Saturday, December 29, 2012

The Slowest Triathlete That Day

I watched as she reached deep inside to summon one last bit of energy as she drove her body across the finish line. Her face was red, her breath coming in gasps, each running step seemed painful, but she crossed the line that hot August day. She was not the first across the finish line that day, in fact the first across that line had been finished for nearly an hour and a half. The first place winner did the entire sprint triathlon in less time than it took her to do the bike leg. He was joined by his kids as he breezed across the finish line, they each took one of his hands and he jogged to the finish with them. She was joined by her grandkids as she struggled to get to the end of the event.

She, the last place finisher (though first in her age group) impressed me much more that day than that first place guy did. He competes as a pro and this year took 2nd in the ITU Cross World Championships and 3rd in the Xterra USA Series. She finished a sprint triathlon, something she had never done before.

He went into that day knowing he would finish, and odds are he knew he was going to take first place.
She went in not knowing if she could complete the course.

He jogged easily across the finish line.
She needed every ounce of energy she had left to get there.

What he has accomplished as an athlete is amazing and inspirational.
What she accomplished that day inspires me more though.

It is astounding to me that some people have the talent, the drive, and the athletic background that lead them to just leave me in the dust on a race like that. I am impressed and inspired by those people. The people that really blow my mind, however, are the ones who at age sixty decided to tear themselves free of the sedentary lifestyle they had been leading, the ones who decided that they would overcome their obesity, to get rid of the cigarettes, to throw out the junk food and change the way they were living their lives.

I've met quite a few like her now. At the same event I was talking to a man who had started training for a triathlon after his doctor told him to change his lifestyle unless he wanted to die in the next six months. Now he competes in triathlons regularly. My brother lost 130 pounds and now bikes everywhere and has completely overhauled his diet. These are the ones that make me proud, these are the ones that inspire me.

This is the reason I want to be a personal trainer. As much as I would enjoy training an athlete to higher levels of achievement, what I really want is to take those who don't think they can do it and show them they can. I want to take people who cannot walk a mile and teach them that they can run a 5K. I want to inspire them, and be inspired by them.

So now, I'm going to get back to studying the muscles that act on the shoulder.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Oh No, It's a Year End Reminiscing List.

2012 is wrapping up soon, so I thought I'd go back over my year and blah, blah, blah. . .

On to the list.

Cool things that happened to me this year.

10. I ran my first trail race (race report here) with my wife, stepdaughter, and dog. It was also my first race longer than 5K.

9. Watched my (at the time) 4 year old daughter run over a mile completely barefoot on the road.

8. Overcame my fear and self doubt, trained for and completed my second sprint triathlon, beating my previous time on the same course by almost four minutes.

7. Went even more nearly barefoot with Xeroshoes huaraches.

6. Didn't PR, but had great fun trying.

5. Watched my daughter run her first one mile race, and her second and third half mile races.

4.Ran my slowest 5K ever. If you haven't clicked any of those links, you should really click this one.

3. Took charge of my thinking again.

2. Started a revolutionary new workout program.

1. Swam, biked, ran, loved my wife, loved my girls, loved my life.

Am I Just Too Old?

I was studying my personal trainer manual and I came across a statement I had seen many times before. In a nutshell, once a person is in their thirties, athletic potential declines.

Yeah, I was feeling pretty old right there.
I started running at age 35.

Dang it.

I was never sedentary, in fact I was far from it. I walked and rode bikes to class in college, and I've been around martial arts my whole life. I was a pretty active person, I just never really thought about pushing myself and seeing just how far I could go until I started running, which was after my peak potential had passed.

So I turned to Google. Looking for inspiration, it seemed that most athletes my age and older were ones who were at or near the elite level during their peak years. That didn't really do much to inspire me. I mean, Diana Nyad is amazing, but I needed someone that became very athletic after their "prime years". Then there are people like Cheryl Ragsdale who are inspirational and started later in life, but I was still not really feeling consoled.

I started lamenting the fact that I had not started earlier in life. I started thinking about my stint on the high school track team, and found myself frustrated about that all over again.

So then what is a "past their peak" athlete to do?

The same thing every other athlete does.

Every single person has limitations. For one person it may be that they started late, another may have had their legs paralyzed, one may have Down's Syndrome while another has Asperger's. There may be an athlete who has the disadvantage of having been born in the poorest part of the world, while another's disadvantage is that they were born so rich they never developed the motivation to work for something until they had a mid life crisis.

The point is, to not lament what kind of athlete I might have been if I had developed this passion younger in life, but to be the best I can be right now.

Every person has his or her challenges, and every day has its challenges. It is possible that this March I will have to run the best trail race I can with a pulled hamstring, or in August I will have to race the best triathlon I can with a sore ankle, or that I will have to miss these events entirely.

The key for me is to focus on the present. After all, it is the only moment that is real. The past is just a memory and the future is imagination.

So the goal for today is to do the best tempo run I can today, the best I can do with only two years under my belt and me being past my prime, the best I can with a slightly sore foot and a cold.

The best I have right now.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Trail Race Training.

My eyes are set on the Fall Creek Falls Trail Race again this February. Last year this was my first race longer than a 5K and my first trail race. The website calls it a 12 mile race, but the race director sent out an email saying that it was indeed a true half marathon.

Just in case it was a little short of a half marathon, I ran off onto a fire road for a little while to make sure and get my distance in.

No really, I did it on purpose. Seriously.

Well, it was so much fun last time that my family and I are training for it again. This time I am utilizing a secret weapon that a lot of runners seem not to think about.

Strength Training!

That's right, along with lots of running I am doing  goblet squats, one leg deadlifts, one legged squats, lunges and what not. Sometimes body weight, sometimes with kettlebells and sometimes with my daughter on my back as well.

This should help me conquer those killer hills.

Or as my family and I like to say, "There is no hill!

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Revolutionary New Workout!

It is a revolution in fitness!
It can get you through a holiday slump!
It can get you started on a fitness program regardless of your current activity level!

It is the Just Get Up And Do Something Already program.

It is really simple, as soon as you are finished reading this, just get up and do something already.
It can be 10 wall pushups and 10 squats, a one mile walk, a ten mile run, a Crossfit WOD, or anything else.

The key is to just get up and do something already.

If you are overweight and low on energy, just get up and do something already. If you've worked out in the past but lost the habit, just get up and do something already. If you have a fitness program but can't do what you planned because of weather or schedules or whatever, just get up and do something already.

It's that simple, something is better than nothing, so just get up and do something already.

Now- - -GO!

Monday, December 17, 2012

Heart Attacks and Tragedies

I don't preach much here unless I am preaching about being fit.

Open heart surgery is a wonderful lifesaving tool to have. My uncle is still alive thanks to heart surgery. I am grateful that we have that option. For the most part, however, it could be avoided. It takes work, dedication to a healthy lifestyle, and development of healthy eating habits. It requires a lifestyle of health and fitness. It means taking the time daily to exercise and plan healthy meals, for some it would require a big investment of time to change from the way they are living to a new way of living.

My brother is a good example. He weighed 310 pounds. He sold his car, bought a bike and made other lifestyle changes. he now weighs 180 pounds. That would be like carrying my daughter and two of her friends around on my back, then putting them down. His lifestyle now requires more physical work on a day to day basis, but it has become ingrained in his daily pattern and is normal for him. Now, aside from all the other benefits of being healthy, he no longer has the shadow of open heart surgery looming ahead of him.

This insanity, this tragedy, another tragedy.

