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Friday, July 1, 2011

Fan Friday: Matt Trosel puts things in perspective

Thanks for reading the inaugeral Fan Friday post!  Today's Fan Friday feature is Matt Trosel, an Information Systems student currently living in Arkansas.  You can read about all of Matt's barefoot running and life adventures at his blog, http://www.mattronics.com/.  Matt hasn't been running barefoot for that long, but his story shows that it doesn't take very long for barefoot running to have a profound impact on your life.  And it doesn't have to be only in the area of health and fitness.  But I'll let Matt explain that for himself. 

I kind of interrogated Matt a little bit, so much so that he asked if I could read him his Miranda rights first.  Well Matt, this is a voluntary interrogation, so you don't get your stinkin' rights!  But thank you for being so generous in sharing your life with us.  My questions and comments are in bold. 

Matt wanted you to know that he loves commas, so his answers will include a lot of those.  He also wants you to "get over it".  I like his style already. 

First off, I asked Matt to tell me more about himself.  Here's what he wrote. 

"Let's start off simple. I started running back in my sophomore year of high school. Logically, it was the only sport that would be safe for my 120 pound, 5' 10" frame to partake in. I was awful. We are talking 10 minute miles here, and lots of walking. I wasn't racing to be first, I was racing to be second to last. I'll admit it was rather demoralizing, but looking back I know why I kept to it. The friendships between all those on the track team were very special. We all had something in common, and we all had a common passion. We simply had fun. The wiser me then figured out why I really stuck to the running. It was my escape.

My father passed away when I was only in the 5th grade in his early 50s (like his father) to a massive heart-attack (his third). It hands-down devastated my mother, twin sister, younger sister, and older brother. My father worked non-stop for my rather large family to support us. I always looked for him for guidance. He was the smartest man I've ever known. Ha, I remember having conversations about profit-margin and even politics in the car when we were going to get our regular Saturday morning haircut (5th grade people!, I'll run for president eventually don't worry). The one or several years I don't remember very well at all, from a few months after his death all the way through 8th grade, I have very little memories whatsoever. It's all largely a huge blur. I know it was a time of a lot of anger for me, and that being the only emotion during that period.

Like I said, I began running my sophomore year pretty much on a whim. Now my running serves as a huge catalyst to some major decision making in my life. It is a time of reflection for me and a time for me to plan things from my next day to what I want to do in my life. Running is the best medicine for me mentally and physically. I don't want my kids to grow up near as fast as I had to. I had some big shoes to fill as the man of the house (my older brother was on to live his own life). I want to be there for my kids, and I know from the past men of my family, that heart disease runs in the family. Even at my age, my blood pressure is extremely high and even experience mild chest pains from time to time. I have to keep a close watch on things, and have to pay attention to how I am feeling. I'll be there to see my children graduate, to walk my (spoiled) daughter down the isle, and to be there for every other milestone in their life. I run because I love to, because it helps define me, and because it helps guarantee I'll live to make a difference in someone's life.

(Warning: huge topic shift ahead!) So me outside running, well I'm your typical computer nerd. I'm an Information Systems major (yes, we have computers in Arkansas) that enjoys working with not only computers but people as well. During the summers I work at a local theme park so it really isn't much like working. I get to ride roller coasters when things are slow (don't tell managment, we aren't supposed to). I work with some real characters and come across some very interesting problems. (Computer) Fun Fact: the curve of the Earth affects (or is it effects? Yay, Arkansas schools!) long range wireless signal. I'm a laid back guy that often makes decisions by flipping a coin (seriously). I've grown up fast because of past events, but I believe it has lead to me to discover the secret to living a happy life -- live modest."

What is your barefoot running experience so far?

"I've only been barefoot running for about a year, and it really hasn't progressed much. I always incorporated it into each of my runs over the past months, but never solely just barefoot. Over the year, I changed from a heavy heel-to-toe strike to a mid-foot strike (occasionally I heel-strike on my left leg, but I quickly correct that). Surprisingly, it helped tremendously! I was still running in shoes, but mixing in the barefoot running as well. My times had actually improved. My PR for the mile had been a 5:04 at the time, after steady training with the bare-footing thrown in. I ran a 4:44 for a new PR! Needless to say, I was actively trying to log the miles and actively getting my times faster and faster after that.
I had one problem. I didn't want to compromise my mileage and speed for being able to run barefoot the whole time. I trained heavily in shoes and never progressed with my barefoot running (just the occasional mile or two during my workouts). Finally, just about a week ago, I decided I'd do a trail run in my Vibrams - a long one. I didn't change my pace. I ran it like I was wearing shoes. I was running fast and light and enjoying it. Hence, my toe injury. Which is actually much better now. The bruising and swelling has gone way down! I'm able to walk on it normally and without limping.

