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

Friday, November 30, 2012

Stride to keep your Stride

I assume I'm like many runners that spend 80% or so of their running at a nice easy aerobic level, which for me is the 8:00 - 8:30 pace range.   I don't spend a ton of time running at race pace which is the 5:45 - 6:20 pace for me (5k & 10k paces).  At my age (42 yrs. old) that would be a recipe for injury to run too much at race pace, however, I don't want to lose my speed nor my stride so how do you maintain it with a 80/20 or 85/15 allocation of easy running to race pace running?

The answer is strides, or some call them "pick ups," as part of your easy aerobic running.  Other than recovery runs, I throw in 8-15 strides as part of my easy runs which for me is 30-60 second spurts at a race pace "effort level."  Notice I said "effort level" and not actual pace.  It's about the feel and effort level of race pace.  I don't take it down to 5k race pace but anything between 10k and half marathon pace is fine for that short period of time.  One wrinkle for me, since I don't run very often with a watch or Garmin, is I know my body and stride well enough that I know my cadence account against pace range so for me that means 60-180 steps which will fall within that 30 sec. to 1 min. time range.  It's the strides (or pick ups) that keeps you body in race pace tune but remember it's not about actual time or pace.  The focus is effort and starting slow with the goal of feeling as if you are at the goal race pace by the last 5-10 seconds of the stride out (or pick up).

Give it a try and let me know what you think.  One final word of caution.  As you do the strides, you will start to loosen up and likely feel good but DO NOT allow yourself to turn a nice easy run with strides into a tempo or race pace run.  You'll need to exercise discipline otherwise you and your body will pay dearly a few days later and it's a recipe for injury.


Thursday, November 29, 2012

Background on the Puma H-Street . . . my primary running shoe

So the Puma H-Street is my primary running shoe and effectively my exclusive running shoe (except for some rare days here and there when I pull out one of my other minimalist shoes).

As you may or may not know, the Puma H-Street was Anton Krupicka's primary running shoe for years until they discontinued it but turn the clock forward, Puma reintroduced the H-Street to the market earlier this year and it's such a beautiful shoe but enough from me as this is how it was described by Anton Krupicka (for those that don't know Anton, he is one of the best ultra runners on the planet):

"In August, I started running in Puma H-Streets very regularly---basically for all of my running. These are absolutely beautiful minimalist shoes that are, unfortunately, discontinued. They have been updated with the Puma Saloh that I am interested in trying out but I'm not interested in all of the new synthetic overlays. The H Street was such a great shoe (I would put 1000-1500 miles on a pair--long after my foot would start poking out the side of the upper) that I never really endeavored to go for anything lower than this. I once ran to the top of Pikes Peak and back in the H Streets, but couldn't go as fast as I wanted on the way down because of the lack of protection. However, in the spring/summer of 2005 I logged several 200 mile weeks and a couple 30 and 40 milers in nothing but H Streets. Their main drawback was their lack of traction. The outsole was nothing but little nubbins that I would wear down fairly quickly. These shoes look to me to be a good update to the H Street with greater traction and durability (but, probably a bit heavier).

If Anton wasn't currently sponsored by New Balance and if Puma had not discontinued the original H-Street, one has to wonder if Anton would have ever changed shoes and, most likely, he would be sponsored by Puma but New Balance's gain and Puma's loss but thank god Puma reintroduced the H-Street . . . it's a beautiful designed shoe because of the absolutely simplicity . . . just a soft light upper and a thin 10mm sole . . . no arch support, no stability support, NADA . . . nothing more, nothing less and that's exactly what my foot wants :)


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 :)


Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The Shoe Rotation Myth

So the story goes that if you rotate shoes you get a couple benefits.  First, you prolong the life the shoe by giving it time to recovery, specifically the EVA sole which they argue needs 24-48 hrs. to decompress.  Second, you reduce the chances of repetitive stress injuries by moving stress points as each shoe will work different muscles and tendons.  Well, both points are extremely flawed.

