Friday, October 29, 2010

Run like you’re 5 again, and experience injury free running! (Those Funny Toe Shoes)

For this entry, I'm taking a path away from discussing Pinhoti 100 miler training to discuss the benefits of barefoot / Vibram Five Finger running drills. This is actually a piece I wrote for the Quest Outdoors blog page, but is completely relevant nonetheless...

What's the deal with all those people you see walking around in those goofy toe shoes? Are they wearing shoes, are they wearing socks? What gives?

Want to finally run injury free? Read on, this is for you...

Those shoes are called, “fivefingers", and they're manufactured by the Vibram Company. Lately they have taken the running community by storm, partly due to the runaway success of the book Born To Run, by Christopher McDougall.

Fivefingers were designed to simulate being barefoot.

I want you to try the following exercise; Pretend you are about to run. Stick out your right leg as if you're about to make your first stride. What part of your foot hits the ground first? Chances are, your leg is out-stretched straight, and your heel is touching the ground before any other region of the foot. This is typical running form in our country, and it is also what causes most injuries associated with running. This is known as a Heel Strike.

Heel Striking

Running with the longest stride possible is what makes the fastest runners the fastest runners though, Right? NOPE. It's all about economy. Before we get into running economy, let’s do another exercise.

Go ahead and stick out your right leg again, and point your toe upward with your heel touching the ground. Your leg is straight; your knee is not bent. In this Heel Strike position, the straight knee cannot perform the function in which it evolved millions of years to do, which is absorb shock. The shock that the body experiences while running is therefore transferred to the shins, and to the knee.

Let’s look at modern running shoe design.

Shoes are made to absorb shock and provide cushion. About 50 years ago, sport scientists theorized that longer running strides could possibly equal faster runners, and they thought that by providing runners with shoes which had cushioned heels, they could facilitate this longer running stride. Unfortunately they didn't have the foresight to see the resulting injuries that would occur. During this time, we were taught to run with long loping strides, and we abandoned the Mid-Foot Strike.

An easy way to examine the Mid-Foot Strike is by studying a child’s gait while running. Chances are if you are watching a kid run, they are probably running with a mid-foot strike. Coincidentally, kids learn to run barefoot, in the most comfortable, non-jarring method possible. (Keep in mind this is only an anecdotal example however!) Mid-foot striking is characterized by the ball of the foot and the heel landing at the same time. Landing with a mid-foot strike will usually feel like most of your body weight is actually landing closer to ball as opposed to the heel. In landing with a mid-foot strike, the aim is to land with knees slightly bent, with the upper body still, and leaning slightly forward. This allows the quads and the hamstrings to absorb the shock of landing with each stride, and gravity to pull you forward slightly.

A mid-foot strike, slightly leaning forward. Knee Slightly Bent

There is one other major style of running called the forefoot strike. This strike involves landing solely on the ball of the foot and the heel does not touch at all. Sounds great right, non-jarring? No. When you land solely on the ball of your foot, unless you are running for shorter distances like the 100 meter sprint, this puts too great a stress load on Gastrocnemius, (the calves), as well as the Achilles tendon.

So where does all this get us? It means that to run injury free, we need to re-adopt a mid-foot strike. The best way to do this is by doing running drills, such as running barefoot! Running, although on the surface seems to be the most simple of all sports and exercise, could actually be one of the most complicated!

Running in fivefingers allows the wearer to run “barefoot” without the concern of skin integrity compromise. You can begin to examine what proper form should feel like because without the added cushion of shoes. You will naturally run with “soft” feet, and begin to strengthen the 26 bones, 33 joints, and 20 muscles in the human foot. Shoes are NOT evil, and I am still a wearer of “standard” footwear on longer runs, but fivefingers are a necessary tool which enables runners to focus on form, and run injury free.

Quest Outdoors has an organized fivefingers run on every Thursday at 6pm at Tom Sawyer Park. The run is for ALL levels of runners, and usually we go about 30-40 minutes. This is the perfect amount of time for a fivefingers run, as they are great for these barefoot style drills. Swing by the shop, or stop by a run at Tom Sawyer to ask us more about fivefingers and running form.