People are talking about school security measures. Lockdowns, armed guards, armed teachers, etc.

Being able to stop an armed intruder from walking into a school, or being able to stop one that has walked into a school is important. Being able to protect innocents from this broken individual is important.

What can we do to avoid it. In the United States, it is so hard to get mental help for a child or young adult unless they have already done something heinous. When a young man I know was threatening his pregnant mother, the police wouldn't take him because he hadn't actually broken any laws, mental health crisis people wouldn't take him in for the night because he was too belligerent, his parents were told to call the police whenever he did anything, the police said there was nothing they could do.
One officer said of the 17 year old, "He's not too big for a spanking you know."

The recommended course of action from law enforcement was to spank a 17 year old who was in a crazy enough state of mind that his pregnant mother had locked herself in a car.

Recommendations from the health care professionals were, "We can't do anything until he gets arrested, so call the police."

Something needs to change about the way we approach mental health in the United States. For those concerned about taxpayer costs of mental health care for the poor, there are some people in Connecticut you need to talk to.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

I'm Sorry, E. A. Poe, I'm Really Sorry.

This morning, the road was cool and wet, while the bed was warm and snuggly.
I got up in plenty of time to go do my run, but since I'm only doing three runs per week right now I decided to put this on off until Friday when it will be over 50 degrees F in the morning. Instead I snuggled up next to my wife.

Once we were all awake around 6:00 she got on the bike trainer and I got out the kettlebells.

So, with all apologies to Edgar Allen Poe:

Feel the Iron of the bells
Kettle Bells
What a world of agony their heaviness foretells
How I pant and grunt and groan
And my muscles start to moan
While my wife is doing crunches
I'm swinging it in bunches
And I feel it in my bones
Keeping time, time, time
In a sort of Runic rhyme
To the strengthening and tone that so definitely wells
From the bells, bells, bells, bells
Bells, bells, bells
From the swinging and the swinging of the bells.

Remember to like, +1, and share!

Friday, November 30, 2012

Love It Hate It

Speed Work.

Speed work and I have a love hate relationship.

Today was my first speed work in a month and a half, and I remembered today  just how hard it is to run a half mile as fast as you can. During each fast interval I was spontaneously creating reasons why I shouldn't do the other fast intervals.

I did do them all though. I muscled through it. I kept turning my legs over, and kept redirecting my thoughts to a positive way of thinking.

So I thought I would share some of the things that keep me going when there is a part of my brain telling me to slow down and take it easy.

I want to get faster.
In my world I almost never have to push to myself to my limits, so I must choose to do so.
I want to increase my heart health so my daughter will have a daddy longer.
-------------so my wife will have a husband longer.
------------------so my stepkids will have a stepdad longer.
If I want to inspire other people to do something about their health I have to set the example.

How about you, what keeps you going? Comment below.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Is Too Much Exercise Bad For Your Heart?

Since the death of ultrarunner Micah True, there has been a good bit of news making the rounds debating on how much exercise is too much exercise. Some have said that more than 25 miles of running per week is too much. Others have said that more exercise is always better. Still others are still sitting on the couch and using these headlines as an excuse to not get up and exercise.

The full formula on what is too much is probably very complicated. It is probably different for every person, and probably different for a person at different stages of his or her life.

My two cents: Get up and exercise, chronic over exercise might be bad for the heart, however a sedentary lifestyle is bad for health.

If you are worried about the health effects of over exercising, don't run 5 marathons a year, but do run for fitness and fun. If you are running less than 20 miles per week, you have nothing to worry about. If you spend 8 hours per day sitting, you have a lot to worry about.

Meanwhile, I will leave the search for the facts on this issue to the exercise scientists and cardiologists while I train for my trail half marathon and olympic triathlon next year.

How about you? Do you plan to change your training based on these reports? Comment below.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Why I Run In "Barefoot" Shoes

First, I'll say it again. I am very disappointed that the phrase "barefoot shoes" has caught on. Barefoot means roughly "not wearing shoes" so barefoot shoes would be the shoes one wears when not wearing shoes.

I guess I need to get over it.

This line of thinking got back in my head after talking to a few different runners who don't think minimal shoes are good for running. I tend to discuss this subject mostly with other people who run either barefoot or nearly barefoot, so I forget how weird it still seems to others.

I never intended to join the barefoot/minimalist running craze. In fact I didn't even know there was one when I got my first pair of VFFs. As I was checking out with my Bikilas, someone else in the store asked me, "So do you do barefoot running?" I was confused. How could my purchase of a pair of shoes lead someone to think I'd be running barefoot? He quickly followed his first question with, "What do you expect to accomplish in shoes like that?" I was still confused, I was very new to running and had not been indoctrinated into believing that I needed shoes with a medial post, or that running in traditional running shoes would cause me to go blind from too much heel striking. I just knew that when I ran in the shoes I was running in it felt bad, and running in these shoes felt good.

Looking back on it a year and half later I can say this.

With no running training whatsoever, I was a sloppy runner. The less shoe I wear, the less sloppy my running. The less sloppy my running the less I hurt. The less I hurt the more I run. That is why I wear weird looking toe shoes, moccasins, and sandals to run.

And here is the evidence.

Me running in shoes.

Me running in much less shoe.

Friday, November 23, 2012

My Slowest 5K Ever Was Also My Personal Best

Wife and daughter during the first lap.
Thanksgiving Day 2012 I woke up my just-turned-five daughter, fixed her breakfast and asked her if she was excited about her first 5K race coming up that day. The Great Turkey 5K in Bowling Green 2010 was my first, and now she wanted to run a 5K. She had run several half mile races and a single full mile race, but had never run even two miles before.

Once she got her bib, she was so excited she couldn't stop bouncing until the race started. She ran and laughed and ran backwards. Her mother and I jogged next to her, grinning ear to ear. She wound up running about a mile and a half before she settled into a walk. At about 1 and 3/4 miles she was convinced she couldn't go any further. She kept going (with coaxing, encouraging, and bribing from her Daddy (including sport jelly beans) she made it to two miles. I ran ahead to get the jogging stroller and ran her to mile three where she got out of the stroller and ran to the finish finishing in around 50 minutes.

Still running, still smiling.

If I were running by myself, I could have watched an episode of "Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes" on Netflix, then started running and I would have finished faster. The idea for this race though, was not for me to race, but for my little girl to get to try her hand at a 5K.

Seeing her smile and sprint to the finish line is what it was all about.

I also got a bonus experience at this race.

Feeling totally done at mile two.

I have often noted that the people that I find the most inspirational at these events are not the people at the front of the pack, not the guys who finish in around 16 minutes, but the people who struggle to finish at all. The people who get out there and put the same percentage effort I put in to a race except they do it for twice as long are the ones that make me excited about fitness. To see those ladies and gentlemen coming to the finish line of their first 5K to see them reaping the rewards of a fitness program they recently started, that is what makes me want to jump up and cheer.

Thanks to my darling little girl I got to run with those guys and girls that morning.

Keep putting one foot in front of another everybody.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

A Disciplined Mind In A Disciplined Body

I did not want to go for my run that morning. Thanksgiving was just a week away and the sky was black as coal with tiny diamonds sparkling throughout and a rosy scarf on the horizon. In the light of the moon I could see the frost on the grass sparkling like a sugar cookie on Christmas morning. My alarm had rudely prodded me out of bed only thirty minutes earlier and I was just not in the mood to go out in the cold and exert myself. It was only a short run, like routine maintenance, but I did not want to go.