In fact, last night I decided to go for a short run barefoot. I invited my younger sister (who is an amazing high school runner) to join me. She didn't quite understand my sans shoes look on things, but I explained it to her. She's now curious to the barefoot methods - I can only imagine where she'll be once she figures out it is the right way to run! Anyway, we went on a slow run this time on smooth asphalt, because I'm for sure taking it slow this time. We ran a bit less then two miles at a 9:00 minute pace. There was no sub-6 miles for me on this run. My toe handled it just fine! No pain whatsoever! The run was relaxing and has motivated me beyond belief to get back out the door to run; however, I've got to restrain on the mileage and speed reminding myself that my injury could have been much worse."

What was your transition to barefoot running like (this is pretty much copy and paste from his blog...with Matt's permission of course)?
"I love to run, simple as that. I’m not the fastest, nor the slowest. I don’t have impeccable form. I’m not overly competitive. I’m just a college kid who sincerely enjoys to run. I ran in high school, making some great memories with some great friends (memories I won’t forget – until I’m a senile old man at least). One of my biggest goals in life is to find something I truly enjoy and to continue with it until I croak over. I think I found that something, running. I’m glad I found my passion early in life, and I hope to inspire people (who will eventually stumble upon this blog) to find their passion.
In my senior year of high school I was injured for the majority of the cross-country and track season. Now that I’m more educated, I believe it was a bad case of runner’s knee. It eventually lead to the worst shin splints I’ve ever had. Pain with each step, going down stairs backwards (seriously), and foam rolling my shins (during class!). It made for an awful senior year track season. Was it over use? Doubt it, back then I couldn’t hold a candle to the amount of mileage I started running after enrolling in college. I took the summer and then a few months into the fall after graduating high school off from running. I healed slowly, but I healed. Then, I decided – I want to run a marathon. I could totally do that, right?

To make another long story short, it went well. I found an easy 18 week training plan and stuck to it as best I could. However, getting into the final weeks of the training, I was back to popping the ibuprofen and taping my knee to prevent pain and injury. I was able to stay healthy enough to run the marathon – completing it in 3 hours 53 minutes (yea, I know, slow, but give me a break – it was my first one not to mention how hilly it was!). Again, I took off for a few months this time to let my knee and legs heal back up (I was getting tired of this). This time I didn’t completely take off, I ran 2 or 3 times a week – not many miles though (later in the summer I’d increase it a lot).

So, after an eventful freshman year of college, I was off on the summer job hunt. I ended up getting a job at a theme park. Everyone should work at a theme park at least once, the people are one of a kind and the experience is great!

At the top of Seven Falls.
Take the slide down? I think yes.

Being in the IT field, if everything works – well then there isn’t much we can do until something is needed or broken. I had some free time (not a lot, but enough). I bought a few books to pass the time when needed, Once a Runner and Born to Run. Yep, you just read it Born to Run. I like many other people after reading this book, started thinking differently about running shoes. I mean it made sense! My senior year, I bought nice new Asics to control the rolling of my foot, they had special gel cushioning, and they were going to help my pain (they did nothing for me).

Last summer after reading Born to Run, I went out and bought some Vibram FiveFingers® KSO’s. Weird shoes, really weird shoes, but I didn’t just jump into the whole barefoot thing. Who was I kidding, I’m from the north – my feet were tender! I also purchased some Nike Free’s to slowly make the transition. I researched, I was being smart, I’m in college – an educated man. Things were going well, I was getting back into running, I was increasing mileage, my paces were better than ever, I was running in my Free’s with a mile or so in my KSO’s (and even walking barefoot some), I had a dream to become an ultra-runner.

I decided it was time to start training for another marathon at this stage. I started my schedule again, 18 weeks training period – this time it was a tougher program. Sadly, I gave up on my KSO’s that winter for two reasons 1) it was cold, hence cold toes and 2) I just couldn’t keep my paces where they needed to be. I switched to my Nike Free’s exclusively and only wore the KSO’s for walking around campus for the warmer days.

Behold! Three quarters of the way through the training again, knee pain and minor shin splints. I’m in college, an educated man, I knew what was coming. I stopped training again, a little bummed, but I was distracted with recent events in my life. School was getting tough, family members laid off from work, and my scholarship in jeopardy. I had to crack down on school. I figured I should be good by the summer and could start picking things up again for another go. And that’s what I did (yes I started a sentence with “and”, I’m from Arkansas, be thankful I’m not using “ya’ll”).

Early June, I started picking up the mileage and running again. This time, I ran more often in my KSO’s than my Nike Free’s. After looking at pictures from past days, I noticed I was really close to running with a midfoot landing. The transition wasn’t too hard as long as made sure to “feel instead of think”. Things were great, I always love getting back into running, especially running trails (The roads are barely paved in Arkansas, so I have an abundance of varied terrain, be jealous).

