Life is like music; it must be composed by ear, feeling, and instinct, not by rule.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

There's a point where "trial and error" becomes harmful (+ a few other points)

A nice crisp 7 mile outside trail run with a 1 mile barefoot cool down. I almost reactivated my membership to the "idiots running club" :) but I canceled my membership before any real harm was done. You know, there's a point where you are running so many miles with no issues, injury free, running pretty fast, and it's about that point that you need to STOP any more trial and error or experimenting. I got lightly reminded of that.

Like many, things are going great so what do you do? Well, you try to tweak something and I decided to run in a few different minimalist shoes (Evo and Nike XC which I used heavily in the past), however, I've been running exclusively in Puma H-Streets while maintaining my heavier weekly mileage base with absolutely no issues and in fact, I feel great. But, by just throwing in a few days of running in different shoes, I got a pain in my left calf so I immediately went back to the H-Streets and the pain is gone but its stark reminder.
If it ain't broke don't fix it and this specifically applies to those runners that have figured things out. I had to go through years of trial and error but I'm at a point where trial and error is actually stupid. I'm accepting that what I thought is boring is actually the beauty and reward for years of trying to figure it out.

So, given my years of experience running both barefoot and in many types of minimalist shoes, why the issue with the Evo vs. Nike XC vs. H-Street, especially since I ran pretty well in the Evo and Nike XC in the past?  Well, it’s adaption as part of the trial and error process and ultimately as I adopted the “run by feel” approach and got more in-tune and achieved a higher connection with my body, I found that ever elusive “optimal baseline.”  To cut to the chase, about 10mm of cushion, assuming a pretty flat sole with minimal heel elevation (3-4mm) and light weight (6 oz. or less), is the perfect shoe for my body.  With these specifications, I get the perfect balance ratio of cushion to weight which ultimately allows me to run as natural as possible (of course, nothing is identical to actually running barefoot but this is as close as possible when considering the elements of weather and/or terrain) and as efficient as possible.  

In fact, there’s a study by Dr. Kram at the University of Colorado where they tested the energy impact of cushioning and found a point where you actually ran less efficient with no little cushioning but also less efficient with no much cushioning and the optimal baseline was about 10mm (note:  this was Dr. Kram’s second test and I was participant in the first test at his facilities so I’m quite familiar with the testing elements and conditions).

Back to my point, the Nike XC is about 20mm of cushion (too much for me) and the Evo is about 3-4mm of cushion, actually rubber if you remove the insole (too little for me).  On the “too much,” side, the extra cushion serves no benefit and actually reduces ground feel and ultimately creates too much imbalance as if I’m stepping on a big marshmallow the impact of which requires my legs to work harder to overcome the instability, imbalance and de-stabilizing effects of the cushion.  On the “too little” side, my body legs also have to work pretty hard to absorb the impact of the landing.  So, the optimal balance is a little cushion to reduce how much the legs have to work but not too much cushion which also requires the legs to work hard for different reasons but nevertheless, it has a energy cost impact as well as potential injury issues as you add too much cushion and create too much of an unstable platform (hence, it’s why gymnastics land on a hard surface). 

So what does all this mean?  Well, 90% of runners are running in terrible shoes with 20-30mm of cushion which is beyond harmless.  Conversely, the small minimalist community can go too far and I see runners with Vibram’s (for example) trotting along as if every step they take hurts.  At the end of the day, there’s nothing new here.  If you go back to the 50’s, 60’s and early 70’s, the classic running shoe was very similar to Bill Rodger’s and Jim Fixx’s “ruby red slippers” which were classic Asic’s with about 10mm of cushion, good ground feel, extremely light and flexible. 

Interesting . . . the more we develop, sometimes the dumber we get :)


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