I was not in the mood to smile and think happy thoughts. The accumulated stress over the last few years was taking a toll, my wife had gone back to school, I was juggling part time jobs and caring for our young daughter, she was juggling school and caring for our daughter. She got her first teacher job and the schedule got worse. Now, five days a week she leaves before seven and returns some eleven to thirteen hours later. The bills had piled up, but finally we had enough income to slowly start digging out of the hole we were in. I was, however, stressed and did not feel like being positive.

I got out of bed even though I didn't want to. I put on my layers and my leather Runamoc Dash running shoes. I put on my balaclava, strapped on my Princeton Tec headlamp and headed out into the cold. Even though I did not feel like doing it, I knew the importance of it. The exercise would improve my body and give me a chance to clear my mind. Routine maintenance is important.

I put on a smile even though I didn't want to. I made a conscious choice about my thoughts instead of letting them drive themselves. I directed my thoughts instead of allowing them to progress into a downward spiral. I knew the importance of it. This exercise would improve my mind and keep me out of the ruts I sometimes find myself in.

I run, I exercise, I train kung fu because without it, my body will atrophy and decay and become gradually more and more useless. I train to stay strong and healthy so my body can withstand more of what the world throws at it.

I discipline my thinking because without it, my thinking will deteriorate into stress and depression. I train to stay strong and healthy so my mind and spirit can withstand more of what the world throws at it.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Homemade Huaraches

The real beauty of huarache sandals is how easy and inexpensive they are to make. I have now made three pairs of homemade huaraches, and spent a total of twelve dollars in the process. One pair was for me, one for my wife, and one for my five year old daughter for her birthday.

Golf Cart Tire Huaraches
 The first two pairs I made, for my wife and myself, were made from a discarded golf cart tire. It had been heavily worn and had lost a lot of its thickness, so I took it home, traced my feet and my wife's feet on it, cut it with a utility knife and had my huarache soles. Putting the holes in it was a challenge. This rubber is dense and tough. Using a hole punch and hammer was like trying to wreck a building by throwing socks at it. So I got my drill and drilled the holes. I bought a camping clothesline and used if for the string.

Golf Cart Huaraches On
My Foot
You can see in the picture when these are not on my foot, they curve up like, well, like golf cart tires, but when they are on my feet they conform pretty well, and the "toe spring" keeps them from snagging when I step over obstacles.

I recently bought some Xero Shoes Huaraches, and I have to admit they are more comfortable, lighter, and have better ground feel than my homemade huaraches. When I got them, my daughter watched me putting them together and asked if she could have a pair of huaraches. My little girl has an artistic streak and a DIY attitude, so for her birthday I bought a couple of leather scrap kits, one tough, hard leather bag, and one suede scrap bag. I was able to piece together enough scraps to make her two pairs of huaraches. We finished the first pair up today.

Gluing the footbed to the sole.
To have a kit ready to surprise her with for her birthday, I traced her Soft Star Shoes and cut out a tough leather sole and a suede footbed for each foot. On her birthday morning I presented her with her pieces, wrapped in leather cord for the ties. She wanted to get right on it, so we got out our multipurpose arts and crafts work surface, (pizza box) and glued the footbeds to the soles.

55 pounds and a book make a
 great press.

I don't have any clamps, so to press them while they dried, I used what I had handy.
 Once the glue was dry, we punched holes.
Hammer Time!

 We strung the laces and tied them on.
 My girl, her girl, and her-aches.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Running In Xero Shoes Huaraches

Xero Shoes now come in FIVE colors -- Cool Black, Mocha Earth, Electric Mint, Boulder Sky, and Hot SalmonThanks to Kentucky's version of November weather, (sometimes below freezing, sometimes above 70F) I've been able to put some miles on my new Xero Shoes huarache running sandals. It was a rather different shoe buying experience. Like most shoes there are colors to choose from, but with the Xero Shoes you also have the option of sending them a tracing of your foot and letting them finish your sandals or getting the kit and doing it yourself. I chose to do it myself. The final decision I had to make was whether to get the 6mm contact sole or the 4mm connect sole. I chose 6mm and am glad I did. Even at 6mm these huaraches have better groundfeel than my VFF Bikilas, VFF Treksports, or my SoftStar Runamoc Dash with 5mm sole. In short, these are the most barefoot soles of any of my running shoes.

The Kit

The kit came in a flat little package, it included the soles, two strings, a hole punch tool, and a pamphlet with the basics of how to put them together. I had been all over the videos on the Xero Shoes website so I was pretty confident on putting the shoes together myself, it took me about 15 minutes to complete them.

Tying and Running

I'm putting tying and running together because I feel that they are pretty inseperable with this type of shoe. There are lots of options on how one could tie huaraches. There are several video tutorials at the Xero Shoes website, some by the makers, some by users. I reccomend trying several different methods out to see what you like best. Each method has its strengths and weaknesses and every foot is different.

Running in huaraches is different. Modern running shoes are often designed to cushion, protect, and coddle the feet. Huaraches are not. They are designed to put a piece of material between your foot and the ground to protect the foot from abrasion and pointy things. Modern running shoes will protect your foot from bad running form with padding, cushioning, and other features, huaraches will tattle on your running form like a 3 year old at preschool. This to me is the number one reason to run in them.

If you push off (toe off) too much, the string around your ankle will tighten and let you know what you are doing, if on footstrike your foot is skidding into place instead of setting down, the string between the toes will press in and tell on you. If you have an odd twist to your foot like I do (did?) The strings around the sides of the feet will tell on you.

This next sentence is why I really love my Xero Shoes.
When I wear my Xeroes, I don't make as many running form mistakes because I get instant feedback from my shoes when I do.

My Xero Shoes are becoming a coaching tool, and I believe that my running form is improving and becoming more efficient from running in them. It isn't automatic, they don't magically fix the problems with running form, they just let me know there is a problem. I have to listen. I don't care if your coach is Alberto Salazar, if you don't listen to what he is saying, you won't benefit. This is a mistake some "barefoot runners" have made. They throw on a minimal shoe, call themselves barefoot, and keep running as they always have. It is vitally important when going minimal or barefoot to listen to your body's feedback.

Customer Service

I have to mention the customer service from Xero Shoes. No other shoe that I've ever had did I get free advice about my blog from the CEO of the shoe company, and only one other shoe company has been as hands on with recommendations and advice about their shoes. Steven Sashen has made all sorts of resources available on the Xero Shoes website, on the user forums, on his blog, through emails, and even over the phone. Absolute above and beyond customer service.

In Short

Quick summary:

Xero Shoes
Even the thicker 6mm version has better ground feel than the VFF Bikila.
Has the most breathable upper of any running shoe I've ever seen. (The upper is a string so. . .)
When my form is good, and the laces are dialed in correctly, I almost forget I have shoes on.
When my form is bad, I hear about it immediately.

Even if you are not a minimal, or barefoot running person, I recommend getting a pair and doing occasional short form training sessions in them. They are a lot more affordable than a high speed camera and professional coach.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Time To Take Charge

It seems that I have become a little off center lately, so it is time to do something about it. I've been good about my fitness, I run, I bike, I swing kettlebells, I do Hung Gar, but all that falls under physical fitness. I've been neglecting the other aspects of my health. I have not been taking time to train and maintain my mental, emotional, spiritual, and community fitness. 

So it is time to take charge.

How do I plan on going about this?

