Category Archives: Health and Wellness

Running barefoot, or now I know how the dog feels

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SavvyRoomie and two neighbors stared at me in disbelief.  “You… went for a run this morning?” one neighbor asked.

It’s true.  My dislike of running is well documented.  And yet out of the blue on Monday morning I asked Mr. Savvy if he’d like to go for a barefoot run with me.

Mr. Savvy is always game for a round of exercise, and within ten minutes we had tied our feet into our LEMing footwear (the irony of wearing “barefoot” shoes is not lost on me) and were out the door.

I ran The Mile too many times in high school to enjoy the thought of jogging — The Mile was hot and sticky and I always wanted to puke afterwards, even the year I had a paper route and was strong from riding my bike up and down the Connecticut Valley’s hills.  These memories creep up despite SavvyRoomie’s and the neighbors’ constant praise of running.  But Monday morning was different.  I wanted to move.

It was shaping up to be a beautiful mild day and we both felt it as we breathed in the sunshine.  With no set time limit, a g00d posture, and Mr. Savvy’s jokes and giggles, our run was gorgeous.  It wasn’t perfect or fast or long, but it felt good and left my calves tingling.

Later in the day, we took Lily to the park with the neighbors and their two dogs, and we humans settled down on the grass to kick off our shoes and turn our faces to the sun.  Several other neighbors appeared with their dogs and we all let them loose so they could run in one joyous pack.

And then Luna showed up.  Luna is a mixed breed dog, wild, bouncy and excitable with no manners on leash or off.  She’s about the size of a Cocker Spaniel, yet she pulls her timid owner around the park, lunging and jumping at the end of her leash.

On this day, Luna’s owner chanced letting Luna run free to see if that would take out some of Luna’s energy.  Bad move.

Luna danced across the field at the lead of the flock of dogs.  She pranced and leaped, circled the trees, circled the owners, and dashed for the far corner of the field.  The other dogs followed, galloping full of exuberance on this most beautiful day of the year.

Cornered, Luna stopped.  The other dogs paused at some distance away waiting for Luna’s next move.  Luna’s owner began trotting towards the dog, who (we could all see it) suddenly contemplated the open park gate five feet away.

“If she takes off –” Mr. Savvy began, but he was too late.  Luna did.  She darted through the gate and into the street.

One of the neighbors bolted for the corner, following Luna’s owner who was older and a little unsteady on her feet.  One neighbor ran to the fence and called to an oncoming driver to stop.  I ran too, toward a second opening in the fenceline.

Part of my brain was occupied with hoping I could intercept Luna if she headed this way down the street.  The rest of me was unexpectedly suffused with joy; I had left my shoes back in the park and I was running — really running — barefoot.

I was a kid again.  My summer sundress bounced and twisted around my knees as I left the grass underfoot and sprinted onto sidewalk, then road, my feet giving me sudden sensory memories from childhood.  The wind was in my ears, the sun at my back, and I was running.  This wasn’t exercise any more.  This was easy.

I reached the corner.  “Did you see her?” I called to one of the neighbors.

She pointed up the street and there, not thirty feet away, was Luna, crouched behind a tree.  Traffic stopped as all eyes were on Luna and I moved to the middle of the street.

“C’mere Luna,” I said, crouching down and clapping my hands.

Luna came to me with her ears back, tail lowered, perhaps glad to see a friendly face.  I scooped up the dog.  Then her owner appeared, clipped on Luna’s leash, and crushed us both in a hug before I could set Luna earthside.

“Thank you, thank you thank you!” Luna’s owner said with her hand over her heart.  “I don’t know what I would have done.”

“No problem,” I answered.  And it wasn’t, because I was still flush with the thrill of running as fast as I could on my strong feet, feeling sturdy and straight and proud.

The neighbors and I walked back to where Mr. Savvy had kept the rest of the dogs from chasing after us.  “Running again?  How are you feeling?” someone teased.

My calves no longer tingled pleasantly but contracted and throbbed as the adrenaline wore off.  I was sore.  I knew I’d be in trouble later.  “My legs feel like jell-o,” I said.

