantina drinking buddies agree that Herradura Blanco is the starting point by which all other tequilas can be judged. It is considered to be the closest thing flavor wise to what comes out of the perfect distillation process. When it is poured into a glass ‘pearls’ form at the top. It is a strong tequila – meaning higher in alcohol content than most tequilas – and is treated with respect. It is also considerably more expensive than other tequilas. In a working man’s cantina 80 ml shots cost 40, 45, and 50 pesos depending on the brand with Herradura Blanco costing in at the top. Some cantinas offer 90 and 100 ml shots sometimes costing the same or maybe only 5 or 10 pesos more than the prices I just quoted.

My favorite every day tequila is Puebla Viejo Reposado (meaning ‘rested’). From my experience it is the best value proposition costing 40 pesos in the cantina and 160 pesos for a liter bottle. My neighborhood shop sells a Puebla Viejo package of a 1 L bottle of Reposado and 200 ml mini-bottle of Anejo (aged) for 170 pesos which is by far the best deal around. It has a very well rounded flavor that lends itself to sipping.
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My all time favorite tequila is Tapatio Reposado. It has a distinctive peppery flavor that I find very agreeable. A liter bottle will set you back 300 pesos (same price as Herradura Blanco) so I reserve it for special occasions only.

Pancho maintains that tequila raises the blood pressure slightly so it doesn’t have any of those sedative like properties that come with drinking other spirits. I don’t know about that but we both agree that it takes a lot of work to properly manage the chemistry of a good buzz. Inter-mixing the right botanas (snacks) at the right time is part of that chemistry. Sliced pepenos (cucumber) and jicama with fresh chilies and squeezes of lime is not just one of the most loved bar snacks but goes awfully damn well with tequila too.

As a side story – I more or less had to quit going to the El Cito Cantina. And not because I was getting fat from the free bar snacks or that the tequila was cheap or that the servings were too big; only a prudish teetotaling idiot would complain about things like that. This isn’t California where there are lots or rules and regulations governing everything from food storage temperatures to shot glass sizes. I remember back many years ago when I was a bartender and someone – a man someone – complained to me that their drink was ‘too strong’. To my way of thinking that’s like complaining you got upgraded to first class without being asked first. Thank goodness there are still places like the El Cito that not just serves proper sized drinks but where every last man is grateful for it too.

Nope I had to give it up because of people like Salvador and Gilberto and Santiago; people too damn nice for their own good. Some of the friendliest men in town have a couple of drinks down at the El Cito a few times a week trading gossip, listening to the mariachis, and singing along when they feel compelled. That’s all good but they have this convivial habit of buying drinks and a way of doing it where saying no only works for so long before that tequila that you’ve been drinking starts saying yes. So I found it was best to avoid nice places like that; a couple of  cervezas and 4 or more shots later and your planned early night walk home magically turns into a late night cab ride.