I will take inspiration from how I train my body. I know how to get up and go for a run even if I don't feel like doing it, so I will take time to read even if I would rather mindlessly cruise google plus. I won't read just anything, I will read things that are helpful to me. Thich Naht Han comes to mind. I will take time to sit quietly and pray/meditate/be. I will get back in the habit of healthy food. I will practice patience. Patience for myself, for those around me, patience in situations that I am powerless over.

I will look for opportunities to do random acts of kindness and to encourage others to do them as well. 

I will start planning community improvement projects.

It is time to take charge.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Tattle Tail!!

I've been examining my sole.

Soles actually. I've been studying the wear patterns on the soles of my shoes. I can see the evolution of my running form in the soles of my shoes.

New Balance 622.

I started off by running in the shoes I had. My running form was completely awful. I knew nothing about running and these shoes completely shielded my feet from any feedback I would get from slamming my heels into the ground. They are worn from the outside of the across to the big toe area. My toes stick out to the sides when I walk (duck feet) and when I ran in these shoes I did the same thing. Not only did I heel strike, I also zig-zagged somewhat when running.

Vibram Five Fingers Bikila:  The majority of the wear was on the outside edge of the forefoot, with some minimal wear at the heel, and another large area of the wear on the sides of the toe units.

Wait, what? On the sides of the toes? How does that happen?
after discovering this wear on the sides of the toes and the outside of the heel I started really trying to see what my feet were doing. I was landing on the forefoot, with my duckfootedness still happening, as my heel lowered, my foot would rotate into a forward pointing position causing the sideways wear on my toes and the sideways wear at the heel.

Soft Star Shoes Runamoc Dash:
Running in this shoe overlapped with running in the Bikilas and had a similar wear pattern.

My new Bikilas also feature the sideways wear at the toes, but lack the sideways wear at the heel. I think my foot is coming to the forward position more quickly than before so that by the time the heel lands the rotation is completed.

Time will tell what my new Xero shoes will tell me with their wear pattern, but they are already tattling on me quite a bit. I get feedback faster from them thanks to the construction. There are more details on that here.

What do your wear patterns tell you?

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Xero Shoes First Look

My first impression after receiving my Xero Shoes huaraches are very good. I ordered the 6mm sole for two reasons, I wanted longer wear, and I am still interested in a little more sole between my sole and the road.

I've done a three mile easy run, some even easier jogs with my daughter and dog, some walking on trails, and some casual wear in these sandals. Right now, I have a VFF Bikila on one foot and a Xero on the other.

I can't help but compare "barefoot shoes" of all types with my VFFs simply because they are the first that I used so they are my frame of reference.

The upper on the Xero Shoes is definitely more breathable. Of course, the upper is a string, so that is kind of obvious. The only thing to really compare then is the sole. The VFF Bikila has a pretty flexible sole, the segmented rubber area helps a lot with that, the 6mm Xero Shoe is a single piece of rubber and has a little less flexibility than the Bikila. I'd like to see sometime how the 4mm compares. The VFF also flexes much better at the toes due of course to the individual toes.

Despite being slightly less flexible than my Bikilas the Xero Shoe actually has better ground feel. I feel more texture under my feet, and I better feel what my foot is doing when it contacts the ground. This leads me to what I feel is the single biggest reason to run in huaraches at least every once in a while.

I have recently discovered a problem with my running form. I suspected it from examining the soles of my VFF's and SoftStar Runamoc Dash shoes, but I confirmed it for sure while running in my Xero Shoes.

I have duck feet.

Not webbed toes, obviously, or I couldn't run in VFFs. What I mean is that my feet land with my toes pointed outward. I first realized I walked that way when I took a snow picture of footprints from my daughter and me walking through the snow. Her toes pointed in the direction she was going, mine pointed way out to the sides.

Looking at videos of me running before going minimal, not only did I heel strike, but my duckfootedness resulted in a zigzag pattern to my running stride. When I went minimal, a lot of this was corrected because I switched to a forefoot strike, but I have a degree of twist when I land. I start off with toes out, heels in, then my foot twists slightly to line up with my direction of travel. I saw evidence of this on the wear pattern in my shoes, but the huaraches give me immediate feedback of this with every step. I can feel the twist happening, and when it is extreme, my heel actually presses against the strings of the huarache and nearly steps off the edge of the sole. This twist is something I didn't even figure out on barefoot runs. I knew there was friction on my foot, but I couldn't pin it down.

Number one reason to run in huaraches? They are the biggest tattle tail on my running form. If I skid forward on landing, the string between my toes tells me so. If I push off too much with my toes, the string around my heel tells me so. If I twist the strings around the side tell me so.

Instant feedback with every step, and the most barefoot feeling shoe I've ever tried. Just those two factors give me all the reason I need to run in Xero shoes.

There is one more thing though. VFF Bikilas run $100 a pair and last me about 1000 miles before the inside starts to give me toe blisters. Xero Shoes run less than $30 a pair and have a 5,000 mile warranty. As I am on a budget, this matters to me. Bikilas cost me ten cents per mile. Xero Shoes,
six tenths of a penny per mile.

Electric Wheelchairs

Electric wheelchairs make running a 5K, 10K, half marathon, whatever easier and more comfortable for inexperienced runners. If a runner has poor running form and is concerned about injuries from running, electric wheelchairs may cushion and protect the runner from impact forces, as well as stepping on sharp things.

I am willing to bet that a person uses less oxygen racing any distance by racing in electric wheelchairs.

Electric wheelchairs prevent overpronation, and oversupination.

Given this information, shouldn't everyone be racing in electric wheelchairs.

Did I say electric wheelchairs? I meant modern running shoes.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Too Cold To Run?

The cold has returned abruptly. Of course, this is Kentucky, so people from further north will think I'm a little crazy. It's not that it is bitterly cold, rarely is it bitterly cold here. It's just that the change was so abrupt. One day I'm out with my dog and daughter in shorts and huarache sandals, then suddenly I find myself putting out layers the night before a run.

I am a big weenie about the cold. I like to have time to adjust, and I haven't had time to adjust. I had to get up and get back to running today though. With an easy two miler in mind, I prepared my running clothes the night before and set my alarm for 5:30.

In the morning, when I don't want to get out there, the key for me is to not think about it. Just take one step at a time. Stay present in what I am doing and don't think about the next step too much. So I eat my banana and drink my water. I put on my running gear and headlamp. I head out into the cold dark morning and just start.

About a mile in I remember why I do this. Being out in the crisp air with the moon shining down on the countryside. Stars still shining in the sky. The smell of smoke from woodburning stoves. The solitude, time to be with myself and not think about all the stresses of life. Time to just run and breathe, and be.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Halloween Monsters That Runners Will Survive

I was thinking about things like outrunning zombies, and that of course led me to thinking about other monsters that a runner would fare well against.

The Mummy. As long as we're talking about the shambling revenant style mummy a runner should do fine. If the mummy is using magic and mind control there would be some trouble.

The Wolfman. Sorry runners, not much hope here, with wolf augmented strength and speed runners would be overtaken.

Frankenstein. Runners against the old black and white movie Frankenstein would do fine, the Frankenstein from the novel would be to fast and strong.

Dracula. Running itself isn't any good against Dracula, but if you get enough garlic at the pre-race pasta dinners. . .

What other monsters could you outrun?

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Thanks To My High School Track Coach

Anyone who knew me in high school is thinking, "You didn't run track in high school?!?!" Well, I was on the track team for two weeks. I was looking for something new to do and I decided to join track. I told the track coach and he told me when practices were. I went to every practice for two weeks. The coach was never there. Sometimes one of the other track kids would have a note of things to do, a sort of work out that was written in what was to me at the time some secret track code. There wasn't much running going on.