Jell-o doesn’t cover it.  Later, I read LEMing Footwear founder Andrew Rademacher’s personal story which it explains things perfectly:

My strides were shorter and “springier”.  I was propelling forward with thrust coming from my calves and achilles tendon.  The incredible thing was that no one had to coach me, it just came naturally with minimalist shoes instead of running shoes

That night and the next day my lower calves were incredibility sore, but it made sense.  For the first time I had done an entire run the way the human body was meant to run.  My calves had simply been underdeveloped my entire life.  I came to the realization that even with all my strength training throughout my entire track career, I had never developed my calves and achilles up to the level that they were meant to be.  They were my weakest link.

Yup, that’s it right there.  It is several days later now and my calves still hurt.  Underdeveloped?  Sure.  Rademacher didn’t describe the dog-like exhilaration from running barefoot, but he’s got the pain part down.  And yet it’s this happy-go-lucky feeling that I’ll be chasing from now on.  I think I’m a running convert.

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©2012 at Simple Savvy, the simple living blog where I live in my sundresses all summer and I can’t believe it’s starting this early.  What happened to the winter?

First Impressions: Vivobarefoot Venus

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We’re coming in to spring now.  time to retire the winter boots (for the most part — curse you rainy weather!) and dig out the cute shoes.  The cute shoes go to work, or to visit my family, or to the library for just the right book to knit with.  They are not clunky.  They are light and breezy.  They look like spring.

Like these.

These are the Venus shoes from the newest line of VIVOBAREFOOT by Terra Plana.  What do you think?  I contacted VIVOBAREFOOT and asked if they would share a pair of shoes with me in exchange for a review on Simple Savvy, and they obliged.  I couldn’t be happier.

I asked VIVOBAREFOOT and not another company because VIVOBAREFOOT sells barefoot (or minimalist) shoes.  Barefoot shoes are shoes that are essentially the same as going barefoot.  Check out these soles.  They are 3mm thick.  There’s not a whole lot of rubber between me and the ground.

[As a quick introduction to barefoot and minimalist shoes, I'll tell you that research suggests that having less cushioning and support in shoes is better for your body and health.  If you want more information, check out Damien's blog, Adventure in Progress and the forum Toe Salad.  Damien hooked me onto minimalist shoes in 2009 when I began considering the impact of my posture on the migraines.  Which means I've been jonesing for shoes like these for two years.  So I'll get on to the review.]

These Venus shoes are cute — so cute that I squeed when I opened the box.  They don’t look anything like Vibram Fivefingers (VFFs), which is currently the most popular brand of minimalist shoes out there.  VFFs are toe shoes.  Mr. Savvy has a pair of VFFs, and every time we go someplace while he’s wearing them, someone stops us to ask about them, or people openly point and stare.  And while toe shoes have their place, I can’t wear them to work.  I want shoes that multitask!

As far as first impressions go, these Venus shoes fit the bill.  They look like most normal shoes, fashionable to the point where I can wear them with business casual clothes and not get funny looks.  I ordered the purple colorway, but the shoes that arrived are closer to gray, which is perfect.  They have a criss-crossed elastic over the top of the shoe to keep them on my foot, canvas sides, and a rubber sole.  The sole is extremely flexible, and there is a little stiffness where the sole meets the heel.

Their fit is a bit big — a half size big, according to their website — but for some reason, if I leave the removable insole in, my big toe brushes the front curve of the shoe.  I’m a size 10, so I ordered a women’s size 41, which is normally a size 10.  I expected them to be big.  I didn’t expect my big toe to be pushing against the front seam when I walk.

No worries — out come the removable insoles, leaving me with less cushion and fantastic ground feel, which is exactly what I wanted.  It feels like I’m walking barefoot, except with shoes on my feet.  I can’t feel the texture of the grass, but I can tell I’m walking on grass.  Ditto for my flagstone walkway and wood floors.

