Tuesday, April 30, 2013

In the Long Run.

It started as a bit of a lark. People told me I should run a 5K with my wife. I wasn't a runner, but I was rather fit. So I did it. Then I became a runner.

At first I dreaded the longer distances. "How am I going to run four miles, three was hard enough." "Six miles, I'll never make it!" 

Now four miles is an easy day and six is speed work. I'm not running huge distances, 13.1 has been my longest, but lately I crave long run day.

A long run is my  chance to get away from everything else and just go. No headphones for me, no GPS, all I need is a look at a map to decide where I'm turning around and a stop watch to keep me honest about my effort level.

I like to disappear into my effort, to feel the rhythm of my feet and breath counting in 6/8 time. To feel the sun, or rain, or wind on my skin. To struggle up the hills and fly down them. Sometimes time seems to stop while I'm out there on the long run. Some days I don't want to stop, I just want to keep going, and going. . . It feels good.

I'm not sure when I stopped dreading and started craving the long runs, but I am glad I did. They are my chance to clear my mind, or to daydream. They are my chance to process my week or forget about it, or both. Whatever my thoughts are on the run I come back feeling cleansed.

I can't wait for my 11 miler this weekend.

Save Your Sole: Run Barefoot -- Part Three

I have heard people use these phrases when talking about good qualities of running shoes. "It really locks your foot in place." "It keeps the toes from moving around." "Has a nice firm arch. . ."

If you like those qualities, enjoy your shoes, and feel free to disagree with everything I've written in this series. To each his own.

If, on the other hand, if you want to strengthen the whole body including the foot, and you choose to do some of your runs barefoot, be prepared for your arches and your toes to get a workout they don't get in those kinds of shoes.

The human foot is awesome.

Why do we spend so much time eliminating so much of its function?

It flexes, springs, absorbs shock, returns energy to our next stride. It is an engineering marvel. If it has been allowed to atrophy, (like any other muscle) it will need some strengthening to handle the load of running.

So let's pump those piggies.

Use your toes to pick up small things. Pick up pencil erasers and put them in a can/bowl/box. Pick up a hand towel and pass it to the other foot. Clean up your kids Legos or Lincoln Logs with your feet.

Scrunch a towel. Put your feet on the towel and use your toes to pull the other end of the towel towards you. You can add weight by setting something on the end of the towel.

Barefoot strength training. Do your bodyweight squats, one legged squats, and whatever leg exercises you like barefoot.

Tap your big toe as many times as you can in 30 seconds without moving your pinky toe. Then tap your pinky toe without moving the big one.

By strengthening the intrinsic muscles of the foot, you will be helping the foot handle the stresses that running shoes insulate them from. If you want to run barefoot, or nearly barefoot this is a must.

See part one of this series here.
See part two of this series here. 

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Save Your Sole: Run Barefoot -- Part Two

If you missed part one. It is here.

Now that you've strengthened and lengthened, it is time to run barefoot. So. . .

Take off your shoes and run.

As I have said before, there is no such thing as a barefoot shoe.

All the tips that you will hear about barefoot running, or running in minimal shoes become much more self evident when you get out on a hard surface with bare feet.

Listen to your body: It is much easier to hear the feedback from your feet when there are no shoes to dull their sensation of the ground.

Run slower: If you go out barefoot at top speed you'll pay for it quickly, so slow down, your bare feet will tell you if you are going slow enough.

Don't go too far: If you go out in minimal shoes, you can run for quite a long way with no pain, until the next day when your calf muscles and achilles tendon scream at you. Go barefoot and your feet will tell you when to turn around, don't ignore them, stop when it is time to stop.

Shorten your stride: Stretching your legs out and landing on your heels barefoot will hurt, listen to your body's feedback and shorten your stride accordingly.

Don't heel strike: Stretching your legs out and landing on your heels barefoot will hurt, listen to your body's feedback and shorten your stride accordingly.

Run softly and smoothly: Again listen to your feet, literally this time. Try to avoid a thumping sound or a slapping sound, run quietly, run like a ninja.

Did I mention to listen to your feet?

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Save Your Sole: Run Barefoot -- Part One.

Well, at least toughen your sole anyway.

Spring is creeping its way north once again and people are getting outside to exercise. More and more people will go outside and lace up those running shoes and go for their first runs of the year or the their first runs ever. While it appears the "craze" part of the barefoot/nearly barefoot running thing has died down, sooner or later a new runner will be in a race or on a run in the park and see someone running barefoot, in "those toe shoes," sandals, or something that looks like slippers. A brief conversation with these minimalist runners may lead one to question what the guy at the running shoe store told them about over pronation.