Fivefingers come in a variety of styles, from the slip on simple no-frills “classic”, to the backcountry hiker, the “KSO Trek” which even has a kangaroo leather upper. There are many others suited for everything from yoga to kayaking too!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Pinhoti 100 Trail Run- 10 days out.

So I had planned on trying to get in one last 30 mile run last weekend, but after a great threshold run on Thursday, followed by a leg mutilating day of running around in the ER for 13 hours @ work Friday, I wasn't feeling 100%. I ran an easy 25 miles, which was not easy, due to my fatigue. I ran decent time, but was not impressed.

Saturday night was my surprise birthday party. That's right...30 years old. I had a blast, and drank a couple beers, resulting in not feeling so great on Sunday. I cancelled my Sunday run to recover from the weeks high quality 75 miles and needed it! I ended up running 12 on monday at a blistering slow pace of 2 hours!


Today I just ran a Siltstone half marathon training PR. I equaled my race pace for the return  from last year, at about 70% effort instead of 100%! ( I was still 15 min slower because my out was slower with headlamp) I couldn't believe when I was finishing up and looked at my watch...62 minutes for a Siltstone back...6.7 miles and a couple thousand feet elevation change...I was ecstatic. The training is reaping major growth due to the allowed recovery.

I wasn't even sure if I was going to run this AM and I am happy I did obviously. I woke up at 5, and thought about sleeping, Did I need more recovery?  I wondered. I lay there and did a mental inventory of the legs and felt pretty good. I decided to go for it. I was out the door for another headlamp session. Little did I know I would be setting a training PR on the Siltstone.

Tomorrow holds more headlamp time out at Jefferson, and maybe a few miles speedwork on pea-gravel depending on the legs.

Last week I didn't hit my 100 miles. But the recovery day Sunday did much more for me than running another stupid 25 miles. I am enjoying training more than ever, and plan on riding this vibe a long as I can. Overtraining sucks! This week I'll probably hit 55-65 miles depending how I feel. I should try to force shorter days on the weekend. Definitely nothing longer than 20 miles on Saturday or Sunday's run.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Sun, breeze, and a perfect threshold run.

Wow. I just finished one of the most enjoyable runs in months! (...and I have had A LOT of great runs the past few months)

I ran 25 on Monday @ Jefferson Forest, and then headlamped 13mi @Jef again yesterday AM. Today I sort of planned a PM threshold run, but I was leaving it open to fate.

I woke up feeling like crap this AM. Sinus headache... Took care of some job stuff in the AM, and was feeling sort of stressed. About noon I helped my grandmother with some stuff and then I decided since I had the afternoon clear, I would go tackle the rocks and hills on the 14 mile Millennium trail. I was feeling not so jazzed up about the whole plan though. Instead, I stuffed my belly and did just what I needed. I took a huge nap, and was passed for 2 hours!

 I arose from the nap at 3:30, with all of my food digested, and headed to my normal, "close to home",  boring running spot. The sun was out, it was about 60 degrees, and there was a breeze. The leaves were dry and crunchy. I felt perfect.

My warm up was good, so I stretched it out a few extra miles. Then I felt great on my threshold run, and did 9mph for an hour.

I went back to the car to grab my 5 fingers and do a little cool down run with the IPOD. The music and the sun and the breeze were all too refreshing. I decided to hit the trails, and ran another 6 miles in my 5 fingers, and it felt like I could run forever...

When in doubt, Eat, Take a nap, and reassess!

Today was one of those days when I am almost overwhelmed how much I can love the act of trail running... Setting out and putting one foot in front of the other and living completely in the moment.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Training Recap and Mt Rogers Hike

After one week of rest post Ironman, I began training for Pinhoti. It all started pretty simply, training was lower than 136 beats per minute the first week, then 149 beats per minute the second week. By the third week I was back do doing 35 mile training runs and greater than 75 mile weeks. I felt incredible after a few low intensity weeks. Even during my long runs I was redlining on climbs over 160 beats per minute, and doing threshold runs just shy of an hour at 8.5 or 9 miles per hour. This all began on September 6, which as stated, was one week after Ironman. The mileage was manageable, and I felt stronger every week.