Unfortunately, without the insole, the shoes slide around a little.  I expect them to mold to my feet as I wear them more, and the sliding isn’t deterring me from wearing them, but that’s something to keep an eye on.  The seams on the inside are all finished, so no discomfort there.

In the day since I’ve owned these, my feet have worn a dusty outline on the shoes’ soles, leaving me with some concerns about durability.  Lily and I are hard on my shoes.  We went through a pair of (admittedly cheap) winter boots in six weeks.  I’ll be sure to watch that progress as well.

Overall, I’m pleased.  My feet stayed dry as I dashed through the downpours we’ve been getting.  I wore these shoes to work and no one noticed they were different from normal shoes until I pointed them out.  Score!  I’ll be sure to check back in a few weeks to see how things are coming along.

There are a lot of companies out there offering barefoot shoes of different styles and colorways.  Check out VIVOBAREFOOT if you’re interested in stylish minimalist footwear that you can wear to work.  And if you want to go barefoot, there are some really comprehensive resources out there with great information.  Learn ahoy!

My favorite barefoot people

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©2011 at Simple Savvy, the simple living blog where I’ll give you fair warning: don’t just jump into minimalist footwear, or you’ll hurt your feet.  Take it a little at a time, okay? 

Out of Sight, Out of Mind, and In Our Bodies Too

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I recently spent some time on the roof of a local sewage treatment plant.

Does that statement make you smile?  It makes me smile.  I picked up a job as a freelance news reporter for one of the local newspapers this month, and I’ve been running all over the area following stories.  I never pictured myself climbing up the side of buildings for one.

Which is exactly what I did this week.  Some of the recent hubbub around here is about the local wastewater treatment plant upgrading its systems and adding new representatives to their board of directors.  Like a dutiful reporter, I headed over to the Mattabassett District facility to snag a few pictures and chat with the executive director of the District, Brian Armet.

While we were talking, Brian said some smart things — things you and I have heard already.  “Your average citizen in this town has no idea if they’re connected to this facility.  Some people don’t know if they have a septic system or not,” he said.  “People don’t want to know where their wastewater goes.

Out of sight, out of mind.

It’s the same way with garbage.  No one wants to think about what happens to the things they flush or throw away.  This lack of knowledge helps keep our society stuck in a rut of single-use disposables and careless consumption.

I wonder what would happen if we all had trash and compost heaps out back, or let our garbage pile up in the streets the way we used to.  We would have to look at and smell our waste all day.  Would we reduce more? I’d like to think yes, but our collective inability to take action probably makes that a no.

At the plant, Brian and I also talked about the future.  We talked using the nitrogen from human waste as fertilizer on gardens and crops.  It’s not readily practiced around here — and it’s controversial because of the pathogens in human waste, and all the other stuff that our bodies now excrete.  We put too many chemicals on our skin, we take too much medicine, we eat meat treated with artificial hormones.  What goes in must come out, and unfortunately, this stuff does not break down or go away.  We keep passing it from place to place, food to body to environment.  Now our sewage treatment places are dealing with an overload of artificial chemicals.

While we wait for technology to catch up enough to deal with this deluge, we stop putting so much garbage into our bodies and slow the chemical output:  Eat hormone-free meat.  Use natural cleaners like vinegar and use natural body care products from people you trust.  Put your food in glass instead of plastic.  Reconsider using hormonal birth control, and eat slow foods so that you don’t get sick as often.  You’ve heard it all before.

I think one person can make a difference.  I keep saying this because I keep thinking about it as I reconsider what the heck we’re doing here.  And I keep coming back to the same conclusion: one person can make a difference.  So gear up, adopt a new habit, and talk to your friends.  That’s how these changes are made.

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©2011 at Simple Savvy, the simple living blog where it’s pretty hard to live some place as beautiful as that second photo and not have a deep respect for the planet.  The photo in question is of the gardens at the Trapp Family Lodge in Stowe, VT.  They don’t use human fertilizer on their gardens (as far as I know), but I love that photo and I’d love to know more about their growing practices.