Following some advice I got from Patton over at the Natural Running Store, I've been incorporating a good deal of barefoot (6-10 miles per week). By "barefoot," I mean totally unshod—or in Invisible Shoes, particularly on trails. I've got a pair of Vibram El-X's on the way (arriving tomorrow), which should help those efforts. They look ridiculous (toe shoes), but they will protect my feet from glass and stickers while not inhibiting natural movement.
Having spent a LOT of time barefoot since October (the majority of the time, actually), I have come to really appreciate going unshod—not because of the Tarahumara, or because of "the book," or because it's so popular with some runners—but rather I enjoy myself the most when my running is at its purest form.
I have found myself, in the past, far too hampered with technology and gear. As I look back on my running in 2012, I think that a lot (probably most) of the nagging injuries came from problems in my running form. For me, those problems came from wearing shoes that allowed me to run in unnatural ways (slower cadence, footstrike far in front, more of a heel strike, etc). Kicking off the shoes fixes those problems—at least for me—almost instantly. So, I'm becoming convinced from personal experience what I've heard from many others: you should run in the very least amount of shoe that you can get away with right now. Of course, the barefoot also is great.
Not only have I been working on my form—and barefooting, but I've also been working on my strength. I've benefited a ton from the Runner's Strength WOD's over at Kinetic Running and am gearing up to start a functional fitness program (think CrossFit without all the hype) from Pete Kemme. Strength is so neglected amongst us ultrarunners, but, if you look at the guys who are really crushing it, with the exception of folks like Tony K and Kilian, they are all jacked! Hal, Timmy, Max, Sage. I assume the same is true for the ladies. As part of this strength work, I've also started adding Tabata routines for stuff like sprints and squat jumps. Only four minutes and I've destroyed my legs. The next day I'm literally as worked over as I would be from an easy 10 mile run.
Add to this that I'm venturing out on a more intuitive training plan. I'm ditching a rigid approach for one that pays the closest attention to what my body is telling me.
So big changes are afoot...once my leg heals.
What does this mean for me in the coming year?
I'm dropping from Rocky Raccoon 50 miler. I'd LOVE to do it, but I just can't shake the feeling that it's a bad idea. Basically, if I run a 50 miler in early February I will likely re-injure my leg. I would be worth it if Rocky were an "A" race for me, but it's not. I just no longer have an answer to the "Why?" question for Rocky. So, I'll still go to Huntsville this year, but not to race. I'll volunteer and maybe pace some of the hundo runners. It should be a big party and one that I don't want to miss.
If I'm not running Rocky, what am I doing this year? Great question. I'm not sure. But here are some possibilities...
Cross Timbers 50 miler (Feb 16) : http://crosstimberstrailruns.com/
Toughest N Texas (March 16): http://www.runnerone.com/
Grasslands 50 miler (March 23) : http://nttr.org/grasslands/
Hells Hills 50K or 50 miler (April 6) : http://tejastrails.com/HellsHills.html
Leadville Silver Rush 50 Miler (July 14): http://bit.ly/irAdZk
I'm looking for an answer to the "Why?" question right now. Once I get my strength up and my form down, then I'll be looking to PR at the 50 mile distance, but until then, I'm more than content to train. Truth be told, I really do enjoy training for the sake of training. Racing is incidental; at least at this point in my running career.
Lastly, I've got a lot on my plate this Spring since I'm taking preliminary exams for my PhD at Baylor in late April—early May. So, I need to manage my stress, which will include keeping my running moderate (for an ultrarunner, anyway).
That should do it for now.