Last Friday was October 8, which neared the closing of my 5th week of training for Pinhoti. I had 4 days off from work, and I wasn't sure what to do...Usually if I have 4 days off, I want to mutilate the mileage and crush every day to truly reap the rewards of long days, however I knew it was time to step back and recover from the hard weeks prior. I decided some cross training at a lower intensity would behoove me more than strong training. In lieu of trail running, I decided to go backpacking in the Mount Rogers National Recreation Area, which would provide 9 hour days, but at only approximately 110 beats per minute.

My mileage for the last few weeks were as follows;

Week Begining- Miles Run/ Hours Run Total Hours (including Mountain Biking/RockClimbing)

9/6- 51mi/9h 12h

9/13- 53mi/9h15m 12h30m

9/20- 45mi/9h 12h

9/27- 77mi/14h35m 15h50m

10/4- 65mi/21h 21h

10/11- 25mi/6h 8h RECOVERY WEEK

As of today, The Pinhoti 100 is exactly 3 weeks away.

Physiological Indicators

My weight for Ironman,(end of August), was 153.5. After the long, low intensity runs of early September, my weight is now lower than ever @147-148 pounds, as is my body fat percentage- 5.0%. Percentage of body water has been near all time highs which indicates the weight loss is true fat loss. Generally over the past two years I have been at 65% H20, and this month I have hovered between 67%-68% which is an all time high. Muscle weight has however, remained constant, which is not surprising considering I have quit weight lifting and swimming, and focused on dedicated ultrarunning training for the next six months.

I am not treating Backpacking 10/08-10/11 as recovery. The days were 20 miles over rocky terrain with 3000 foot climbs abounding. Sure it was at low intensity, but the hours were abnormally high so I treated the following week as my body dictated. In the past I probably would have missed this crux opportunity for recovery and overtrained. However, I felt like resting this week and I did. The only goal at this point is to recover and I am. Pinhoti is 21 days away. It is Saturday and I have only run/hiked 6 hours this week, a miniscule 25 miles. On Thursday I did a 5 fingers run, and it felt good. During the 5 fingers run I felt as though I could have done a decent threshold run had I been wearing adequate footwear. It was a good feeling because over the last two weeks I haven't felt fully recovered. I am near certain that with adequate nutrition and even MORE rest today and tomorrow that on Monday I will be near 100% again. Somehow over the summer I would have stressed that I didn't get in a 40 mile run over the weekend, and I would have pushed through the week, pounding out more fruitless miles in place of recovery and getting stronger. Looking back at my weeks though, the past two weeks warrant this recovery and were placed well. The 77 mile week was high intensity, and the 65 mile week was high duration. Just because I wasn't doing the typical training runs, duration must still be revered. On Wednesday this week I opted to not run more than the 10 miles I headlamped in the early AM, yet another smart decision. I went home, slept, and ate well.

Trip Report

So anyways, the point is, last week I decided to do some backpacking instead of trail running. Here is a quick report of that trip.

I have wanted to do the Iron Mountain Trail out of Damascus, VA for quite some time now. It is the original route of the Appalachian Trail, which now runs through the much more scenic Mt Rogers highlands. A loop can be made out of the two trails for a beautiful 65 mile circuit hike.

I left Louisville Friday morning at 9am and was in Damascus, Virginia by 3pm. Damascus is a very special town to all who have thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail as it is the first town in Virginia and it is a huge milestone. After asking around at the outfitters about parking locations for the trailhead, I managed to hit the trail by 4:00, which was fine by me, since I thought it would be hard to get out of town considering the huge to sight see and hang out. The Iron Mountain Trail was rocky, sandy and chewed up from horses and motorcycles for the first few miles. I was managing 3 miles per hour which was good for the terrain and the huge climb out of Damascus. Once the trail hit the ridgeline, the gnarly double-track turned to classic Virginia single-track, a little rocky but well maintained, and conducive to 3 mph backpacking pace. Another interesting thing happened once I reached the ridgeline. I saw signage which indicated I had miscalculated the mileage of my three day circuit hike by ten miles. So I huffed it in to my shelter site for the night, and made it just after dark.