Having not had one session of coaching, a track meet was coming up. I had no idea what I was doing, so I went to the track coach after a class and told him I was quitting track.

He laughed.

Then he asked me why, I told him there was a track meet coming up and I was not ready for it.
He said, "Well whose fault is that?" I walked away, he laughed a little more. If I had been as bold then as I am now I'd have said something back.

I didn't even consider running again for twenty years after that. When I did, it turned out I was kind of good at it.

So I'd like to thank my high school track coach for some important lessons.

Always be there for others.
When you are the one in charge of something, be involved.
Never laugh at a kid.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

You Could Get Those Cheaper Online, but. . .

With just a little search engine magic, one can often find amazing deals on running shoes. When budgets are tight that is a great way to shop. I will often go ahead to my local running store even though it means my bill will be a little higher, there are a variety of reasons I'll do that.

I can't give a list as to why you should support your local running store, but I have a great list of reasons that I will support my local running store.

Before I go into it I need to say that Trax Running does not pay me, sponsor me, or otherwise attempt to persuade me to say nice things about them, I just like to say nice things about them.

1. My local running store is staffed by runners and triathletes, people who have tried various shoes and watched others try various shoes and have well informed opinions on shoes and other running gear. I have been there more for free advice and tips than I have been there to buy things.

2. Supporting my local running store helps support their community efforts, Trax hosts a variety of free running clubs, 0 to 5K training, bike rides, elementary school running clubs, and so on. I'm happy to think that buying a hydration belt there instead of on the web helps support these efforts.

3. I can try things on before I buy them.

4. The people at Trax will watch you run, look at the wear on your shoes, ask questions about what you need in a shoe before they sell you a pair of shoes to make sure they give you the right shoes instead of the ones you think you want.

5. They know when all the running events are, support the local running events, and even put together my city's first marathon.

And finally, when I shop online, I feel like a customer, when I shop locally I feel like a part of the running community.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Outrunning Zombies

Artwork by Nathan Hendricksen
While watching season two of "The Walking Dead" the other day I had a thought. (Yes, season two, I'm a year behind.) I am sure that other runners have thought of this as well.

Zombies in TWD are a bit faster than the classic Romero zombies that are near and dear to my heart, but still if Shane with a busted ankle and Otis (God rest his soul) can stay ahead of the zombie horde as long as they did, surely an easy 8:30 mile pace would keep me well in front of them.

So, season two episode one instead of hiding under a car, I think I'd have said, "OK, you guys trap yourselves under there, I'll get my long run in."

"Hey walkers! Follow me!"

Knock out a couple of miles at an easy pace, find a side road, loop around, add in some speed work to get them off the trail, head back to the group.

I could have saved Sophia.

Lazy Week

This week has been "lazy week" for me.

I've done some light workouts with kettlebells and body weight, but no running. It has been really hard to discipline myself, I really like to run. Especially since my wife is getting ready to go out for a run on this beautiful morning. I am very tempted to go with her.

The thing is, I've been running injured since February. So I need time to heal and recuperate. I've not allowed myself the time I needed to get better. I had certain goals I was set on meeting, so I kept pushing. As a result I stayed injured and never really got the chance to train as hard as I would have if I were healthy. This may be why I fell short on my goals.

So now, I must learn from my own mistake and heal.

Lazy week it is.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Barefoot Running: Is it really better?

The results are in!

Studies have been conducted, performances have been examined, runners and coaches and podiatrists have been surveyed.

Even the studies are being studied.

It turns out that barefoot running is:

more injurious than shod,
less inurious than shod,
more efficient than shod,
less efficient than shod,
bad for your feet,
good for your feet.

It all depends on which study you pick.

So I would like to remind anyone who is reading this of a couple of things.

When you see an article that starts with something like, "Studies show that there is no one best way to run, with even elite long-distance runners showing a variety of styles - but wearing lightweight shoes is better than none," you should go past the headline, and read the article. If it is a news article you should then find the studies that were cited, when you read the study, it is a good idea to think critically about their methodology and see if there are possible flaws in the study, it is also a good idea to see if other studies support that study or refute it. 

Short version: Headlines have one purpose, to get you to read the article. The headlines will take a scientific article and turn it into an advertisement. This goes for barefoot running, and any other hot topic as well.

The other thing I would like to remind people of is this.

If what you are doing is working for you, keep doing it. If you are a barefoot runner and it works for you don't switch to a shoe with exactly 10mm of cushioning because some study said it was 1.9 percent more efficient. If you are running injury free in a cushioned shoe, you don't have to go barefoot just because your barefoot running friend told you it cured his asthma. 

Go out and run, barefoot, nearly barefoot, or with whatever shoe works for you.

For me running nearly barefoot boils down to two simple things. When I started doing it, my running aches and pains stopped, and, very simply, I like the way it feels.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Starting From Scratch

In February of this year, I over trained while getting ready for the Fall Creek Falls trail race and wound up with a nasty case of plantar fasciitis. I had lots of running I wanted to do afterwards and a goal of my first sub 20 minute 5K, so unfortunately I kept running injured and therefore never fully healed. Interestingly, my right foot was worse off to start with, and it seems to be fully healed while the left foot is still sore. So I've decided that Saturday's race was my last for the season. It is time to heal.

I'm taking some time off from running, doing some foot strengthening, massaging out some tight muscles, massively reducing my mileage.

The problem is, with all this time I'll not be running, I need to do something to not lose my mind.

I'm sure I'll think of something.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

They Tricked Me!!

What a rotten trick!

It was race day. I woke up earlier than planned, there was still no daylight coming in through the window, I rolled over, felt around to find my phone and flipped it open to provide a little light to see. I slid out from under the covers leaving my wife to sleep a little longer while I started a pot of steel cut oats with apples and cinnamon, and more importantly, a pot of coffee.

I put on my shorts, wiggled my toes into my Vibram Fivefingers running shoes, and slid into my bright yellow/green technical fabric running shirt, a color I thought had disappeared along with "Frankie Goes To Hollywood" before I started running nearly two years ago. Since it was a cold damp morning I added another layer to wear until race time, running pants and a rain jacket. My wife and daughter got up and got ready as well.

It was my day to run the 5K race at the 10K Classic in Bowling Green KY for the second time. This was my PR race last year, and I was running again with hopes not only to PR again, but to come in under 20:00 for the first time. My wife was running the 10K with hopes of running it at about a 10 minute per mile pace for a 62 minute finish time. My little girl was running the Children's Classic, at age four this would be her fourth race, but her first one that she got to wear a bib. We loaded up the car and headed into town singing along to "Little Liza Jane".

We arrived at the race, relaxed in the car for a bit, then headed to the starting line. I ran a short warmup, then got in line ready to run my heart out. The starting siren wailed, I ran. Down the street around the corner up the mile long first hill. I finished mile one only 9 seconds behind pace for a twenty minute 5K. Remembering the course from last year, I knew that mile one was the toughest mile of the course with a flat second mile and a third mile that had one short uphill and the race finishing with about a quarter mile down hill sprint to the finish line.

The 5K and 10K cover the same roads for the last mile or mile and a half so when I saw the mark on the road that said "5 miles" I "knew" I only had one mile to go.

What a rotten trick.