First, there are numerous studies that validate the point that it only takes 2-6 hrs. for cushion to decompress and not 24-48 hrs. although that is a great marketing message to get you to buy more running shoes.  Second, repetitive stress injuries are very complex and if that was always a material issue then how did we run thousands of years ago when we either ran barefoot or in the same shoe until it literally self-destructed?  The real result of shoe rotation is that is hampers and reduces your ability to develop an optimal gait.  I say that will qualification because if you use a different shoe because of terrain, that's understandable, however, the vast majority of recreational runners run over the same easy surfaces which range from concrete/asphalt to easy packed dirt roads and trails, none of which require specialized technical running shoes (it's different if you are a hard core mountain runner then I understand switching to a shoe providing more protection).

However, let's go a bit deeper in the discussion.  There's no way to avoid a discussion about "cushion" in general, most of which is EVA.  This effectively leads the discussion to the impact of cushion on the human body.  Cushion is not to dissimilar from a sponge and if you step on a sponge if compresses and decompresses and during that process you are "not" in balance, and in fact, you are off balance and the body, muscles and tendons are at work to achieve balance during this process.  Furthermore, if you take that same step thousands of times, the cushion will mold to your foot, which as first sounds great but the impact is more imbalance and it magnifies the balancing process and not in a positive way.  So is all cushion bad?  No, I don't think so but the goal is to find a flat shoe (balance) with the least amount of cushion possible for your given body type.  The difference, for example, in 10mm vs. 20mm in stack height is enormous.

I'd further argue that once you find a flat (as possible) shoe with the least amount of cushion you run in happily, then use that same shoe over and over and over until it self destructs because you will develop an optimal gait in that shoe.  As for repetitive stress injuries, if you are running properly, then you are working the correct muscle groups (the big muscle groups) which were designed to support running.  Lastly, many injuries are directly related to "dumb" running, that is, running too far, too fast, or with too much intensity on a given day.  Learn how to adapt your running to what the body wants and needs on a specific day, and you'll be light years ahead of your comrades.



Thursday, November 22, 2012

No motivation - Goal one: just figure out how to get our that door (just one step)

So here's the story. Woke up in the beautiful Cuchara mountain range at the base of the mountains at about 8,000 ft. I had absolutely no motivation to run . . . there's hills everywhere (no way to avoid them) and there was a strong wind (ingredients to not do anything but you must fight that off) so when I feel like this, I do a few simple things.
First, I put on my running gear and that always helps. Second, I decide to run for 20-30 minutes very slow and see how I feel. Lastly, I'm fine with whatever happens and as is often the case, what I thought might be a short run turned into a long run (about 13 miles).
I was surrounded by 13,000 ft. mountains and just smiled as I continued to run through gods country . . . open country roads and nothing but the sound of the wind. No humans around, just deer, cows and a fox, and, oh yea, a country dog that followed me for about 10 miles (he followed me home). I called the owner, showered, then met the owner to return his dog (it was a herding dog).
No better way to start Thanksgiving. It took me many years to learn how to push through those non-motivation days. Don't take the day off . . . push yourself out that door . . . this is what separates the committed runners from the no so committed runners . . . the "all in" runners figure out how to get out that door (it's a mind game). Best thing is many times, these turn out to be your best runs!
Happy Thanksgiving (or Holiday) to all!!!

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Understand the absorption process

I knew this was coming . . . the absorption run. After a few weeks of increasing my weekly mileage to the 60 mile per week range, I knew an absorption run was on the horizon. An absorption run is the result of any material increase in mileage, pace or intensity and while you may feel great right after such an increase, the fact is the body is in shock and there's a point where it needs to absorb the change, down to the muscles, fibers and tendons and this morning I could feel the absorption process in full effect during my run, hence why I made sure to run slow and easy.