The trail for next day was mostly singletrack, along the Iron Mountain ridgeline. Occasionally it would pass into a logging road for several moments, or onto a logging road. Saturday I was supposed to do 26 miles. Half way through my day, I had already reached my third shelter. Shelters are supposed to be a day’s hike apart, but I hadn’t done 12.5 miles. I realized I should find a shortcut trail to get to my Appalachian Trail connector. Fortunately, there was a connector trail which knocked off a few miles. I dropped quickly off the Iron Mountain ridge and was at the base of Mount Rogers, Virginia’s highest peak. The dicey scenario was that it to do this, it meant I would forced to camp atop Mt Rogers on a Saturday night, near Thomas Knob shelter. Thomas Knob could be one of the busiest and most widely used shelters on the AT, and it was a holiday weekend. I might be in for it regarding peace and quiet. The summit near Mt Rogers is mostly this wonderful grassy bald, which is described as the highlands. I figured if the shelter was full I could just cowboy on the summit since the weather was flawless.

Sunday was another perfect day, more grassy balds at nearly 6000’. I expected to have the shelter to myself on Sunday night, but when I arrived after another 20+ mile day, I was greeted by two old hikers. One of which had just come from a Pacific Crest Trail thru-hike attempt. Needless to say, we chatted about the PCT for hours.

My hike out Monday was only 10 miles, and I had perfect terrain and trail too. I grabbed a quick breakfast in town and headed back to Louisville. Monday was the perfect entry into my recovery week.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Building Your Tool Chest- There's no magic shoe.

Magic Shoe? -No Way. Pick from an arsenal.

It's time to think of shoes like golf clubs. There is no magic shoe, but there is a right shoe for every situation. Pick from a variety in your closet to have the best possible run, and take your running to the next level.

I got pretty banged up last week when I ran the Millineum Trail. It's a 14 mile loop which is one of the most scenic runs in the area. It IS rocky though. It seems to be rocky enough that when you finish 14 miles, you feel as if you have run twice the distance if you're wearing the wrong footwear. I'm used to rocks, but this trail is FULL of those little ankle biters that you spend the day dancing over, on, and around. Spending a lot of time on this style of trail can take its toll on your joints, but there IS a way to combat these effects. Picking the best shoe for the terrain can help you have a faster run and allow you to recover faster. Some times, even the most efficient of runners need a shoe that offers some lateral and medial torsional support as well as plenty cushioning for the day spent on hard rocks. It's all about economy. By economy, I refer to the energy spent running. Expending the least amount of energy while running equates to faster times, faster recovery, and less energy. Most people only consider gait, (stride), and shoe weight when considering economy, but movement overall and joint fatigue affect economy greatly. Sometimes a shoe which provides cushioning, although heavier can aid running economy by allowing less extraneous body movements on rough and rocky trails.

Running on rocky surfaces is just one example terrain which demands a specialized shoe. The perfect shoe for rocks won't serve you well on perfectly groomed singletrack. You need a tool for every job.

Basically, there are many options out there to pick from for trails;

I'll start by describing the light and fast racing shoes, otherwise known as minimalist shoes. An example would be the New Balance 100's. A trail runner that weighs in at less the 7 ounces. Yeah, Minimal. I've used minimalist shoes in 50 mile ultras before, and on the flip side, there are 14 mile runs that I wouldn't consider using a minimalist shoes. It's all about terrain. Flawless singletrack, often mountain bike trails, and pea-gravel surfaces tend to cater to minimal shoes.

There are crossover shoes, such as the Pearl Izumi Peak XC, that are basically road shoes with nubbier tread. These shoes work well as road and trail shoes. I like to use these when doing a mixed run involving road and trails in our local parks with well groomed trails. They tend to perform poorly on gnarly trail, and especially in muddy conditions. These models often have poor support in regards to lateral and medial flex. They provide cushioning, which isn't really needed as much on nice trails but is needed on roads.

There is also "all around" shoes, which aren't too light and hopefully aren't too heavy either. Some shoes in this category can do it all adequately. These are what most people own as their one pair of trail shoes. Examples of do-it-all shoes are the best selling Brooks Cascadia, The Montrail Mountain Masochist, and the La Sportiva Fireblades, Crosslites, Etc. These shoes not only benefit runners who are tackling rough trail, but also runners who weigh more than the typical runner.

Start off by picking up an extra pair of trail runners that is the opposite of what you have now, although I still recommend going as light as possible in all situations. My all around performer is a Montrail Mountain Masochist which still weighs in less than 12 ounces.

Adapt to the trail, build an arsenal of shoes, and see where your running takes you!