I’m Running a 5k

I never liked running as a kid.

I remember running the mile at gym one time and taking over 11 minutes. My dad made fun of me – “You let a bunch of girls beat you!” – and I was embarrassed. Luckily, as a gymnast, my job was to operate at 95% of my max energy for about 20-90 seconds and then rest. Sustained physical exertion wasn’t really part of my vocabulary. Wen I got to college we’d run a few miles once in a while  and I would hate my life. Panting, cramps, headaches, exhaustion. How anyone could enjoy running was beyond me.

(I bet you know where this is going)

In the last few months, running has become a really exciting and fun endeavor for me. I’m not running very far or very fast, but I’m really enjoying it. So much that it’s lead me to participate in my first athletic competition in over two years[1]:

On July 31st, I’ll be running in the SF Marathon’s 5k race [2].

What happened? How did I go from hating running to loving it? Three things: a desire to push myself, a pair of Vibrams Five-Fingers and RunKeeper.

A Desire to Push Myself

Since a bit before starting my startup, I decided to drop my gym membership. I was mostly working out at work, in quick, 15 minute break periods, and I didn’t want to pay the monthly fee. Unfortunately, this limited the kinds of exercises I could do – mostly bodyweight stuff like pushups, situps and pullups.

I have to say this – it’s a lot easier to push yourself when you’re working out at the gym than when you’re working out at home or in the office. I did do the 100 pushup challenge with my coworker Jordan which was fun, but doing a lot of pushups get kind of boring. I was looking for a new challenge.

Vibrams Five Fingers

These shoes and the barefoot running movement has stirred up a lot of controversy. A quick quote from a New York Times article on the subject:

Recent research suggests that for all their high-tech features, modern running shoes may not actually do much to improve a runner’s performance or prevent injuries. Some runners are convinced that they are better off with shoes that are little more than thin gloves for the feet — or with no shoes at all.

Plenty of medical experts disagree with this notion. The result has been a raging debate in running circles, pitting a quirky band of barefoot runners and researchers against the running-shoe and sports-medicine establishments.

After reading some of Born to Run, a book about a running buff who always got injured until he studied a tribe of indigenous people in Mexico, modeled their running style (barefoot) and emerged an injury-free runner, I wanted to check it out.

As many of you know, I blew out my knee doing gymnastics about 4 years ago and running seemed like it’d be out of the picture. But proponents of the barefoot running movement argue, and some scientific research suggests, that running barefoot puts much less strain on your knees and other joints because you are absorbing most of the impact through your calf rather than having the shock hit your heel and travel all the way up your leg.

I’ve also seen folks running Vibrams, which are very thin rubber shoes that are more like gloves for your feet – including individual slots for each toe. I thought they looked kind of quirky and cool, and decided in May to buy a pair and give the whole bare foot running thing a shot.

It was awesome.

Running in Vibrams feels great. It made me feel light and bouncy – like a kid. As a gymnast we generally train with no shoes or socks, so I really appreciate having sensation in my toes and the ability to grip the ground with each step. This was a turning point for me. I think I ran 4 or 5 days that week – just a mile loop near my house. It was almost fun. I even wrote down my times for the first couple runs – (which were terrible)- but for the sake of transparency I’ll share them:

  • 11:47 (yes, that is barely 5 MPH!)
  • 11:32
  • 10:59
  • 10:21
  • 10:07

I started off miserably slow, but it’s amazing how fast the numbers start dropping once I kept working at it. But the final piece to the puzzle here is some technology:

The RunKeeper iPhone App

I first encountered this app in my Facebook news feed like 6 months ago, but re-remembered it after I started thinking about how I was going to track my progress when I didn’t know how far or fast I was running at any given time.

Cue RunKeeper. This is one powerful little app. It tracks where I’m going, how fast I’m going and gives me audio coaching on how I’m keeping up with my target pace. I get map of where I went, elevation metrics and an easy way to let my friends know I’ve been putting miles in.

In general I’m not a huge “data freak” who tracks everything they do, but RunKeeper makes it easy and useful, which is just a huge plus. It’s free too so if you’re a runner, I definitely recommend you check it out.


To tie this all together: my desire to push myself is what caused me to give running a shot, the Vibrams have made running fun and interesting and RunKeeper has allowed me to track and measure my progress, which gets me interested in running farther and faster.

I’m really glad I’ve found a way to enjoy running. As I said earlier, I’m not running very fast or very far, but I love being able to push myself physically in a new way. I end most runs tired but not exhausted (once in a while, I’ll really push myself) and I feel great for the rest of the day.

One minor cavate to this positive story though is that I did sort of strain my calf recently. It makes sense – all that impact is getting absorbed by the muscle in the calf – it’s a lot to handle and I ramped up my miles pretty quickly. I was careful though and took a full week off from running and now I’m back in the game. Yay!

