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Sometimes the things that throw us off track aren’t random, unfortunate occurrences beyond our control. It’s not just the unseen root or slippery rock that causes a fall or injury on the trail. Sometimes we just make bad decisions, even though we should have known at the time that a particular choice was bad. But we made it, and have to pay a big price as a result.

DunceCase in point – stupid me. Three weeks ago, in the midst of another spectacularly warm Colorado winter day, I decided to channel my inner hippie minimal runner. So I threw on a pair Xero shoes, threw off my shirt, and headed out the door for a 5 mile run.

Let me say one thing at the outset – I really, really like Xero shoes. I think I’ve purchased just about every one of their models, starting from the completely raw DIY kit, all the way up through the Amuri Cloud. But I’m not always good at using them properly.

We all know the rules about adapting to a new style of shoe, right? Start slowly and build slowly. Moving down to a zero drop (or up to a super maximum cushioned shoe)?

Take your time!

The thing is, I already learned this lesson firsthand a couple years back. I got my first pair of running sandals (after reading Born to Run, of course…), then went through the inevitable growing pains (including minor injuries because I tried to ramp up too quickly), and eventually worked up to being able to safely and enjoyably do 10 mile runs in them.

Xero shoes have never been more than an occasional training tool for me, much in the same way spikes or racing flats might be used by someone who does interval training on the track. But I credit them with saving my running. Not because I’ve embraced the whole “shoes are bad” philosophy, but because they got me paying attention to how I run. Not how fast, or how far, but how. They helped me run smoother, lighter, and with more feeling. And that’s great! But I hadn’t worn them for running in quite a while before that most recent trip out the door.

So you can probably see where this is going…

I put them on and sped off down the sidewalk. The impact felt fine, and all my joints and muscles were doing well. But the toe post started to irritate my feet about a mile in. It got bad enough for me to cut the run short, turn around, and even take shoes off for fear of developing a bad blister. Unfortunately, the sidewalk and a lot of sand and small pebbles, and my bare feet – fairly unaccustomed now to the feel of the ground, tensed up against the sharp bits of detritus.

My feet hurt pretty badly by the time I made it back home. Just a little over 2 miles, but I really screwed myself up. In an effort to protect against blisters (a relatively minor issue, to be honest), I changed my gait and my foot fall, and ended up doing much more damage instead.

For the past three weeks I’ve been dealing with hot and on pain in the ball of one foot, and a weird tingling/pain in the three biggest toes of that same foot (mainly the tips of those toes). And now I’m worried that I won’t be normal enough to start the Umstead 100.

It’s been hard enough not running much over the past 21 days. But the possibility that I screwed myself for my big goal race for 2015 is almost too much to bear. I’m trying to find a silver lining in this situation, and have decided to call it a big “learning experience.”

Lessons learned:

1.    Don’t be stupid. Ever. I was stupid in thinking that even though I hadn’t actually run in my sandals for… Jeez, probably a full year… I could jump right back in and assume that I hadn’t lost any of the skills I previously developed. That’s stupid, and I should have known better.

2.    I’ve got to get better at functioning when I’m not 100%. Perhaps this is the big risk in doing races. When I have a running focus that points to a specific day in the future, having inevitable hurdles and challenges come up right before that date can be devastating.

If I had no races planned this year, then my thoughts might have been “Oh. Ok, I guess I need to cut way back or even take a break from the running for a month or two.” But since I have something important planned on March 28-29, I’m not quite so calm and relaxed about it.

I figured my first 100 mile race would be a challenge. Now it looks like it’ll be a little extra challenging.