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.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Speedwork and Temper Tantrums

Speedwork almost never leaves me feeling beaten, but this was one of those days where it did. I was working on my goal of getting under a 20:00 5K. The workout that morning was mile repeats with half mile jogs between, and that morning it just wasn't in the cards.

My daughter almost never has a temper tantrum, but this was one of those days she did. She was two and had been invited to her first ever birthday party. We were at the store buying the birthday present, but that morning, it just wasn't in the cards.

My first of three fast miles went well, two seconds ahead of the prescribed pace, but my legs were already starting to feel heavy. Mile two was not so hot, a full ten seconds behind pace my legs were wooden and my lungs were begging me to stop. Mile three, or should I say mile 2.75 was it. My lungs were screaming, my legs were aching, my shoulders were slumping, then there were the sudden GI issues. There is a lot I will push through, but there are some things I am not interested in experiencing on a run. I stopped running and walked. One part of me was thinking, "I would have pushed through if it weren't for the tummy issues, the rest of me was thanking my gut for rebelling.

Shopping for the present started off well, we got a gift bag instead of wrapping paper because we were on a bit of a tight schedule then went off to select the present. When it came time to decide on the gift things were not so hot. There was a lot of indecision and refusing of suggestions from Mom and Dad. Once the gift was finally chosen the trip to the cash register was the beginning of the end. Standing in line, I was saying, "Settle down, or you will have a consequence, no more yelling, if you kick me again there will be NO BIRTHDAY PARTY FOR YOU!


My daughter was screaming, my left leg was aching, my shoulders were bristling. "That's it, you will not go to the birthday party." One part of me was thinking, "I really wanted to take her to her first birthday party," the rest of me was thanking her for rebelling.

As I got in from my run and looked at my training schedule held to the door with a magnet I felt disappointed. Things did not turn out the way I wanted them to. I did not get what I wanted.

As we got home from the shopping trip and she looked at the birthday party invitation held to the door with a magnet she felt disappointed. Things did not turn out the way she wanted them to. She did not get what she wanted.

Looking back on both of these things now, I see the value of both. I went out there and ran my hardest and did the best I could. I didn't complete the workout, but the work I did was worth it. Not only to help me work towards that race pace I still haven't achieved, but also to improve my health, strength, and fitness. It also helped me learn where my limits are and helped me improve my mental toughness for races. Sometimes a "failed" workout is the best lesson of all. For my daughter, she missed out on her first birthday party she was invited to, but the lessons learned were worth it. She knows that her Dad is consistent and follows through with what he says. She knows that her actions have consequences, and she has a clear boundary of what the limits are. Sometimes a "failed" outing is the best lesson of all.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Race Face Competition!!

OK, runners, swimmers, cyclists, etc. send me your race face pics and we will have a showdown. Worst raceface (voted on by readers) wins. . . the pride of knowing you ran hard enough to look worse than anyone else did!

Send ugly race face pictures to franklin kung fu at gmail dot com.

Race Face Collection Volume One

My First Great Raceface Picture.
Post Triathlon Raceface 

Aqua Raceface

Raceface Junior: Prerace

Saturday, September 1, 2012

OMG Why Do Runners Always Brag On Facebook??

You've probably seen runners do it. "Just ran 4 miles in under 40 minutes woohoo!" "Just PR'ed my 5K!" "I nailed my long run, 12 miles in the rain uphill both ways."

Why must runners and other athletes put all that up in front of everybody, are they trying to show off? Are they trying to make non-runners feel bad? Are they just cocky?

You may be someone who has made such posts. (Heaven knows I never would!!!) Someone may have complained to you, or someone may have Vaguebooked about your post so they could vent without admitting that it was you that got under their skin.

So why do we do it?

It's simple, generally in face to face conversation with a person, we ask about them. On Facebook, we don't have a specific "them" in front of us. So we talk about ourselves. We talk about the things that are on our mind, that excite us, that frustrate us, that we are proud of, or that we are sick of.

Right now 3 of the first 4 posts on my newsfeed (summarized) "I'm playing music today" "I'm going to the movies" and "I'm going to LA".

So, non runners, we runners are going to post about what excites us.


We will post about our first time to run a mile without a walk break, our first 5K, our first 5K under 30 minutes, under 20 minutes, our new PR.

We will post about our love of how we feel after a good run, about how hard our speedwork was this morning, about how our long run just kicked our tails.

We will make posts that other runners will recognize and you may not. "Twenty-six two baby!!" or "Ugh, black toenails".

We will post about the race we just ran, the race we'd love to run, and the race we are about to run.

We will post about how we feel during taper week, or about how we can't wait for taper week.

We might even post about bloody nipples.

Runners, if someone complains about you "bragging on Facebook" remember that they are posting about the doughnuts they had for breakfast, the cigar they smoked last night, and about the cool car they saw on the highway.

There is nothing wrong with their posts about what is exciting to them, and there is nothing wrong with our posts about what is exciting to us.