I turned left for that last little uphill, a young man, perhaps 9 or 10 years old passed me, I don't like being passed at the end of a race, but I knew that downhill sprint was coming and was confident I could catch him. I turned right for that quarter mile, downhill, all out, everything left in the tank sprint, and I gunned it, I passed the young man who had passed me, I charged toward the. . . finish line?

"Where is the finish line?" I thought. "There are some areas fenced off for construction, that is probably blocking my view." Onward I charged. "Where is the finish line? It's not here, they must have changed the course, it's probably just around that curve at the end of the road."

I blasted forward. Still no finish line. "Maybe we run all the way back to the start line," I thought as the young man passed me again. I was slowing down. The people off in the distance ahead of me were turning away from the start line.

"It must be around the corner there."
A little slower now as I was exhausted from my premature sprint.
"Just around the curve?"
"Up this hill?!?!"
"Where is the finish line!?!?!?!"
"Aaah, the Western Kentucky stadium entrance! We go in there, and charge onto the field."
I shifted gears again and charged through the entryway and saw that we had to go all the way down the football field, circle around, and back up the middle of the field. 170 yards never seemed so long. My gears were grinding to a halt.

I crossed the line one person grabbed the tag from my bib, a second handed me a water, a third looked at my face and asked, "Are you okay?" The look on his face told me the look on my face was far from looking OK.

I nodded that I was OK.

I finished in 21:11, 11th place overall, 2nd in my age group. I'd like to thank the really fast guys for running the 10K instead of the 5K.

(Moral of the story, make sure you look at the course map, even if it is a course you think you know. Also, make sure the mile markers aren't from last years course.)

My wife finished in 57:12. Five minutes faster than her goal. My daughter sprinted across the finish line with a smile on her face.

So I didn't reach my goal, I blame it on the early sprint, my wife exceeded hers, my whole family had a blast. They really make this race more than just a race, it is a celebration of fitness.

Today's race was a trick and a treat.

Friday, October 12, 2012

I'm A Little Fast, But That Doesn't Really Matter

I'm not fast fast, but I am a little fast. I don't have any illusions delusions about it, but according to this chart, my 20:30 PR does put me on the left edge of the chart over there. I'm aiming for <20:00 tomorrow, but I've been aiming for that for quite a while now.

Will I nail my goal tomorrow?

I don't know, and really, it doesn't matter.

My performance in that race tomorrow won't change the world, nor will it change my community, and it really won't change my life.

What has changed my life is the commitment to training that I have held preparing for this race. Getting up before sun rise and running, going out trail running with my wife, setting a good example for fitness and diet for my daughter and stepdaughter, and kung fu students, those are the things that will make a difference.

So tomorrow, at the Medical Center 10K classic I will run the 5K race, and I will finish in under 20 minutes.

Or I won't.

Regardless I am going to run my butt off.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Exercise Now!

"I need to lose weight," he said, "but Halloween candy will be coming into the house soon, so I'll wait until after that. Of course, then Thanksgiving is just around the corner and that would just wreck my diet, so I might as well start right after Thanksgiving. Oh wait, what about Christmas, I can't diet during Christmas season, to stressful, then there is Christmas Dinner. I'll wait until New Year's. That's it, it will be my New Year's Resolution to lose weight."

"I'm glad I got that decision out of the way, now I'm going to get some donuts for breakfast. I might as well enjoy my guilty foods now since I'll be dieting soon."

My advice, if you want to lose weight, do it now.

Exercise now.
Eat in a healthy manner now.

There is no moment as powerful as right now.

If you absolutely can not get out from behind a desk right now, make now as soon as possible. You don't have to go and run 5 miles on your lunch break, but you can take a 10 minute walk. You don't have to switch to nothing but grapefruit and salad, but you can pass up fast food for a healthier choice.

Make some small changes to your life. If you eat lousy food from a fast food joint for lunch every day commit to only doing it twice a week and start preparing healthier food to throw in a lunch box. Make sandwiches for lunch or make enough food at supper to have leftovers the next day.

If you don't exercise at all. Do something.


Add a 30 minute walk to your day 5 days a week. If that seems like too much time, think of it as an investment, you will get the time back with a longer lifespan, not to mention it will reduce stress.

Do 10 pushups in the morning or before bed. If you can't do a pushup, start with wall pushups.

Don't wait until after Halloween/Thanksgiving/Christmas, change small things now.

If you just can't resist Thanksgiving dinner, splurge a little that day, one day is small stuff when you are making small changes in your daily life.

Make some small changes to your diet and your activity level NOW.

Next month, do it again.

Lather, rinse, repeat.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Nathan Sprint Water Bottle

I am the camel of my family. My wife, stepdaughter, daughter, and I all run. For whatever reason, I am the one who can go with the least water on a run. On our recent trail run, of one hour and forty minutes I carried the Nathan Sprint hand held water bottle, and my wife wore the Nathan Speed 4R Energy Belt. We each had enough fluid for the run even though she used three times as much as I did. (Those links go to our local specialty running store, Trax Running for two reasons, they are our local specialty running store and I like to support the locals and they are really awesome there. They have not provided me any compensation whatsoever, I just like them.)

I thought I would review these two products on my blog I'll start with what they share in common, the bottle itself, I'll go into the specifics of the sprint here, then review the Speed 4R in another post.

Nathan Sprint
The bottle is a thick, durable, yet easily squeezable plastic and the shape comfortably fits in my hand. The cap is a "race cap" that has a valve rather than a lid you have to open and close. I really like the way the cap works. There is a built in valve so that water doesn't drip out (even upside down) and when squeezed, I get a shot of water that cuts off immediately when I stop squeezing. This makes it very easy to get a drink while running without breaking stride. There have only been two situations in which I have experienced any leakage from the cap. If I squeeze too long, the bottle shape eventually deforms enough that water can leak around the cap. Once, when using the belt on a trail run, I bent over to adjust my shoe, when I bent all the way over the bottle in front was upside down, and as I reached down to remove debris from my shoe, my body squeezed the bottle. So really it worked the way it was supposed to, I turned it upside down and squeezed it, all over my foot.

The handheld Sprint bottle (let me start by saying that I hate carrying a handheld bottle) is actually very comfortable to carry. And includes an ID card you can fill out with emergency contact information. On one of my family trail runs at Mammoth Cave I carried the Sprint for over an hour on this run. Ordinarily, if I am forced to carry something in my hand, I swap it back and forth between hands pretty regularly, but on this run I was holding the dog's leash in one hand and the water bottle in the other so it stayed in my hand until I emptied it, then I stowed it in the dog's pack.

The plastic of the bottle, the shape of the bottle, and the material in the handstrap were obviously well planned and designed. I had this in my hand for over an hour and for the most part I was able to forget I was carrying it. There was no rubbing, chafing, no hotspots on my hand. I never experienced any sliding or slipping of my grip. The strap is quickly and easily adjusted for fit via a hook and loop fastener. My biggest requirement for carrying a water bottle (other than it has to hold water) is that I need to not be troubled with it. This bottle's design was perfect in that regard. The only adjustment I made on the run was I took it off when I was finished with it. If I had not had Jack along I would have just left it in my hand and forgotten about it.\

So, the nitty gritty.

Lightweight bottle (it gets lighter as you drink!)
Comfortable in the hand.
No rubbing or chafing.
ID included.
Well, I guess the only con is you do have to carry it.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

New Balance Minimus Trail Zero: The Shoe That Broke My Heart

This shoe. I really loved the way this shoe felt on my feet. The sole was so flexible, the footbed so soft and smooth, just enough cushion under foot for rocky trails. It shed water like a duck. I really liked this shoe.