The impact of big changes isn't necessarily felt immediately but otherwise weeks down the road.  How many times have you run unexpectedly fast or long and feel fine the next few days?  Well, that's the beginning of the absorption process but eventually you will feel the impacts of the changes and how you deal with that point in time will determine whether you benefit or suffer from the changes.  It's at this time, after a material change in your running, where if you do not completely and fully listen to your body, you can take a turn for the worse. But, if you are listening and understanding this process, your body and mind will come out stronger and will rebuild with the understanding and expectation that such an increase is a permanent thing so it will adjust accordingly.

As I made the decision to increase my weekly mileage from 40-50 to 60-70 miles per week, I understood that I would have to navigate through the absorption process.  This is one reason I've slightly backed off the number and intensity of my hard runs as I need to absorb the mileage and duration increase, allow my body and mind to adjust, then slowly add back other elements.  The absorption process can be a beautiful thing if you understand what's going on and respond accordingly.


Monday, November 19, 2012

Why do you run?

If you really deeply think about this question, it should take a while to formulate a complete and full response.  At the 10,000 ft. level, many of us run for fitness and health, but after that, if you dig deep, it's a bit complicated.  If I ask myself, I have to admit that I like to run "to escape," and running allows me to escape and enter a different world, even if it's only for 45 minutes or 2 hrs.  

Running also helps me shed negative feelings and toss that luggage out the door.  I would describe it as follows:

"There comes a point in your life when you realize who matters, who never did, who won't anymore, and who always will.  So, don't worry about people from your past . . . there's a reason they didn't make it to your future."

Running gives me this chance to "realize" and put things in perspective.  It allows me to shed the past and leave the negative in the past and only carry over the positive into the future.  In order to realize, one needs to think with an open mind and running provides that forum.  Some of my deepest thoughts happen while running.  This is a stark reminder that we "were born to run," physically, emotionally and spiritually."

So ultimately I guess I run to find out who I truly am.  Each time my foot lands, I'm in the "now," and the next step is to the "future."  There's no running backwards as it's about moving forward.  With each breath, I'm moving forward and isn't that what live is really about?


Thursday, November 15, 2012

Live in cold weather: Double Up

This is for my cold weather friends that live in cold weather states like myself.  For you lucky folks that live in warm weather places, well, we are jealous and there's no need for you to read this post but feel free to do so if you like :).  So, it's a challenge to maintain a solid weekly mileage base when you have to deal with below freezing temperatures, ice and/or snow.  So, here's some ideas and approaches that have allowed me to not only maintain mileage but also not lose the fitness levels I've acquired through the preceding spring and summer.

The basis theme is to "Double Up" and "leverage the treadmill," but don't forget the trails and/or roads as only running on the treadmill does not allow your body to adjust to the different impact forces of running outside . . . with that in mind, here's couple ideas:

1.  Using my 60 miles per week goal (as an example), run 6 miles in the morning (either outside or inside on the treadmill), followed by 6 miles in the evening (either outside or inside on the treadmill).  This gives you flexibility as to when to run outside (morning or evening) and it will equate to a good long run in terms of total mileage.

2.  Split up a single run into a 30-45 minute warm-up on the treadmill, then do 20-40 minutes outside.  The advantage is that you will be fully warmed up from the treadmill and you can generally brave the cold conditions for 20-30 minutes or so which also allows you body to maintain familiarity with running outside (again, only running on the treadmill does not allow you body to adjust to the different impact forces of running outside on dirt or roads; the treadmill is "fake" and the conditions are "too perfect," which is not the real world :)

Remember, you substitute your mileage, time and/or running goals into the equation but the basic principal is to double up whether running once or twice in a day (I just used times and goals based on what I do).

Hope this helps . . .


Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Ditch the foam roller and save $

Like many, I use the hard form roller for, among other things, massaging my IT band and calves muscles but if you want to both save money and have a more mobile alternative, use the tennis balls.  In fact, not only is it much easier to travel with but it's more effective due to the smaller round design which works the muscles better and deeper.  However, take note, that the tennis ball will effectively provide a deep muscle massage which, well, can hurt!!!  At least, it will likely hurt at first until you get through the transition phase but if you stay with it, there's big rewards.