Hernando Trail, blocked by Mother Nature
We have trees too, lots of them. So much so that some of them fall onto the trail - completely blocking the path along with ways around it. Damn you, Mother Nature.

Goat Rock Trail… say what?

The date was June 18th, 2011. It was fairly hot, 99-100 degrees (trust me, it gets hotter in Arkansas). I was off work early, hit the gym for an hour or so, and decided to hit some new trails for some running (in my VFFs). I ran to the top of a mountain, where a rather large tower is placed. It was steep, but a short run (.5 miles). I was feeling good after getting a drink of water from the fountain inside the tower. (I had to convince the staff to let me in shirtless, I assume my bulging muscles on this 120lb frame were intimidating them at first). On the way down, I decided to take some detours on the branching trails. It was all good and fun running the trails in my VFFs. I was feeling light, I was fast, and I was doing great. I caught up with “Dave” another fellow runner. He had just gotten over a cold and was moving at a slow pace. I chatted with him for a bit as he told me about the trails, which ones went where, their lengths, and so on. He decided to run ahead, and I stayed behind about 70 yards or so (I’m guessing, I couldn’t see him, but could hear his footsteps). The trail started going uphill again and I ended up catching back up to Dave just before a fork in the trail. We stopped for a second and he asked me about my Vibrams. I mentioned the whole minimalist thing and encouraged him to look into it. We then went our separate ways, he went left, and myself, right.
A few miles into the trail, and several indecisive turns onto other random trails (I have a horrible sense of direction, and was beyond lost) I made it onto “Goat Rock Trail”. I found myself unable to hear anything. It was completely silent, not even cars off in the distance.

Goat Rock Trail
It is quiet, too quiet.

It was peaceful, it was relaxing… it was great! I really started to feel aware, to feel as if this was the most enjoyable run. I was lost in my thoughts, as my feet turned over.


What was that? Why is my toe hurting? Oh, wow. My toe is really hurting. I’ll just take off my shoe and take a look at it.

Yep, that’s a toe in bad shape. I sure hope I didn’t just break it. That would be awful… I’ll just push it back to the left so it will be where it is supposed to. Wow, that hurt just as much. I’m good. I’m tough. No big deal. Sure, it is swollen and turning purple, but I’ll just stuff it back in the shoe and continue on my run. (three or four steps later)… ahhhh! Nope. Not going to happen! Taking the shoe off now (while cursing obscenities) and walking the rest of the way back on the very rocky trail. I knew it was several miles the other direction back where I came from, so I kept following the trail. By the grace of God, I ended up on a road only after about a mile of walking the trail (I’m still tender-footed).

Square eye'd goat!?
I knew taking a trail named "Goat Rock" was bad juju. Seriously, why the hell do they have square pupils? It is quite frankly terrifying to me. (Source: NightLord_ on stock.xchng)

As I’m walking down the road. Scratch that, as I’m limping down the road (I can’t put much weight at all on my right foot) dozens of vehicles go by. Not one stops to ask me if everything is okay. A police officer even passed me up without a second thought! I got to thinking, they must be intimidated, absolutely terrified, of my 120lb 5′ 10″ ripped body. That’s it! I’ll put my shirt back on!

Who am I kidding, that didn’t work either. People in this society automatically do not trust anyone. Everyone assumes the John Doe on the side of the road is a druggie/murderer. It’s a shame as to what this world has come to. Where has the good faith gone? I’m being hypocritical though (I came to this conclusion after finally making it to my vehicle), I’d probably do the same thing. Most of us would probably do the exact same thing. We don’t stop – we look, and we go on. It’s a shame. A crying shame.

So hear is one thing I’ll be changing along my journey. I’m going to attempt to be more willing to go out of my way to help people if I see that they may need it. Sometimes a small good deed done for someone can be life-changing. Rule #32 Enjoy the little things. Life is about living modest, about enjoying life for life. Not the cars, not the money, and the like. Take it slow and enjoy living! Learn to be, not to want or to have. I challenge you to do the same.

Where does this all lead to? I’ve come to the conclusion that I hurt myself because I was taking things to fast. I wanted to race. I wanted to get the medal saying I had completed another. I was trying to get my mile times down and to get back into training for a marathon I was planning to run in October. My training was due to start on June 27th, but I don’t see that happening.

I’m starting from square one, but this time I’m taking the shoes off (I’ll use my VFFs for trails still though). I’m going completely barefoot, and I’m going to be patient. I’m going to build my mileage, and I’m going to build a strong foundation, just as I had when first beginning to run.
It’s time to enjoy running for what it is, one tender step at a time.

Matt already talked about this a bit, but I asked him what barefoot running has taught him about both running and life.  I love his answer.

