Thursday, October 25, 2012

Transitioning to Your New Shoes

Well, assuming you actually want to follow the "advices" from my shoe post, you're probably going to have some issues at first. The first thing you need to worry about is correcting your form. I'll probably do a longer post on form, but basically you want to keep your feet underneath you. Don't reach out with your stride! Land on your forefoot. Toes first, then let the heel come to the ground. Let the calf stretch and return the energy with ease. Don't feel like you are pushing off the ground. Just let your feet lift up and catch you from falling. Quicker steps help with this. Increase your foot speed without increasing your body speed. Short, small steps like running on hot coals is correct. Basically, this is important because running with a light, flat shoe gives you no room to strike the ground with your heel anymore. Over striding and reaching forward with your foot basically guarantees you are landing on your heel. One of my early mistakes in form was actually over striding but still landing on the forefoot. This still creates a ton of force on the legs and produces a breaking action with every step. Remember: forefoot landing AND keep the landing underneath you.

So when I first transitioned to a flat shoe, I got really sore, tight calves and Achilles tendons. The best thing to do is take a day or two off to recover. You're just using new muscles. It's no big deal. At first, it may actually seem harder to run this way, but really it's just new. You are recruiting more muscles, so actually when you get used to it, running will be easier. The more muscles you use, the less work each individual one does. You also are reducing your impact on your legs and body, so while you get sore muscles at first, you are actually causing much less actual damage.

When I first transitioned, I actually was running every day so I didn't have the luxury of taking a day off. I was running in New Balance MT 101s. I had also bought a pair of New Balance Minimus Trail (MT 10). I thought I was going to be using these (MT 10s) as my main shoe because of the Vibram bottoms. The heel drop was 4mm though and it was killing me! I was stumbling and tripping all over the place in those things after living in zero heel drop land. What I did was alternate the 4mm heel drop shoe with the 0mm heel drop shoe. The 4mm heel drop was enough of a raise, that my calves were not stretched and utilized as much with each step. This allowed me to recover and continue running at the same time. So my advice is to alternate your old shoes with your new ones until you can run in your new ones comfortably. Some day I'll do a post on my philosophy of running, but I very much believe it's far more important to get aerobic benefit out of a run than trying to build leg muscles. The goal was actually to rest my legs while still doing aerobic work!

I should also throw out another thing. I think it's important for people to do some running in minimalist (zero drop and light weight) shoes. I know that some people really do need the motion control, stability, orthotics stuff. I'm not against it if you need it. I just think it's hard to determine if you need it until you have been running for a long time. Doing a short run a week in minimal shoes will help strengthen the foot and main running muscles and improve your form naturally. Sure 95% of your running will be in your main corrective shoe, but some minimal running will benefit you greatly.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Buying Shoes?!

Well, this is a bit of an ambitious post for so early on, but a friend wanted me to do it. Note I am not paid to promote a company. I just mention things I use that work for me and people I know.

What do I look for in a shoe? Well, fantastic question. I have two main criteria, and a third secondary one (yup, I just wrote "third secondary"). The main criteria are low weight and no heel drop. Let's do the easier one first: weight.

I'm pretty particular now about wearing light weight shoes. Running in heavy shoes is awkward, uncomfortable, and most importantly: not fun! Your legs are the longest limbs on your body (unless you are a freak!). Yea, physics! The longer a lever, the more force (or torque!) you get. That's uncontrollable though. Here's what's important. The more weight you have (at the end of your leg), the more momentum each step produces. At first, this may not even be noticeable (like trying on new shoes in a store, or doing a short run). But over time or during a long run when your muscles wear down, you can't control that momentum anymore. Even when you can control it, you are putting completely unnecessary stress on your knees and hips to control the momentum of the step. Over time, this leads to injury city -- a place best left unexplored.

"Okay," you say. "I'm convinced, but what weight is a good weight?" Ahhh, yes. Well, that's going to change over time, now isn't it? I currently run in a 7.2 oz. shoe for all my racing purposes (New Balance MT 101). Anything under 8 oz. should be great. I train in shoes as light as 4.7 oz. and consider that "barefoot" training (Altra Adam, no footbed). If I put on a 10 oz. shoe (Saucony Progrid), I feel like I have leg weights on and can't run 3 miles without developing knee pain. The truth is, over time as your feet get stronger and your form gets better, you will transition to lighter weight shoes. I often recommend the Saucony Kinvara as a starter shoe since it has both good protection/padding and is light weight.