A trouble area for me has always been my left calf which is suffered a slight tear several years back (I ran through deep snow, lot feeling in my feet, and ran several miles with a severe forehand strike which led to the tear . . . stupidity on my part but I'll provide another post on those runners that consciously try to forefoot land and end up landing on their toes which puts tremendous stress on the calf and achilles tendon but that's a topic for another day) and while I healed up, I can feel slight tension from time to time, especially when I ramp up my miles so I started using the hard form roller and it's been extremely effective and useful.  However, it's a pain when I travel, especially for more than 2-3 days so I discovered the tennis ball (I also tried a beer bottle) and it hurt a bit at first as it goes much deeper than the hard form roller but it was quite effective.

Anyway, give it a try.  It's cheap, lasts forever and is easy to travel with . . . of course, running stores and outlets would not want this to become a trend :)


Friday, November 9, 2012

Your problem may rest at the "core"

First of all, let me say I'm crazy excited about devoting more time to this blog.  I had to shed some negative stuff which is now in the past and I'm looking forward as the sun rises from the Rocky Mountains . . . no, literally, that's what's happening right now :).

Anyway, I've started to ramp up my weekly mileage (I have no idea where I'll stop but I'm interested in throwing in some 100 mile weeks but that will take work and time).  Anyway, I'm on track for 50-60 mile week (I've been in the 40-50 mile week the past 6 months or so) and while it may not seem like much of a jump, it is . . . trust me.  And, while ramping up, I was reminded about how important a strong core is to running and in fact, as I ramp my mile back up, I can feel the work being put on my core.  Lucky for me, I've always devoted 2-3x a week to core exercising but I may have to increase that in conjunction with the mileage increase.

I want to point out that if you have issues running and even if you are having injury issues, it may not be your running for per say as the root cause may be a weak core.  With a weak core, you can't run correctly, at least not for prolonged periods of time.  As skinny as elite runners may look, they have incredibly strong cores.  A strong core is like the trunk of a tree as it holds everything together allowing you to maintain proper balance and stability.

Before you make any wholesale changes, check your core . . . is it soft or strong?  weak or muscular?  If the answers are the former, get to work on that core.


Wednesday, November 7, 2012

No formula better than consistency

Each time I'm asked how to become a better runner, my first response is to "run every day or as much as possible."  Whether you run 10, 20 , 30, 40, 50, 60 or more miles per week, and you take 1 or more rest days, carve back the total mileage and reduce the rest days, even down to running 7 days a week if possible (that's what I've done as I run 7 days a week; about 50 miles per week).  It's the consistency that speeds up the muscle memory process .

If you think about, the great Kenyan runners start by running back and forth to school every day and after 5-6 years, they've not only established a solid base but they've mastered the mechanics and fundamentals of efficient running by doing it over and over and over and over.  You may need to work your way toward this goal but ultimately the concept of "we must have a rest day," is not based on science or fact but instead is based on tradition.  There's no reason we are not designed and equipped to run every single day.

However, the issue is controlling and managing 2 factors:  duration and intensity.  If you have the discipline to manage those factors, you should be able to run every day and not increase your chances of injury.  I have what I call a "rest day run," which is a day off and on that day I run for no longer than 30 minutes and a slow comfortable pace.  Some call this junk miles but I think that's completely wrong.  I get huge benefits from a 25-30 minute run.  First, it's just flat good for my heart, body and soul.  Second, it's just long enough for me to continue the hard coding process with respect to form and technique.  Third, it feels good mentally and physically and I believe it assists in the healing process without stressing the body.  Of course the trick is to practice "discipline," and not turn a easy run into either a longer run or higher intensity.

You may say, there's no difference between a 30 and 40 min. run.  Well, it's a huge difference . . . it's a 30% increase if you really look at it . . . that's not insignificant.  Practice discipline, control intensity and duration, and you'll be off to floating along every single day.

Happy trails.


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