Tag Archives: shoes

Eating, Running, and Burning: How to Break the Rules

RUNNING WORLD, BEWARE! I AM NOMAX, THE BREAKER OF RULES.

Running, like many activities, has well-known “rules” everyone can recite and that the periodicals periodically parrot. Such as, “9 Things You Should Never Do Before Running” and other such click bait implying that breaking them will wreck your training and cause your <insert favorite body part here> to fall off.

Well, screw that.

In the space of a week recently I broke not one, but THREE rules regarding running and racing. I’m not saying they were particularly smart things to do, but I lived to tell about it.

1.  Don’t Stuff Your Face and Then Run Really Fast (#1 of the 9 Things)

Unless, of course, it is Pi Day (3/14) and there is a race involving pie. Really good pie. And you’re stupid ambitious enough to enter the “Eat & Run” division, where you have to eat some pie before running.

Well, seasoned ultrarunners like me are used to eating and running. What’s one little piece of pie before a puny little 5K?

Yep, that’s one quarter of an entire pie. Which you must eat without using hands. And there’s a time penalty for not finishing. So there was nothing for it but to – well, see below.

And hell, if you’re going that far, might as well go all the way, with a “pie in the face” at the finish line.

The result? I finished second. Can’t wait for the Pizza Race!

2.  Don’t Do a Long Run The First Time You Wear New Shoes (#5 of the 9 Things)

Last Saturday I went to my favorite running store and bought me a new pair of road shoes. They fit well, and they felt good in the store. So the next day, I took them on a test run. Fortwentythreemiles.

See, I have some long road races this year, and my lightweight, minimally cushioned shoes weren’t gonna cut it. And the only way to know if the shoes will work for a long run is – to take them on a long run.

Now I did take some precautions. I taped my heels, took a spare pair of socks, and stopped halfway through for a gear check. But everything went smoothly, with much less leg fatigue than I was expecting. I think these shoes will work fine. But I’ll do a few short runs in them just to be sure.

3.  Don’t Run an Ultramarathon in the Desert in the Middle of Summer

(Surprisingly, this is NOT one of the 9 Things. Perhaps it’s too obvious even for this type of article.)

Okay, so I admit that the Badwater Ultra – 135 miles in Death Valley in July – is not a good idea for most people (if anyone). Definitely not on my radar. But a lil ‘ol 50K in Nevada at the end of August? Sure, why not?

And so I will be running the Burning Man 50K this year. This week I took the first step by registering for next week’s ticket sale. Assuming I get one, it is ON! All I need to do is figure out how I’m going to live for a week in the desert with no electricity, only the food and water I bring, and deal with possible 100-degree heat the entire time. And stay healthy enough to run a 50K in the bargain.

Perhaps there are some rules after all that really should NOT be broken. (from the votecharlie.com blog)

Now the karma believers among you may think I’ve stretched the rubber band about as far as I can, and it’s just a matter of time before the inevitable snap back. If and when that happens, I’ll humbly apologize to the universe here on this blog.

But until then, I’ll do my best to not break rule #9 – Doubt Yourself. Running, after all, is as much a mental exercise as it is physical. So go ahead and break some supposed rule now and then, if it makes you stronger in some way. I’ll be the last one to report you!

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Searching for Shoes: Return to a Past Love

Ready to go - new shoes and matching shirt! (Yes, I am VERY fashion-conscious.)

Ready to go – new shoes and matching shirt! (Yes, I am VERY fashion-conscious.)

First run since the Gnaw Bone 50K tonight! Coming on the heels of two ultras, and having just recovered from the cold I caught last week, it was predictably challenging. It was also about 85 degrees out there – not easy on a body still used to winter temps. But one part of me was comfortable; my feet, shod in a pair of the new Saucony Kinvara 5.

(Disclaimer: as much as I would love to be, I have not been compensated by Saucony, its retailers, or its minions in any way for this review. I bought the shoes, and I like them, so hence this post.)

