jeudi 24 juin 2010

A shoe story

In the glass of the falling-off kitchen door

or, what I do with my days
for those who ask

I did it. I finally went for my first run in my (fake) Vibram fivefingers running shoes (thank you, China), and I loved it.

This is for those of you who have asked me to let you know what I thought. I won't just let you know what I thought; I'll also tell you what my friend, the one who told me about Christopher MacDougall's book Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen and Vibram fivefingers barefoot running shoes, had to say after running his first marathon in his:

The Edinburgh Marathon went well until 16 miles (on target for 4:30) when I tripped over, tore my shoe and cut my right big toe. Thought about giving up, sat around for about 20 minutes - then thought I might as well finish. By this point my legs had stiffened up so I ended up walking trying to get my legs going for at least Five miles - only to fall over again. Cut my left foot. Decided to keep on keeping on with it. Overtaking [an old school friend and inspiration to the world] in the final few yards. Two hours later than intended!

So what did I learn?

Five fingers don't make you run faster.
The last year has made my legs strong enough to do a marathon without any pain the following day.
A small piece of grit inside your shoe will drill holes in the soles of your feet.
I weigh 106kg and ran a marathon with no joint pain whatsoever!

They might not make you run faster, but I will tell you that they let me run faster, and I put them to the true test.

The True Test:
  1. Do not run for at least 3 weeks. At all. Sit around as much as possible and let yourself start feeling really mentally and physically sloggy, convinced you could never walk your usual course again -- ever --, much less run it, in any form of shoe.
  2. Take a nice hour and a half long stroll through the Marais in your brand new Paule Ka sandals with 5" wedge heels. Notice there is a large screen TV showing a world cup first round game, cross the rue Vieille du Temple and watch Donovan Landon score the goal against Algeria for the 1-0 win that qualified the USA for the second round, taking first place in their group over England, mind you, with a small crowd attracted by the celebratory noise coming from this chic gay bar filled with young professionals sipping cocktails on a lovely June evening.
  3. Go out to a cerebral discussion with a terrific British performance artist (and very good friend of the friend above), who uses dramaturgy and video to explore social forms in a philosophical inquiry and a third-rate French philosopher (need I say more?) in Paris at The Centre Pompidou, and follow that up with a half bottle of a Touraine blanc (a bottle for two, keeping pace), followed by a falafel from over at the falafel café while walking over to the Montorgeuil quarter to enjoy an Aligote and more conversation until the cafés closed.
  1. Walk back to the motorcycle and ride 50 minutes back up the highway, home to the countryside.
  2. Arrive at 3 am. [Find text message from son telling you the doors are locked and you will need your key to enter by the one furthest to the left facing the house, which is the only one you can open if the house is locked, but it was a dear thought to let me know I'd need to search my bag for my keys to get inside.]
  3. Putter around the house, read a chapter of Emma in bed.
  4. Get up at 9:30 am, make coffee, scrambled eggs with coriander and soy milk with calcium and eat them with apricots. [I recommend that whether you are about to test yourself or not.]
  5. Read email, reply to a few, and do a little discount online shopping. Swear to cut back on expenses next month, and go get your Vibram fivefingers.
  6. Slather on plenty of sunblock (Anti UVB), set your pink running cap on your head, slide your Oakleys in place and head out.
  7. Feel the difference.
Oh my!

My legs moved more freely than they had with my running shoes, be they Asics, New Balance, or Mizunos. I felt more power in each stride, as though my muscles didn't have to work as hard, and the hill --

Was there a hill?

I am sure it has to do with the increased surface contact of the splayed forefoot and toes, using all of those muscles to push off, rather than having them just grouped helplessly together in the toebox of your running shoe. Someone who knows yoga well mentioned that it is similar to how one uses the splayed forefoot to increase contact with the ground in a standing posture, adding strength and stability.

The only drawback was the development of a blister on the pad of the ball of my left foot, just below the big toe, but I had already started to feel something there, walking around Paris in my city shoes the previous evening. I stopped to walk a little, thinking of the high-heeled strappy Stuart Weitzman gold mules I'd be wearing to a wedding Saturday, but it didn't make any difference. Blisters hurt no matter what speed you move, unless it is 0 kph. So, I picked up the pace again, ran down the hill from the ridge to the road into the village, and just entering Moosesucks, there, right at the edge of the pavement, was another bird.

