May 15, 2009

Barefoot Triathlon

I felt particular inspired by my triathlon buddies today (thanks Richelle, Susi, and Julie), so I thought that I'd write today about barefoot triathlon.

I had the extreme pleasure of participating in the Strathmore Women's Triathlon this passed August . It was my second sprint triathlon that season, and ever. It was my first (and so far only) triathlon running in VFFs. I ran the 5 km in my Classics and it was brilliant (sorry, no pictures, apparently my feet were camera shy that day).

I arrived at the venue in a pair of VFF KSOs. I received a lot of stares from other participants and spectators. I was asked several times if I was doing the triathlon in these shoes. I said I was running the race in a pair of barefoot shoes similar to the ones I had on. Many people asked me if I was swimming and biking in these barefoot shoes, to which I replied that I was not. I think that any shoes, barefoot shoes or not, would cause drag in the pool and I prefer to wear clip-in bike shoes on the bike. But for the run, they're awesome.

The swim and bike went very well for me for this race but this is a post about running triathlon in barefoot shoes. Coming off the bike, I was feeling a little winded (I had pushed pretty hard on the last half of the bike going uphill most of the way) so was a little worried about how I might feel starting off on the run. I got off my bike and while putting my bike gloves on, I slipped on both my VFF Classics. I bent over to adjust my pinky toes slightly and off I was on the run. No socks, no laces, no other adjustments. I don't know what my time was in T2, but it felt super fast and was definitely WAY faster than my T2 time from my last sprint tri (when I opted for socks and shoes with laces).

During my first sprint tri, I had had a bad experience on the run: my legs felt extremely heavy the whole time, my leg joints and arches ached, and I had a stitch in my side for over half of it. I decided to try this tri in the VFFs and see if it would be different. Everything about this tri run was different and more enjoyable than my first.

The run on a sprint triathlon is 5 km. Not once during the run did my legs feel heavy, it really felt like there was nothing on my feet, the VFFs are that light. I was a little worried about running on pavement because I tend not to do that in training runs but there were no problems for me on the hard surface. I felt no pain in my legs or arches during the entire run. I had no stich in my side and my run time ended up being slightly faster than my first tri run (there could have been a lot of reasons for that, but I'm saying it was because my shoes made me feel so good). Amazingly, I found another gear at the 3 km mark (meaning I found some more speed in me), which NEVER happens to me during a race. And most amazing of all, was that there was even one more gear at the 4 km mark. I am not a fast runner, but for me to find additional speed that I can sustain (even for a short distance) was incredible for me. I'm going to say that "it's gotta be the shoes" (see video in the sidebar for clarification :) ).

I was extremely impressed with the feel of the VFFs during this triathlon. When I participate in more, I will always run them in barefoot alternative shoes (or maybe really barefoot someday). One of my goals for every race I did last year was to complete it pain-free. During my first triathlon, I was not successful; for my second, I was. I credit the VFFs on the run for most of that.

The only thing I'm changing on the run for my next triathlon, is to try to quickly apply some vaseline to my feet before slipping them into my Classics. Because my Classics fit a little loose in some toes, they were a little chafed in some places (as many body parts get chafed during triathlon). I think it was because I wasn't used to running as fast in the VFFs as I ran that day. All skin discomfort was gone the next day but I thought I'd try it anyway (even though it'll slow my T2 time a little bit).

To summarize, I think the VFFs Classics are a brilliant barefoot alternative triathlon shoe and I can't wait to try them out again.