There are some things to know before ditching one's shoes though. If a runner is accustomed to old there will be pain, oh yes, there will be pain.
fashioned running shoes (yeah, I said old fashioned) and enthusiastically jumps on the Tarahumara bandwagon without a solid transition,

Over the next few posts here I'll share some things to watch out for if you think you would like to switch to less shoe.

These are close, but still not barefoot.
Today I'm discussing heel - toe differential. If there is a 16mm difference in the heel and toe in your shoe, your heel is 16mm (more than half an inch) higher than your toe when standing in those shoes. If you switch from this to running in a shoe with zero differential, your foot will be in a more natural position, but your muscles haven't been operating this way so there is some adjustment to be done.

If a personal training client came to me complaining of some low back discomfort, told me they had a desk job where they sat in an office chair 8-10 hours per day 5 days per week, I'd already be betting on a particular cause. I would check to see if when standing their pelvis tilted forward. Sitting all day for large portions of life will cause some changes in the muscles. The hip flexors (which pull the knee forward toward the torso will get used to the sitting position, making them shorter and tighter. Meanwhile the hamstrings, getting used to their new position will lengthen and become looser. This is what causes the unnatural position of the pelvis and therefore the lower back pain. Stretches and exercises would have to be done to correct the muscle imbalances.

The same goes for the foot.

Changing the angle the foot with shoes that lift the heel off the ground allow the calf and hamstrings to stretch less, therefore they shorten and tighten. A sudden change in how far those muscles have to stretch could overload the muscles and tendons causing calf pain or injury, hamstring pain or injury, achilles tendon pain or injury. . .

Don't give up though, there is hope.

First of all, thanks to the pendulum swing towards barefoot, and the swing back looking for balance, it is pretty easy these days to find out what the heel-toe differential in your shoe is. If you've been running in a 16mm drop shoe and you want to make a change you don't have to go to zero. Talk to your trusted running shoe person about your goals and they can help you find a shoe with a less high heel.

Another tool in your toolbox is stretching. Find a good stretching routine to lengthen your hamstring and calf muscles. You will here a lot about how stretching doesn't prevent injury and impedes performance, and how you shouldn't stretch before a workout. The purpose of stretching is to improve the range of motion. In this case, a runner needs to improve the range of motion, so after a workout, stretch those calves.

Strengthening. Running requires eccentric contractions of the calf muscles on each footfall. Get those calves ready with some good strengthening exercises. Meanwhile, since we are lengthening the calves with stretching, lets also strengthen the front of the leg with some exercises for the anterior tibialis.

Slow down, and shorten your run. If you switch from a 40 pound weight to a 50 pound weight you would reduce your repetitions. The same applies here, the muscles are working more on each footfall, so give them fewer footfalls at a slower pace.

Use these tips and you can start a transition to a more natural running style. This is only one aspect of the difference between old fashioned running shoes and much older fashioned running on your feet, so stay tuned for more.

Friday, April 19, 2013

No Such Thing As Barefoot Shoes

"Yeah, this dude was totally running the whole race in these toe shoes/sandals/sock looking things/flat little shoes with no support. He must be one of those barefoot runners."

I remember buying my first pair of Vibram Fivefingers. I went to the running store because my wife had said, "If you're going to be running now, you need to go get fitted for running shoes." The shoes that were suggested for me felt like I was running on a mattress. In a way that was a nice feeling, but at the same time something felt. . . wrong. I had a friend that did kettlebells in VFFs so I asked about the weird little toe shoes. I tried them on and they felt right. And so it began, not just my foray into minimalist running, but a long term frustration with the term "barefoot shoes". Before I even checked out, someone asked me if I was into barefoot running. I was wearing shoes, I was buying shoes to wear, and I was asked about barefoot running. Little did I know there was a barefoot running trend rolling up and about to seriously shake up the shoe industry as top brands struggled to define minimalist shoes and barefoot shoes.

There is no such thing as a barefoot shoe. This is more than a question of semantics. I don't need a dictionary to tell you that barefoot means your foot is bare. I'm not just being picky about what the word barefoot really means. I'm not trying to say nearly barefoot shoes are a bad thing. I happen to really enjoy running in mine. The point I am getting to is that running barefoot is different than anything else, no matter how well designed the shoe is, now matter how closely it resembles barefoot, it is not the same as running barefoot. I have begun supplementing my nearly barefoot running with more and more actually barefoot running.