I’ve been shopping around for new warm weather road shoes for a while. At first I thought I’d replace my well-used Brooks Pure Flows, so I tried the Pure Flow 2 and Pure Flow 3 at a local running store during a visiting Brooks “Happy Island” tour. But as has happened with many “next model” shoes I like, they just didn’t fit well. (See my lament on this trend in my earlier post on minimalist running.)

Sorry, I'm having trouble associating running with deep-sea adventure.

Sorry, I’m having trouble associating running with deep-sea adventure.

Other brands I tried had the same issues. Either the toe box was too cramped, or the heel was loose, or the midfoot area was too narrow. But I liked my pair of Saucony Virratas, and I read good things about the Virrata 2, so I headed up to Running Lab to try some on.

Oops. “We don’t carry the Virrata 2,” the manager told me. “Too many people were bringing them back.” It seems the foam was breaking down too quickly, reducing the useful life of the shoes. But Coach Marie suggested the new Kinvara 5. I’d run my first marathon in the original Kinvaras, and liked the light weight and low heel-to-toe drop. But the Kinvara 2 and 3 had not been comfortable, and the Kinvara 4 was too narrow, so I wasn’t hopeful. But I said what the hell.

Left, the original Kinvara. Right, the new Kinvara 5. Slightly taller, slightly thicker, but lighter.

Left, the original Kinvara. Right, the new Kinvara 5 – slightly taller, slightly thicker, but actually lighter.

Pleasant surprise! They fit well all the way round, and didn’t squeeze my midfoot. A few strides on the treadmill, and I was sold. Tonight I tossed them on and went out for a moderately fast 6 miles. Yup, these are keepers. In many ways they remind me of the Trigon 5 Ride, the first running shoe I truly loved – to the point where I searched the Internet for weeks to scrounge up one more pair. (Please don’t ask about the Ride 2 and the Ride 3. You can guess.)

The Kinvara 5 have more heel padding and a more breathable mesh upper - both really nice changes.

The Kinvara 5 has more heel cushion and a more breathable mesh upper – both really nice changes.

For another, more comprehensive review of the Kinvara 5, check out this post from Runblogger. (Note: he got a free pair. How do I get a gig like that?)

I Got Hurt. Was it the Shoes?

SO YOU’VE READ Born to Run, and you’re now sold on “minimalist” running. You rush out to replace your traditional, well-cushioned heel-mashers with sleek, low-drop lightweights. In your eagerness to give them a try, you head right out for a long run – and get hurt.

It must have been the shoes!

Throwback reference! Click here to see the classic commercial.

Throwback reference! Click here to see the classic commercial.

After all, you didn’t change anything else – not your form, your stride, or cadence. Why, you even listened to the same mix on your iPod. And therein the problem may reside. So before you call 1-800-SHYSTER (*), why not hear what the Running Fit panel had to say about how people can get hurt when switching running styles.

The panel from left to right: Parker, Jeff K., Kristen, Jef M., Trevor, Farra.

The panel from left to right: Parker, Jeff K., Kristen, Jef M., Trevor, Farra.

As I wrote in my previous post, the panelists had varied experiences when they took up minimalist running. Most were positive, like Jef, whose frequent injuries stopped when he switched shoes. But there are some caveats. Such as:

New shoes won’t fix bad form and posture

How did she know? (Source: Wikimedia Commons.)

How did she know?
(Source: Wikimedia Commons.)

Trevor, the Running Fit business manager, once had nagging back pain that wouldn’t go away. Training and stretching didn’t help, nor did changing shoes. Then he got a new desk chair, and within a week his pain was gone. His problem had been caused not by running, but by sitting.

I may have had this problem too. During physical therapy at Probility for my shoulder, my therapist noticed was that some of my vertebrae were twisted. We traced the likely cause to the way I sat at my desk. She corrected my spine and I corrected my posture, and not only has my shoulder improved, a bit of lower back pain I had also disappeared.