But. . .

Did I mention I really liked this shoe? I took it on its first trail run,    8 1/2 miles at Mammoth Cave National Park, me my wife, our dog, and my new shoes that only had 9 miles of running on them, all on pavement. The trail we were on was a shared use trail also used by horses. If you've never run on horse used trails this can mean some pretty rough conditions on the trail, especially after a rain like the day we went on this run. Squishy, muddy, mucky puddles. Deeply cut trails carved out by horses hooves, areas of high erosion. Also this trail had several areas of running on large rocks, or even bedrock. Quite a variety of terrain.

These New Balance Minimi Trail Zero shoes took such good care of my feet, and when they got wet, three steps later I would forget they had gotten wet.

Then when I got home and cleaned them off, I noticed something. The padded cuff around the ankle was peeling off.

I took them back to the store I got them, they had no more in stock (moving on to cold weather merchandise I suppose.) They called NB who said they would be glad to give the store credit on their next order, and I settled for my money back.

I walked out shoeless.

I went to a local discount shoe store and found at less than half price a beautiful blue and black pair of NB Minimus Trail Zero running shoes. In Blue and Black, a color scheme I would like much more than my "Road Stripe Yellow" ones. They were in my size. I picked them up and looked at the cuff around the ankle. It was peeling off.

Today I saw another pair at Gander Mountain. I looked at the cuff around the ankle. I rubbed it gently with my thumb and it peeled off.

New Balance, please fix this problem, this is a wonderful minimal shoe, but I don't want to buy an expensive shoe that I then half to repair with gear tape before I can run in it.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Natural Colors

I prefer clothes and shoes in colors that don't stand out. I like to blend in. I also like clearance prices so I don't always get the color I want. When I got these shoes I thought I'd never find a place in which they blended in with the natural world.

Well played mother nature, well played.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Minimalist Shoes = Fewer Injuries?

Run lightly in those
 foot gloves!
So according to this article from Runner's World and the studies cited therein, Minimally shod runners are reporting injuries at less than one-third the rate of those wearing more supportive/cushioned/built up shoes. There are two important things I would like to point out about the study. The injury rates were self reported, and the study took out reports from those who had recently changed their shoe type or foot strike.

The self reported part of the study can cause some problems. There are some barefoot and nearly barefoot runners who are fanatic out there and are simply less likely to admit to injuries. I don't think that there are enough to account for the huge difference in injury rates. (46.7% vs. 13.7%) It could even be possible that the number of false reports could be made up for by the number of minimalist/barefoot runners who swear that they forefoot strike when they still heel strike, so the denialists could send the numbers either way. Therein lies the problem with self reported studies. The other study in the story was a more controlled study. In this one, forefoot strikers were only half as likely to get injured as the heel strikers. 

Why would they remove those who had recently changed their running habits? Simple, changing running style or changing shoes too abruptly can lead to injuries. For a long time, my wife got injured every time she bought new shoes. To digress a little bit, I think the real reason they say to change your running shoes every 300-400 miles is not that your old beaten up shoes with 894 miles on them are no longer good for your foot, but that changing from them to some that are still fully cushioned and supportive is too much of an abrupt change. Back on topic, it makes sense that they eliminated the runners who were in transition from the numbers.

This leads me to another question.


Why are we seeing lower injury rates among minimally shod runners? Changing your shoes for a foot glove or moccasin is not a magical cure all. As a matter of fact, if you are not careful it could be bad for you. The key is in running smarter. In my casual, non-scientific observations I have found that there is a group of people who start running and don't put too much thinking into it. They learn just enough to know that they need to go to a running store and get fitted for shoes that will correct their pronation or supination and they go and get shoes and promise to change them every 300 miles and they go out and run. If they get injured, they look for a shoe that supports or controls or cushions more. Kudos to those guys for getting out there and getting on their feet and taking control of their fitness, but I sure hope they will find a fix for injuries. Minimalist runners, on the other hand, seem to be more careful about what they do. They learn about barefoot running, they read lots of articles, they study running form, they transition into their new shoes/habits and they run more carefully. The ones who don't do this in their transition get injured and then switch back to supportive shoes.

So the difference may very well be in running smarter. Can one run smart in those high heeled running shoes? I guess so, but the more heel there is in the shoe, the more likely the heel is what will hit first, and studies are showing that heel strikers are suffering more.

Run smart everybody.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Is Nearly Barefoot Running Bad?

Saying "Nearly barefoot running is bad for you," or, "Barefoot running is bad for you," or  "Running is bad for you," is like saying fire is bad. It all really depends on how you use it. My preference for running is to wear minimal shoes (unfortunately often called "barefoot shoes"). I wear shoes that give as little cushion and support as I can handle, and rarely go barefoot. When I started running (not long ago) in November of 2010, I just ran in the shoes I had. I had to deal with hip pain and knee pain, but if I did certain stretches I could alleviate those aches. When I started wearing Vibram Fivefingers I stopped having those issues. Personally when I switched shoes, my running form changed instantly. Unfortunately it doesn't work that way for everybody, or even most people. As it turns out, lots of people switch to minimal shoes, or even switch to barefoot running, then go right on slamming their heels into the ground. The only difference is that now they don't have cushioning under their heels to protect them from the impact. That is bad for you.

As a matter of fact, even with cushioned shoes, slamming your heel into the ground is bad for you.

If you run barefoot, pay attention to what your feet are doing. Find the lightest, quietest landing you can and listen to your feet. If it hurts, change what you are doing. 

The problem with being nearly barefoot is that whatever shoes you have on, no matter how minimal, they shield your feet from the ground. They dull the sensitivity of the feet. (That is what shoes were designed for after all.) Dulling the sensitivity of the feet in any way limits the feedback you get and allows you to continue making mistakes in your running form. 

So whatever shoes you are wearing, do your homework, learn about running form, practice safe footfalls, and of course, run like a ninja.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Barefoot Running Form: Run Like a Ninja

If you google "running form" or "barefoot running form" you will see that it a pretty heavily discussed topic lately. Here is my two cents.

I had my young kung fu students doing some short fast (they all define fast differently) runs and on the first run down the gym floor they sounded like a hailstorm. I cringed at the thought of bruised heels and sore knees and stopped them.

For the next run I told them we were going to do the same run, except they were to run like ninjas.

I told them I wanted them to run silently. I wanted them to not make a sound.

I told them, "When I say go. . . Run like a ninja!"

They got in their starting positions and narrowed their eyes. They got quiet, there was no more chatter.


Rather than the sound of thunderous hooves I heard the sound on ninja feet. Some of them really got into it and squatted low as they run.

I don't advocate a low squat for running form, but I do recommend running like a ninja.

Run quietly, almost sneakily, to run quietly you must lessen the impact of your feet. It is hard sometimes to think about the position your knees, hips, arms, feet, and upper body should be in. I discovered, however, that for some people, telling them to run quietly corrects a lot of running form issues.

So, try it for a short run (as any changes to running form should be done gradually).
Run like a ninja.

Katana optional.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Barefoot Running Shoes On Gravel: VFF TrekSport vs SoftStar Shoes Dash vs. NB Minimus Trail Zero

The bane of barefoot and nearly barefoot runners. Gravel!! If gravel is a common obstacle you face, but you want to run barefoot or nearly barefoot there are basically two options available.