I discovered last winter, that the more shoe I have on, the more sore I get from running. It took me quite a while longer to figure out why. Having never had a running coach, or even time for a running club, the only feedback I've had on my running is my own research and my own running. I've learned a lot from experimentation and I've learned the most from taking my shoes off.

My Xeroshoes huaraches showed me that I had a heel whip. When I sat my foot down in my stride and my heel landed off the sole of the sandal, I knew something was wrong. When I got on the treadmill barefoot, I really started to learn. If you run barefoot, and your foot twists while in contact with the ground. Unless you just ignore the feedback from your foot, you will feel it. If your foot skids forward on landing, you will feel the friction. If you push off with your toes instead of lifting your foot, you will know it.

No matter how minimal the shoe, it is going to mask some of the sensation and limit the feedback you get from your feet.

I don't believe this is always a bad thing. In fact, if I am running for time, I will be running in some sort of shoe. If I want to PR a 5K I am not so much worried that day about authentic barefoot running, I am going to insulate my feet so it will take more than a sliver of glass to stop my race.

I do believe, however that EVERY runner should spend some time barefoot. You will learn a lot from your feet.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Running For Butterflies

Where I live, and probably where you live too, we are blessed to live a pretty safe existence. I can go for a 10 mile run starting at my house early on a Sunday morning and see more bunny rabbits than cars. I might have to  worry about being chased by a dog, or stung by a bee, and I do take precautions to be very visible in case there is a car out on these country roads. Real fear, real terror, however is not on my mind when I go for a run.

What happened in Boston yesterday is tragic and horrible and I don't even have the ability to describe the way it makes me feel. I am grateful to live in a place where this sort of thing is exceedingly rare.

There are others who live with the fear of not being able to walk to school without the threat of being  beaten up, blown up, shot at, or stabbed. There are those out there who here explosions daily. People live lives in which school teachers carry automatic rifles because they just might need them.

These intentional acts of terror and violence are a product of the world we live in. There is a story about this guy who, about 2000 years ago, came around and said, basically, can't you guys just love each other and take care of each other? The popular response was to torture him to death on a cross. I still find myself asking, "Can't we just love each other and take care of each other?"

I feel like I don't do enough for the world around me right now. I feel I should do more.

This is what I'm doing this week though. I'm running for butterflies.


Another unimaginable event. This family had a beautiful little girl. She got sick at age 6. Doctors were unsure what was wrong, then one day, just before her seventh birthday, she was having trouble breathing and her fingers were turning blue. From the emergency room the doctors decided to fly her to a hospital in Louisville. There was not room on the flight for her parents. She died before her parents saw her again.

I am sitting here typing and crying. My daughter, who is currently one year younger than Maddie was when she died is making a leash for our dog from an old tie. I cannot imagine what it would be like to lose her next year.

Maddie's family does all sorts of fund raisers to raise money and awareness about the disease that took their little girl away. Since I started running I've been running in their 5K fundraiser every year. So has my little girl.

This Saturday we run for Maddie.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

How To Choose The Shoe For You

It's that time of year again. The weather is warming up, people are getting outside, getting active, starting running and asking all sorts of questions about how to do it right.

Common question: "What shoes should I wear for running?"

Smart Alec answer: "Whatever shoes are best for you."

Serious answer: "Whatever shoes are best for you."

If you go online and ask what shoes you should wear, a lot of people are going to answer by telling you what kind of shoe they should wear. This information is useless to you unless you are a body snatcher and you plan on taking over there body to go for a run.

So, all you new runners, here is how to pick a shoe.

1. Forget about shoes for a minute, think about your body. Running builds a strong healthy body, but also requires a strong healthy body. Spend two to three days per week strengthening your body. Strengthen your feet, calves, hamstrings, glutes, quadriceps, hip flexors, hips, core, while your at it give the upper body some love too. You'd be amazed how tired your shoulders can get from running.

2. Run barefoot. You don't have to run barefoot everywhere you go, you don't have to run barefoot on concrete, but you will learn so much about running from some barefoot runs.

3. Go to a running specialty store. Not Foot Locker, not Dunham's, somewhere that employs a bunch of runners. If you aren't sure if it is a specialty running store go in and say to the first person you see, "What are you training for?" Their answer will let you know if they are a runner.

4. Tell them what you are looking for, they should watch you run a bit before they recommend a shoe. Try on the shoe they recommend. If it does not feel comfortable, tell them everything you don't like about the shoe. Repeat this process until your feet feel heavenly.

5. Don't forget to run barefoot.