And one gender in particular has an additional challenge.

Source: Wikimedia Commons

The appeal of these things will forever remain a mystery to me. (Source: Wikimedia Commons.)

Panelist Farra Rust said that women often have calf issues due to wearing high heels, and they get more PF (plantar fasciitis). She also noted that the heel-to-toe drop in running shoes has quietly decreased from an average of 12mm a few years ago to about 8mm today.

But the way you run also matters.

Panelists Jeff Kong from Tri-Covery Massage and Fitness and Kristen at Michigan Rehabilitation Specialists see their share of runners with injuries, and they both said that bad form was a contributor. “Heavy heel striking or too slow a cadence are no good,” Kristen said, adding that pronating (excessive rotation of the feet) can hurt the knees and IT band.

Jeff encourages people to work on improving body mechanics. Tight hips or a tipped pelvis cause problems and over-compensation. “Run like a ninja,” he said, meaning to feel like you are skimming lightly over the ground.

One of the audience members said that he went from motion control shoes to minimalist. Then one day he put the motion control shoes back on, and noticed that he began to heel strike. Jeff Kong replied that, “shoes may not help with form, but the bad form is probably there without the shoes.”

And don’t overdo it, especially at first.

Farra, a “former minimalist runner” told a cautionary tale. “I ran a lot in minimal shoes and racing flats,” she said, including ultramarathons up to and including 100-milers. “But what I didn’t realize was that all that running was causing me to lose muscle mass and strength.” She stopped running ultras and took up CrossFit. “If we could get all runners to do more than just run,” she said, “there’d be a lot fewer injuries.”

Somehow this is supposed to help my running.

Somehow this is supposed to help my running.

“Run on a soft surface,” Jeff Kong said, “and go a little at a time.”

The Barefoot Runners Society audience member added that in his experience, overweight people often have better results than more fit people switching to barefoot running. The fit runners try to go too far, too soon, and can get hurt.

And then there’s . . .

“Ear buds,” Jef M. said. “Ear buds cause injuries.”

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Source: Wikimedia Commons.

“People put on the music and tune out. They lose touch with the world, and with their bodies.” By not being aware of how your body is feeling and what it’s doing, he pointed out, you can slip into bad form or not notice the beginning of an injury.

Not to mention, I might add, you might not notice the cyclist or vehicle you’re about to run into. And several joggers wearing headphones are killed each year jogging on railroad tracks, apparently unable to hear the train’s whistle over their music.

So there you have it. If you want to move to lighter weight shoes, go ahead. But be sure not to do too much too soon, work on improving your form, and listen to your body. That should take you a long way toward staying injury-free regardless of what you’re wearing on your feet.

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(*) This number appears to be an RV center in Texas. So don’t call. Unless you’d like a nice Class A to recover in, I suppose.

Whatever Happened to Minimalist Running?

Then... (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Then…
(Source: Wikimedia Commons)

If you’re a runner, you’ve heard of minimalist running. Ditch the heavily padded running shoes and slip on the Vibrams. Born to Run, baby! Like the South Beach Diet, everyone was doing it, whether or not they knew it was doing them any good. But it seemed to be about to transform running by reducing injuries and making running more enjoyable.

Now.

Now.

Yet the fad seems to have faded. The newest craze in trail running is just the opposite – thickly padded shoes like the Hoka One Ones (which, as I’ve written about, are terrific for running in snow.) And the shoe companies have cut back sharply on their minimalist offerings for 2014.

So what happened?

I’m not sure there’s a clear answer, but it was the subject of a great discussion and Q&A recently at the Northville Running Fit. Among the panel invited to share the experiences and answer questions were physical therapists, the business manager at Running Fit, and some local avid runners, including one who is better known for something else.

Who is this mystery panelist who graciously posed with me? Answer at the end of this post.

Who is this mystery panelist who graciously posed with me? Answer at the end of this post.

Much of the conversation was about shoes. Did thinly padded, lightweight shoes actually help any of the panelists? Here’s what they had to say on their experiences with running footwear.