Heel Drop.
Heel drop is kind of a new topic. I don't think people were talking about it much 5 years ago. Basically, heel drop is the distance from the heel to the toes, vertically. So high heels (not running shoes!) have a large heel drop. Popularly, something like Converse has little to no heel drop (aka flat shoes).

The less heel drop a shoe has, the more stretched your achilles/calf muscles get with each step. The stretching is like stretching a rubber band. The greater the stretch, the more energy is returned for free with each step. A zero heel drop promotes healthy, efficient running. A built up, large heel drop promotes over-striding and inefficient running. It also makes it feel safer to land on your heel, which has been shown to increase forces on your legs by 4 times. Over the course of millions of steps (the lifespan of a shoe), this can cause tremendous damage to your feet and legs and joints (feeling safer and increasing the force on your legs is not good!).

I strongly recommend starting with something with little to no heel drop and never looking back (4mm or less). Everything from Altra running is zero heel drop (, and they make different weights and paddings. The cool thing about buying a shoe from them is that they give you 3 different footbeds with a single shoe: "support" like a normal training/distance shoe, "strengthen" like a light weight minimalist shoe, and no footbed like a barefoot/minimalist shoe. You can't go wrong with them, but some of their shoes are a little heavier than I personally prefer -- so be careful.

Toe Box.
The third criteria is shoe width or toe box width. How much room do your toes have to spread when you land? This is strangely important for many reasons. One is simply to avoid getting black toes and losing toenails. Duh! Another, less obvious concern, is stability. Landing on your forefoot and allowing the toes to spread gives you good ground control, balance, and thrust forward. It is a central part of efficient running. Many shoes have toe boxes that narrow because it looks cool. Not good for running. Larger toe boxes do look weird, but improve performance and reduce injury potential by a lot.

Rant About Specialty Stores.
Many running specialty stores will provide services to analyze your running form and recommend shoes specifically for you. Remember, their goal is to sell you products! They don't mean anything malicious, but they don't know you. Their system is to analyze a person's running technique. If you are just starting, you have no running technique! Nothing you do today will be anything like you are doing 6 months from now. How can they determine what you need when you are changing daily?! It's important to realize that some people need inserts and some people need stability running shoes, but you don't know that yet. Until you've been running consistently (at least 3 times a week) for 6 months to a year, you have no idea.

I developed some pretty bad ankle problems when getting up to 6 mile runs while wearing "stability" shoes. That's what was recommended to me when my longest run of all time was 3 miles! I had no idea about running, running form, training programs, marathons, ultra marathons, or anything. Somehow they knew what I needed though (hint: they didn't). When I switched back to neutral shoes, my ankle problems went away without me changing a thing. I just needed some training time to come into my form and develop some running muscles. So be careful when the experts telling you what you need are the same people making a profit from selling you what you need.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Who Am I?

Ah, the obligatory "get to know you" post. Well, without belaboring the point too much, I am a runner. I'm an established marathoner. At the time of this writing, I've done 10 marathons. I exist on the periphery of the so called "ultra community" (ultra running is when you run races longer than a marathon). By this I mean that I'm not regularly running at this distance like marathons (yet!), but I have done a 50km and a 50 miler. On top of that, I've done an exotic race called the Triple Crown where you race a half marathon, followed by a 10km, followed by a 5km all back-to-back. I can't even begin to count how many 5km, 10km, 15km, 2 mile, 5 mile, 10 mile (essentially any popular distance under half marathon) that I've done. For a while I was racing on average around 2-3 times per week, sometimes 3 to 4 races on the same day and 6 in a weekend! I've even done a marathon in the morning and a 5km that afternoon.

I must point out that I'm in no way qualified to give out any advice on the topic of running. I'm not a certified trainer of any kind or coach or anything like that. I do feel I have some things to share from my own training that others might want to consider. The advice out there can be just plain bad and counter productive or conflicting. These are going to be my thoughts and what has worked for me, personally. Not everything that works for one person works for everyone. In addition to the resume given above, I've never been injured (crosses fingers), which is something important to consider when taking advice from someone. Sure, some coach might be able to get you a new PR on your 5km, but are you going to end up with a busted knee like him in the process?

Speaking of breaking records, I should mention that I'm not fast. You can see my PRs, and you can realize that I'm probably faster than average, but I am FAR behind the leaders of the pack on even small local races. I just don't care that much about it. I enjoy running, and I run for fun. If I stop finding it to be entertaining, I'll simply stop running. There are plenty of other things to do with my time. And with that, I'll end with my first advice: if you don't enjoy running, don't run. Do what you enjoy.