"Barefoot running has taught me to listen to my body.  If something doesn't feel right, then the answer is simple.  It's wrong.  Even going from years of heel-striking to barefoot running, the mid-foot strike felt right not the heel strike! Your body knows, it is about feeling and not thinking.  Let your arms swing how they want to swing.  Your feet will learn to land naturally and safely so let them land how they want to land. The simple key is to relax and feel, not think. I personally like to sing (not well) loudly while running. I sing odd things, too (mainly Christmas songs during mid-June or a few lines from a song over-and-over-and-over). More importantly though, make sure to sing Whitney Houston's - I Will Always Love You when going by those pretty ladies that could run circles around you! In short, barefoot running has taught me to run humble, not competitively. When you're content as to where you are at in your running, you'll improve. I'd almost go out on a limb and say your mindset on and while running is the most important thing.

As for life, barefoot running has taught me that we need to live life modestly and slowing. I'll admit I'm somewhat of a workaholic, but before I started running barefoot, all I did was work, to have the nice car, to have money, and to buy useless things that I did not need (kind of like shoes). Barefoot running was the door for me to live a modest life. I sold my nice brand new car, and bought something cheaper (something I could afford much easier). I stopped working 60 hours a week. I stopped thinking about money. I started thinking about enjoying life and taking things slow. There's no rush to get out of college to get settled into a monotonous job that we may or may not love. What kind of life will we have lived if we don't find the one thing that we are passionate about? I'm no world-class runner, so why should I be focused on times? For the first time in my life, I've lately been running with no sense of time and no sense of distance. It is so freeing. I go out the door and I run. I just run. I run to think about things, to enjoy my life, to enjoy what's around me, and to enjoy my love of running. I go until I'm tired or until I feel it is time to turn around. Why should things in life be so complicated? I don't need graphs comparing my pace to mileage, or my pace to elevation, who cares? Run to run.

You're right Christian, "high mileage and times aren't as important as feeling good and enjoying yourself," and that's one aspect I've learned just so recently."

Of course I'm right.  I'm glad you see that so early in your life ;) 

In all seriousness, I think Matt's message about life is an imporant one; one that I didn't necessarily learn until recently.  There are many things more important than the hustle and bustle of American life.  Like going out for a run and just enjoying yourself.  Or spending time with your family.  I hope this 4th of July you take his advice and all go out, kick back, make some bad decisions, and try not to meet your local fire department. 

Thanks so much to Matt for being a good sport and going first.  I've already received a fair amount of submissions for Fan Friday and they've all been amazing so far.  Thanks to everyone for sharing their stories with me!

I'd love to hear from more of you.  Send me an email at saypay45@gmail.com if you'd like to participate.  All posts will be in essentially this format. 

Happy 4th of July to you citizens, and happy barefoot running!  Cheers!


  1. Very inspiring!! Well-it helped me make my decision to not race this weekend. I am supposed to do a 12 mile race and I have been training and in total race mode. I have run 12.5 in my VFFs and was planning on racing in them...after my last long run I have had fairly consistant and severe pain under my 3rd metatarsal on my right foot. I have been embracing barefooting wholeheartedly and starting slowly,using VFFS for the mileage.
    So, needless to say ,I am extremely disappointed that I have gotten injured. I is not a stress fracture. Anyway...of course in the back of my mind," have the VFFs caused this?" Has bf running caused this?" All of the while not really believing it. I think bf running is one of the most common sense ideas I have heard in a long time.
    This story helped me refocus on exactly what Matt's point is....SLOW down,ENJOY, LISTEN to your body!!!! listening to your body and feet is THE most important thing to learn!!! Thanks so much Matt for reminding me!!
    I have been running for 30 years this summer....and the most fulfilling part of running is embracing the JOY of running...so that you can continue.....

  2. Thanks for using me as the first post Christian! I've got one suggestion for the original author (me), proofread your work! After reading through it myself, I noticed all sorts of usage mistakes and the like.

    Can I use my Arkansas high school education as an excuse?

    Sally: I'm glad you made the right decision. Running this weekend on that foot could have definitely turned into a stress fracture. Way to be smart! Also, thank you for your kind words! Enjoy running!

  3. Great post! Thanks Matt for sharing your story. I'm amazed at how closely so many of the "why barefoot" stories run in parallel.

  4. Soooo what was the injury you suffered? I'm curious because I just recently became the proud owner of a shiny new 5th metatarsal fracture https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=2057303282017&set=a.2048919672432.2119831.1527676985&type=1&theater

    The Doc wants to blame minimalist running, but with the infrequent, low mileage I put in I'm not so sure. I was having some difficulty with the narrowness of the soles of the Merrell Trail Gloves I got a few weeks and wonder if they were a contributing factor.



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