What’s wrong with the “traditional” running shoe?

Standard running shoes of the last two decades generally have a padded heel and a higher heel than toe (referred to as a “heel to toe drop”). Such shoes can include arch support and features to “stabilize” a poor foot strike. It’s all intended to protect against injury. But does it?

Panelist Jef M. was originally told he needed stability shoes with motion control, due to his flat feet. “Still, I got hurt a lot,” he said. Then he was given an opportunity to participate in a shoe-testing program – and made a discovery. “The more expensive the shoe,” he reported, “the more I got hurt.” After switching to minimalist shoes, “I’ve been injury-free ever since.”

No one on the panel or in the audience spoke up in defense of traditional shoes, not even the Running Fit employees, though no one disputed that some people need corrective shoes for certain physical conditions.

As a side note, Chris McDougall, the author of Born to Run, also had frequent problems when running in standard shoes, and his injuries vanished when he began running in minimal shoes.

So we should start wearing “minimalist” shoes?

Like “traditional” shoes, the definition of “minimalist” is not fixed. Some shoe companies refer to minimal padding, some to a low heel-to-toe drop, and others to lighter weight. And there’s a lot of variety and combinations of those characteristics. But it usually means a less complicated shoe, with little or no artificial support built in.

So is it true that “less is more” with running shoes? Farra, another panelist, ran many ultramarathons, including a 100-miler, in minimal shoes without serious injury. (Although her self-admitted “too frequent” ultras led to other problems. More on that next post.) And I run quite a lot in them, including marathons, without any trouble.

But panelist Jeff Kong of Tri-Covery Massage & Fitness was less sold on them. “The Five Fingers brought in a lot of business,” he said. Among the issues he sees are calves getting tight and painful. And there was agreement to start slowly if you weren’t used to them. “Running 12 miles my first time in those shoes was a bad idea,” someone admitted.

Barefoot RunnerOne of the audience members then spoke up. “Even fit people can get hurt by going too far too soon in minimalist shoes,” he said. Turns out he is a member of the Barefoot Runners Society, and he only runs barefooted.

Okay, then let’s all run barefoot.

This approach has its supporters. One advantage is that it quickly punishes bad form. As the BRS member pointed out, “You can’t heel strike running barefoot.” (But I wish I’d thought to ask him what he does in the snow.) And the barefoot runner I saw at a Dexter-Ann Arbor half marathon didn’t seem bothered at all running barefoot on hot pavement. But like with any major change to form, you need to start slowly to allow the body to adapt.

Panelist Kristen from Michigan Rehabilitation Services says she puts runners on the treadmill barefoot, “to see what kind of strikers they are.” She says that runners can be trained to stop heel striking even in motion control shoes.

So what kind of shoes should I wear, then?

Here there was agreement; as we’re all different, there is no single style of running shoe that works for everyone. The best approach is to get a pair of shoes that fit well and are comfortable. Minimalist shoes, and even barefoot running, can work if your form is good and your feet and ankles are strong enough. The good news is that form and strength can be improved with practice and exercise.

I have a beef about shoe companies that I put to the panel. “Every time I find a shoe I really like, the next year’s version of that model is different. Why can’t they leave well enough alone?”

“Fashion,” said Trevor, Running Fit’s business manager. “Every designer wants to make his mark. Every year they want to use the latest technology.”

“Embrace the diversity,” Jef M. said. “You may find something new that works for you.”

So I guess it’s something I’ll just have to live with – or buy 100 pairs of my next favorite.

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Next up: if you’re hurt, should you blame the shoes? The same panel also addressed the question of what causes injuries and how they can be prevented.

Yep - Jef Mallett, creator of the comic strip Frazz.  Indirectly, he helped my daughter get a job...but that's another story.

Yep – Jef Mallett, creator of the comic strip Frazz. Indirectly, one of his strips helped my daughter get a job…but that’s another story.