1. Toughen up.
2. Find shoes that give you enough of a shield against the gravel.

As I am a nearly barefoot runner and not a true barefoot runner I have gone with a bit of a combination of the two. When I was training for my first trail race I had two pairs of shoes I ran on trails with, Vibram FiveFingers Treksport, and Soft Star Shoes Runamoc Dash (5mm sole option). Recently I added the New Balance Minimus Zero Trail to my trail running. 

Time for the standard disclaimer, none of these compaines have provided me anything to talk about their shoes, I bought them all myself.

When I first started running off road in minimal shoes, I learned quickly that gravel hurts. So I started going out of my way on trails to run on the gravel while wearing my VFF Treksports to toughen up my feet. The Treksports protect from gravel with a 4mm Vibram rubber sole and an 4mm EVA midsole. The sole is still rather flexible (obviously less so than a VFF classic, sprint, or KSO would be) and I could definitely feel the gravel. I felt that they offered enough protection to make running on brief intervals of gravel manageable from the start of my toughening up of my feet. Occasionally I would have a rock or stick poke at my arch where there is no rubber, but this shoe has a tough leather area there that provided me enough protection. 

Runamoc Dash
As the weather cooled, I started wearing the Soft Star Shoes Runamoc Dash. I got the non-perforated version because it was going to be my cold weather running shoes. I also got the 5mm sole for two reasons, 5mm would take longer to wear down than 2mm, and, as I said before, gravel hurts.

Well worn Runamoc Dash
The Dash has that 5mm sole, and an insole that appears to be as thick. It is the least flexible of my minimalist shoes, but still gives good ground feel. Maybe someday I'll pull the insole out which would improve ground feel and flexibility while reducing the protection from gravel and other hazards. The Vibram rubber sole covers the entire bottom of the shoe which gives ample protection for the entire foot including the arch area. The Dash gave me more protection from trail hazards, kept my foot warm on cold days, was extremely comfortable with or without socks, and is mono-toed, so I can wear whatever socks I want with it. The tread is less aggressive, so I did find myself sliding a bit more in sloppy trail conditions.

My new NB Minimus Trail Zero shoes got their first big tryout recently. My wife and I went trail running at Mammoth Cave National Park. I recently got the Zeroes because I decided to shine up my Runamocs and use them as a dress/casual shoe. I decided to try them out on the trail. NB has a completely different approach to the sole of this shoe than my others. It is a highly segmented sole with these little rubber pods connected by rubber. The high contact/wear areas also have a more durable rubber on top. Hard to describe, just check out the picture. 

The rubber sole appears to actually be thicker than my Runamocs, but thanks to the segmentation it is more flexible. I feel that my foot moves more naturally in these than the Runamocs, while I feel the ground less in them. Sometimes that lowered groundfeel is a curse, and sometimes it is a blessing. 

So which is my favorite trail shoe? 

Well, it depends. In ideal conditions such as mild weather and dry trails with few hazards I always prefer The FiveFingers they give me the most natural foot function. My TrekSports, however, do nothing to keep my feet warm, and when they get wet I have soggy material between my toes which I can not stand at all.

The Runamocs are the warmest of the three, and are even warm enough in the rare snow we have in Kentucky without socks. They do a good job of protecting against gravel. The downsides are they are the least flexible of the three, and they just look to good to ruin on trails. (downside or upside?)

The NB Zeroes are the best for wet conditions as they shed water like a well oiled duck, they are more flexible than the Runamocs, but have less ground feel. They have excellent flexibility thanks to the segmented sole, but sometimes acorns and things get stuck between the pods.

If you are looking for a minimal shoe for running on trails that include a lot of gravel or other hazards you have options available. You can toughen up your feet. You can get a shoe that has a thicker sole, losing some of the flexibility and barefoot feel, but adding protection under foot. You can choose one of the many shoes with a segmented sole that allows more flexibility, but has the chance of debris getting between the sole sections.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Sneak Peek

 The storms rolled through in the night, leaving in their wake light showers and crisp fall-like temperatures. As the last of the showers faded out and the sun started to make its presence known, my wife, her dog, and I headed out to Mammoth Cave National Park for some trail running. I had not spent much time on the trails this summer, and when I did run trails it was on a one mile loop at Lost River Cave. The trail there is nice and fun to run, but there are only so many times you can run the same loop so heading out of town was going to be great.

We dropped off our little girl, (thanks Grandma) and headed out to the park. We reached the ferry. For some reason I always get a little nervous driving on to the ferry. I always have an image in the back of my mind of the ferry twisting sideways or starting early and our car rolling off into the river. Once across the ferry, the roads became surrounded by the woods. It was different than the main road into the park. The main road feels like what it is, a roadway frequented by lots of people that happens to be in a national park. Across the ferry, however, things are different. The road seems not like part of the park, but like an intruder into the interior, tolerated by the wilderness, but never really welcomed.

We drove to our trail head, exited the car, prepared our gels, sport beans, and water, packing most of it in the Labrador/German Shepherd/Who-knows-what-kind-of-dog, Jack's backpack, then started running. At the start of the trail we ran past Good Springs Church, then onward into the woods. I don't know what it is about the wilderness, but it calms me. Going away from even the small city of Bowling Green, and getting out into the wilderness puts a smile on my face and sets me at ease. Having my wife next to me amplifies this feeling. The smell of moist earth, the dappled sun trying to dodge its way to the forest floor, the birds calling to one another, then the familiar sound of my feet and my wife's finding a rhythm as we run together.

My wife and I are very different runners really. I am faster, she is more adept at longer distances. Earlier this year we ran a trail half-marathon in Fall Creek Falls State Park. I finished significantly ahead of her, but took the next week off running and the following week only doing short and easy runs. She, on the other hand, ran another half marathon two weeks later. We don't run together often because of this, but when we do run together, we synergize. We overcome our differences simply because we choose to. I will run a little further and slower than if I were on my own. She will run a little shorter and faster. We compromise and find a way to make it work together.

This trail is fairly technical, plenty of elevation change, and wicked terrain that is magnified by its use by horse riders. On top of that, on this day it was sloppy due to the rain that had fallen overnight. Some parts were dry gravel, some were three inch deep mudholes punctuated by hoof prints. Some areas were hard packed earth, others were saturated sand traps. There were trails that had been cut deep by passing horses, shoulder width with walls up to my knees. Roots crossed the trail, jutted up from the trail, and even made horrible little root loop traps at dropoffs. Exposed rocks ranging in size from pebbles to boulders littered some trails necessitating a sort of slaloming gait. Negotiating all this with a dog on leash promised to be treacherous, but that good dog Jack moved well with me. After a short while, he gained the ability to intuitively know which branch of a braided path I would choose. If he chose wrong, he responded immediately to tension on the leash. When the trail was single track he would drop behind me. It amazed me how easy he was to run with.

I ran in front, trying to run a pace that would give me my workout without outpacing my wife. She communicated her needs from the back, and I tried to anticipate her needs before hearing them. I had even brought double the nutrition she had estimated she would need and that turned out to be the smartest thing I had done that day. We ran, calling out trail hazards to one another as well as calling out breathtaking views to one another. We pulled off the trail at times to patiently let mules coming the other way pass without being spooked, we passed hikers, and saw horseback riders. We saw the beginnings of fall colors in some of the trees. We ran for just over two hours. We returned to the car happy, rejuvenated, refreshed. It was the first two hours of the week that neither of us was thinking about work or bills or other stresses. It was the date that we needed. It was the confidence boost we both needed as we train for our races at Big South Fork at the end of the month. It was a wonderful sneak peek of fall.

Shoe review to come later.
It was also the first chance to get my new trail shoes muddy.