I’ll let you know how the race goes as well. My expectation is that I’ll run it in under 25 mins (you can see that I did 3.14 miles in 27:39) but my stretch goal is to do a sub 20min. I have a feeling I’ll be pretty juiced up at the starting line and the adrenaline boost might take some minutes off my pace. We’ll see.

Thanks for making it all the way to the end of the post. Hope you enjoyed it and I’d love to hear your experiences with running or your feedback in the comments!


[1] I’m still somewhat skeptical about whether or not running is a sport. It’s physical effort, that’s for sure. But is splitting wood a sport? How about endurance dancing? I guess if it requires physical ability, can be competitively measured and enough people do it, it’s a sport.

[2] The SF Marathon has an interesting “Progressive Marathon” concept where you run 23 miles, tracking it on a workout sheet, before doing the 5k and “completing the marathon”.

[3] I actually strained my calf recently and took a week off to recover, so it’s true that somethings my enthusiasm and “push through s you can probably see in July I’ve only run once, due to a strain in my calf, but

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Jason Shen

Jason is a tech entrepreneur and advocate for Asian American men. He's written extensively and spoken all over the world about how individuals and organizations develop their competitive advantage. Follow him at @jasonshen.

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  1. Wow, good luck Jason. Something I really enjoyed at school and have neglected recently is running cross-country. My friends keep trying to get me into it, but living in London now with such a hectic life is making finding the time rather difficult. Keep us updated on your progress!

  2. @MattieTK Thanks for the support TK! I’ll definitely keep you guys in the loop and you should also take your friends up on their offer – it’s totally worth the time investment IMO.

  3. Good luck, Jason! I tried (unsuccessfully) to get into running last summer with the C25K app, which is a great app. I was doing it all wrong: started out with the wrong shoes, which made my knees scream after a few days, and then I had to dial the running way back. I’m getting back into it (slowly) this summer, with correct shoes this time. I’m not serious enough to warrant the Vibrams, but my cousin has a pair and she adores them. Best of luck on your progress, and @MattieTK is right, keep us updated!

  4. Have fun & welcome to the barefoot world. I’ve been running (sprinting) barefoot for almost a year now… no Vibrams, just my bare feet. I run 10-15 120 yard uphill (on grass) interval sprints 3 days/week. I got off to a rough start, because I didn’t ease into it. Within 3 months, I tore the MCL in my right knee. As soon as it healed, I tore the other one. After strengthening both knees via volume squats and a few other exercises, I’ve run without incident since April… full speed & no knee brace. Form is everything when you run barefoot. Anyway, running barefoot is a lot of fun, and combined with my bodyweight exercise regimen, I’m in the best shape of my life at age 52.

  5. @StickItMedia Thanks for the welcome! Can you tell me more about what you mean by good form? I really really don’t want to get hurt again. What are volume squats? Do you mean heavy weight or high number of reps? Would appreciate the clarification!

  6. @annedreshfield @MattieTK Thanks! I don’t think wearing Vibrams make me more “serious” about running – they just make running more fun for me. I hope you’re able to stay with it and not get hurt this time. More updates to come!

  7. @jasonshen From what I can surmise, my strides were too long, which somehow exposed my knees to lateral tweaks and less stability. Since I’ve shortened my stride, I haven’t had any problems. I was doing a high number of reps of squats… about 500. That really helped strengthen my quads. Never had problems with my calves…you should be able to remedy that. I would think that in time, that problem would disappear. Good luck hitting that sub-20 min. time!

  8. @jasonshen @MattieTK Well, when I was little I literally used to run around in circles pretending I was a horse, and I was entertained for hours doing that…maybe I should give them a try. ;)

  9. Hey Jason,I’m running a 5k tomorrow. I’ll let you know how it goes.It’s been a while for me too and I’m just getting back into the running world.Good form: -Keep the shoulders relaxed. -Move the arms back enough so that it creates a window with your body.-Chin looking forward, not up, not down.I’m pretty sure you know the stretches but the one I’d like to share is simply rotating your ankles back/forth 10 times each in each direction. It prevented me from ever getting an issue with my ankles.Best of luck!

  10. Cutting wood is a sport out in logging country! Contests to cut trees with large hand saws, throwing splitting axes, etc. Also with running at a competitive level, things that are important in any sport become important: pacing, form, strength and endurance conditioning, mental focus, etc. (caveat: I don’t run or do any competitive sports)

  11. Glad to hear that you’re running! I have been using Vibrams myself. As other people have mentioned, good form is key to preventing injury and also to efficienct running. The form does take some time and practice to develop, especially with these minimalistic shoes. There’s a good community for barefoot/minimalist running shoes started by Barefoot Ted from “Born to Run”: http://groups.google.com/group/huaraches

    Some other sites for learning the “barefoot form”:

    The POSE method (www.posetech.com) — this is how I started. They have some good articles and exercises, and are also recommended by Tim Ferriss.

    Merrell’s website (http://www.merrell.com/US/en/Barefoot)

    Terra Plana video (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jio7DK15Q1E)

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