I took the inserts out of some old slip on shoes I think I bought and wore during the animal rescue after Katrina. I have been wearing these shoes, without inserts, for a couple of weeks now, ever since I read about the effects of supportive shoes on your feet and joints in the big endurance book I talked about last time. The thing with supportive shoes is that, like wearing a knee or ankle brace regularly, they do the supporting and your own muscles and tendons weaken and become dependent on the support. Re-strengthening those feet takes weeks and months before you can go completely without support.
I buy it. These people know what they're talking about. So, that's the purpose of my five finger shoes and one-legged balancing exercises and now wearing these shoes which feel almost like going barefoot, especially when I walk on gravel. I figure if I beat up, I mean strengthen and toughen my feet now they won't be completely shocked when I hit the trail. I'm sure they'll still hurt and complain but it will be a matter of degree of torture and not a completely new experience for my feet. I also read about some of these things in another book, called "Fixing Your Feet: Prevention and Treatments for Athletes" by John Vonhof.
It's kind of a relief to realize that my hatred of boots for hiking may actually have a valid reason. The thing is, I want to hike in trail runners, but I want to be smart about it. I even wore these flat shoes for moving boxes all day. My feet were very sore after carrying heavy loads over gravel over and over again and even after the first few days of wearing flat shoes to work, but now they've adjusted.
So I upped the ante. I've begun hiking a local trail after work. The trail gains 1000 feet in 1.5 miles and usually takes me about two hours to complete, with trekking poles and my pack on. But after work I usually get there closer to 5:30 and it's dark by 6:30. So a couple of my friends and I meet there and head up it the trail for only 20 minutes and then come down for a total of 40 minutes hiking. Since I'm doing aerobic/endurance training and using a heart rate monitor to help keep my HR at a lower level than I'm used to, I go much slower up the trail than I'm used to. Now I just send my friends ahead and turn around with them to come down. It's odd to go slower when you know you can do more, but Philip Maffetone says I'll get faster and faster at that lower HR and be burning mostly fat and not relying on mostly sugar for energy. He says it takes weeks to get there, though, so I expect to continue this process on the AT as well. It's surprising how fast my HR raises going up the hill. I have to keep a close eye on it.
I don't have my shoes yet. I could order the Keen shoes from REI and I still might, but now I might want shoes that are a little less supportive. I hiked in my New Balance tennis shoes one day and my knee started bugging me on the way up the hill. I slowed down and the pain retreated but as an experiment and also as training, I wore my Vibram Five Finger shoes the next day, doing exactly the same thing. No pain! However, that night the soles of my feet felt hot and bruised so I did a cold water soak and elevated them on pillows overnight. The next day they were tender but not swollen and the day after that they were fine. So I'm training my feet and my heart and my mind and I feel good with what I'm learning and how I'm getting there.