He stood there, blinking, his little beak opening and closing as though he'd say something if he felt up to it. It was the same as the baby one that died after the animals found it, probably fallen from the linden tree, and the same as the dead one I found in the bike lane along the Transamazonienne one of my last runs on the balls of my feet in my old New Balance running shoes. I bent and lifted it up in my sweaty hand, cupping it gently. It gripped my finger with its claws, holding on tightly. I stood there and thought about it: did I place it in the grass along the side of the road, or did I carry it the last kilometer home and watch it? With my track record saving birds (excuse the pun), that didn't seem worthwhile, but I am no good at leaving weakened creatures to die, exposed.

Much better to let them die in my hand, or in a box in my house.

I started to walk towards the house, thinking what a shame it was that I wasn't getting to see how much faster I could do the same run in my fivefingers. I hesitated, and started to go back to put the bird down. My hands were wetting its feathers. It clutched my finger. I turned around again and started to jog gently, looking down to see just how much it was being bobbled and jostled around.

It looked alright. I kept on, bringing the bottom of my t-shirt up around it for a little extra support and watched the cars of neighbors I recognized pass me by.

They're probably thinking you are clutching your left arm and that you have hurt yourself, said myself.

"I know, and if anyone stops to ask me if I need a ride home, they are going to know I am crazy for certain." Myself nodded in agreement.

Let's just hope, said myself as one of the former adjunct mayors drove by in his British Jaguar. His mother was Irish. I'm sure that explains the right-side steering wheel.

Entering the more populous section of the street, the neighbor from across the street and her teenage son passed me. I saw him recognize me and tried to look natural with my right hand grasping my left forearm and t-shirt bottom. I picked my pace up a little and smiled brightly, making a little nod of my head.

Coming down the home stretch, I saw the owner of the Jaguar's neighbor, heading home from the café, what looked like a portfolio tucked under her arm, her straw hat removed from the cord of the venetian blinds she has hung over her street window and tied to the old boat on which she has set several pots of flowers, her own shaded sidewalk terrace, everything painted a sunny yellow. She speaks English with a charming BBC accent and stops by to visit with me regularly.

I haven't had the courage to explain to her that I don't do much "visiting".

I slowed, hoping not to hear my own bell ring at my gate. Reassured she had walked on by, I darted up along the wall of the house and into the gate, the bird still breathing, looking over the edge of my t-shirt hem.

We sat together outside for a very long time, and then moved in to read more email.

Are you going to stay home now, instead of go get the things you need for the wedding? asked myself.

"I don't know. I mean -- I guess so. I did bring it home; I can't just pop it into a bush and wish it luck."

No. Wisp or Shadow would have it in an instant, if Baccarat didn't get to it and try to bathe it with her tongue first.

"I guess we'll see," I said, checking once again to see if it were my own pulse I were feeling or if it were still alive. The eyes opened and the head swiveled to look at me. I sat there opening my hand to avoid boiling it in my overheated palm and soaking its feathers, and to let it know it was free. Time passed, and then, in a rush of movement, it had flown, crashing around the living room, up on top of the ceiling beam, up the stairs, back across the room, and there was another rush of movement as two cats and two Labrador Retrievers nearly knocked the dining table chairs and everything on the table down, trying to get to the bird on the loose. I swore at myself for having come into the house, and then, there was silence.

Only there was a problem; Wisp was far too interested in the radiator. The window above stood wide open, but not only Wisp, but all the animals were staring at the radiator. I got up to look, and there was a mass of gray feathers topped by a little head and beak.

It's dead? asked a panicked self.

"I don't know. I'll have to try to touch it and see," I said, turning to get something I could stick through the radiator. I saw the bread knife, but that was definitely too threatening. You don't poke stunned, and possibly injured birds, with the end of a bread knife. I got out a regular kitchen knife and stick it gingerly through the coils. It moved. It looked at me. It took us another five minutes to get it out from behind the radiator, me slapping Wisp and Baccarat back. It flew in loops up to the ceiling and came to rest in the handle of a basket up on the cabinets. I got a chair and reached to pick it up, but it flew away toward the open window, and banged directly into a pane of glass, coming to rest on top of the radiator. I had visions of it sliding down between the coils again, but it flapped and flew out to come to rest on the ivy growing on the garden wall, all four animals racing out the door nearest them, Wisp taking the most direct route out through the same window as the bird.

I have finally, at last, possibly been of help to a poor bird.

And as for my Paule Kas? Besides a threatening blister? I did get two "ooh et aah" compliments in Autour du Monde Maison from a clerk and a terribly well put together French woman, who stopped to watch me put them back on after trying on a pair of Bensimons, which I did not buy.

See? I have some self-control. Besides, my sandals were much cooler than another pair of Bensimons.

Even the Liberty of London print ones.

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